JUDGE RULES CROSBY CAN BE SUED BY VALDES FAMILY
Since we won the right to sue Mr James Crosby the secretary of Fl. prisons, they are in a Bad situation. If they settle then our case will set a precident and many violation of civil rights cases will follow. If we go to court then all the bad about DOC will be put in front of the world for what they have done. They dont want either one. But we will see what they do. I have prayed about it and left it to God. The hearing will be in Jacksonville.
State corrections chief focus of civil trial in prison death
Indifference to widespread abuse is alleged in the 1999 death of inmate Frank Valdes.
By Alan Gomez
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2004
JACKSONVILLE — Two years ago, four guards at Florida State Prison — the home of Death Row and Florida's most dangerous prisoners — were acquitted of kicking and stomping an inmate to death. The outcome was so decisive that charges were dropped against other guards, leaving the death of Frank Valdes unpunished.
Now, in a quiet courtroom overlooking downtown Jacksonville, Valdes' case is back, this time in the form of a civil suit filed by his father, Mario Valdes. And while the eight guards who faced criminal charges are again facing trial along with several others, the former warden at Florida State Prison is the new focus.
James Crosby, who faced no charges in the criminal trial but is a defendant in the civil action, now is Gov. Jeb Bush's handpicked secretary of the Department of Corrections. One former warden has testified Crosby fostered a "culture of abuse" at Florida State Prison in Starke, and other witnesses for Valdes' family also have criticized his actions.
"It is my opinion that Mr. Crosby . . . was aware of the widespread abuse of force manifest at FSP and that he failed to take the steps necessary to protect Mr. Valdes and other inmates," Chase Riveland, former head of the Colorado and Washington departments of corrections, wrote in a review of Florida State Prison. "He clearly was deliberately indifferent to all of the information and indicators that would lead a concerned warden to investigate and put a stop to the abuses."
Greg McMahon, the assistant state attorney who prosecuted the guards in 2002, questioned why Bush appointed someone with an inmate death hanging over his head to the state's top corrections position last year — especially after the guards acquitted at trial were denied their request to return to corrections.
"Makes you wonder what the governor was thinking when he made the appointment," said McMahon, now a federal prosecutor in Gainesville.
During a recent court hearing, Crosby's attorney, Kevin Blazs, said his client was not aware of any widespread abuse of the inmates and that there were simply a few isolated incidents of overzealous guards. Crosby referred all questions to Blazs.
"If they did something wrong, Crosby and (his investigator) had no knowledge of it," Blazs said. "It doesn't establish a widespread pattern of abuse."
Four defendants, including Crosby, have requested that District Judge Timothy Corrigan throw out the case, which accuses prison workers of wrongful death and rights violations. If Corrigan decides the case can proceed, the trial could start in a few months.
Ron McAndrew, the warden who preceded Crosby at the prison, said in a deposition that he warned Crosby when he arrived that abuse of inmates by guards was increasing.
McAndrew said he encouraged Crosby to continue using video cameras to tape guards forcibly removing inmates from their cells, which McAndrew said kept guards on their best behavior. Crosby stopped the videotaping.
McAndrew said he also warned Crosby about three guards who were becoming increasingly dangerous. McAndrew was so worried that he wrote their names on a piece of paper and taped it to the inside of the center drawer of the desk he was about to hand over to Crosby. Crosby denied ever seeing such a list.
The judge presiding over the case acknowledged that supervisors cannot always be held responsible for their subordinates' actions. But he wondered how many more indicators Crosby needed to determine the prison had an abusive culture.
"Tell me what's missing," Corrigan asked Crosby's attorney during the recent hearing. "What do you need to have?"
Concerns about X-Wing
Florida State Prison has always been a rough place to serve time. It houses the state's most dangerous prisoners — those awaiting execution and serving life sentences — and is home to the notorious X-Wing, where the biggest discipline problems are kept.
That's where Valdes was staying in 1999 as he awaited his execution for the shooting death of Palm Beach County corrections officer Fred Griffis in 1987.
And that was one of the areas that concerned McAndrew the most when he was named warden in 1996.
He said he suspected widespread corporal punishment shortly after his arrival, reading old use-of-force reports and incident reports and talking with inmates and staff.
"I openly told all new officer staff and those I encountered on a daily basis that the only difference between simple assault and first-degree murder is where the inmate's head hits the floor," he said in a deposition. "I advised staff that if they 'kicked an inmate's ass,' I'd do everything in my power to put them in prison."
