Faces Full of Gas: Abuse of War Crimes Chemical Weapons in Indiana Prisons (2020)
By Kevin Rashid Johnson
US Hypocrisy as Usual
Indiana is the fifth state in which I’ve been imprisoned since 2012. Over this eight year period, I’ve been bounced from Virginia to Oregon, then Texas to Florida, back to Virginia, and now to Indiana. All in response and efforts to repress my involvement in exposing and resisting the routine abuses that pervade US prisons.
Among the many issues I’ve reported on in each state has been the frequent, often deadly, misuse of tear gas on prisoners. One of my articles specifically exposed that this benignly named agent is actually a chemical weapon created for use in war, having the same grade and lethality as chlorine gas which US officials bombed Syria for supposedly using against its own citizens in 2018. Also, that tear gas, like chlorine, has been banned internationally from use in war because of its especially dangerous characteristics.
It was this international aversion to these weapons that US officials self-righteously invoked to justify Amerika’s violent intervention in Syria’s civil war.
So, the Amerikan government commonly uses a deadly military grade chemical weapon on US prisoners that is banned from use in actual war. Just as US police who routinely gun down unarmed people of color in the streets, are armed with organ-shredding ammunition (aka dum dum bullets) that also are banned by international law from use in war because of their inhumane effects.
As with other states, Indiana is no exception to the use (or misuse—even by its own standards) of tear gas on prisoners.
Direct Group Gas Assault
In one such incident which occurred on March 24, 2019, here at Pendleton Correctional Facility (PCF), where I’m confined, I narrowly dodged a bullet myself.
Earlier that morning, I signed up to go to outside recreation, but because I was busy writing letters when guards came later that day to take us out, I decided not to go.
At the end of the rec period, several prisoners housed nearby me returned to their cells teary-eyed, coughing and protesting that they’d been tear gassed for no reason by a white rookie guard named Kurts (phonetic spelling).
By their description, Kurts was initially arguing with a Black prisoner on the rec yard, where each prisoner was confined to separate one-person cages. Kurts began calling him and other uninvolved Blacks racist names, then went cage to cage spraying many of them in their faces with tear gas from a canister that all guards carry.
Upon returning to his cell, one of the victims protested the assault to the unit supervisor, a sergeant J. Griff. I also spoke up seeking an explanation from Griff to help the victims pursue complaints and to publicize yet another abuse incident hidden behind prison walls.
Griff admitted Kurts’s unprovoked assault on the group of men and that he’d gone home afterwards. Griff casually blew the incident off as just a normal incident of prison life, and suggested that since Kurts was gone, the situation was resolved and everyone should just let it go.
Of course nothing was done to afford the victims any redress.
Indirect Group Gas Assault
While I narrowly avoided this gas assault, I wasn’t so fortunate the next time around, when on July 8, 2019 a ranking guard (not a rookie this time) unleashed a similar assault affecting uninvolved bystanders, myself included.
In this incident a lieutenant, J. Davis, vindictively emptied an entire 12.5 ounce canister of tear gas into a neighboring prisoner’s cell, which saturated the closed-in cellblock contaminating me and numerous others.
Investigative officials at all levels (including the PCF superintendent, Internal Affairs and grievance department investigators and the prison system’s Ombudsman’s office), all avoided and ignored complaints of the abuse and covered it up, even though (or likely BECAUSE) the entire event was captured on audio and video surveillance records.
Now keep in mind, the federal courts have recognized that inside of closed-in environments like prisons, the “estimated lethal dose” of tear gas is “only 6 grams.” Again, this guard emptied an entire 12.5 oz canister.
I was talking on the telephone inside my cell when I heard a guard just outside my cell cursing loudly, so I peered out. I observed Lt. Davis in an excited rage cursing and threatening a neighboring prisoner, Charles Elderidge. After a few moments of this, and without further incident, Davis stormed off down the tier, walking some 17 cells away.
But upon reaching the front entrance of the tier Davis stopped, seemed to reflect for a moment, then removed a 12.5 oz canister of tear gas from his equipment belt, turned and proceeded to walk briskly back toward our cells.
alerted Eldridge that Davis was coming back with the gas in his hand and to be on guard. Upon reaching Eldridge’s cell Davis began spraying a continuous burst of gas into the cell, punctuated by threats and curses.
