Prisoner John Steckley looks like he might have been mouthing off as he walked out of the visitors’ room at Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, but he appeared to be posing no physical threat to the guard standing at the door. Even so, the corrections officer coldcocked Steckley in the face and then, along with another guard, proceeded to beat him.
A prison security camera video obtained by City Paper shows Steckley’s hands were relaxed at his side when corrections officer Tyrone Glover slammed his fist into the left side of the inmate’s face. Then, after Steckley hit the ground, Glover and another officer struck him multiple times, including several blows to his torso. Steckley tried to defend himself, including attempting to throw at least one punch of his own, in the Jan. 9 incident. The video does not include audio, so it is impossible to know what words Steckley and Glover exchanged before the first punch.
Steckley isn’t the first inmate that Glover appears to have beaten this year. In September, City Paper reported that multiple visitors from city social-service agencies say they watched in horror as a guard severely beat inmate Marcellus Temple in the Curran-Fromhold gym on Sept. 25.
Last week, Philadelphia Prison System spokesperson Shawn Hawes confirmed that Glover was the guard involved in both incidents at the city-run facility on State Road. She says the prison had investigated both incidents, but declined to provide any information about the findings, or say whether Glover was subject to any discipline.
“Both investigations are complete,” Hawes wrote in an email. “I have nothing additional to add regarding the officer’s history.”
The Defender Association of Philadelphia says that outside oversight is necessary, given what it sees as the Prison System’s ongoing failure to discipline guards, and is calling for the creation of an independent commission.
“An independent integrity commission should be established to help prevent, investigate and impose sanctions for misconduct committed by correction officers,” according to a statement from Kristin Quinn, Chief of the Northeast Division at the Defender Association.
“Too often, we hear statements and review video evidence that not only contradict allegations made by a correction officer, but demonstrate that the correction officer — NOT the inmate — was the wrongdoer. Yet, these employees maintain their jobs without any real consequence. This is just wrong and needs to change.”
The president of the guards’ union, however, says there is sufficient management oversight in the hierarchy of supervisors in prison, and no outside commission is needed.
“When you say ‘oversight,’ we have sergeants, lieutenants and captains, and other supervisors in the jails,” says Lorenzo North, president of AFSCME Local 159. “The supervisors there do their job well and there’s no need for no outside oversight.”
Mayoral spokesperson Mark McDonald says that Michael Nutter was not interested in viewing the Steckley video.
“The Administration believes the procedures in place to review allegations or incidents are equal to the task,” McDonald e-mailed. “And therefore, the unspecified mechanism [for independent monitoring] to which you make reference is not needed.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke, and Councilman and Public Safety Committee Chair Curtis Jones, did not return requests for comment.
Despite video evidence that Glover struck first, Steckley has been criminally charged with assaulting Glover. The Prison System has said that Temple, the prisoner in the September incident, will likely be charged as well.
“Mr. Steckley denies ever assaulting correctional officer Glover and that any reaction to being assaulted by Glover was done in self defense,” e-mails his lawyer, Kevin Mincey. “Our investigation shows that the allegations made by correctional officer Glover have no merit and I have shared that with the District Attorney’s office.”
But it’s unclear whether the District Attorney’s Office is listening.
“It is not uncommon for a correction officer to allege an assault by an inmate in an effort to coverup the correction officer’s own assault against the inmate,” according to Quinn.
D.A. spokesperson Tasha Jamerson declined to say why Glover had not been charged.
“This office works in conjunction with the county prisons, and we even have a liaison in our Special Investigations Unit who works with the prison system when cases are referred to this office,” Jamerson wrote in an email. “Over the past two years alone, almost a dozen prison guards have been charged by this office for crimes committed on the job.”
Jamerson did not respond to a request to explain what those guards were charged with (there have been reports of corruption and contraband smuggling within city prisons), but Quinn was not aware of a single recent case in which a guard was prosecuted for using excessive force against an inmate.
Three witnesses from outside agencies, who were in the prison gym, gave City Paper consistent accounts of Glover’s beating of Temple, which they described as vicious.
“I saw this officer punch this inmate,” said one witness, “punch this young man in his face. He fell to the floor. You hear his head hit the concrete. And the officer then got on top of him and pummeled this man six or seven times.”
