Mass. COs' union clashes with lawmaker over inmate attack, lawsuit

The union said Sen. James Eldridge was taking the side of inmates after an attack that injured three COs

Marie Szaniszlo
Boston Herald

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union blasted state Sen. James B. Eldridge, accusing him in a letter of taking the side of inmates at the state’s maximum-security prison in the wake of a crackdown that followed an attack that left three officers seriously injured.

The executive board for the 4,000-member union said in the missive last Thursday that it was “deeply disappointed” with the senator’s two visits to interview inmates at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, who claim in a lawsuit that they have been denied access to their lawyers and collectively punished for the Jan. 10 attack.

“In the aftermath of the horrific assault and beating of our officers,” the board said, “your response has largely been for the care and concern of the inmates involved in the incident.”

In an interview Monday, one of the board’s members, Legislative Representative Kevin Flanagan, was more blunt, expressing “disgust” about Eldridge’s visits to the prison’s inmates.

“That’s what gets the officers at Souza-Baranowski so upset,” Flanagan said. “It is just mind-blowing that he will take the word of convicted felons without reaching out to the officers who work in a very dangerous place.”

Eldridge told the Herald Monday that he condemned the attack and planned to call the union on Tuesday to arrange a meeting with officers.

“We have a cycle of violence and tension at the prison, and how do we change that?” he said. “It could be everything from adding more correction officers, but also more mental health counselors and social workers, and more programming to keep the inmates occupied.”

All three of the officers attacked last month suffered concussions, he said. One also was treated for a broken jaw and fractured vertebrae, while another suffered head trauma and a broken nose.

On Jan. 31, three inmates, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a lawsuit claiming that correction officers denied prisoners access to their attorneys and confiscated court papers from them in retribution for the attack.

At a hearing yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court, Judge Beverly Canone said she wanted to hear testimony from witnesses on both sides at a hearing on Thursday.

In an affidavit filed last Friday, one attorney, Ann Grant, said that in addition to being barred from sending her mail, her client had been denied a shower for three days. When the inmates in his unit covered their windows as an act of civil disobedience, she said, he was hit with a baton, pepper-sprayed six to seven times, pushed so that he hit his head on the bed, handcuffed and hit in the scrotum and back with a gloved fist.

In a statement yesterday, the state Department of Correction refuted the inmates’ claims, saying more than 100 attorney visits have taken place since the attack.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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