Saturday, January 28, 2023

Associated Press investigation: Prison chief promoted for beating inmates

The prison staff did not know much about the new acting warden. Then, they said, he made a strange and dangerous confession: Years ago, he beat up some inmates and got away with it.

Thomas Ray Hinkle, a high-ranking US Bureau of Prisons (BOP) official, is sent to restore order and confidence in a women’s prison affected by a scandalous scandal. Instead, activists add, he left the federal prison in Dublin, California, even worse.

The staff regarded Hinkle as a harasser and his presence – following allegations that the previous warden and other staff had sexually assaulted inmates – the hypocrisy of an agency that had publicly pledged to end its abusive and corrupt culture.

So, during a staff meeting in March, he confronted the then-BOP director and asked: Instead of firing Hinkle years ago, why was the agency willing to continue promoting him?

Michael Carvajal replied, according to those in the room, “That’s something we have to investigate.”

Three months later, the BOP promoted Hinkle again, putting him in charge of 20 federal prisons and 21,000 inmates from Utah to Hawaii as executive director of the Western Region. Among them: Dublin.

multiple charges

An Associated Press investigation found that the BOP repeatedly promoted Hinkle despite numerous red flags, rewarding him repeatedly over a three-decade career, while others who attacked prisoners lost their jobs. and they have gone to jail.

The agency’s new head defended Hinkle, saying he was an individual man and a role model employee, endorsing him and pledging to work with the Justice Department and Congress to root out employee misconduct. And Hinkle, in response to questions from the Associated Press, admits he assaulted inmates in the 1990s but regrets that behavior and is speaking out about it now “to teach others how to make the same mistakes.” avoid doing.”

Here are some of the Associated Press’s findings:

At least three inmates, all black, have accused Hinkle of beating them while he was a corrections officer at the Florence, Colorado, federal penitentiary in 1995 and 1996. The allegations were recorded in court documents and in formal complaints to prison officials. In recent years, colleagues say, Hinkle has spoken out about beating up inmates when he was a member of a violent and racist gang called “The Cowboys.”

– One inmate said he was scared when Hinkle and another guard pulled him down a flight of stairs and slammed him against the walls. Another claimed that Hinkle was among the guards who threw her to the concrete floor, spit on her, and used racist language against her. A third said that Hinkle slapped her and held her down while another guard sexually assaulted her.

— The BOP and the Justice Department knew about the allegations against Hinkle in 1996, but promoted him nonetheless. The agency promoted Hinkle at least nine times after the alleged beatings, culminating in her promotion in June to acting regional director.

At least 11 guards associated with “Los Vaqueros” have been charged with federal crimes, but not Hinkle. Three were convicted and sent to jail. Four were acquitted; The four plead guilty and agree to cooperate. Hinkle was promoted twice before the criminal investigation was completed.

– In 2007, while he was an assistant warden at a federal prison in Houston, Hinkle was arrested for public intoxication during a concert after police, saying he was intoxicated, showed his BOP identification card Showed up and refused to drop the warrant. After the case was dropped, the agency promoted Hinkle.

Hinkle has also been criticized as a senior official of the agency. He was reprimanded by the Justice Department in March after accusing him of trying to silence an informant. The BOP said it was taking corrective action after blocking an investigation by a member of Congress and sending emails to all employees criticizing him and the agency. Three months later, he was promoted to interim regional director.

– The BOP, already under intense congressional scrutiny for numerous crises and dysfunctions, did not make Hinkle’s promotion public. Instead, the agency left its predecessor’s name and biography on its website and declined requests for basic information about him.

The Associated Press has spent months investigating Hinkle, obtained more than 1,600 pages of court records and reports from the National Archives and Documents Administration (NARA) and reviewed thousands of pages of documents from related criminal cases and appeals, and interviewed dozens of people. Has interviewed. Several people spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation or because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Taken together, all of this shows that while the Bureau of Prisons has vowed to change its toxic culture in the wake of the Dublin and other scandals – a pledge recently reiterated by the agency’s new head, Colette Peters – it has taken the one person involved The promotion has continued through one of the darkest and most humiliating periods in its history.

“we are all human”

Hinkle’s alleged misconduct and his subsequent promotion to the highest ranks of the BOP were never disclosed. The Associated Press findings raise serious questions about the agency’s standards, its selection and vetting of candidates for top-level jobs, and its apparent commitment to rooting out abuse.