Glover, according to one witness, explained his actions by saying that Temple had refused to leave the room when ordered to do so.
“Twice I asked him to leave the room and he didn’t want to, so I beat the motherfucker down,” Glover allegedly said.
Hawes, the prison system spokesman, told City Paper that she believed that Temple had hit, or attempted to hit, Officer Glover. Witnesses told City Paper that this was untrue. A man who identified himself as Glover, reached by phone, declined to comment.
But in his testimony at Steckley’s preliminary hearing in March, Glover gave an account that echoed the official prison account of the Temple incident: Steckley, he alleged, refused to leave, threatened him and then threw a punch.
“I told him the visit was up,” Glover testified. “He continued to sit in the chair…He became unruly, saying he’ll leave when he’s ‘fucking ready.’ I said, ‘No, you’re going to leave now.’ So he took his time. Wouldn’t get up.”
Glover said that Steckley then threatened “he would ‘see me on the street'” and that he would “‘whoop my ass’…I told him he’s not going to do shit to me.”
“When he got up on me, he attempted to swing,” Glover continued. “We got into a physical altercation. And he got on the ground. Once I got him on the ground, that was it.”
But the video shows Steckley only attempted to throw a punch after Glover had already struck him hard in the face. Glover then punched Steckley repeatedly, even after he was on the ground. At that point, Glover was joined by another correctional officer, who entered from an adjoining room and began beating the inmate.
Steckley says that his jaw was fractured, according to Mincey. Glover testified that he suffered a swollen thumb and a sore back.
Correctional officers’ union president North says he has not seen the video, but that he is confident that Glover had done nothing wrong.
“Only thing I can tell you about Mr. Tyrone Glover is that he’s a good officer,” says North. “Any force he used, I think it was force in defense of himself. He don’t go around hitting on inmates.”
Steckley, whose criminal history includes convictions for drug possession and harassment, also faces charges of theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. But he cannot yet make bail, says Mincey, since his arrest for assaulting Glover violated his probation. Temple faces far more serious charges, including attempted murder, related to an April shooting that wounded an 11-year-old bystander. Earlier this month, Hawes seemed to imply that such charges would justify whatever Glover had done.
“I’m sure you’re aware of what he’s charged with,” she said.
It is unclear how many other videos of such beatings exist, and how many other guards with similar records are on the city payroll. But even the death of inmate Michael “Fat Mike” Davis on March 3 did not seem to inspire much interest from officials.
Davis was said to have died of “natural causes,” but his family told the Philadelphia Daily News that his body displayed “two swollen black eyes, a split lip and bruises on his head and body.” Sources told the paper that “the 396-pound Davis, who couldn’t walk because of a full-leg cast, died after Detention Center guards dragged him facedown to the mental-health unit.”
The Prison System referred Davis’ case to the District Attorney’s Office the day before the Daily News story was published, and Hawes told City Paper that the prison’s internal investigation “did raise some concerns.” But it appears that the D.A. never filed charges. Hawes said the correctional officers involved were disciplined, but would not elaborate or reveal their identities.
The Philadelphia Prison System refuses to release almost any information on officer discipline.
Indeed, Hawes told City Paper to file an open records request for any information on excessive use of force in city prisons. But lawsuits are typically the only way the public can find out anything about alleged guard misconduct at city-run prisons. Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel at the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, says that such information about guard misconduct, aside from data on use of force, can be, but is not required to be, withheld under the state’s Right to Know law.
This is in part because of the way the law is written, she says, and in part because the Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of a narrow reading of the law that bars access to public employee disciplinary records even in cases when an employee has been demoted or discharged.
“It really puts the public at a disadvantage in terms of understanding why a public employee was subject to negative action,” says Melewsky. “We take the position that the taxpayers have the right to know if that job performance was poor enough to result in demotion or discharge.”
An external oversight mechanism of sorts once existed, according to Michael McCaney, a Pennsylvania Prison Society board member and lawyer. It resulted from the 1980s lawsuit Lester v. Shuler, and required the Prison System to report excessive-force complaints to the Prison Society, which could then conduct an investigation. That consent decree has long since become defunct for unknown reasons.
Because the city Prison System clings to such secrecy, the public has no way to know for sure if there is a substantive disciplinary system in place, or if guards can use excessive force against prisoners with impunity.