Drug War

Congressman Asked Bureau of Prisons Three Times About Nonviolent Offender Who Later Died in Maximum Security Lockup

A congressman forwarded messages to the Bureau of Prisons from Rick Turner's family begging for his relocation. Two were ignored.

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Before Rick Turner died in federal prison earlier this year, a member of Congress sent sent three messages to the Bureau of Prisons from Turner's family begging for Turner to be transferred somewhere safer.

Reason obtained correspondence showing that the office of Rep. Rob Wittman (R–Va.) forwarded three messages from Turner's family to the Bureau of Prisons between October and December of last year and asked for more information on his case. The first two inquiries were ignored.

As Reason previously reported, Turner was found dead in June in his cell at USP Florence, a maximum security federal penitentiary in Colorado, less than a year after arriving there. Family members say he feared for his life in a violent, gang-controlled prison that he should have never been sent to in the first place.

Turner was sentenced to a mandatory 40 years in prison for his role in a Virginia methamphetamine trafficking ring. Federal prosecutors hammered him with firearm enhancements and drug charges that magnified his sentence by decades after he turned down a plea deal and was found guilty at trial. The judge in Turner's case called his sentence "excessive" and "wrong," and one of the jurors wrote last week that he would have nullified if he'd known Turner would receive 40 years.

Although Turner had no prior criminal record or history of violence, he was sent to a maximum security penitentiary because of the length of his sentence. If he had been sentenced just a few months later, after Congress reduced some of the mandatory minimum laws he was sentenced under, or if he had received a lighter sentence like the rest of his co-conspirators, all of whom took plea deals, things might have been different.

On Oct. 4, 2018, Turner's sister, Mandy Turner-Richards, wrote to Rep. Wittman's office asking for the congressman's help in getting Turner transferred to another facility, saying he was receiving death threats.

"Due to the gang presence in maximum security prisons, Rick has received constant threats against his life as he refuses to be in a gang," Turner-Richards wrote. "Rick wants to remain unaffiliated and focus on bettering his life, but this seems to be impossible in his current setting. I ask for your help in contacting the Bureau of Prisons in regards to transferring my brother to a lower security prison where he will be able to safely engage in programming and focus on getting better."

Wittman forwarded Turner-Richards' message to Jennifer Edens, the chief of legislative affairs for the Bureau of Prisons, and wrote, "I would appreciate you reviewing the enclosed documentation and providing me with any information that may be helpful to my constituent."

Wittman's office sent another inquiry on October 22, but received no response to either request. On December 6 Wittman's office forwarded another letter from Turner's sisters begging for their brother to be transferred out of USP Florence.

"My family is not famous, nor do we know any superstars, and we do not have a lot of money to hire expensive legal representation," Turner-Richards wrote. "I know you are fully aware of the financial burdens put on families with incarcerated loved ones. With my brother not having a violent bone in his body, we can not comprehend why he was sent to a max security prison where he is not able to even do the therapies and things that Honorable Judge T. S. Ellis sentenced him to do. The RDAP [Residential Drug Abuse Program] program that he was sentenced to enroll in is not even available in the max security prison."

The Bureau of Prisons finally responded on December 13. A legislative affairs specialist wrote that, under the rules, Turner would have to serve 18 months in the prison's general population with a clean disciplinary record before he would be eligible to apply for a relocation.

"Additionally, policy does not recognize/provide hardship transfers," the Bureau of Prisons official wrote. "Therefore, nearer January 2020, Mr. Turner needs to submit a request to his Unit Team for a nearer release transfer."

FAMM, a nonprofit advocacy group that opposes mandatory minimum sentences, has called for an investigation into Turner's death.

"What more can a family do?" FAMM President Kevin Ring says. "They got a member of Congress to notify BOP that their brother feared for his life, and the BOP responds with boilerplate policy language. BOP has the authority under current law to keep a nonviolent offender like Rick out of maximum security institutions. They didn't use it. We want to know why, and we want this to stop happening."

