Scott Howard: Does "smoking gun" memo prove he was targeted by prison gang?

This week's cover story, "The Devil's Playground," presents Scott Howard's account of enduring rape and extortion by a notorious white supremacist gang in Colorado's prisons -- and then battling the indifference and even alleged cover-ups by the staffers he went to for help.

But can he prove it?

The Colorado Attorney General's Office has emphatically denied concealing evidence that would help substantiate Howard's story. But one document that surfaced after years of litigation has been described by his attorney as a "smoking gun" that shows prison staff knew about the extortion and did nothing.

Is the document damning? Not at first glance. It's a Department of Corrections transfer form filled out by Dave Mason, a case manager at Fremont Correctional Facility, in 2005 -- right before Howard was moved from that prison to Sterling. It doesn't explicitly state that he's being moved for his own protection from the 211 Crew prison gang that was pressuring him (and had already inflicted two sexual assaults, Howard says), and the box marked "Potential Victim" isn't checked.

But Mason does note that "other offenders" have read published accounts of Howard's financial crimes and are after him for money... which sounds a lot like extortion. And note that circled handwritten entry: 211.

Howard and his attorneys didn't get a copy of the form until five years later. A few weeks before they discovered it, under circumstances described in my feature, Mason filed an affidavit in the case denying that Howard had ever told him anything about being threatened or extorted.

State attorneys have denied any misconduct. They admit that the document is "relevant" but have insisted it's hardly a smoking gun; in fact, they say, the "211" shows up as a notation on a carbon copy of the form, not the original, suggesting it was added later, either by Mason or another staff member.

But the plain language of the form still suggests that DOC staff had more information about Howard's problems than they would later recall in sworn testimony. How much they knew about 211's operations and the sexual assaults on Howard, prior to his decision to "name names" in 2006, remains a point of dispute.

But one matter that's not in question: the ho-hum way that staffers reacted to Howard's tale of rape once he decided to tell it in full. Below is another document that illustrates just how little concern his admissions generated.

Having been moved from Sterling to Arkansas Valley in an effort to get away from his predators, Howard asked staff if he could get some counseling for the trauma he'd been through. He was offered a "bi-polar group therapy" program. When he pointed out that group therapy with other inmates probably wasn't the best setting for discussing his victimization by a powerful prison gang, he was told -- well, see for yourself. Howard's complaint is typewritten, the staff response handwritten below.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Scott Howard: Inmate's history of obtaining bogus refunds tip of prison-tax-fraud iceberg."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast