OFFICER TESTIFIES TO TAKING PART
IN PRISON BEATINGS
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Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2003 5:58 PM
Subject: Officer Testifies to Taking Part in Prison Beatings
Officer Testifies to Taking Part in Prison Beatings
A former federal prison officer broke down in tears on the witness stand in federal court Tuesday, then testified that she had taken part in beating inmates at the U.S. penitentiary in Florence seven years ago. Charlotte Gutierrez, 31, fidgeted, squirmed and then cried before testifying against three of her former co-workers. They are among seven who are on trial for allegedly conspiring to deprive inmates of their civil rights in 1995 and 1996.
The diminutive Gutierrez told a spellbound jury how she had stepped on inmate Ronnie Beverly's head while he lay face down in his cell, handcuffed behind his back.
"I just wanted to be a part of the group," she said. "I wanted the respect of the other officers, except for the weak and the scared ones. I wasn't opposed to them beating up the inmates."
She testified that one of the defendants, Mike Lavallee, had been punching Beverly in the torso. She said Lavallee ordered her out of the cell during the beating as he didn't want her to be part of it. So she stepped on Beverly's head, then left, she said.
Another officer, Rod Schultz, later congratulated her by saying, "'All right. Cool,"' she said. "I felt really good. I was accepted."
Schultz, Lavallee, Ken Shatto, David Pruyne, Robert Verbickas, Brent Gall and James Bond all are accused of forming a gang, dubbed the "Cowboys," and conspiring to administer their own justice to the inmates during 1995 and 1996. An investigation by the Department of Justice led to the seven being indicted three years ago. Their five- week trial began last week.
Gutierrez, a mother of two boys ages 13 and 10, told the jury she agreed to testify against her fellow officers in exchange for a lighter prison sentence of one year for misdemeanor assault. The civil rights charges carry a sentence of up to 20 years.
Gutierrez said she became terrified once Department of Justice attorney Mark Blumberg began investigating the prison officers.
"You just kept investigating and investigating. I hated you," she told Blumberg, the lead prosecutor. "I kept asking myself, 'How am I going to get out of this?' A quote came to me, that 'the truth will set you free.' So I agreed to testify."