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Prisoner bloodied, guards fired

11-5-2009 Michigan:

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) - No one is disputing that Antonio Rios sustained facial injuries and two broken teeth while he was inside the Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility.

What is contested is who's at fault: Rios, five corrections officer who were fired over the incident, or the state of Michigan.

Carlene and Silvestre Rios are Antonio's parents. Their son, 23, described staff corruption at the prison in letter after letter.

On October 28, 2008, Rios was injured when five corrections officers -- the Emergency Response Team -- entered his cell because, officers said, he wouldn't return an item that could be used as a weapon.

His lunch tray.

"He don't got no front teeth," his mother, Carlene, said. "They beat the hell out my son. Is they crazy?"

She said she is "outraged. I'm mad. I don't care what anybody says. I am very upset about this."

The state of Michigan shared the sentiment and fired the officers all at once, a termination that is very rare. Of the 91 corrections workers the state fired this year, only eight involved excessive force.

"We don't tolerate it. I can tell you that," said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman John Cordell. "We don't tolerate excessive force in out department."

Carlos Castillo was one of the five officers fired.

"Your adrenaline is pumping," he told 24 Hour News 8. "This is a maximum security prison and most of the calls where the response team is needed is in our administrative segregation unit which houses the worst prisoners that Michigan has to offer."

They wear helmets and padded gloves similar to that worn by police riot teams, and have chemical agents if needed. The prison videotapes all cell extractions.

At the cell door, officers restrained Rios' hands and legs. That was Castillo's role.

Rios let Castillo put him in restraints. But shortly after officers entered the cell they say was flooded with toilet water, they say Rios began resisting and spitting at them, forcing them to gain physical control of him.

Castillo ran into the cell. "Something was going on in there. So I had to respond."

The video doesn't show much. The cameraman was not positioned to see what was happening inside, but even so the state said they have compelling evidence of excessive use of force.

"I have an 180-page document that shows and substantiates an excessive use of force in this case during the cell rush," said MDOC spokesman Cordell.

But the state won't release that document to 24 Hour News 8. The officers say Rios caused his own injuries, resisting, falling and hitting the floor.

Rios, imprisoned for felonious assault and criminal sexual conduct, had previously been in trouble during his prison sentence.

"In the past 27 months the prisoner has received 51 misconduct violations," Cordell said. "That's significantly above what we have seen in most of our prison population."

But the state says a prisoner's past behavior has no bearing in cases such as this.

"No matter what a prisoner does previous, we look at the totality of the circumstances in the given incident to determine whether appropriate force was used or not," Cordell said.

After Rios was restrained, Castillo said he didn't touch him again. But he was fired with the other four officers.

The Department of Corrections maintains Castillo used excessive force, failed to report violations and falsified documents.

But in a Department of Corrections internal memo written to human resources, the prison warden said he's not convinced Castillo is guilty of any of the charges.

"They made a mistake by firing all of us," Castillo said, adding that wasn't their only mistake. He said he wasn't trained on cell extractions.

Cell extractions happen frequently at the Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility. So do prisoner complaints of excessive force.

"It's common for an incident like this to occur and then it has to be investigated of course," Castillo said, "but you do find yourself back at work."

But not this time, at least for Castillo and one other officer. Three of the five have a chance to get their jobs back through arbitration, someone outside DOC reviewing the case.

But Castillo and Matthew Van Aken aren't entitled to the same rights of arbitration because they are new, probationary employees.

Should they have been on the Emergency Response Team in the first place?

The state says yes. But the officers union contract with the state reads, "It is the intent that the probationary employee will not be placed in an assignment which poses an unusual risk of physical assault by prisoners."

The prison spokesperson told 24 Hour News 8 he does not know whether cell extractions qualify as an unusual risk.

Officers say it's the most dangerous thing they do, that prisoners have been known to escape restraints.

But Castillo said, "I wasn't trained to be on the response team. I was a probationary employee."

And records show that only one of the officers had emergency response team training.

While the state told Target 8 investigators officers could learn the necessary skills during other training, the union quotes the state's own use-of-force policy as saying specific cell rush training is required to perform them.

The state holds it's OK to put probationary employees on response teams, but 24 Hour News 8 has learned that the Ionia Maximum Facility now no longer allows it.

"I wish they had that in place prior to this incident," Castillo said. "It's just an unfortunate incident that took place."

Rios' parents say Antonio hasn't been the same since the beating.

"Tony used to joke. Tony was like a joker. He'll make jokes. He'll make people laugh," Carlene Rios said. "I don't see that in my son no more." All I see is just, Tony is just, Tony not Tony no more. It's like they took my son away."

And Castillo, a former Marine, may never work in his chosen field again. "Stepped off the battlefield and into the prison, into corrections. Because of this event, I'm not able to work in corrections or for the state. Because this is on my record now, employers kinda look away from it."

Both the Castillo and Rios families are now looking for lawyers.

Castillo wonders why he was fired. "That's why I wanted to bring the story to you so I could get some answers." He said he saw no wrongdoing by any of the officers and hopes they all get their jobs back.

"That's part of my job is to also protect prisoners," he said. "I have a duty to protect them as well as my officers."

The Rios family said they've lost hope in a system they once trusted.

"When he got convicted I looked at my wife and I told her, I says at least we we'll know where he's at at night. We won't have to worry," said Silvestre Rios. "Because we had faith in the system, you know, we were well secure in that they will take care of him."

"I think the state did make a right move by firing them. Yes," said Carlene Rios. Silvestre Rios added, "They'd be making a big mistake if they reinstate them." ..Source.. by Leon Hendrix

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