Inmate beaten as `snitch,' he says

He claims to have seen corrections officers assault a prisoner who later died

June 01, 2005|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A Maryland prison inmate who told authorities he witnessed correctional officers mistreat an inmate who died last year testified in federal court yesterday that he has been beaten and harassed and fears for his safety as long as he remains in the state's custody.

The inmate, Kerry Woodard, claimed that three officers came into his cell early one morning in mid-April as he lay sleeping, threw a blanket over his head, called him a "snitch" and kicked him in the legs and side "for about three minutes." And, he said, a "snitch" award certificate was shoved under his cell door a few days later.

Woodard's claims of abuse - which were strongly denied by state corrections officials - were made during a daylong hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday. He is seeking to be relocated to a federal prison. The hearing was to continue today.

"I don't want any damages," Woodard told U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett. "The only thing I want is to be in a place where I will be safe."

Woodard claims he has been targeted for abuse for providing information to investigators and others about the April 30, 2004, death of Ifeanyi A. Iko after a struggle with officers at the Western Correctional Institution near Cumberland.

He said he witnessed the incident while housed at that prison and has talked to investigators and corresponded with members of Iko's family and lawyers who are representing them in a civil suit.

Woodard said he was moved from WCI to the Eastern Correctional Institution on the Eastern Shore in February. He said that some officers there began harassing him after they learned that he was a witness to Iko's death.

Much of yesterday's hearing focused on the source of a computer-generated "snitch" award that Woodard claimed was shoved under his cell door in the early-morning hours, a time when only officers would have had access to the corridor.

The certificate has "clip art" drawings of officers with hats and badges and is titled "Inmate Police."

It was made out to the "Iko Snitch" for "Specializing in Other People's Business" and was presented by "Someone That Wishes You Would Mind your Own Business."

Lawyers for the state suggested Woodard could have made the document on a computer, or that another inmate or someone from the outside could have produced it and gotten it into Woodard's hands.

But Woodard denied generating the certificate or having anyone else prepare it for him. He said that he had no access to computers at ECI or WCI and is not skilled with computers.

However, Sgt. Raymond Wills, an internal investigator for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said he found evidence on a computer at WCI that might be a link to the award certificate.

Wills said he discovered there was a file folder for a document containing the words "Inmate Police" on a computer that inmates use to produce newsletters at WCI. He said the document itself had been deleted and could not be recovered.

Several prison staffers from ECI testified that Woodard told varying stories about the alleged incidents of abuse and harassment and that they could find no independent evidence to support his claims.

The state's lawyers suggested that Woodard, who is serving a 12-year sentence for assault and has previous arrests for burglary, was lying to cause trouble for an officer who had him put in disciplinary segregation and because he wants to be transferred out of the state prison system.

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