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ACLU says youth tortured at state prison

2009-12-17T00:00:00Z ACLU says youth tortured at state prisonBy ANGELA BRANDT Independent Record Helena Independent Record
December 17, 2009 12:00 am  • 

A 17-year-old boy suffering from mental illnesses was so traumatized by his deplorable treatment in the Montana State Prison that he twice attempted to kill himself by biting through the skin on his wrist to puncture a vein, a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana alleges.

The lawsuit filed in Lewis and Clark County District Court claims that the boy, “Robert Doe,” has been treated illegally and inhumanely and has been detained for about 10 months in solitary confinement. Doe was Tasered as part of a “behavior modification plan,” pepper-sprayed and stripped naked in view of other inmates, the complaint states.

The lawsuit was filed against the state of Montana, the Department of Corrections, MDC Director Michael Ferriter, Warden Michael Mahoney and Dr. David Shaefer, who was chief psychiatrist at the prison.

Doe’s treatment while in prison has violated state and federal laws in addition to human rights laws and standards, the ACLU maintains.

Prison officials say they will answer the allegations in court.

“At this point, we have to go through the legal process,” Montana State Prison spokeswoman Linda Moodry said.

Jennifer Giuttari, ACLU of Montana staff attorney, said she heard about the boy’s plight in letters from his fellow inmates saying they had heard the teen crying out for help and were concerned. His mother and aunt also wrote to the ACLU asking for help.

The young man has exhausted all prison grievance procedures to no avail, according to the lawsuit.

“We believe if these conditions continue, he will only get worse,” Giutarri said. “This is defined as torture.”

The young man, whose name was not released, has been at the prison since February 2008 after he pleaded guilty to two counts of assault on a peace officer stemming from a physical altercation with two correctional officers at Pine Hills Correctional Facility for juveniles. The ACLU wouldn’t say why he was sent to Pine Hills, because he was in juvenile court at the time. After the altercation, he was sentenced to five years under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.

The lawsuit alleges the young man has been treated in a cruel and degrading manner at the prison that has exacerbated his mental illness and is causing him to deteriorate psychologically and physically.

He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder, among other illnesses, according to the lawsuit.

During childhood, the boy suffered physical and emotional abuse and neglect. The documents say he was beaten by family members with wire hangers, belt buckles and baseball bats.

His available mental health treatment consists of a prison staff member knocking on his door once a week and asking if he has any concerns, according to documents, and then he must answer by yelling within earshot of other inmates.

Since March, he has been locked in a solitary cell all but five to six hours a week, and he is not allowed personal visits or telephone calls. According to the lawsuit, he was placed in solitary confinement after damaging a fence in the prison’s maximum-security area.

When allowed outdoors for exercise, the young man is given access to a caged pen resembling a dog kennel, the documents state. 

Andree Larose, Helena attorney and lead counsel on the case, said the young man is not getting the mental health treatment he need.

“This (lawsuit) was a last resort,” she said.

Reporter Angela Brandt: 447-4078 or

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. Mtmaestro
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    Mtmaestro - December 18, 2009 9:36 pm
    well, I partially agree with holding parents accountable, but I prefer it before they even have kids. Besides, if we went to this kid's parents, we'd inevitably find something from his circumstances or parents that would shift our focus to them, and on and on...
    this does not mean you can't be accountability, but this article is about humanely treating human beings.
    In fact, if you want to talk accountability, thank Ronald Reagan, and those ignorant enough to believe in "we will lower taxes, and increased services..."
    really... Reagan was the beginning of the gutting of mental health services -- eventually, made worse through the unholy alliance with the pharmaceuticals.
    that's really the beginning for how our prison corrections system has become our de facto mental health system.
    Added dose of the Republican platform which believes that if you punish them and can find them, they will learn their lesson with no evidence that it is true, and I get this kid's circumstances.
    it is true that most evil in impact is done by good people, with good intentions, saying to themselves; "I'm just doing my job,; well, this is not good but nothings perfect,;somebody's got to do it,; well, the benefits are good, and mostly we do okay, etc."
    what sucks is that the attorney implies that other avenues were tried, and the lawsuit was "a last resort".
  2. whatishappeningtoMT
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    whatishappeningtoMT - December 18, 2009 11:21 am
    So, I did go to the ACLU website and read the lawsuit. It's a must read if anyone is to make an informed call about which side of this issue you are on. I am not going to say which side I am on, unless I am asked. If you are interested, the website is
  3. Moris
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    Moris - December 17, 2009 11:42 pm
    It is hard to get real good information. I doubt a 17 year old needs to be locked up. Does anyone know where to get clear rules to the discussions? Can the grand editor of this section please clearly post the rules.
  4. MTanan
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    MTanan - December 17, 2009 6:18 pm
    Go to the ACLU website and read the actual complaint. There's some pretty graphic detail of what (allegedly) was done to this boy. Turns your stomach.
  5. RD1929
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    RD1929 - December 17, 2009 4:05 pm
    sorry Alan, my comment was directed and GPAC, not the article. With this kid assaulting a peace office at Pine Hills, which he was there for a reason!! of course we don't know why since he was a minor, but it was probably on the same lines. Sounds to me this kid needs to be locked up and kept away from the public, he seems to still be a threat to society. And GPAC, these people on drugs go out and commit crimes out of "fun" not always for the money to buy that crap!!
  6. terise14
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    terise14 - December 17, 2009 4:03 pm
    It is so funny that no one really has the full story on all of this but of course this kid has done nothing wrong to get into the Pine Hills Boy School or to end up in prison. He is obviously totally innocent in all of this!!
    If the ACLU want to sue somebody...maybe they should sue his parents. They are the people that started this man on his path in life. Prison guards do everything they can to protect themselves and other prisoners. Let's give them a break for once and look at people actually taking responsibilty for their actions. Isn't that a novel idea?
  7. GivePeaceAChance
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    GivePeaceAChance - December 17, 2009 3:45 pm
    RD1929: Study legalization issues. The cost of drugs would plummet so users would not commit crimes to get drug money nor would there be all the criminals engaged in the sale of the drug. Eliminates the problem. Why do you think Mexico legalized pot? Because they were tired of the cost in both money and death and corruption of fighting the stupid ass drug war on behalf of the USA's police-prosecutor-prison cartel and its drug induced profits.
  8. Alan_Rainey
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    Alan_Rainey - December 17, 2009 3:40 pm

