A 4 December, 2010, strip search carried out on three teenage female inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison Fairbanks was done in retaliation, an investigation by Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams’ office has found.
“I disagree with both the Deputy Governor Designate [Franz Manderson] and his Acting Chief Officer [Eric Bush} in this regard,” Ms Williams wrote in her findings on the case. “In my opinion, the strip search was retaliatory and there is evidence to support this.”
Two officers at Fairbanks were disciplined earlier this year following a December strip search of the three inmates in a prison dorm.
The search was made one day after a few of the inmates wrote complaint letters concerning certain prison policies and which also alleged laziness or inactivity on the part of some of the prison officers.
In her findings, commissioner Williams said she believed an apology made over the incident by government officials and disciplinary action taken against two prison officers was appropriate.
“[I] make no further recommendations in this regard,” she said.
Messrs. Manderson and Bush had earlier found that, while methods used by prison officers in effecting the 4 December search may have been unreasonable, they were not done in retaliation.
Two of the prisoners reported hearing one of the prison guards involved in the search stating “that’s what you get for writing a letter about officers” after the search was over.
This account is corroborated by statements from two prison officers taken in the course of the government’s review of the incident.
One prison officer stated during her interview: “Yes, [the prison officer] said ‘that’s what you get for writing letters about officers.’ I was in the shower area and heard that.”
A second officer, who was also on the scene, said: “I’m not sure how to put it word-for-word, but my understanding was that the search was brought on by some letters wrote and something was said about that’s what happens when you write letters.”
These statements, taken in the context of what occurred on 4 December, 2010, do not equate to proof that the search was done in retaliation, Mr. Manderson said in an earlier interview.
“It should be noted that the complaint letter was in relation to a policy decision made by prison management and was not directed at any prison officer,” Mr. Manderson wrote in a letter to one of the prisoners father’s in March. “This supports the findings of the investigation.
“In relation to the strip search … the investigating officer has determined that [the inmate] was not singled out or treated any differently from the other inmates in the same ‘pod’. The investigating officer has concluded that, on balance and in hindsight, other search techniques could have been deployed on 4 December, 2010, other than a strip search. However … there is no evidence to suggest that the strip search was capricious or retaliatory.”
According to a sworn affidavit filed by one of the inmates who was strip searched: “A large group of officers came to our dormitory and announced that they were going to strip search us for a cell phone. I refused to be strip searched. I was then forcibly held down, cuffed, strip searched, bruised and had my clothing ripped. Only after I was forcibly strip searched did one female officers go to my bed to retrieve the phone.”
One of the two cell phones found in the prison dorm was in plain sight on the inmate’s bed, according to the prisoner’s account of what happened.