The Advocate Online, April 4, 2000
Jena Juvenile inmates allege threats-- Polozola issues protective order , By Vicki Ferstel, Suburban writer
State corrections officers now running the for-profit Jena Juvenile Justice Center are under a federal judge's order to prevent the prison's staff from retaliating against juveniles whose civil rights lawsuits led to the temporary state takeover.
Allegations of past retaliatory beatings and harassment were outlined by six juveniles in affidavits attached to a motion for a preliminary injunction filed in U.S. District Court at Baton Rouge.
U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola on Wednesday signed a three-page order forbidding the state and employees of the prison owner, Wackenhut Corrections Corp., from directly or indirectly intimidating, harassing or threatening the juveniles.
Polozola also forbade prison officials from encouraging or offering other juveniles rewards to harm any youth who speaks with an attorney or from questioning juveniles about their discussions with their lawyers.
Polozola's order indicates both the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections and Wackenhut denied the juveniles' allegations.
Among the affidavits filed by the six juveniles, the claims of juveniles identified only as B.W. and B.J., if true, paint a grim picture.
B.W. said he was harassed after attorney David Utter of the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana filed on his behalf a request for administrative relief.
B.W. said shortly after Utter filed the request with the warden on Feb. 23, other juveniles at the prison -- juveniles known to be friendly with a certain Wackenhut captain -- threatened to beat B.W.
"It is well known on campus that (the captain) controls the facility and gives contraband to boys to get them to beat up other kids," B.W. wrote.
A Wackenhut employee "put his arm around me and said, 'What are you talking to that attorney for?' "
B.W. told him Utter was trying to improve the Jena prison.
The officer replied, "Man, you know he's trying to get the state to take over (the prison), and they will fire my homeboys."
The officer choked B.W., then approached him later that day and said, "Tell your lawyer that."
After B.W. returned to his dorm, two juveniles assigned to work in the hallway looked at him and smacked their fists against their palms.
Utter, in a Feb. 28 letter about the incident to former Jena Warden S.A. Godinez, wrote, "This gesture has been used by other youth in other facilities -- namely Bridge City (a state juvenile prison) -- to mean that retaliation for 'snitching' on abusive correctional officers is imminent."
Another juvenile, identified as B.J., also claimed he was beaten after Utter filed a request for administrative relief on Feb. 23 about unnecessary physical restraints.
On March 9, as he was returning from meeting with a counselor, an officer identified in the affidavit as Sgt. B. questioned B.J.
The juvenile wrote, "Sgt. B. said, 'Why are you writing me up? Are you trying to get me to lose my job?' "
B.J. said another high-ranking officer on a different occasion pulled him into his office and asked if he wanted to withdraw the administrative relief request. B.J. declined.
On March 13, as B.J. was going to meet with Utter, the juvenile was approached by another sergeant.
"You going up there to tell your lawyer, don't forget you still gotta live here," B.J. said the officer warned him.
Two days later, an officer identified as Sgt. B. stood by and watched as a bigger boy choked B.J.
"As I fell, he started hitting me with his fists. Sgt. B. did nothing," B.J. wrote. "Other kids have threatened me and I believe it is because guards are putting them up to it.
"I know, for example, that some guards are having sexual relations with some kids and others bring contraband like money and cigarettes in to pay kids to beat up other kids."
The former Wackenhut warden, in an attempt to stop the retaliation, had forwarded to the staff the names of all the juveniles who had contact with the civil rights attorneys with a note to the staff to not harass those juveniles.
The juveniles also claimed they were not able to contact their attorneys.
Utter complained about that in a March 30 letter to Baton Rouge attorney Andrew "Ty" McMains, whose law firm, Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, represents Wackenhut.
Utter wrote that they noticed the incorrectly posted telephone number during a January tour of the prison.
"We were informed that this error would be immediately remedied," Utter wrote.
On March 13, while visiting clients, Utter and Baton Rouge attorney June Denlinger again noticed the incorrect phone numbers.
On March 20, Utter and Denlinger's law partner, Keith Nordyke, telephoned McMains to complain.
"Again, we were informed that the error would be corrected."
On March 29, Utter, Denlinger and Melanie Fields, an attorney with the law firm Nordyke & Denlinger, visited the Jena prison and were again told by the juveniles that they were not able to reach them by telephone because the posted numbers were incorrect.
"It is inconceivable to me that this situation is due to mere incompetence," Utter wrote. "This letter serves as further notice of the violation of my clients' constitutional rights."
Judge Polozola in Wednesday's order also directed the state and Wackenhut to post the correct telephone numbers of the plaintiff attorneys -- Utter, Keith Nordyke, and the U.S. Department of Justice -- in the Jena prison dorms, infirmary and dining hall.
Utter declined further comment Friday because of the ongoing lawsuit settlement negotiations.
Wackenhut spokesman Patrick Cannan, asked to comment Friday on the affidavits, said, "We'll answer that one in court."
State Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder was not available Friday for comment.