Workers at the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility said in a 2018 survey that they are overworked in an unsafe environment with inoperable video cameras, contraband, racial and gender discrimination and unreported incidents.
Those concerns are valid, and there are worries that conditions at the Taylor Hardin facility in Tuscaloosa have continued to deteriorate in recent years, according to a group that advocates for those with mental illnesses and disabilities in Alabama.
Meanwhile, a civil suit filed in May against the Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH) and administrators there by a security officer allege many of the same concerns expressed by the staff.
Taylor Hardin, the state’s all male secure 140-bed psychiatric facility, houses inmates who are awaiting pre-trial competency evaluations and others with serious mental illnesses.
Of the 82 employees who completed the 2018 culture of safety survey, 43 percent rated patient safety at the facility as either poor or failing. Just 10 percent rated it as excellent. In 2017 just 21 percent rated patient safety as poor and none as failing. Surveys dating back to 2015 show a steady progression downward in those ratings.
See the survey here.
Nurses and forensic technicians are regularly asked to work additional eight hour shifts after a full day’s work due to the facility being short-handed, according to several workers’ surveys.
“We never do things to improve patient safety because we are understaffed,” said one worker. “We are in a dangerous situation now with work getting done.”
“We are very short staffed, which is not safe for the patients or staff…,” said another.
Another worker said staff isn’t being properly searched for contraband upon entering the facility, and staff who are caught engaging in improper conduct aren’t fired.
One worker described non-working video cameras and several months without phones, a paging system or internet.
“The safety is alarming, concerning and appalling,” the worker said.
Workers described incidents are going unreported, and corrective actions aren’t being taken if they are reported.
“Contraband is permitted in the facility (security does not check for contraband – glancing in bags and a metal detector that does not work are not sufficient and there is insufficient staffing to properly check for these items….staff are permitted to keep working after clear violations: Abuse, even physical abuse.)” according to one employee.
“Too much is swept under the rug – particularly regarding patient safety,” said another.
“This place is becoming very dangerous to work at. Seems like no one is trying to manage the issue,” said a separate worker.
“Secure facility is a loose term here,” said another worker in the survey. “Restrictions on searches, etc. The hiring of young males with criminal records to sit with patients.”
“Administrators try to cover up incidents and accidents and put on a show for commissioner and/or surveyors.”
“In my opinion patient safety only becomes a priority when negative attention has been brought to ADMH or THSMF administration,: said one worker, using the initials for the Taylor Hardin facility.
“Patient care has gotten so bad in this facility I am ashamed to say that I work here.” said another.
Forensic technicians are sleeping on the job, one worker said, and one technician was chased into the parking lot, arrested “with illegal drugs” and came back to work the next day to take care of patients.
An arrest report by the University of Alabama Police Department shows that on March 21, 2018, officers arrested 23-year-old Justin Gosa in the parking lot of the Taylor Hardin facility, where Gosa worked at the time.
The report states that officers smelled marijuana coming from Gosa’s car at a gas station on University Boulevard, attempted to pull him over and followed Gosa to the Taylor Hardin facility. Gosa refused to exit the car, officers said in the report, and had to be forcibly removed. Officers found in his car a bag of marijuana, a scale used to weigh the drugs and a loaded pistol, for which he has a permit, according to the report. Gosa was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana.
Questions to the Alabama Department of Mental Health’s three attorneys in the civil suit about how long Gosa worked at Taylor Hardin following his arrest, and about other portions of the survey, were unanswered as of Tuesday evening.
ADMH spokeswoman Malissa Valdes-Hubert wrote to APR in an email Tuesday regarding questions about the lawsuit that the department cannot comment on pending litigation.
Asked what steps ADMH is taking to address the safety concerns expressed in the survey, Valdes-Hubert responded to APR by email Tuesday afternoon.
“The Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH) reviews all input offered from employees, and makes every effort to address concerns. ADMH values the safety of our staff and the individuals we serve, with the highest regard,” the spokeswoman wrote.
“We’ve seen a steady decline in quality of care and performance at that facility over the past several years,” said James Tucker, director of the Alabama Disability Advocacy Program, which advocates for and provides legal services to those with disabilities, speaking to APR on Tuesday. “There was a time when that facility was a model such facility for the country, and it now falls far short of that model status.”
Tucker said he finds the statements in the survey to be credible, and that they’ve seen allegations of abuse and neglect among ADAP’s patients at Taylor Hardin.
