America’s Biggest Private Prison Company Let Inmates Kill Each Other, Lawsuit Claims
Private-prison guards maced Kyle Tiffee as he bled to death after being repeatedly stabbed in a gang battle last year.
According to a lawsuit filed by Tiffee’s family, every element of the chaotic fight—right down to the light fixtures made into shanks—can be blamed on Corrections Corporation of America.
CCA is a multi-billion-dollar company and the largest operator of privately run prisons in the United States, running nearly 70 facilities including Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, Oklahoma, where Tiffee and three other men died on Sept. 12, 2015. The fight, which lasted all of two minutes, claimed four lives and was the deadliest incident in the history of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
The deadly fight was “highly predictable,” according to the lawsuit, and could have been prevented if not for minimal “staff behavior and corruption,” that left gangs to run the place.
CCA did not respond to a request for comment.
Tiffee was a member of the Irish Mob, whose members gathered on upper- and lower-level runs of the Charlie North housing unit, as did members of the United Aryan Brotherhood. The flocking was a sure sign that a fight was imminent, yet a guard stood by as “nothing more than a spectator,” to the fight.
The lawsuit names Terrance Lockett as the guard who stood idly by, but Lockette disagrees with the description.
“I really didn’t see anything. It all happened so fast, ” Lockett told The Daily Beast in a brief interview before deciding otherwise about the conversation. “They’ve named me in that lawsuit so I’m not going to say anything that hurts me.”
Lockett, when he did decide to warn his superiors that the gangs were gathering in a menacing manner, was told to “call back when (the fight) happens.”
Eventually Lockett and a nurse entered the fray to attend to a badly wounded inmate. Not long after that, the riot squad arrived and maced Tiffee—stabbed likely by the rival Aryans—while trying to break up the brief and bloody battle.
Tiffee and another member of the Irish Mob lay dead or dying; two members of the United Aryan Brotherhood were also suffering from mortal wounds.
The murders may have been captured on security footage inside Charlie North, but that footage remains in the hands of CCA.
“The Department of Corrections claims the video is exempt from the Oklahoma Open Records Act, as a ‘law enforcement record,’” attorney Spencer Bryan told The Daily Beast. But there’s just one problem: CCA is not registered with the Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, and therefore is not technically a law enforcement agency.
Oklahoma’s attorney general and Corrections Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The two gangs were armed with weapons fashioned from light fixtures inside the prison. CCA knew inmates were using the fixtures to make weapons, according to the lawsuit, but didn’t remove the fixtures “for financial reasons.” Even after the deadly battle, CCA left the fixtures in place.
Cimarron has been a problem for CCA for at least the past two years. Lockett and another guard have been indicted for smuggling phones and drugs into the facility, according to Payne County court records. In the lawsuit, Bryan claims the pair’s actions represent a culture of lawlessness that provides an atmosphere ripe for violent conflict.
“As more staff are corrupted, more contraband is introduced, and more inmates are monetized into the trafficking operation,” the lawsuit states. “As this cycle perpetuates, so too does the risk of violence in the (prison) drug trade.
Bryan alleges that efforts to curtail staff smuggling into the facility were non-existent prior to the deadly brawl. Indeed, in the months following the incident, Lockett and another guard, Megan Hood, were charged for attempting to smuggle contraband into the facility.
In November 2015, Hood was pulled aside after she repeatedly triggered a metal detector at Cimarron. In a report written by a Cushing police officer, Hood’s fellow guards said she was constantly tripping metal detectors at the prison, and was finally taken in for questioning that day. She eventually admitted to having two cell phones wrapped in electrical tape inside a body orifice.
She told police an inmate had promised her $2,000 in exchange for the phones, which she planned to use to “get away from her abusive husband,” according to the police report.
Three months later, in February, Lockett was pulled aside after a guard performing pat-downs of employees entering Cimarron found two bulges in Lockett’s crotch. After denying he had anything concealed in his pants, a Cushing police officer convinced Lockett to give up the goods. Lockett pulled out two bags of marijuana wrapped in electrical tape, according to police, then told an interesting story.
The night before Lockett had been on his way home from Cimarron when a car in front of him abruptly stopped. Four men got out and approached Lockett, handing over the bags of marijuana and threatening to kill him if he didn’t drop them off in Charlie North. But Lockett had no such excuse for the half pound of meth police found in his car that day after he gave them consent to search.
Both Hood and Lockett have been charged with possession of a controlled substance and intent to bring contraband into a penal institution, and their cases remain open.
Also still open are several federal lawsuits going back to 2014 levied on CCA because of alleged mistreatment of prisoners at Cimarron. They include one in which a prisoner had to have a testicle removed after staff at the prison allegedly ignored his complaints of pain for months. Another inmate said he came to the prison with swollen hands only to be ignored by medical staff. Eventually doctors found two broken fingers that had to be rebroken to heal the inmate.
One prisoner was eventually diagnosed with fractures in his neck when he slipped in a shower that was supposed to be closed at Cimarron, but weeks went by before he was finally taken to the hospital. Another man alleged he was denied chemotherapy after having a cancerous growth removed from his throat.
But proper medical care need not exist for a company like CCA to thrive, which is part of the reason that the Justice Department announced in August it would phase out the use of private companies to run federal prisons. That does nothing for the inmates at Cimarron though, because it is a state prison.
In fact, CCA’s stock just went up thanks to the renewal of a contract with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The company will continue to run an ICE detention facility in Texas, it announced this week. (The Justice Department’s decree does not affect facilities run by ICE because it is not a part of the Bureau of Prisons.)
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Tiffee’s family notes CCA’s voluminous income, which the company says provides Oklahomans with the “highest standards of quality.” Taxpayers in the state paid the company nearly $2.3 million a month in 2015 to CCA to run prisons there, and they have what Bryan says is the deadliest incident in the state’s prison history to show for it.
Tiffee’s father, Steve, a retired member of law enforcement, remembered his son not as a brutally murdered gang member, but a boy who “would look out for the smaller kids and kids with disabilities to protect them.”
Kyle spoke with his father often about God, about his plans to get involved in church when he was released from Cimarron to stay out of trouble.
“It’s hard to explain your feelings unless you have lost a child,” Steve said. “It’s been a year and each day is a struggle for me. Some days every time I think of him I start crying.”