Vice reported last week that Turner's attorney got the government to agree to a post-conviction motion in which Turner would waive his right to appeal and agree to testify for the government in exchange for a reduced sentence. But that process promised to drag on for months.

Turner-Richards told Vice her brother said to her, "They'll kill me before that."

Turner's cause of death has not been publicly released yet. The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment.

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  1. On firearm enhancements:

    • Imprisonment for not less than five years (baseline if no other enhancements apply)
    • Imprisonment for not less than seven years if a weapon is brandished
    • Imprisonment for not less than ten years if a firearm is discharged
    • Imprisonment for not less than ten years if the firearm is a short-barreled rifle, a shotgun, or an automatic weapon
    • Imprisonment for not less than fifteen years if the offense involves armor piercing ammunition
    • Imprisonment for not less than twenty-five years if the defendant has a previous conviction which involves a fire-arm enhancement
    • Imprisonment for not less than thirty years if the firearm is a machine gun, destructive device, or is equipped with a silencer
    • Imprisonment for life if the defendant has a prior conviction which involves a fire-arm enhancement and the firearm is a machine gun, destructive device, or equipped with a silencer.

    Firearms enhancements tend to be very tricky things. I have a friend who has legal, federally stamped silencers and he’s keenly aware of what extra trouble he can get into if he breaks 1 law while in possession of his silencer. And by possession, it means it’s in the trunk of your car when you’re pulled over.

    1. We (the royal we) pass these laws without thinking what the consequences are and how prosecutors will always tack on everything they can. Remember, you’re a line in a spreadsheet, nothing more.

      1. It’s called common sense gun control.

    2. Sorry, no sympathy from me. As a society we want to reduce gun crime, but then we flinch at applying punishment to criminals with guns. Much easier to go after the guns of the law abiding. Turner shit his bed but you want me to wear the diaper.

  2. The aspect that bothers me the most about this was pointed out by attn Shon Hopwood when he appeared on the Rubin Report. He discussed how mandatory minimums effectively deny due process because the combined penalties are so severe that you would be insane to go to trial even though you are constitutionally guaranteed a fair trial. I don’t see how you can call a trial fair when the penalties you face are excessive. There’s a tacit presumption of guilt in such a system where it’s in everyone’s best interest to plead guilty.

    1. The aspect that bothers me the most is that he wasn’t safe. We spend billions on these frigging prisons and they are full of violence, weapons and drugs. WTF.

  3. Whitey Bulger could not be reached for comment.

  4. “…one of the jurors wrote last week that he would have nullified if he’d known Turner would receive 40 years.”

    All jurors should refuse to convict people for victimless crimes. Drugs, prostitution, non-violent gun crimes, braiding hair without a license…

    1. Someone would first have to be legally permitted to inform jurors that this is a legally permitted option. That’s bad for business.

    2. Mowing lawns without a license…

    3. By all means…let a single individual make new law, despite what elected representatives have done, as prescribed by the Constitution.
      AKA anarchy.

  5. They got a member of Congress to notify BOP that their brother feared for his life, and the BOP responds with boilerplate policy language.

    Look, do you want the bureaucrats running our prison industrial complex to spend all their time making adjustments to arbitrary yet rigid internal policies or do you want them to continue to spend all their time ignoring the glaring and often (literally) fatal defects in the systems they are paid to oversee?

  6. “Turner’s cause of death has not been publicly released yet. The Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment.”

    He died on June 13, 2019 and the cause of death has not been released yet? Sounds like the cover-up is more complicated than usual. Maybe that means he was killed by the staff.

  7. Yeah, as if America cares about human rights of prisoners in their gulags.

  8. Procedures were followed. Nothing to see here.

    Besides, none of this would have happened if he’d have just obeyed the law. /sarc

    1. WITHOUT THE RULE OF LAW WE HAVE NOTHING!

  9. BOP has the authority under current law to keep a nonviolent offender like Rick out of maximum security institutions. They didn’t use it. We want to know why, and we want this to stop happening.”