“Such an environment then makes it more difficult for staff to deliver competent services as you would expect in a hospital setting. Some of the deterioration that you see there now calls into question whether this facility is truly operating as a psychiatric hospital as intended, or more like a correctional facility,” Tucker said.
Tucker pointed to the landmark case Wyatt v. Stickney, which in 1972 resulted in minimum constitutional standards of care for mentally ill in state facilities.
The lawsuit was filed after budget cuts resulted in patients at Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa receiving inadequate care due to reduced staffing.
The new lawsuit
Derrick Williamson Jr., a mental health police lieutenant at Taylor Hardin facility, filed a civil suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama on May 3, 2019, against the Alabama Department of Mental Health.
The suit alleges a violation of Williamson’s constitutional and civil rights, discrimination, retaliation, conspiracy, breach of contract and violation of state law.
Also named as defendants in the suit are ADMH commissioner Lynn Beshear, associate commissioner Zelda Baugher, director of human resources at Taylor Hardin, Lynn Hubbard, Taylor Hardin Facilities director Annie Jackson, personnel manager Joe Long, former Taylor Hardin police chief Robert Anderson Jr. and Joe Rittner, senior special agent with the Bureau of Special Investigations at ADMH.
Williamson, who still works at the Taylor Hardin facility and is representing himself in the suit, declined to discuss the case when reached by APR on Monday due to the ongoing litigation.
Williamson, who is black, alleges that he was denied promotions and pay raises because of his race, and that white staff members received preferential treatment from administrators, according to court records.
Williamson also mentions in his complaint an instance of being shown by the former police chief evidence of “a caucasian staff member physically harassing a patient.
“Anderson consciously and willingly avoided completing an incident report and declined to transmit the matter to appropriate staff,” Williamson states in his complaint.
The complaint also states that Williamson was reprimanded for discussing with other police officers an instance of an alleged sexual encounter between a female staff member at Taylor Hardin and a patient.
“This fellow co-worker was alleged to have transferred a sexually transmitted disease to a patient/inmate housed within the facility and information regarding these circumstances was circulating among staff as well as patients/inmates. Several patients/inmates had begun to target the alleged staff member, ” Williamson said in court records.
Williamson said that the facility director, Annie Jackson, conducted an internal investigation into the alleged sexual contact between the staff member and a mental ill patient, rather than turn the matter over for a criminal investigation.
Williamson also alleges that Jackson didn’t inform the Bureau of Special Investigations at ADMH about the incident, but that special agent Rittner later said that he’d handled the matter.
In another instance Williamson alleges that he was reprimanded for ordering a canine search of a patient’s room for possible narcotics on April 18, 2018, according to a formal complaint Williamson filed at Taylor Hardin, which was attached as an exhibit in court records.
“Jackson also expressed concerns by stating “what if you had found something” and expressed her concerns about external media sources and indicated that my duties do not include requesting a canine search within the facility,” Williamson alleges in his formal complaint.
U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler on Aug. 13 filed a scheduling order that sets this case for trail on Feb. 16, 2021, but the case is still early in the discovery process so that date is likely to change.
House Judiciary Committee passes bail reform law named for Aniah Blanchard
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday passed a bill to give judges more discretion in denying bail to people accused of committing violent crimes.
The bill is named for Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old Alabama college student who was kidnapped and murdered last year. The man charged with her murder, Ibraheed Yazeed, was out on bond for charges including kidnapping and attempted murder at the time he was arrested in connection with Blanchard’s case.
Currently, judges can only deny bond in capital murder cases. The bill would allow judges to deny bail in cases involving certain violent offenses.
Blanchard’s father, Elijah Blanchard, stepmother, Yashiba Blanchard, and mother, Angela Harris, spoke to the House Judiciary Committee today in support of the law.
“This would not have happened to our child if this bill would have been in place,” Harris said. “We can save a lot of lives by doing this because, because with repeat violent offenders, they are going to repeat.”
If the bill passes the full House and Senate, it will appear on the ballot in November.
Legislation would limit death penalty appeals
Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Tuesday discussed legislation that would reduce the length of some death penalty appeals.
“Over the last 13 month, seven Alabama law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty by violent criminals, which is a new record and obviously not one the state of Alabama is proud of,” Ainsworth said during the press conference at the Alabama State House on Tuesday. “Back the blue has got to be more than just a slogan. Actions must follow words.”
Ainsworth said that death row inmates in Alabama serve approximately 14 years on average before executions are carried out, and that there needs to be a “fair but expedited process in Alabama.”
