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The Department of Corrections continues to have a problem with violence inside the D.C. Jail. In November, an inmate was stabbed. On Jan. 13, Darrell C. Lee II was stabbed multiple times inside his cell. City Desk has learned of four additional violent incidents. According to sources familiar with events, at least four additional inmates were stabbed during the same time frame.
On Jan. 4, Robert Oliver was stabbed in his cellblock’s day room during a chess game. He was winning a chess match when he was stabbed in the lower left side of his back. As he tried to get up, he was stabbed in his shoulder and cut twice in his left arm. He was not able to see his attacker well enough to identify him.
Oliver did see roughly 15 of his fellow inmates standing around the day room’s entrance, blocking the window. Oliver walked through the crowd and made his way to the corrections officers’ work station. An officer then took him to the infirmary; Oliver was soon rushed to Howard University Hospital where he had to have surgery to repair a stomach wound. He remained hospitalized for six days. After getting back to the jail, he’s had a number of complications with wound closures.
Sylvia Lane, the D.C. Department of Corrections spokesperson, says the investigation into the Oliver stabbing is on-going.
Two days after jail officials discovered a glock hidden in a payphone inside the jail on Dec. 8, Charles E. Jones Jr. was stabbed inside his cell. The jail was supposedly on lockdown as officials were still searching for contraband. A lockdown typically means inmates are restricted to their cells, any movement is strictly controlled and monitored.
At 11:05 a.m., three inmates forced their way into his cell, one armed with a knife. The one with the knife demanded his canteen food.
Jones denied having any food.
The inmate searched his cell and found about $3 worth of noodles. As Jones attempted to prevent the theft, he was stabbed twice in the left arm. His attackers then fled from his cell. No guards came to Jones’ rescue.
Jones had to seek help on his own. He yelled and screamed.
It is unclear how corrections officers became aware of the assault on Jones; Jail officials declined to comment about the incident. Officers eventually transferred him to the infirmary. He said in a statement filed in D.C. Superior Court that infirmary officials refused to transport him to an area hospital.
Prior to the attack, Jones’ cell door had been stuck open. Broken cell doors have been a security issue for the past year.
After investigating the incident, Lane says, the matter has been referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Phil Fornaci, executive director of the DC Prisoners’ Legal Services Project, has uncovered two more stabbings in addition to the four recounted by City Desk. This makes a total of six stabbings in the last few months.
Fornaci says one of the big problems with the D.C. Jail is the lack of outside oversight. The Corrections Information Council had been set up to provide independent oversight which would include conducting unannounced inspections at the jail. The CIC has not been staffed since 2006; Mayor Adrian Fenty and the D.C. Council are supposed to appoint people to the council. They have yet to fill those positions.
“I’m concerned that the place is becoming more dangerous,” Fornaci says. “From all accounts, there has been a surge in violence in the last six months.”
Douglas Sparks, a civil attorney who has become a one-man jail watchdog having successfully sued the District over nightmare incidents at the facility (see the Beale case, and “Man Down“), says the problem with the jail could be fixed if the D.C. Council conducted adequate oversight.
“The fact that the city council apparently no longer requires the jail to report the number of assualts and the circumstances surrounding them makes it virtually impossible to determine the extent of recent violence at the jail,” Sparks explains. “I do find it troubling however that during the last several months there has been a substantial uptick in calls to my office from inmates and their family members complaining about violence at the jail.”
At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who chairs the Judiciary Committee which oversees the D.C. Jail, has complained to City Desk that the Department of Corrections simply does not respond to his requests for data on assaults.
We have asked the DOC for comment about the uptick in violence at the jail as well as data on the overall number of stabbings since November. Spokesperson Lane says to expect a response shortly. We will keep you posted.