In his effort to curb guard violence in the prison, McAndrew instituted a policy of videotaping cell extractions — cases in which inmates were not compliant and had to be removed by force.
During those cell extractions, McAndrew argued, guards are given a virtual green light to abuse inmates. He ordered the videotaping to keep the guards in line — an order that was strongly resisted by the guards.
"If a video camera is running, a correctional officer is going to be less apt to lose his cool and strike an inmate," he said. "He's going to go by the book if the camera is on."
McAndrew's tenure was cut short in February 1998 when he was transferred to another prison and Crosby was brought in. Crosby, like McAndrew, didn't like what he saw when he arrived in Starke, but for a different reason.
New warden, new course
Crosby toured the facility and found it filthy, unorganized and chaotic. During his initial tour, an inmate jumped from one tier to another during what was considered a normal way of getting around.
"Hell, I thought the guy was escaping," Crosby said in a deposition. "I was surprised. I had not spent time at FSP."
Crosby quickly called the assistant secretary of the state corrections department to take a look.
"I showed it to him," Crosby said. "I said, 'I want you to see what I'm walking into, because you're getting ready to get some complaints from some inmates. So, you know, you need to decide, do you want it like this? Or do you want it run correctly?' And he said, 'We don't want it run like this.' I said, 'OK.' "
Andrew McRae, a prison chaplain at the time, said wardens before Crosby made strong efforts to keep the "good old boy" guards who regularly beat up inmates in check.
"Once Mr. Crosby got there, that vanished," McRae said in a recent deposition. "It seemed like it was on a downhill spiral."
The videotaping stopped. Crosby told attorneys during a deposition that he found there was no policy ordering wardens to tape cell extractions, so he ended the practice.
Riveland, the former warden who reviewed the prison on behalf of Valdes' family, said wardens across the country were not waiting for orders to videotape cell extractions.
"The absence of video cameras on FSP's highest security wing was in contrast to generally accepted and normative correctional practice," he wrote in his report.
Blazs, Crosby's attorney, said during the recent court hearing that while Crosby knew of several isolated incidents of abuse, there was no way to predict what was going to happen to Valdes. He also said there was no indication of what Riveland described as a "rogue culture" of abusive guards.
But Valdes saw it differently, and he became intent in early 1999 to tell someone about it.
Letters told of abuse
Valdes began writing letters to media outlets across the state, describing abuse at the prison. Guards allegedly learned of Valdes' attempts, and Valdes told friends he was concerned the guards were going to hurt him.
He told a friend at the prison that he thought he would be killed as soon as Crosby went on vacation. That was on Friday, July 16.
The next day, guards entered his cell.
The guards testified during their criminal trial that Valdes had threatened one of their lives the previous day. Valdes had been a longtime disciplinary problem, fashioning knives and attacking staff and inmates. That's why they went in after him, the guards said.
They testified that he was not cooperative, so they followed procedure by using chemical agents to subdue Valdes. He continued fighting back, so they went ahead with the cell extraction.
That's where the stories differ.
Most of the guards said Valdes was only mildly hurt during the cell extraction and later injured himself. But one guard who participated testified the guards were intent on teaching Valdes a lesson.
"Who you going to kill now, (expletive)?" guard Raymon Hanson quoted another guard as shouting during the cell extraction. Then, Hanson said, the guard kicked Valdes "as hard as somebody could."
Valdes was taken to the infirmary, where nurses checked him out and released him. Valdes was found unconscious later in a cell with his jaw, shoulder blade, chest bone, nose and several ribs broken. He died that day.
Like the prosecutors who tried the guards, the Valdes' family attorney, Guy Rubin of Stuart, believes that guards beat Valdes before taking him to the infirmary. Then, Rubin believes, Valdes was beaten a second time by more guards.
Crosby first heard of the beating while jogging during his vacation. He called the prison when he returned home to get a status report and went to the prison, where officers explained what happened to Valdes.
"He had threatened an officer's life," Crosby said. "You are concerned whether they have a weapon or not. The chemical agents did not work. That's the key factor.
"I would have expected them to use chemical weapons up to the three times, which was the max you are to supposed to use them, before they did it. Yeah, when you go through with all that, that would have been one of the times it would be appropriate to use a cell extraction."
Photo courtesy of WPTV-Channel 5
Valdes is restrained in 1990 after striking a witness during his trial in the death of Palm Beach County corrections officer Fred Griffis.
WANDA VALDES COMMENTS
MTWT on JAMES CROSBY