16 Souza-Baranowski Inmates Indicted On Charges Linked To Incident That Injured Guards

The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center as seen on April 19, 2017, in Shirley, Massachusetts. Former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction, died after hanging himself at the prison early Wednesday. (Elise Amendola/AP)
The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center as seen on April 19, 2017, in northern central, Massachusetts. (Elise Amendola/AP)

Sixteen prisoners at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center face 109 charges stemming from a violent incident last month that injured four corrections officers inside the maximum security prison.

A Worcester County grand jury handed up indictments on Thursday. The indictments were announced the same day an attorney for a Souza-Baranowski inmate — who was not indicted and is suing the state Department of Correction [DOC] — asked federal authorities to investigate the max security prison in Lancaster, Mass.

The Indictments

In a statement announcing the indictments, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early said all 16 men were charged with two counts of assault and battery causing serious bodily injury and four counts of assault and battery on a corrections officer. The charges were brought as a joint venture, a legal theory that allows prosecutors to charge all of the prisoners for aiding in the criminal action even if they did not directly participate in the violence.

Some of the men face separate charges of aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (in most cases with a shod foot, though one prisoner was charged with using a wooden cane). The statement from Early said the men will be arraigned at future dates but did not disclose a set timeline.

The DOC said in a statement,"We are relieved that the injured officers are recovering and will support District Attorney Early's office with their investigation as necessary."

Thursday's charges stem from a Jan. 10 incident, when a fight broke out in a prison common area. A video of the incident appears to show several prisoners striking a guard before other corrections officers rush to his aid.

Three guards were taken to the hospital for treatment. A fourth corrections officer injured in the incident has returned to work, according to the DA's statement.

The incident led to a weeks-long lockdown at the facility, a lawsuit and unannounced visits by groups of lawmakers. Attorneys for the prisoners claimed in the lawsuit filed last month the DOC has violated their clients' rights by barring attorney visits and blocking access to legal documents. Prisoners at the facility also alleged guards beat and abused them in the aftermath of the alleged Jan. 10 attack.

Attorney Patricia DeJuneas, who represents Frank Webb — one of the men indicted by DA Early's office — told WBUR Thursday evening that her office had "heard from a credible source" that Webb "was badly beaten today."

DeJuneas said officials with MCI Concord confirmed "that there was some kind of assault on him," adding "we've also been told that he is currently being transported to an outside hospital at this moment."

"In our experience, inmates don't get transported to outside hospitals unless they're very badly injured," she said.

No additional details about the incident were available. DeJuneas said her office is now expanding its request for Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling to investigate to include a probe into the apparent assault on Webb.

A spokesperson said the Department of Correction may release a statement about the matter.

A Call For U.S. Attorney To Investigate

DeJuneas, who also represents Robert Silva-Prentice — one of the plaintiffs in the suit -- sent a letter to Lelling earlier Thursday asking him to investigate. Her letter said at least 91 prisoners have made complaints or alleged that they were beaten by DOC tactical team members who were brought to the prison and moved men to new cells after Jan. 10.

DeJuneas also took issue with statements made by Souza officials during a court hearing on the lawsuit Wednesday alleging that Silva-Prentice instigated an attack on tactical team members. (He was not in the same area of the prison where the violence broke out on Jan. 10.) DeJuneas said she didn't learn of the allegations against her client until after Silva-Prentice testified Wednesday.

"Having worked for the Bureau of Prisons and based on my personal knowledge and experience with the DOC, I can assure you that if there was one ounce of truth to the newly lodged accusation, at a minimum, Mr. Silva-Prentice would have been put into restrictive housing pending investigation weeks ago," DeJuneas' letter said.

In the letter to Lelling, DeJuneas added she believes "an investigation will uncover systemic corruption and evidence of brutal, inhumane treatment of Souza Baranowski inmates, particularly since January 10, 2020."

DeJuneas also said the Justice Department has been talking with Massachusetts attorneys for more than a year about prison conditions, with a focus on mental health care and the use of solitary confinement. She said recently DOJ investigators have also been asking questions about Souza Baranowski.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for Massachusetts said it does not confirm or deny investigations and therefore is not able to comment.

This article was originally published on February 20, 2020.


Roberto Scalese Senior Editor, Digital
Roberto Scalese is a senior editor for digital.


Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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