Yesterday I talked with Rob McGuire, the local prosecutor who brought charges against four CCA guards in the death of inmate Estelle Richardson, who in 2004 was found in her solitary cell with a broken skull and four cracked ribs. McGuire ultimately dropped the case, after doctors for both CCA and Richardson's family determined that her head injuries might have been sustained before she was placed in solitary confinement.
Now, though, the Richardson case has taken center stage in the nomination hearings of Gus Puryear
, the CCA general counsel who was nominated by President George W. Bush to a federal judgeship in Tennessee's Middle District. The Senate Judiciary Committee has grilled Puryear about his statements about the case—he falsely claimed the guards were “exonerated”—and how his company handled the investigation. On that count, McGuire has a rather interesting story to share.
And now we're going to have to jump.
McGuire says that when a Metro homicide detective began to investigate Richardson's death, he asked to see videotape of the extractions—i.e., those times when an inmate is ushered in and out of her cell. Instead, guards told him the camera had mysteriously malfunctioned. Wouldn't you know it, the detective was told, there's no footage available—which is not much different than when the suspect tells Lennie Briscoe he doesn't remember what he was doing the night of the murder. At that point, the detective examined the camera and could find nothing wrong with it.
“He turns it on and it appears to be working just fine,” McGuire says. “That was a significant problem for us; it did not help their cause.”
Of course, McGuire ultimately had to drop the case when it appeared that any number of different people—from inmates to guards—could have caused Richardson's head injuries. And because she was heavily medicated at the time, it was certainly possible that the inmate could have endured a serious injury without realizing until it was too late.
But none of this lets CCA off the hook. First, there's the issue that, no matter how you look at it, Richardson was almost certainly killed in a CCA facility, which Puryear glosses over in his correspondence with members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. In fact, Puryear makes her death out to be a veritable mystery, even though it's ludicrous to imagine how someone could break their skull and crack their ribs by simply slipping on the floor. So if—and we're using the word “if” lightly here—she was killed in jail, that doesn't reflect well on CCA.
Then, of course, there's McGuire's fresh anecdote about the supposedly malfunctioning camera, which makes you wonder if CCA took an awkward stab at a cover-up. CCA and Puryear are already under fire for last week's Time.com report
, in which a former prison manager accused the company of lying to its government clients about the safety of its prisons. Is there a pattern here?
It's next to impossible to gleam objective data from CCA, even though it manages public facilities across the country. But with Puryear likely to face additional additional questions from the members of the judiciary committee about the Richardson case and other CCA matters, a little more transparency might be in order.