The proposed legislation would prevent the Alabama Supreme Court from hearing death row appeals in capital murder cases, and would stop all such appeals at the state Court of Criminal Appeals level.
The bills would also require the criminal appeals court to expedite death row appeals when possible, and would reduce the amount of time a person has to appeal such convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ainsworth said.
“This legislation still affords a thorough appeals process, and all the protections guaranteed to them under the U.S. Constitution,” Ainsworth said. “It has been designed to provide both equal justice to inmates, and swifter justice to their victims.”
State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, a candidate for a seat on the state Supreme Court and sponsor of the senate’s version of the bill, said during the press conference that while overall crime rates have been declining, murders in Alabama have increased 25 percent over the last three years.
“I’ve always been an advocate for criminal justice reform, but let me tell you something, public safety is first and foremost, Ward said. “…I think this is a reasonable bill. It still provides for due process.”
State Rep. Connie Row,R-Jasper, is sponsoring the bill in the House and said that as a former police chief she recognizes the value of the lives of those who serve the public. She also worked with crime victims in capital cases, she said, and in “capital cases it’s seeing if you can live long enough to see justice served in a death penalty case.”
The bills also add language that would allow the Alabama Department of Corrections to conduct executions at facilities other than the Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore, where the state’s death chamber is currently located.
ADOC commissioner Jeff Dunn said in January that all death row inmates were being moved to Holman, while the majority of the prison’s areas for other incarcerated men was being closed due to concerns over maintenance problems in a tunnel that carries utilities to those portions of the prison. The death row section of Holman was to remain open, Dunn said.
There are 175 people serving on the state’s death row, according to Alabama Department of Corrections statistics.
Attempts Tuesday to reach staff at the Equal Justice Initiative for comment on the legislation were unsuccessful. The Montgomery legal aid nonprofit works to exonerate death row inmates, among its other initiatives.
According to the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center 167 incarcerated people on death row in the U.S. have been exonerated and released from prison since 1973. Among those formerly on death row, six were scheduled to die by execution in Alabama.
The last Alabama death row inmate exonerated was Anthony Hinton, freed in April 2015 after spending 30 years on death row for the 1985 murders of two fast food supervisors in Birmingham.
The only evidence presented at Hinton’s trial was ballistics testing state prosecutors said proved the bullets that killed the two men came from a gun Hinton’s mother owned.
Hinton lost appeals for a decade before the Equal Justice Initiative took up his case. Subsequent ballistics testing by the nonprofit in 2002 proved that the bullets weren’t a match for the firearm, but the state declined to re-examine the case.
It took another 12 years for Hinton’s appeal to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court’s ruling and granted a new trial.
The judge in his new trial dismissed the charges after the state’s prosecutors determined through additional testing that the bullets could not have come from Hinton’s mother’s gun.
A 2009 study by professors at the University of Colorado and published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology found that 88 percent of the leading criminologists in the U.S. polled did not believe the death penalty effectively deters crime.
Of the leading criminologists polled in the study, 87 percent said that speeding up executions would not add a deterrent effect on crime.
Conservative Leadership Conference panel discusses prison reform
A panel discussed reforming Alabama’s prisons at the Conservative Leadership Conference in Florence Saturday.
State Senator Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and serves on the state prison task force. He is also a Republican candidate for Alabama Supreme Court, Place 1.
“Prison reform is a very vague term,” Ward said.
Ward warned that the state is under the threat of federal receivership of its prison and “It is going to cost money,” to satisfy the federal courts and the Department of Justice.
Recidivism is the rate that convicts re-offend once they are released. Decreasing the recidivism rate is a key component of addressing prison overcrowding.
Rich Anderson works with the Alabama Attorney General’s office.
“There are plenty of folks in prison that don’t want to do anything else,” Anderson said.
“There is an old saying that you can lead a horse to water; but you can’t make him drink,” Anderson said. “I want to make sure that there is water to be had if these guys want to drink.”
Chris Connolly is the Lauderdale County District Attorney.
“If they are selling drugs in Alabama they need to go to prison,” Connolly said.
“Taking away local discretion is a bad thing to me,” Connolly added on proposed sentencing law changes.
Mary Windom is the presiding Judge of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Windom is running for re-election in the Republican primary for her Place 1 seat.
She thanked Ward for working with her on reducing the number of frivolous appeals of criminal verdicts. It took two years for the Legislature to understand.
“40 percent of them (inmates in Alabama’s prisons) have a mental health issue,” Ward said. 76 percent of them are there for violent crimes.