    None of what you suggest was mentioned in the story. To summarize the 'facts' of the story since you clearly didn't read it: A minor, with mental disorders, in an adult prison serving five years of beatings, torture, and humiliation for an 'assualt' (very broad definition) on a 'police officer' (aka, a counselor) at Pine Hills. Way too harsh, and you know it.

    Additonal inconsistancies in your comment:

    One kid here, not the whole prison population.

    ACLU: Protecting 'him' not 'them', in the case, although every prisoner has the right to fair and reasonable treatment. The MT DOC has a responsibility to protect inmates, no matter who or what they did. DOC failed, and were actually the perps in this case. And this hasn't been the 1st time the State has been found guilty of prisoner abuse. If the ACLU hadn't have stepped in, nobody would have, and this gross failure of the DOC would have just continued.

    No mention the boy was a ever a drug user or a murderer, so not sure how you correlate that he will be a repeat offender of these crimes, if discharged, pardoned, or parroled.

    The 1st line of your comment "...lets let all those criminals out on the street" you just made up. There was no mention in the IR story the lawsuit warrants his release. It just says a lawsuit was filed, with no real clarity of what relief was requested.

    And, the sarcastic tone and alarmist tactic of your comment reduces the credibility of whatever point it is you're trying to make.
  9. RD1929
    Report Abuse
    RD1929 - December 17, 2009 2:35 pm
    that is a great solution, lets let all those criminals out on the street, let them get drugged out of there minds and then they come after you and me to either kill or harm us for money to buy more drugs!! hmmmmmm, well I guess it would be ok since they would have the ACLU on there side and protect them! yeah, that is a great solution, were do I sign up!!
  10. GivePeaceAChance
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    GivePeaceAChance - December 17, 2009 1:56 pm
    More proof it is time to end the insane war on drugs, legalize them the same as the dangerous drug called alcohol, and cut the prison population by half or more. Than the prison system will have more time, more money, higher staff to prisoner ratio, etc. to adequately deal with situations and particular prisoner needs. It would be the humane (and logical) thing to do. Look up logical in the dictionary. It is a word too often missing in the way government and our culture views problems.
  11. Curmudgeon
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    Curmudgeon - December 17, 2009 11:20 am
    Somebody has to care: thank God for the ACLU.
  12. Alan_Rainey
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    Alan_Rainey - December 17, 2009 11:04 am
    Brian Schweitzer:

    Time to fire your warden, Mike Mahoney, and grant this poor kid a pardon; I think he's learned his lesson.
  13. capnbutch
    Report Abuse
    capnbutch - December 17, 2009 9:43 am
    This story may or may not be valid, however there are far more important issues that effect a vast number of people. The most important is that anyone can be incarcerated and lost in the system. Guilt or the lack of it is not at issue.

    Frankly we desperately need some means that citizens may monitor all law enforcement and imprisonment.

    I served as a mentor to two young men in trouble. They went to jail when the youngest was eleven. That happened when their surviving parent was hit with a massive stroke. Nobody in the system caught the problem and nobody dealt with it.

    Both kids learned crime and nothing else.

    Citizen oversight would be a good thing and I would appreciate seeing some kind of a forum on the subject here in the Record.

    It will be interesting to note that when incarcerates need to call a mentor, that mentor will usually be a poor or handicapped person because nobody else has the time. Here's the problem; More than 85% of jails allow an outside company to charge the mentors outrageous prices for those calls and, even, to restrict those calls if the mentor complains. The Missoula County Sheriff's office is guilty of participating in this complex, cruel and convoluted scam.

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