BUFFALO, NY - Four Attica State Prison Corrections Officers have been indicted for allegedly beating up an inmate, and then conspiring to cover it up by allegedly filing a false report that the inmate was in possession of a razor during an altercation at the prison in August.
Buffalo attorney Joseph LaTona represents one of the officers, Erik Hibsch, who stands accused of causing severe injuries to the inmate, identified as George Williams, 29, who was serving time for a grand larceny conviction in New York City.
"We have to review medical records, photographs...we have to make motions regarding what evidence was presented to the grand jury. Were they told that the correction law and the penal law authorizes the use of force against inmates when necessary?" Latona wondered, when speaking with WGRZ-TV.
The NYS Department of Corrections says the guards were only charged after a thorough, four month investigation that also involved the state police.
"We'll see what happens when all of the facts come out in the courtroom," LaTona said.
It could be said that, short of being employed by the prison or having been incarcerated there, Teresa Miller has spent more time than most behind the walls of Attica.
The UB law professor specializes in the instruction of prisoner's rights, to law students whom she escorts inside of prisons as part of their course of study. Miller also spent 80 hours inside Attica in recent years producing a documentary film.
"I've heard inmates complain that certain guards rough them up...but the vast majority of correctional officers there do a good job. Officers who step outside the rules put all those fellow officers who try and do their jobs safely at risk," Miller said.
Miller also evaluates conditions at state prisons on behalf of the Correctional Association of New York, a prison watchdog group, which recently issued a report saying that, "Reports of staff abuse at Attica were worse than nearly all of the 30 prisons we have recently visited," and that prisoners asserted that they were "frequently assaulted by staff, regularly threatened ...and often retaliated against if they filed a complaint."
"If the allegations are true than this is very troubling...and the truth needs to be investigated through the justice system," said Miller.
"But what I'm pleasantly surprised at, is that the Department of Corrections, and state criminal investigators worked together to probe the circumstances, to investigate and to find out what was going on, to bring this conduct to the attention of a Wyoming County grand jury, and the grand jury indicted. That would never have happened 40 years ago," Miller said.
LaTona says defense lawyers will likely seek to review Williams' prison records, to see if he'd exhibited any pattern of violent behavior toward guards in the past.
The Department of Corrections declined to make those records available to 2 On Your Side, on the grounds that Williams is the alleged victim in a pending criminal action which may go to trial.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Norm Fisher.