Anderson said that Alabama currently has 175 people on death row and the AG’s office only has eight lawyers in our division to handle all of those appeals from death row inmates.
Windom said that she and the other judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals have a large caseload.
“The five judges on the court of the criminal appeals handle all of those case plus every other criminal appeal,” Anderson explained. “One of the frustrations is how long death penalty cases take.”
Anderson said that many of those filings by defense teams in death penalty appeals cases are two hundred and three hundred pages long.
Connolly said, “David Riley executed a guy who was doing his job in a liquor store. Everybody knows he did it. If it (the death penalty) were real he would be dead.”
“It takes twenty years,” Connolly said.
“It is down to fourteen,” Ward answered.
“It needs to happen sooner,” Connolly replied. A guy like David Riley should already have been executed. “The problem is that the appeals never end. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Rich Anderson blamed “Fake News” for creating a “false narrative” that there are lots of innocent people convicted of a crime. When there is a retrial and a guy like me can’t find the witness from twenty years ago that person is released and the defense claims he was exonerated and not guilty of the crime in the first place. That is not true.
“They are poisoning the public with that the prosecutor is not a minister of justice,” Anderson said. “That is a problem in our country this false narrative that we have all of these people. Exoneration is a false narrative.”
Ward said that exoneration is only a small part of criminal cases.
“I have been a defense attorney,” Connolly said. “I know how that game works.”
House passes bill to make it a hate crime to attack law enforcement
The Alabama House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would add law enforcement officers to Alabama’s hate crimes statute. It now moves to the Senate.
The House passed HB59 by a margin of 92 to 0.
Under current law a crime become a hate crime if a person is victimized because of their race, creed, or disability. Murder to make money, in a crime of passion, or in the commission of a crime is murder. If a racist targets a person because of their race, then it become a hate crime and additional sentencing enhancements kick in under Alabama sentencing guidelines. House Bill 59 would make targeting a member of law enforcement because they are a member of law enforcement also a hate crime.
House Bill 59 is sponsored by State Representative Rex Reynolds (R-Huntsville).
Reynolds said that Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall supports the legislation.
“An attack on law enforcement in Alabama is an attack on all of her citizens—an attack on all Alabamians.…” Marshall said on social media. “If you take the life the life of a law enforcement officer, you will likely have forfeited your life as well.”
Marshall stated, “To the brave men and women who wear that badge, my heroes: Don’t give up. Don’t lose heart. Keep fighting the good fight, because your cause is righteous. Know that you have our support and our eternal gratitude.”
Reynolds said that attacks on law enforcement, whether it is throwing water on them, assaults, or assassinations are up across the country. “We are not going to stand for it anymore.”
State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said, “I support the bill, but there are too many guns on the street.”
Moore proposed banning high powered rifles and AR-15s. “We need to level the playing field for them.” :We stand ready to come up with a bipartisan bill to curb the number of guns on the street. We need men and women who are not afraid of the National Rifle Association.”
“We have got to change how police officers are treated,” said Rep. Allen Treadaway (R-Morris). “I have been to too many police funerals.”
Treadaway is a police captain with Birmingham Police Department.
“The disrespect for police officers is unprecedented,” Treadaway said. “I have been a law enforcement officer for 30 years and I have not seen anything like it. We can’t hire police. We can’t retain police.”
Rep. Artis “A. J.” McCampbell (D-Livingston) said, “We have had eight police officers killed in the last 13 months.”
“How do we enhance the crimes when we already have a capital case for the murder of a police officer?” McCampbell asked.
Reynolds said that the sentence enhancements would apply when the police were targeted; but it is not a capital crime. 6,500 police officers were assaulted last year.
Reynolds said that harming an officer while attempting to escape or resisting arrest would not qualify as a hate crime. Attacking police because the motive is hate of the police would be a hate crime and then sentencing enhancements would apply.
Reynolds said that under current law if they are convicted of a capital crime of killing the police they get the death penalty.
Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “Is there a way to just give them the death penalty without going through all the appeals?”
Reynolds said, “I sure wish we could.”
Rogers said, “The death penalty should be automatic.”
Rogers daughter Mary Smith mas murdered.
“It has to be adjudicated in the court system before these enhancements would not come into play,” Reynolds said. “I hope there will come a day when a bill like this is not needed because people respect law enforcement.”
Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) said that the police, sheriffs, and other law enforcement and first responders at the thin blue line protecting us and our families.
Mooney is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.
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