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Federal lawsuit alleges more than 100 prisoners were beat, attacked at Souza prison

The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, as seen in 2003. (John Mottern/Getty Images)
The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, as seen in 2003. (John Mottern/Getty Images)

There is continued fallout from a lockdown at the state's maximum security prison two years ago.

A federal class action lawsuit, filed by advocacy group Prisoners Legal Services (PLS) of Massachusetts, accuses state correction officials of violently retaliating against prisoners at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley after an assault on a correction officer in January 2020.

The lawsuit alleges that Souza officials attacked and beat more than 100 prisoners after the assault. It claims officers especially targeted prisoners of color in the weeks following the assault in what the suit calls a "retaliatory force campaign."

"This unconstitutional brutality included beating and kicking prisoners; gouging eyes; grabbing testicles; smashing faces into the ground or wall; deploying Taser guns, pepperball guns, and other chemical agents; ordering K9s to menace and bite prisoners; and excessively tightening handcuffs and forcing prisoners’ arms into unnatural and painful positions, among other positional torture tactics," the suit reads.

After the assault on the correction officer, 20 men were removed from Souza and sent to other prisons. Several state lawmakers visited the prison and documented that detainees were being abused. A Superior Court judge ruled that the Department of Correction was unconstitutionally prohibiting prisoners from accessing their legal paperwork.

This new federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of nine men incarcerated at Souza, names 18 defendants including state Correction Commissioner Carol Mici and other prison and correction officials. It claims the violence was sanctioned by prison supervisors and DOC administrators. The suit seeks unspecified damages and asks the court to formulate a remedy to end excessive force against prisoners.

"This lawsuit aims to bring much needed and overdue justice to the many who were
subjected to extreme and unlawful use of force by state officials and officers charged
with their care," said PLS Executive Director Elizabeth Matos. "In the two years since these incidents occurred, no action has been taken by the Commonwealth to address the egregious assaults. It is simply high time to hold corrections accountable.”

The DOC declined to comment, saying it does not do so on ongoing litigation.

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Deborah Becker Twitter 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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