By Michael Biesecker
RALEIGH, N.C. — Prison officials in North Carolina are calling for a criminal investigation after inmates alleged correctional officers forced them to rub habanero hot sauce on their genitals, resulting in painful blisters.
N.C. Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Pamela Walker said Monday that officials had asked the State Bureau of Investigation to review conduct at Sampson Correctional Institution.
Walker said one staff member at the prison has been reassigned and another went on leave after the start of an internal investigation, the findings of which are being kept confidential. Additional personnel action could be forthcoming, she said.
"Upon review of an internal investigation, (the Division of Adult Correction) has referred the inmate allegations to the SBI for their review and any subsequent actions they deem appropriate," Walker said. "DAC considers the allegations to be serious and the alleged actions in violation of policy, which warrants further review by management."
In July, six inmates from Sampson sent a hand-written letter to the U.S. District Court in Greensboro complaining that staff had forced them to perform numerous humiliating acts for the entertainment of guards, including stripping nude and pretending to have sex. The medium-security facility houses about 500 male inmates in Clinton, which is about 60 miles southeast of Raleigh.
The inmates also reported being forced to gulp a super-hot "Exotic Hot Sauce" purchased off the Internet and slather it on their testicles, as well as being forced to grab and kiss wild snakes while working on a road crew and throwing captured bunnies in to oncoming traffic.
Those who performed for the guards were rewarded with preferential work assignments, food, cigarettes and beer, the inmates alleged. Both tobacco and alcohol are banned in North Carolina's prisons.
In their letter, the inmates ask for the court's assistance in finding lawyers to help them file a lawsuit against the state and said they feared retaliation from the staff at the prison.
In a Nov. 19 order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake agreed to accept the letter as a formal federal civil rights action, but wrote that she could not accept the complaint in its present form due to several legal issues with its format and because it was filed in the incorrect judicial district. The prison's location puts the case under the jurisdiction of the federal court in Raleigh.
It was not immediately clear if the inmates are represented by a lawyer or if their complaint will be refiled in the correct venue.
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Walker said the prison system learned of the allegations through internal grievances filed by the inmates, not from the letter to the court.