Davis initially sprayed the gas so wildly he directly sprayed Eldridge’s other neighbor, Alex Milewski.
As he continued to gas Eldridge, Davis taunted him to stop trying to cover himself up and that he was, “going to get all this gas, bitch!” Davis also repeatedly threatened to “kill” Eldridge and to beat him when he came out of the cell handcuffed from behind.
Several times I yelled to Davis to stop spraying, that he was contaminating everyone in the area, and trying another tact to deter his continued assault, pointed out that his actions were being recorded by surveillance cameras on the tier.
Davis then came to my cell as if he were about to spray me. I repeated my protests to which he responded cursing and yelling that he didn’t care about the cameras and challenging me several times then to get him fired.
He then returned to Eldridge’s cell and continued cursing, threatening and spraying him until the entire canister was empty. Only then did Davis leave the tier.
Throughout the incident I was on the telephone inside my cell with Shupavu Wa Kirima, a leading member of the African Peoples Socialist Party. She could clearly hear, and the automated GTL phone system automatically recorded, everything.
In response to what she heard, Ms Kirima immediately filed a complaint to the Indiana Department of Correction’s (or rather Corruption’s) [IDOC] Ombudsman’s office at 9:39 pm EST, through that office’s email complaint system. In blatant violation of Indiana law, that office ignored Ms Kirima’s complaint and did not notify her of any decision to decline an investigation.
Also while on the phone with Ms Kirima, I spoke with a sergeant C. Johnson, who came onto the tier after the gas assault, asking him what would be done about Davis’s actions. Johnson responded that Davis outranked him so he could do nothing, but admitted so much gas was sprayed that he too was contaminated while in another area of the building.
I and numerous other prisoners who were victimized by Davis’s actions, directed complaints to PCF’s superintendent Dushan Zatecky, the notoriously corrupt and racist Internal Affairs office, the grievance department, and the IDOC ombudsman. Each one of these departments and officials either ignored our complaints or created bogus technical pretexts to avoid processing them. They also refused any investigation or to consult with any of us who were victimized by Davis’s assault.
Davis remains a ranking guard at PCF and continues to carry a 12.5 oz canister of gas on his side.
Everyone of us, who are imprisoned or confined to impoverished and marginalized communities across the US, knows that whether it be guards or cops, the so-called ‘law enforcement’ system is criminal and corrupt at its core.
We are terrorized, brutalized and murdered day in and day out by its members, who are armed with war crimes weapons, and the abusers are not just a few “bad apples.”
Certainly, while most cops and guards are abusers, there are those who take special pleasure, and are particularly extreme, in their acts of abuse. But as exhibited here, the ENTIRE system is complicit.
Not only do ALL the peers (including the so-called ‘good cops’) of the extreme abusers close ranks with, turn blind eyes and lie to protect them, and by extension the system itself, in accordance with the culture of not crossing the ‘thin blue line’ of protectionism. But as we the common victims of ‘law enforcement’ know, complaints prove pointless. Which is why there are frequent demands from our communities for community oversight committees, private and outside investigators, and similar systems of independent accountability.
Indeed, the supervisors and investigators inside these agencies are the most protectionist. In fact most rose through the ranks as abusers and by proving to be especially loyal to and effective at toeing the blue line themselves.
It is no coincidence that as the victim class has been able to increasingly expose these corrupt systems to the world through social media and other independent channels over the past several years, there has been a marked increase in movies and television programs to rehabilitate, professionalize, glamorize and make heroic the images of cops and guards.
But for the poor and people of color in Amerika, like their slave patrol and Ku Klux Klan predecessors, cops and guards are not and have never been our protectors or heroes. We must assume these roles ourselves.
You can support Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson by writing to him at the address below, or making an account on web.connectnetwork.com and sending him messages and money and allowing him to call you. You can read more about Rashid and the New Afrikan Black Panther Party at rashidmod.com.
Kevin Johnson, D.O.C. No. 264847, G-20-2C, Pendleton Correctional Facility, 4490 W. Reformatory Road, Pendleton, IN 46064