Judge rejects inmate's request to move to federal prison

Man says officers beat him as `snitch' in death

June 02, 2005|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A Maryland prison inmate who claimed he was harassed and beaten by correctional officers for telling investigators what he knew about another prisoner's death lost his bid yesterday for a transfer to the federal prison system.

In rejecting Kerry Woodard's request to be moved from the Eastern Correctional Institution on the Eastern Shore, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett made it clear that he was skeptical of the inmate's claims of physical abuse.

Woodard testified that three officers came into his cell one morning in mid-April, threw a blanket over his head, called him a "snitch" and kicked him several times in the legs and side. The inmate also said that a computer-generated "snitch" award was shoved under his cell door a few days later.

Bennett noted that Woodard did not seek medical attention after the alleged assault and showed no sign of physical injury when he was examined a few weeks later.

"Not a scratch," Bennett said.

Woodard said he filed a complaint about the alleged attack, but prison officials testified that there is no record that he did so.

Woodard has claimed that he became a target of abuse after correctional officers at ECI learned he had been a witness to the death last year of Ifeanyi A. Iko.

Iko died of asphyxiation April 30, 2004, after a struggle with officers at the Western Correctional Institution near Cumberland. Woodard was a prisoner in a nearby cell but was transferred to ECI on Feb. 1.

Iko's death was ruled a homicide, but an internal investigation and an Allegany County grand jury probe found no wrongdoing by prison staff.

Certificate

Bennett expressed doubts about Woodard's claims that he was physically abused, but the judge said questions remain about the origin of the award certificate. Woodard testified that it was slipped under his cell door a few days after he was assaulted.

"The certificate causes me some concern for the atmosphere there, and I really don't have any explanation for how this document was created and came to be in the hands of an inmate," Bennett said.

No intimidation seen

However, he said that he did not see it as something that would intimidate Woodard and prevent him from testifying as a witness in any cases involving Iko's death. For that reason, he said, he saw no legal basis to grant an injunction ordering Woodard's immediate transfer.

Lawyers for the state suggested that Woodard himself put the "snitch" certificate in his cell. They produced witnesses who said the computer-generated certificate likely was produced at the Western Maryland prison on a computer inmates use to produce newsletters.

The typewritten text says the award was given for "Specializing in Other People's Business" by "Someone That Wishes You Would Mind Your Own Business."

A state investigator testified that he talked to inmates who claimed to have seen such a document circulating at WCI. Other witnesses testified that the only handwritten words on the certificate -- "Iko Snitch" -- were done in a block printing style that resembles Woodard's writing.

But Bennett questioned how Woodard could have brought the certificate with him undetected when he came to ECI from Western Maryland because his belongings would have been searched when he arrived.

Assistant Attorney General David Kennedy said officers do not necessarily look at every piece of paper a transferred inmate brings with him.

Inmate accused

In closing arguments, Kennedy accused Woodard of making up the story of abuse to attract attention and to try to make trouble for an officer who had put him in disciplinary segregation.

"I don't think Mr. Woodard has any credibility whatsoever," Kennedy said.

Although Woodard lost his request to be moved immediately, his complaint alleging violations of his constitutional rights remains before the court. Tamal Banton, a lawyer for Woodard, said the lawsuit will be amended to include witness intimidation and other claims.

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