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Waupun guard named repeatedly in abuse complaints

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Bill Lueders/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
July 21, 2014

At his sentencing hearing on Feb. 28, Wisconsin prison inmate Leighton Lindsey admitted biting a correctional officer in the segregation unit at the state's Waupun Correctional Institution.

He said the officer, Jesse Jones, was restraining him while another officer, Joseph Beahm, assaulted him.

“I was being held up so that Beahm could punch me, kick me, knee me, all that stuff,” he stated, saying he acted in self-defense. “I had no choice.”

Beahm's report on the Dec. 23, 2011, incident said Lindsey spat at officers and was actively resisting Jones, then began biting him. The two officers subdued Lindsey “using strong side knee kicks and strong side forearm strikes,” the report says. Jones sustained a bite mark and sore knee. Photos show Lindsey with a bloody gash across his forehead.

The case is among the 40 allegations of staff-on-inmate abuse since 2011 identified by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism in Waupun's segregation unit, commonly known as solitary confinement. The allegations were made in lawsuits, internal inmate complaints, interviews, and letters to state officials and an inmate-rights activist. (For a spreadsheet summarizing the allegations, see http://bit.ly/waupunallegations.)

Of the 40 allegations, officer Beahm is named in 28. A dozen inmate lawsuits since 2011 accuse Beahm of abuse; six have been dismissed and six are pending.

The state Department of Corrections has denied these allegations and accused the inmates of lying. But the nature and volume of the complaints has drawn the notice of state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, and former state prison chief Walter Dickey, who has called for an investigation in response to the Center's findings.

Beahm, a nine-year department employee, did not respond to written requests for an interview or offers to go over the allegations in detail.

'A ROGUE GUARD'

Beahm, a state prison guard since 2005, has worked since October 2006 in Waupun's segregation unit, where inmates are often sent for disciplinary reasons. He is well-known to inmates at the prison 55 miles northeast of Madison.

“He talks like a tough man, he talks like a bully,” said Talib Akbar, a former Waupun inmate released last October after serving 20 years for two counts of sexual assault. “When something happens, he's the first one there, because he wants to down somebody.”

According to records released to the Center, Beahm has been the subject of only one disciplinary investigation during his time at Waupun. That was a 2011 incident in which he allegedly fell asleep at a desk. Beahm denied it, and complained about being “written up,” which he said had never happened before.

“I worry that I not only have to worry about inmates lying about me, but now I have to worry about management,” he stated in his response to the inquiry.

The Center obtained records of disciplinary investigations for eight Waupun employees named frequently in inmate complaints. Most were for very minor infractions, like being late for work, and none dealt with allegations of inmate abuse.

In a three-month period just prior to the biting incident, inmate Lindsey filed at least five internal complaints against Beahm, alleging harassment and threats. “He is a rogue guard and you all know it,” Lindsey wrote in one complaint. “Everybody can't be lying on this guy.”

The complaints were promptly rejected. “You have little credibility with the behavior you exhibit in segregation,” a prison official wrote.

Lindsey's defense attorney, William Mayer, believes abuse is occurring. Most commonly, he said, this involves “the instigating of behavior — doing things to get under (inmates') skin, to get them going.” He thinks the allegations warrant further investigation.

ALLEGATIONS OF 'TORTURE'

Some of the complaints identified by the Center allege extreme mistreatment.

A federal lawsuit filed in January by inmate Clarence Wilks alleges that segregation unit guard Andrew Moungey “struck plaintiff repeatedly with a closed fist about the plaintiff's head and both sides of the face and slammed plaintiff's face into the wall.” The defendants have denied the allegations, which led to Wilks receiving a conduct report for lying about staff. The lawsuit is pending.

Officer Moungey, hired in 2011, is named in 11 of the 40 complaints. Another officer, Lt. Jessie Schneider, hired in 2001, is named in 15. Moungey and Schneider did not respond to interview requests sent via letter and email.

In another pending federal lawsuit, inmate Laron McKinley alleges being subjected to “torture” on March 8, 2013. McKinley, convicted of multiple crimes including kidnapping and attempted murder, admitted in an affidavit that the episode began when he threw fecal matter at a guard.

By McKinley's account, Beahm subsequently arrived at his cell and announced, “I'm going to kill you,” later amending this to, “I'm going to hurt you real bad!” Another inmate, Shirell Watkins, produced an affidavit saying he heard Beahm's death threat “from my own ears.”

After handcuffing him from behind, McKinley alleges, Beahm and other officers twisted his wrist “to its limit and near breaking point,” slammed him face first into a strip cage door and stomped on his shackled ankles. He said his wrist, hand and ankles were “contorted and wrenched” for “at least 30 minutes of continuous agony.”

The state, in a court filing in February, denies these allegations, saying staff used only necessary force. For his role in the incident, McKinley was sentenced to an additional 360 days in segregation and still faces felony charges for throwing or expelling bodily substances. That case is scheduled for trial in August.

'BEEN LOOKED INTO'

Prisoner advocate Peg Swan, a retired nurse's aide who lives in rural Richland County, wrote the DOC early this year asking that Beahm be removed from duty pending an investigation into the complaints against him.

James Schwochert, the DOC's assistant administrator of adult institutions, rejected this request in a letter to Swan dated Feb. 18.

“These complaints have been looked into, by either internal or external investigators,” Schwochert wrote. “Based on our findings, they appear to be fabricated to the point that the inmates place themselves at risk of being subject to discipline for making false allegations about staff.”

But Dickey believes the large number of complaints merits further inquiry.

“Even if everything they say in that letter is true, I'm not sure why you want to keep the guy (Beahm) in seg,” Dickey said. “There's obviously something going on.”

“It's a psychological warfare environment,” said former Waupun inmate Marvin Smith, who spent the majority of his seven years at the prison in segregation. “They know which inmates are weak. They know which inmates they can prey upon.”

Smith, whose alleged case of abuse did not involve Beahm, said he's heard Beahm state that he will remain in segregation: “He's not going anywhere. He's said that. Because he knows he's free to make inmates' life a living hell.”

WAUPUN LEADS IN LAWSUITS

During the three-year period from 2011 through 2013, the state Department of Justice represented state prison officials on 49 inmate lawsuits alleging excessive use of force, according to a tally provided by department spokeswoman Dana Brueck.

Of these, 13 suits are from inmates at Waupun, more than for any other state prison. Several of the suits have been dismissed, others are pending.

The DOJ's list, prepared in March, omits at least four additional lawsuits filed by Waupun segregation inmates in late 2013 and early 2014. It also does not include a lawsuit filed on Feb. 11, 2013, by Marcus Childs, an inmate in segregation. Childs alleged that he was placed naked in a cold cell in 2011 and denied access to a blanket by Beahm and other guards. That case was dismissed in March 2013 because Childs failed to submit a required filing.

Childs missed the filing because he hung himself in his cell on Feb. 21, 2013.

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.



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