By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
On January 3, 2006, two officers conducted a surprise search of Howard's cell. They found the bundle of tax return forms, listing 35 inmates — some of them not even in Colorado. Howard says he didn't tip off the staff himself, but he wishes the raid had been more discreet.
"They sent the gang coordinators," he says. "The minute the 211 guys saw that, they pushed me in a corner and asked, 'Who the fuck have you been talking to?'"
Howard, who has a history of heart trouble, suffered a panic attack that night — the first in a series of convulsive, paralyzing episodes that made him feel like "a mouse in a corner." Exhibiting high blood pressure and tachycardia, he was taken to the hospital for observation and remained there for several days.
During that time, Howard decided to name names and try to get out of Sterling. He met with IRS agents, staff brass and an investigator from the DOC Inspector General's office. He told them the tax scam was supposed to raise money to hire Harvey Steinberg, the prominent Denver criminal attorney, to defend Benjamin Davis. He told them about the extortion. And eventually he told them about the sexual assaults, naming Shimbel and Dang and Hernandez and Griego.
The last bit of information spilled out first in a conversation with a female IRS agent, who asked him what was "really" going on. "I started crying," he recalls. "I told her, 'I've been raped. I've been beaten. You people have no clue what's going on here.'"
Larry Graham, the investigator from the Inspector General's office, was highly skeptical of Howard's claims. He thought it was suspicious that Howard made detailed sexual-assault allegations only after the incriminating tax-fraud materials were found in his cell. Graham first learned of the claims from a draft of the lawsuit Howard soon filed, acting as his own attorney, in a desperate effort to get a judge to order his removal from Sterling. There was no DNA evidence, no contemporaneous outcry, nothing but "ice-cold" accusations that the accused inmates could easily deny, if anyone bothered to ask them.
In Graham's view, Howard was a smart con artist trying to game the system. Or, as he put it in one e-mail to another DOC official, "Mr. Howard is an admitted homosexual whose other talent is tax fraud...he made an unprovable report of past sexual assaults by 211's here [at Sterling] and at Fremont. I'm still working on that, but doubt if it will go far."
In another e-mail, Graham all but dismissed Howard's story as a ploy for leniency: "Mr. Howard seems to think he can just say the mean old 211 guys made him do it and walk away."
Yet Howard did have proof of gang involvement in the tax scheme and other businesses. He helped investigators locate a computer disk that contained evidence of falsified property sheets, payments to the gang by other inmates and other incriminating data. He turned over an intake sheet on another inmate that could only have come from a staff computer. But his allegations of staff involvement were deemed "bogus" just the same.
"Even after naming all the names, they just sent me back to my cell," Howard says now. "I told a captain these people were going to kill me if I didn't come up with $300,000 by March. Her response was, 'Let's see what happens in March.'"
Reluctantly, it seems, administrators made note of Howard's "custody issues," listing a couple dozen inmates he should not be housed with, and shipped him off to the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility. He stayed there for several months, filing a blizzard of grievances and complaining about sightings of gang members who might retaliate against him. One grievance challenged DOC's unwritten rule of making cell assignments by race; Howard figured he would be better off with a Hispanic or African-American cellie than a white one who might be in touch with the 211 Crew.
But word of his snitching at Sterling eventually drifted into Arkansas Valley, and Howard was transferred again. This time he was sent to one of the most violent prisons in the state.
"I was sent to Limon, God knows why," he says. "It was already all over the compound that 211 was going to kill me."
In a corridor at Limon, Howard locked eyes with Allen Hernandez, alias LBow — one of the names on the list of inmates from Fremont and Sterling who weren't supposed to be in contact with him. Howard fell to the floor and vomited. He lasted two weeks at Limon before he was shipped out again.
He was at Buena Vista only a few days when a 211 member from Sterling who'd been directly involved in the threats against Howard was moved into the same unit. That night he was subjected to a torrent of screams and taunts from neighboring cells. "They were calling me a snitch and a whore and a fag," he says. "They were making arrangements to sell me to the black dudes on the tier. The officer station is right there. They could hear it, but they didn't react at all."