Alan Turner, a former federal prison warden who reviewed the Associated Press’s findings, said, “At the very least, the incident at the concert, the whistleblower’s handling of the matter and the congressional investigation reflect extremely poor judgment.”

“This should have been a red flag to any promotion board, and it certainly is not the appropriate level of judgment expected of someone in a leadership role in a correctional facility or field,” added Turner, who is in the Department of Criminology. is a research professor. Law and Society at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

This story is part of an ongoing Associated Press investigation that has uncovered deep, previously unreported flaws within the BOP, the Justice Department’s largest law enforcement agency, with more than 30,000 employees, 158,000 inmates and an annual budget of nearly $8,000 million. Is.

Associated Press investigative reporting revealed widespread sexual abuse and other criminal conduct by employees, dozens of escapes, deaths and a severe staffing shortage that has hampered response during emergencies.

In response to detailed questions from the Associated Press, Hinkle admitted he beat inmates when he was a corrections officer, but said he has made significant changes in his life since then, including seeking professional treatment and giving up alcohol. is included. He said he was disciplined – a two-week suspension for failing to report inmate abuse – and that he cooperated fully with investigators.

“Through the support and professional help of my friends, family and co-workers, I have earned a second chance to honorably serve with the BOP for the past 12 years,” Hinkle said.

Hinkle said, “I can’t explain why some people bring up the story from so many years ago, but my distant past doesn’t reflect who I am now.” Blame. recent misconduct.

Hinkle said, “My story, which I’ve shared with my fellow employees, has more to do with hope and change than self-medication with alcohol.” “We’re all human and we make mistakes. There’s no shame in admitting your problems and asking for help.”

The BOP answered detailed questions about Hinkle with a statement from Peters defending him and the agency’s decisions to promote him.

“Mr. Hinkle has openly acknowledged his past mistakes, gone through an employee discipline program, sought professional help and reframed his experiences as learning opportunities for others,” Peters said. . “Today, I believe he has become an effective supervisor for our agency.”

At the same time, Peters said he remains committed to working within the agency and the Justice Department and with Congress “to address staff misconduct and other concerns.”

The Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the BOP for background information on Hinkle, including his employment history, job assignments and official photographs. The agency claimed it had “no responsive public records” to the Associated Press’s request.

The agency also denied a request for Hinkle’s disciplinary records. It claimed that “even admitting the existence of such records … would be a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

“One of the Original Cowboys”

Hinkle showed no concern for her right to privacy as she stood up to her boss, warden and union bosses and told them what she had done.

It was 2020. The new regional director, Melissa Rios, was surrounded by people at the regional headquarters in Stockton, California. Suddenly, there was Hinkle, his goofy, talking in detail about how he brutally abused prisoners long ago.

According to those present, “I’m one of the original Florence cowboys,” Hinkle admitted. Quoted by them, he said: “We misbehaved with the prisoners” and “we were attacking them.”

The people in the room were looking at each other in astonishment. Was he telling it as a cautionary tale or was he bluffing?

Fresh from the Marine Corps, Hinkle was part of the first wave of corrections officers to be on staff at the Federal Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado. The prison, which opened in 1993, was part of a cluster built in the desert 110 miles (175 kilometers) south of Denver to relieve overcrowding elsewhere. Next door was a high-security prison: the so-called “Alcatraz of Rocky Mountain” for terrorists, mafia bosses, drug lords and other dangerous criminals.

The federal prison population had tripled since 1980, fueled by an increase in violent crimes and mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. Within the newly built walls of the Florence Penitentiary, “Los Vaqueros” were dominating.

A guard told a grand jury that the prison warden had given “los vaqueros” the “green light” to attack the inmates. In particular, “Los Vaqueros” housed a prison Special Housing Unit (SHU) brutalized within the prison for inmates with disciplinary problems.

They went around wearing “Cowboys” baseball caps and left “Cowboys” medals as calling cards. They would throw a ball called “Cowboy Love” into a cell, wait until an inmate would pick it up, then run and attack it.

They met outside of work hours to talk about the assault. He insisted on secrecy, bribed prisoners to keep quiet, and repeated phrases such as “lie unto death”.

In total, prosecutors said, “Los Vaqueros” beat out more than twenty prisoners—many of them black—in less than three years.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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