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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Carter's death followed a violent "cell extraction" in which corrections officers used pepper spray and stun guns,

Death in Pennsylvania Solitary Confinement Cell Raises Questions
by Hannah Taleb

On April 26 of this year, John Carter died in his solitary confinement cell at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Rockview in central Pennsylvania. According to accounts by other men imprisoned on his cell block, Carter's death followed a violent "cell extraction" in which corrections officers used pepper spray and stun guns, though the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections makes no mention of such actions in its official statements, and state police have yet to interview inmate eyewitnesses.

In 1995, John Carter took part in a robbery that resulted in the murder of one man in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was sixteen at the time, and was convicted of second-degree felony murder. In Pennsylvania, which has more juvenile lifers than any other state, his conviction meant a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. (Under the Supreme Court's June 25 ruling, in Miller v. Alabama, that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles were unconstitutional, Carter would likely have had his sentence reconsidered, had he lived to see the day.)

At some point during Carter's sixteen-year imprisonment, he was placed on what's called the Restricted Release List, a form of indefinite solitary confinement that can only be ended with approval by the Secretary of the Department of Corrections. Jeffrey Rackovan, the Public Information Officer at SCI Rockview, admitted that this designation meant John could have "spent the rest of his life in solitary confinement." Before his death Carter had spent the last ten to eleven years in solitary. According to prisoner reports he had been known to break the rules of his unit in order to share food, hygiene items, and writing utensils with newcomers to his block, and adamantly used both the grievance process and legal system to challenge acts of abuse and retaliation by prison staff.

On April 27, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections issued a press release announcing that John Carter had been found “unresponsive in his cell” the day before. Reports from the unit soon began to reach Carter’s family and the Human Rights Coalition, a Pennsylvania-based prisoner advocacy and abolitionist organization. The reports explained that Carter had been subject to a cell extraction on the day of his death after a dispute with guards who refused to issue him a food tray instead of nutraloaf, a dense, unpalatable substance issued as punishment in place of meals. The cell extraction was the second Carter had been subjected to that week, during which guards entered his cell in full riot gear, armed with OC spray and electroshock weapons.

The statements from prisoners explained a brutal scene, with excessive amounts of pepper spray being pumped into Carter’s cell so as to flood the whole tier with the choking gas. According to prisoner accounts, guards then broke down the door to the cell and proceeded to shock Carter seven times with electroshock shields and guns. Many of the reports end with Carter being dragged from his cell, paramedics arriving 10 to 15 minutes later, and an unresponsive Carter being removed from the block. He was pronounced dead at Mount Nittany Medical Center a short time later.

Andre Jacobs, a jailhouse lawyer housed on the same block as John wrote a five page declaration detailing the events of that day. Many others sent in the story as they heard and saw it, all of them asserting that John Carter was “murdered . . . here in this RHU torture zone, where guards come on the tier calling people racial slurs.”

The press statement released by the Department of Corrections made no mention of a cell extraction, or any confrontation at all occurring on the day of Carter’s death. Reports from inside the prison claimed that superintendent Marirosa Lamas came to the Restricted Housing Unit tier the night of John Carter’s death alleging that he had committed suicide, an assertion never made to the public. But officials first claimed that no cell extraction took place the day of Carter’s death, then that there was an extraction but no video footage, and finally that an extraction took place but the footage may have been “damaged.”

Because Carter died from what was considered unnatural causes, the Pennsylvania State Police were brought in to investigate his death. By May 10th the police had released a statement that notes John Carter was found “unresponsive in his cell,” but goes on to describe that he had “barricaded himself in his cell and refused numerous orders” which precipitated “the DOCs response to the inmate’s cell.” The statement goes on the say that autopsy reports were “inconclusive” and evidence had indicated “no foul play” in Carter’s death. Once again no mention was made of the use of pepper spray or electroshock weapons.

Calls to the state police were met with the assurance that a “thorough” investigation would be carried out. However, according to statements from prisoners held on John Carter’s block, not one of them was ever questioned as to the events of April 26.

