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Corrections officer accused of assaulting 86-year-old inmate

The incident took place at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (above) in Lancaster on Dec. 20, according to the Worcester DA’s office.
The incident took place at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (above) in Lancaster on Dec. 20, according to the Worcester DA’s office.Elise Amendola/Associated Press/File

A corrections officer at a maximum-security state prison in Lancaster has been placed on leave after he allegedly punched an 86-year-old inmate multiple times in the face last week, officials said.

Joseph Sampson, 35, of Westminster was accused of punching the prisoner three times at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center on Dec. 20, according to the Worcester district attorney’s office. The incident was captured on video surveillance, prosecutors said.

Sampson was arraigned Dec. 21 in Clinton District Court on a charge of assault and battery on a person over 60, according to authorities. Sampson was released on $500 bail and is due back in court on Jan. 24.

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Kenneth Anderson, a Boston attorney who is representing Sampson, said his client acknowledges striking the inmate but says he was acting in response to the prisoner trying to bite him and spitting at him.

“He feels the act was consistent with DOC policies and his training,” he said.

Authorities have not identified the inmate.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Correction said in an e-mail that the agency is “aware of an incident between a correction officer and an inmate that occurred at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center on Dec. 20.”

Sampson will continue to be paid while he is on leave “pending the outcome of the investigation,” the department said.

Citing state confidentiality laws, the department said it could not provide any further details about the incident.

A Massachusetts prisoners advocacy group said Thursday it receives more reports of correction officers assaulting prisoners at Souza-Baranowski than at any other state prison.

Elizabeth Matos, the executive director of the Boston-based Prisoners’ Legal Services, said in an e-mail that her organization received 63 such reports from September 2014 to September 2016.

The next highest number of such reports at a Massachusetts prison came from MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole, which had 33 incidents of corrections-officer-on-prisoner violence reported during that same time frame, Matos said.

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“By far, we consistently receive far more reports of assaults at Souza than from any other facility,” Matos said in the e-mail. “In the past, we have communicated with administrators at [Souza-Baranowski] about guards whose names are repeatedly associated with these assaults.”


Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.