By Christina Sterbenz
After years of alleged harassment and abuse at his job at a California prison, Scott Jones committed suicide in 2011. A note inside his truck, parked near his body, read: “The job made me do it.”
On Friday, a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit that Jones’ widow, Janelle, brought against California’s department of prisons, as well as a warden and two other high-ranking officials.
That lawsuit alleges wrongful death and a violation of Jones’ First Amendment right to be free from harassment and retaliation.
In 2006, Jones’ employer High Desert State Prison sent him to work in the “Z-unit,” which houses the most dangerous inmates, according to the suit. There, he allegedly witnessed an array of horrific behaviours by officers — including
strip-searching inmates in the snow, provoking fighting among the inmates, preventing them from showering, and failing to stop contraband trading, according to his widow’s suit.
Jones’ widow alleges he was relentlessly harassed for reporting these behaviours as well as other violations of federal and state law and that he was pressured to violate the rules himself. At one point, a superior officer allegedly coerced him to file a false workers compensation claim after Jones hurt his knee while “horsing around on duty.”
To ensure his quietness about the incident, Jones speculated, the same officer allegedly pepper sprayed him at close range in 2007.
“Does that mean you’re going to rat me out now?” the officer said afterward, according to the suit.
US prisons are horrific. They unleash brutal abuse beyond any penalty written into law.