Jeffrey Rackovan told Solitary Watch that the prison had “done its part” in the investigation, handing over video footage and allowing investigators to enter the prison. Rackovan noted that investigators surely spoke to those they “needed to”--the “officers involved in the extraction.” He also assured that John Carter’s cell had been inspected, though numerous prisoner reports claim that it was thoroughly cleaned shortly after Carter was removed.

According to advocates at the Human Rights Coalition, the investigation carried out by the state police fits within a general pattern of refusal by state authorities to investigate and prosecute the alleged crimes of prison guards and officials against the prisoners in their care. No statements have been made by the State Police since May 10. Toxicology reports from the coroner's office are still forthcoming more than two months after John Carter’s death.

John Carter’s family is not satisfied with the investigation thus far and are resolved to find justice in his death. They arranged for a second autopsy, and filed a criminal complaint with the Center County District Attorney, Stacy Parks-Miller, in June. As a response the DA’s office is now overseeing the investigation carried out by the State Police, but has released no further information on its progress. When contacted, Ms. Parks-Miller's office would not respond with any comment on the investigation.

John Carter’s sister, Michelle Williams, explained in a May 7 interview with me for Rustbelt Radio that she wants justice not only for her family but for all of the other families with loved ones inside of Pennsylvania prisons. “Just because they are in jail," she said, "doesn’t mean you can treat them as anything else but human.” Listen to the full radio report here.

We need to support this family and mention this incident in all of our actions/presentations/etc.

On April 26 of this year, John Carter died in his solitary confinement cell at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Rockview in central Pennsylvania. According to accounts by other men imprisoned on his cell block, Carter's death followed a violent "cell extraction" in which corrections officers used pepper spray and stun guns, though the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections makes no mention of such actions in its official statements, and state police have yet to interview inmate eyewitnesses.

This link and following text came out at the time of John Carter's murder and following is a current article on the follow/cover-up that needs to be challenged.

In the weeks since the death of John Carter, the Human Rights Coalition and Carter’s family have both received numerous letters attesting to John’s good character and strong spirit. John had been held in solitary confinement in several different prisons for the last ten-to-eleven years, but continued to help others. A prisoner at SCI Rockview wrote of Carter: “He was a person of integrity. He did not believe in abuse of others, especially the abuse of prisoners from prison guards. If he could help someone in understanding the law, he was there. And he had a lot of patience with others, especially the mentally impaired.” Another prisoner from SCI Camp Hill stated: “Its no question in my mind. He died fighting against oppression. His name and memory will not be forgotten.” Carter’s death has been a shock to many prisoners, and they want justice for him; “Why isn’t there a big investigation, an outrage about John Carter’s death like there is about Trayvon Martion? John Carter was black, he was someone’s son and he died senselessly. Let not his death go in vain,” said an SCI Frackville prisoner. Many of the letters received simply shared memories of Carter, who was sentenced to life in prison at the age of sixteen and spent half of his life there, but continued to be a strong and loving person. Another prisoner said there were three words for John; “Loyalty, intelligence, fearless.” A man incarcerated at SCI Huntingdon wrote to his departed comrade: “You’ve made that transition to the other side, wherever that may be. But what I say shall come to pass, for it is written J-Rock, that children of the night shall forever find each other in the dark.” He will be missed.
HRC Breaking News Murder of John Carter at SCI Rockview PA | Prison

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Give juveniles the right to a jury trial in the juvenile system

Juvenile Justice

Cheryle is asking the Supreme Court to require that a jury make the decision as to
whether or not to waive a juvenile into adult court, instead of a judge or magistrate.
Please sign.​petitions/​supreme-court-of-the-united-sta​tes-give-juveniles-the-right-t​o-a-jury-trial-in-the-juvenile​-system

Supreme Court of the United States: Give juveniles the right to a jury trial in the juvenile system.
Accepting that juveniles have the right to due process, and that due process requires jury findings on facts risking increased punishment

Monday, July 9, 2012

Court ruling on juveniles could affect 12 from Erie, Crawford

Court ruling on juveniles could affect 12 from Erie, Crawford

Updated: July 9, 2012 5:14 PM EST
Court ruling on juveniles could affect 12 from Erie, Crawford
By ED PALATTELLA, Erie Times-News

Earlier versions of this story included an incorrect date for a hearing in Harrisburg on the issue of inmates serving sentences for murders they committed as juveniles. The hearing will be Thursday.

