Idaho U.S. Attorney's Office, Civil Rights Division, FBI Conclude Lengthy Investigation Into Prison Assaults
BOISE — After a lengthy investigation and review of more than three years, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Idaho announced today that the Department of Justice is declining prosecution under federal criminal civil rights statutes of inmate-on-inmate assaults at the Idaho Correctional Center. The investigation examined whether any prison correctional staff had criminal liability for inmate-on-inmate assaults occurring between 2006 and 2011, including an assault, captured on videotape, of inmate Hanni Elabed on January 18, 2010.
The incidents were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and reviewed by prosecutors in both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section. United States Attorney Wendy J. Olson called the investigation and prosecutorial review “detailed and thorough.” “We pursued and obtained all the information necessary to make a prosecutive decision,” she said. The investigation covered numerous reported assaults. According to Olson, investigators and prosecutors reviewed thousands of pages of court documents, prison records, photographs and videotapes and conducted numerous interviews of correctional staff.
Under federal criminal civil rights statutes, a law enforcement officer, including a correctional officer, commits a criminal act when he or she willfully fails to stop an assault or is deliberately indifferent to an inmate who is in need of medical care. A person acts willfully under the law when the person knows what he or she is doing is wrong and chooses to do it anyway. Correctional officers who follow prison policies or training that direct them to act in a certain way typically do not act willfully, even if the policy ultimately is determined to be inappropriate. “Inmate-on-inmate violence at the Idaho Correctional Center has certainly been problematic,” said Olson. “But, under federal criminal civil rights laws, this investigation necessarily focused on whether one or more correctional staff willfully or with deliberate indifference placed inmates in situations where there was actual knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm to the inmate.”
A decision not to prosecute may be made for a variety of reasons, Olson said, including insufficiency of evidence to prove the correctional officer acted willfully. “The statute sets out a tough standard in cases involving allegations of misconduct by a correctional officer,” she said. “It requires that we be cautious, thorough and deliberative, and that's what we’ve been in this case. We determined that under the circumstances, none of these assaults were incidents where we could prove the elements of a federal offense beyond a reasonable doubt. In such situations, we are obligated to decline prosecution. We do so here.”
U.S. Attorney Olson also stated that under the circumstances found by the FBI and reviewed by experienced criminal civil rights prosecutors, the various civil lawsuits brought by inmates against the Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that runs the Idaho Correctional Center, were a more appropriate vehicle for addressing the assaults that the investigation examined. Olson said that the federal criminal investigation did not cover recent admissions by Idaho Correctional Center that its staff did not work all of the hours billed to the State of Idaho.
“Along with the FBI and Civil Rights Division, we remain committed to vigorously and thoroughly investigating allegations of law enforcement officer misconduct,” said Olson. “All of law enforcement has an interest in ensuring that those who are vested with the authority to enforce the law do not abuse it.”