Virginia prison officials won’t divulge complaints about facility where inmate died

Aug 9, 2023, 3:32 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Department of Corrections, under scrutiny over the death of an inmate that raised broader questions about conditions at a southwest Virginia prison, is refusing to release public records documenting inmate complaints about the facility.

Allegations that multiple inmates were treated for hypothermia arose as part of a lawsuit over Charles Givens’ death last year at the Marion Correctional Treatment Center. The lawsuit alleges Givens was tortured and beaten by guards off-camera.

The Department of Corrections said Wednesday that it isn’t required to turn over dozens of pages of documents because they involve incarcerated people and relate to their imprisonment. The agency refused to hand over the documents even with the names of prisoners’ and corrections officers redacted.

The Associated Press had asked the department for two years’ worth of any inmate complaints related to topics such as uncomfortably cold temperatures at the prison, nonfunctioning or poorly functioning heating systems, and windows being left open during cold months. Those and other claims were made in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Givens’ sister, Kym Hobbs.

Colleen Maxwell, who handles public records requests for the department, said in an email Wednesday that she had identified 46 pages of responsive records. But the agency invoked an exemption in the state’s open records law that deals with “records of persons imprisoned in penal institutions” to withhold the documents.

Paul Stanley, an attorney representing Givens’ sister, said the agency is likely “ashamed” of the information contained in the inmate complaints.

“If they’ve got 46 pages … and they are redacting the names of the inmates, what are they afraid the public may see?” Stanley said in an interview.

The lawsuit filed against five correctional officers alleges that Givens, who was intellectually disabled, was “sadistically tortured” and beaten in an off-camera shower area of the facility before being found unresponsive in his cell on Feb. 5, 2022. In the year before his death, Givens was taken to a hospital emergency room multiple times for hypothermia treatment, according to the lawsuit and medical records reviewed by AP.

During a hospital visit in February 2021, Givens’ initial body temperature was 87.2 Fahrenheit (30.6 Celsius) — well below the normal body temperature of 97.6 to 99.6 (36.4 to 37.5 Celsius). A hospital admission record states that Givens was “found down on the cold concrete and hypothermic.”

A special grand jury impaneled last year found Givens’ death was “suspicious” and said in a report that “nearly every witness” described living conditions in the prison sector housing mentally ill inmates as “unsuitable.” The report also said that more than one witness had seen ice form on the water in toilets.

“We find these conditions to be inhumane and deplorable,” the report said.

Department spokesperson Kyle Gibson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday on the decision to withhold copies of the complaints. He said the agency does not routinely comment on active litigation.

In response to the grand jury’s findings, he said that department facilities are regularly inspected by a range of groups and agencies.

The AP reported last month that Givens’ death is under investigation by the FBI. The bureau has declined to comment.

The Department of Corrections has also declined to comment on the FBI investigation, besides noting that the department cooperates with law enforcement probes. In an email last month, department spokesperson Carla Miles declined to comment on why Givens or any other inmate may have needed to be treated for hypothermia, but wrote “there are other triggers” that cause hypothermia including “anti-psychotic medicines.”

According to the lawsuit, Givens had been incarcerated at Marion since shortly after he pleaded guilty to two felonies in connection with the fatal 2010 shooting of Misty Leann Garrett. She was employed as a home health nurse for Givens’ mother, according to local news accounts.

The lawsuit said Givens suffered a traumatic brain injury after falling down a flight of stairs as a young child and he needed assistance and supervision with daily functioning for the rest of his life.

An autopsy report reviewed by the AP said that Givens’ cause of death was blunt force trauma of the torso and his manner of death was undetermined.

The correctional officers named as defendants in the lawsuit have denied the allegations in their answer to the complaint, and none have been charged with a crime.

Under the open records law, the AP also sought a copy of a report pertaining to Givens’ death produced by the Department of Corrections’ special investigations unit and other related records.

Both the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares — which said it had about 150 pages of records — and the department have withheld documents in their custody. The department said it identified 65 gigabytes of digital media and 6,795 pages of responsive records.

Both the attorney general’s office and department cited a wide range of exemptions in withholding the documents.

United States News

Associated Press

Father of Palestinian American boy slain outside Chicago files wrongful death lawsuit

CHICAGO (AP) — The father of a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy fatally stabbed in what authorities allege was a hate crime has filed a wrongful death lawsuit. Oday Al-Fayoume filed the lawsuit last month against the suburban Chicago landlord charged in the attack that left his child dead and the boy’s mother seriously wounded. The […]

2 hours ago

Two women hug as Muslim and Jewish women gather at an interfaith workshop on the Israeli-Palestinia...

Associated Press

In US, some Muslim-Jewish interfaith initiatives are strained by Israel-Hamas war

Shireen Quaizar was wracked with doubt. For years, the school psychologist has been active in Muslim-Jewish interfaith dialogue, but the Israel-Hamas war left her reeling. “What are we doing with talking to each other?” she recalled thinking, frustrated by a conversation about the exact number of Palestinians killed in an Israeli airstrike. “This doesn’t work.” […]

5 hours ago

FILE - Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., leaves the Capitol after being expelled from the House of Repres...

Associated Press

Republicans had New Yorkers lead the way in expelling Santos. Will it help them keep the majority?

WASHINGTON (AP) — George Santos is gone from the House, but his name is certain to pop up in key congressional races across New York next year. Democrats are targeting five seats held by first-term Republicans and looking to associate them with their former colleague in the state’s congressional delegation as often as they can. […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Israel orders more people in crowded southern Gaza to evacuate as heavy bombardment shifts there

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel on Sunday ordered more evacuations in and around Gaza’s second-largest city of Khan Younis, followed by heavy bombardment, as the military’s offensive shifted to the southern half of the territory where Israeli officials assert that leaders of the Hamas militant group are hiding. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip […]

10 hours ago

This photo provided by Mattel shows a Barbie doll of Wilma Mankiller. Toy maker Mattel is honoring ...

Associated Press

Barbie doll honoring Cherokee Nation leader is met with mixed emotions

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An iconic chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, inspired countless Native American children as a powerful but humble leader who expanded early education and rural healthcare. Her reach is now broadening with a quintessential American honor: a Barbie doll in the late Mankiller’s likeness as part of toymaker Mattel’s “Inspiring […]

13 hours ago

Notes from students expressing support and sharing coping strategies paper a wall, as members of th...

Associated Press

Lacking counselors, US schools turn to the booming business of online therapy

Trouble with playground bullies started for Maria Ishoo’s daughter in elementary school. Girls ganged up, calling her “fat” and “ugly.” Boys tripped and pushed her. The California mother watched her typically bubbly second-grader retreat into her bedroom and spend afternoons curled up in bed. For Valerie Aguirre’s daughter in Hawaii, a spate of middle school […]

13 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Follow @KTAR923...

Valley residents should be mindful of plumbing ahead of holidays

With Halloween in the rear-view and more holidays coming up, Day & Night recommends that Valley residents prepare accordingly.


Desert Institute for Spine Care

Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) wants to help Valley residents address back, neck issues through awake spine surgery

As the weather begins to change, those with back issues can no longer rely on the dry heat to aid their backs. That's where DISC comes in.



Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.

Virginia prison officials won’t divulge complaints about facility where inmate died