Vermont Officials Witnessed Pennsylvania Guard Threatening Inmates | Off Message

Vermont Officials Witnessed Pennsylvania Guard Threatening Inmates


  • Thomas James
Last November, Vermont corrections officials watched a Pennsylvania prison guard berate and threaten Vermont inmates housed at Camp Hill prison. Despite a report documenting the incident at the time, Vermont officials said publicly that they didn’t have detailed accounts of threats against inmates.

The report says Vermont corrections staff were there on November 14 when a corrections officer called the Vermont inmates “fucking pussies” as he ordered them into their cells. Vermont staff then watched the guard “pacing along the upper tier taunting inmates to come out of their cells and settle any issues with him.”

While the report didn’t document any physical abuse, it caught the attention of Vermont corrections officials. The guard has been removed from the unit housing Vermonters and placed under investigation in Pennsylvania, according to documents sent to Seven Days.

The internal report shows for the first time that Vermont officials knew the state's inmates incarcerated in Pennsylvania were being mistreated.

Vermont DOC facilities operations manager Shannon Marcoux sent the internal report in a November 30 email to Matthew Nault, the director of facilities for Vermont DOC.

“Usually I would advise inmates or community members to follow the grievance process for allegations like this,” Marcoux wrote, “but I have a report from one of my staff that witnessed these behaviors firsthand. Please see the attached report. I must admit, that these observations are troubling and I’m sure the issue will be addressed. CO Sanchez has been removed from the unit and placed under investigation.”

“CO Sanchez” didn’t stop at taunting inmates from afar, according to the report. It says Sanchez sat on a table and called out to an inmate, whose name was redacted. The inmate “exited his cell and reported to CO Sanchez in the dayroom. CO Sanchez said something to [redacted] I could not hear ... Then the inmate went back to his cell.”

The report, written by Jeanne Jean of Vermont DOC, says Jean spoke with two other inmates who told her that “inmates were provoking the CO when they passed him on their way back to their cells after lunch.”

Jean also talked to Sanchez, according to the report.

“He said they (inmates) have been at him for a couple of days,” the report said.

Vermont’s staff weren’t the only ones to raise questions about Sanchez’s behavior. In a November 27 memo, Camp Hill superintendent Laurel Harry informed Vermont inmate Kirk Wool that complaints he filed about Sanchez “are taken seriously and will be investigated.”

Reports of threats by guards, especially Sanchez, have been widespread since more than 200 Vermont inmates moved to Camp Hill from a private prison in Michigan in June 2017. Wool, one of those inmates, has sent Seven Days multiple letters about Sanchez.

Vermont corrections officials, however, said in January that they weren’t getting enough information to do anything about the reported threats in Pennsylvania.

“There’s often been very little detail that allows either Pennsylvania or Vermont to even look into a matter,” said Deputy Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette in a January 25 interview. He did not mention that his staff had witnessed a guard threatening Vermont inmates.

Asked about the discrepancy, Touchette insisted the state doesn’t have details about most reports of threats by guards.

“Those that do have sufficient detail are brought to the attention of the Camp Hill facility administration,” Touchette wrote in an email to Seven Days. “Vermont staff may also conduct a followup when the complaint has any ties to a Vermont policy or decision. In all such cases, where a complaint has sufficient detail … we notify Camp Hill administrators. Although we are not privy to Pennsylvania’s internal investigations, we are satisfied with the outcome in this case.”

Touchette said Vermont officials did contact Pennsylvania about the incident Jean witnessed, though it’s not clear what caused Sanchez to be removed at the end of November.

Last week, Gov. Phil Scott announced that the state is beginning a search for a new housing situation for Vermont's out-of-state inmate population. Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille acknowledged that state officials are unhappy with the current arrangement with Pennsylvania.

Amy Worden, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania DOC, would not comment on the corrections officer, citing a personnel issue.

“What I can tell you is that any and all reports of harassment by officers are thoroughly investigated and, if warranted, officers are disciplined,” Worden said in an emailed statement.

Worden said Vermont inmates filed three formal grievances with Camp Hill officials between June and November in the category “problems with staff.”

Inmates are clearly unhappy with their treatment and trying to force Vermont to act on their behalf. From Camp Hill, Wool has been requesting Vermont DOC documents under the state’s public records law. One of the documents he got and later sent to Seven Days was an email that referred to the internal report about Sanchez. DOC denied a subsequent Seven Days public records request for the report, but granted it upon appeal.

Another inmate, Roy Johnson, wrote to Seven Days after a January article about threats against inmates.
“Most of the article is true about officers' threats and abuse,” Johnson wrote. “However the part about VT DOC not knowing about it is false.”

Johnson corroborated Jean’s report.

“I seen case worker Jeanne Jean and [Vermont Corrections employee] Kory Stone was in the day room when a guard threatened an inmate but never said a word,” Johnson wrote. “DOC is lying to VT public and the news about what is happening here.”

Wool and others allege that Pennsylvania guards singled him out after the January 31 Seven Days story.

“I was called to Camp Hill’s investigation office today where I was shown your recent story and asked what it was,” Wool wrote in a letter February 9. “I said it is a truthful description of how Sanchez acted and what he had said. I was also asked whether I was trying to incite other inmates to act up in any way that put staff and other inmates at risk.”

In his letter, Wool said he was concerned Pennsylvania would retaliate against him for communicating with the media.