    We all know why…

  10. “…Turner’s attorney got the government to agree to a post-conviction motion in which Turner would waive his right to appeal and agree to testify for the government in exchange for a reduced sentence.”

    “Rick has received constant threats against his life as he refuses to be in a gang,” Turner-Richards wrote. “Rick wants to remain unaffiliated …”

    Unaffiliated from all except snitches, apparently. Bold move considering there’s not much of a presence of snitch gangs in prison to recruit and back him up. Rick should have remembered the early rats get the plea while some rats get “freed.” Rick was obviously a poor decision maker who received injustice upon injustice which is a genuine injustice.

  11. So horrible. The very definition of government. They created the illicit drug market by making the law. Demand means *someone* has to fill that role. They imposed wildly disproportionate penalties that defy logic and humanity, disqualifying this peaceful individual from a safe existence in their prison. They created the cumbersome bureaucracy that ignored his appeals to mitigate his dire circumstances, and then thoughtlessly denied his plea on fallacious “the rules are the rules” claptrap.

    For some, the state is death. All laws are enforced at the point of a gun. The plea bargain mill must end. The massive library of crimes in this country is an arsenal against the citizenry. Its representatives are blue-clad thugs and black-clad merchants of doom.

    We did this. We begged for it–For the children! For the whites! For the blacks! For the pharmaceutical corporations! For the barbers! For the banks!–and now we are all groggily waking up from our utopian dream of an engineered, centralized, uniform, compliant super-nation to realize we are in Pool’s nightmare dystopia. Well I hope our ancestors and legislators and agitators and pearl-clutchers are satisfied. You can be murdered by your rulers for having a pellet gun near a window and later trying to pull up your pants while crawling down a hotel hallway. You can be murdered for dodging excise taxes and peddling loosies on the street corner. You can be wrongfully imprisoned because Officer Friendly gets his rocks off by planting meth from his personal stash. Your family, your business, your life all are forfeit the moment you’re born, victim to the whim of random encounters with your betters. And now we complain! Our wish came true and we aren’t collectively sentient enough to overthrow the cabal that tosses individuals’ lives–their entire lives, the only one they get–for possessing an incorrect quantity of a plant.

    To quote Ruby in Cold Mountain (portrayed by Renée Zellweger):
    >>”Every piece of this is man’s bullshit. They call this war “a cloud over the land” but they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say “Shit, it’s rainin’!” ”

    Well it’s raining harder and harder all the time. We’re all animals in a zoo, bereft of agency, subject to the cruelties of our predecessors, processed by an unthinking machine of paperwork and precedent, void of reason, void of humanity.

    Tree of Liberty is looking a little thirsty.

  12. While I feel awful for Mr Turner and his family I am not at all surprised by this. There are, no doubt, many others like him. But until it happens to someone “sympathetic”-you know, the type whose family will be invited to appear on the Today Show-do not expect anything to ever change.

    1. Yeah, its simply awful when it happens to white people. People don’t give a shit when it happens to black people.

      1. Yeah too bad there aren’t any protest movements defined along racial lines, excellent point. I wish someone would hashtag that these lives matter.

        YAWN

        I oppose the state from my individual perspective, not my enforced identity.

  13. I worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a Correctional Officer for 16 year’s, from 1998 to 2014. What this inmate could have done was to ask to be put in “PC” (Protective Custody) in the Special Housing Unit, or SHU. This is basically the “Hole” or Solitary Confinement. He should have notified a Lieutenant, and told him that he felt threatened, and that his life was in danger. That happened all the time where I worked at MDC Los Angeles. Sadly, this exact scenario happens all the time in the BOP.

    1. Shouldn’t a person be safe in prison? A “gang controlled” prison? There should never be any such thing.

  14. […] to relocate him, saying he feared for his life in the gang-ridden prison, and a member of Congress sent inquiries about his case, all to no […]

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