Cowboy Justice

They ran the toughest cellblock in the most dangerous prison in the state. It was the perfect place to beat inmates.

Yet the silence was based on more than fear. In January 1996, a 25-year-old officer named Charlotte Gutierrez came upon LaVallee working his magic in the cell of inmate Ronnie Beverly. According to Gutierrez, LaVallee was punching Beverly in the torso while he was lying cuffed on the floor. LaVallee told her to leave. Gutierrez, who'd just started working in the SHU, responded by stepping on Beverly's head.

"I wanted to be part of the group," she told the jury. "I wanted the respect of the other officers, except for the weak and scared ones."

Before long, Gutierrez was kicking inmates in the groin and squeezing their testicles. Schultz congratulated her, she said, and LaVallee showed her how not to leave marks.

Rod Schultz
Mark Manger
Rod Schultz
Reality check: Inmate William Turner was taken to a 
holding cell after his encounter with four SHU officers, 
including Rod Schultz, who claimed Turner stabbed 
him.
Reality check: Inmate William Turner was taken to a holding cell after his encounter with four SHU officers, including Rod Schultz, who claimed Turner stabbed him.

At first the treatment was reserved for the most repellent inmates, men like Howard Lane, a lifer who'd killed another prisoner and threatened staff. Gutierrez described him as a stalker and compulsive masturbator who was known for following female officers around and writing them disgusting letters. He had two penises tattooed on his chest, with shooting stars surrounding them.

After one of Lane's episodes of sexual misbehavior, Captain Hines summoned Verbickas and Officer Dennis Britt. Britt remembered Hines's order: "Take this piece of shit down to the SHU and give him the treatment."

Once in the unit, Britt testified, Verbickas picked up the handcuffed Lane and dropped him chin first on the ground. Gutierrez kicked him in the ribs. Afterward, a lieutenant looked in on the messy scene and told Gutierrez, "Fix this."

So Gutierrez cleaned up the blood. Then she slapped her shins repeatedly to raise red spots that would photograph nicely -- supporting evidence for the official reports, which stated that Lane had kicked Gutierrez and sustained injuries by hurling himself into objects in his cell.

But it wasn't just deviants like Lane who needed to be taught a lesson. Inmates who kicked cell doors, inmates who made vague threats about lawsuits or insulted an officer's family -- whatever the problem, beatings were the solution. One officer said that when he called Schultz for some advice on how to deal with an unruly inmate in his own unit, Schultz's answer was unequivocal: "Take him down to the holding cell and beat him." On another occasion, Schultz allegedly declared that an officer who was suspected of snitching "should be taken out to the parking lot and beaten."

In time, the lessons doled out to their captive pupils became more elaborate, the purpose more obscure. What end was served, after all, by roughing up inmate Pedro Castillo, a notorious self-mutilator? What pedagogical aim could there be in torturing a prone, cuffed, mentally ill prisoner named Ellis Lard? Yet, according to one officer, LaVallee stomped on Lard's neck while Verbickas soccer-kicked him in the ribs.

(The jury acquitted LaVallee and Verbickas of beating Lard.)

Perhaps the most bitter lesson of all was prepared for William Turner. It's not clear how Turner, a slight, scrawny bank robber, was selected as a candidate for the treatment; he'd been in the SHU only eight days when he got the stuffing knocked out of him in the summer of 1996. Staff memos at the time refer to various threats and rants Turner supposedly uttered in the days leading up to the altercation, claiming to be "running shit in segregation" and having a pipeline to Johnnie Cochran. But prosecutors say the memos can't be trusted, that they may have been faked to make the subsequent assault more plausible.

On the third day, guards put a jumbo-sized prisoner into Turner's cell. Turner, who claimed to be a protective-custody case, protested. He got the worst of the ensuing fight with his cellie, who was soon removed.

On the eighth day, Schultz stuck his arm into the food slot in Turner's cell, ostensibly to hand him a towel. Schultz cried out that Turner had grabbed him by the wrist and was stabbing his arm. Officers Armstrong, LaVallee and James Bond responded. Turner was slapped, kicked, punched, put in a chokehold and otherwise neutralized. Shackled hand and foot, he was moved to a holding cell and charged with assaulting Schultz and Armstrong.

Stabbing a corrections officer can add another ten years to an inmate's sentence. But the entire incident was a fraud, Armstrong testified. The guards had decided in advance to pay Turner a visit, with the aim of nailing him on charges that would keep him in 23-hour lockdown for years. Schultz had sharpened a toothbrush in an office, Armstrong said, stabbed himself in the arm, then sprinkled blood in Turner's cell after the beating.

Videotapes of Turner in the holding cell, taken to document his medical treatment, show a frail, whimpering wreck who can hardly stand or even defecate without assistance. He complains of severe pain in his ribs, protests his innocence, frets that the men who did this aren't finished with him.

"They're going to jump on me and kill me," he tells one skeptical staff member. "Look at me, man. I didn't stab nobody. I'll take a polygraph on it, man. I have never stabbed anybody in my entire time in this system."

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