Two incarcerated men at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, who featured heavily in a Globe Spotlight investigation this summer, on Monday filed a federal lawsuit accusing more than 30 state and prison officials of conspiring to punish prisoners across the institution with violence, in collective retribution for an assault on corrections officers in early 2020.
Dionisio Paulino and Robert Silva-Prentice allege they were beaten up inside a cell by a Department of Correction tactical team on Jan. 22, 2020. While being escorted from the cell in his underwear and in handcuffs, Paulino was then attacked and mauled by a DOC patrol dog.
The lawsuit seeks more than $6 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Their 92-page complaint, filed in US District Court, notes that a group of more than a dozen Black and Latino prisoners assaulted corrections officers in the prison’s N1 unit on Jan. 10, 2020, after “long-simmering tensions on the unit boiled over.”
Paulino, who is Latino, and Silva-Prentice, who is Black, were locked in another housing unit at the time and did not participate in the Jan. 10 melee, in which four officers were injured.
After the assault, “The backlash was immediate and harsh,” the lawsuit states.
State authorities “conspired to retaliate” against men who had nothing to do with the melee, “to send a clear message as to who was ‘in charge’ of [Souza-Baranowski], and to instill a sense of terror and fear of future retaliatory attacks on Black and Latino prisoners,” according to the complaint.
A state corrections department spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Defendants in the lawsuit include Thomas Turco, the former state public safety chief, who retired in July; Carol Mici, commissioner of the DOC; Steven Kenneway, the former superintendent of Souza-Baranowski, who has also since retired; and several corrections officers who charged into a cell occupied by Paulino and Silva-Prentice on Jan. 22, 2020, among other defendants.
The Globe Spotlight story, “The Taking of Cell 15,” reported that in the six weeks following the Jan. 10 assaults, excessive force complaints at Souza-Baranowski were up nearly 30 times over the same time period in 2019, according to numbers compiled by Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, a nonprofit agency that advocates for incarcerated people.
The Spotlight story largely focused on the assertions of Paulino and Silver-Prentice, who were briefly incarcerated together in Cell 15 of Souza’s P2 unit, during an extended lockdown in early 2020. Paulino is behind bars after pleading guilty to manslaughter in 2013. Silva-Prentice is in Souza for a 2017 murder in Roxbury, in which another man was convicted of firing the fatal shots and the jury convicted Silva-Prentice of sharing the shooter’s “intent,” according to the Suffolk District Attorney’s office. His conviction is under appeal.
The men claim that a DOC tactical team entered their cell on Jan. 22 and beat them up, unprovoked, out of sight of prison security cameras. Minutes later, while the team was escorting a handcuffed Paulino from the cell, a DOC patrol dog attacked Paulino and mauled him, in view of a security camera. He suffered lacerations to his leg and was taken to an outside hospital for stitches. The Spotlight team acquired video of the dog attack.
Officers said later that Paulino antagonized the dog by trying to kick it, which Paulino denies.
At least four officers filed reports that falsely claimed Paulino briefly broke free of two escort officers who had him by the arms. Those claims are contradicted by the video and the testimony of the escort officers, who said they never lost their grip on Paulino.
Members of the tactical team that entered Cell 15 said in reports that they were following orders to put Paulino into restraints and escort him to another cell, and that they used proper and legal force to subdue the prisoners when the two men fought against them.
Paulino and Silva-Prentice allege in their suit that the defendants’ “true goal was to terrorize and beat the plaintiffs as payback for the acts of other Latino and Black prisoners and to create an atmosphere of terror.”
This summer, in response to questions from the Globe, the DOC issued a statement saying that the agency “expects all personnel to uphold the highest standards” and that all allegations of staff misconduct are taken seriously.
More litigation related to alleged events at Souza-Baranowski in early 2020 is expected soon. The leadership of Prisoners’ Legal Services has confirmed the agency is drafting a separate civil lawsuit, representing other men at Souza who will allege they suffered excessive force from authorities. The Globe also confirmed that the US Department of Justice had opened an investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse early last year at Souza.