Life might no longer mean life for 12 state inmates from Erie and Crawford counties.

The 12 are serving mandatory life sentences with no parole for murders they committed when they were younger than 18.

Parole has become a possibility for each of them after the U.S. Supreme Court in June banned mandatory life sentences, without parole, for juvenile offenders.

Local officials expect the Supreme Court ruling to be retroactive, but they are waiting for direction on how to follow the 5-4 decision, issued June 25.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly is preparing to act. On Thursday, the state Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing in Harrisburg on the Supreme Court decision, which held that mandatory life sentences, without parole, for juveniles violated the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and inhuman punishment.

The decision does not affect inmates who received those sentences for murders they committed as adults.

What the state Legislature does will help determine the process by which the affected inmates would seek relief, by petitioning a judge, for example, or by filing an appeal with the state Board of Probation and Parole.

More than 2,000 inmates who committed murder as juveniles are serving life sentences with no parole nationwide, including 373 in Pennsylvania, according to the state Department of Corrections and the Juvenile Law Center, of Philadelphia. Nine of those 373 inmates are from Erie County, and three are from Crawford County.

"It is kind of up in the air," said Erie County's chief public defender, Pat Kennedy, a former assistant district attorney. "Is there going to have to be a resentencing?"

Kennedy, who handled cases in Juvenile Court as a prosecutor, said she is tracking the developments to determine when her office may have to get involved in the inmates seeking relief.

Erie County President Judge Ernest J. DiSantis Jr., who is also monitoring the possible changes, said the state Parole Board might have a role. He said the board, rather than county judges, has control over whether to grant parole for inmates serving state sentences, including inmates sentenced to life.

"If they file something with us," DiSantis said of the inmates sentenced as juveniles, "I don't know whether we would have jurisdiction."

The Parole Board is studying the Supreme Court decision but has no comment at this time, a spokesman for the board said.

The Supreme Court ruling, made in the case of Miller v. Alabama, does not prohibit a juvenile convicted of murder from serving a life sentence without parole.

The justices ruled that such sentences cannot be mandatory, as they had been in Pennsylvania and other states for juveniles tried as adults and convicted of first-degree murder, or a premeditated homicide; or second-degree murder, or a killing committed during a felony, such as a robbery.

The Supreme Court found that a life sentence without parole can be an option, but not a requirement, for a juvenile, Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri said.

Under the ruling, he said, a sentencing judge, for example, must have the discretion to impose a life sentence with or without parole, based on the facts of each case.

Life sentences without parole for juveniles "are no longer automatic," Daneri said. "It is kind of a limited ruling."

He said the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association will ask the Legislature to draft a law to create a sentencing structure to reflect the Supreme Court ruling.

Daneri said he was disappointed with the ruling. He said the juveniles affected by it were sentenced not for typical crimes, but for the most serious of offenses.

"The ones who got life without parole were convicted of first- or second-degree murder," Daneri said.

ED PALATTELLA can be reached at 870-1813 or by e-mail. Follow him on Twitter at

Cristian Fernandez

Benjamin Sebastian​crime/2012-07-03/story/​judge-rule-aug-7-whether-suppre​ss-cristian-fernandez-interrog​ations

Judge to rule by Aug. 7 whether to suppress Cristian Fernandez interrogations
Court watchers will learn this morning whether Cristian Fernandez's defense team puts on a final witness or goes right to closing arguments in the fourth day of his suppression hearing.