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

Aug 9, 2023, 3:32 PM

FILE - In this photo taken sometime in the early 2000s provided by Kymberly Hobbs, Hobbs poses next...

FILE - In this photo taken sometime in the early 2000s provided by Kymberly Hobbs, Hobbs poses next to her brother, Charles Givens. The Virginia Department of Corrections, under scrutiny over the death of inmate Givens in a case that has raised wider concerns about conditions at a southwest Virginia prison, is refusing Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, to release public records documenting inmate complaints about the facility. (Courtesy of Kymberly Hobbs via AP, File)

(Courtesy of Kymberly Hobbs via AP, File)

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.

National News

Associated Press

Illinois semitruck accident kills 1, injures 5 and prompts ammonia leak evacuation

TEUTOPOLIS, Ill. (AP) — A semitruck carrying ammonia overturned in an Illinois county, spilling the chemical and causing an evacuation of area residents Friday night, police said. The Effingham County Sheriff’s Office said the accident happened less than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) east of Teutopolis near an intersection of Route 40 and residents were evacuated […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

New York stunned and swamped by record-breaking rainfall as more downpours are expected

NEW YORK (AP) — One of New York’s wettest days in decades left the metropolitan area stunned and swamped Friday after heavy rainfall knocked out several subway and commuter rail lines, stranded drivers on highways, flooded basements and shuttered a terminal at LaGuardia Airport for hours. Some 8.65 inches (21.97 centimeters) of rain had fallen […]

5 hours ago

In this photo provided by the Ocean Exploration Trust, the chrysanthemum flower crest, an honored i...

Associated Press

Video provides first clear views of WWII aircraft carriers lost in the pivotal Battle of Midway

Footage from deep in the Pacific Ocean has given the first detailed look at three World War II aircraft carriers that sank in the pivotal Battle of Midway and could help solve mysteries about the days-long barrage that marked a shift in control of the Pacific theater from Japanese to U.S. forces. Remote submersibles operating […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

On the brink of a government shutdown, the Senate tries to approve funding but it’s almost too late

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is on the brink of a federal government shutdown after hard-right Republicans in Congress rejected a longshot effort to keep offices open as they fight for steep spending cuts and strict border security measures that Democrats and the White House say are too extreme. Come midnight Saturday with no deal […]

6 hours ago

FILE - Federal prosecutor Leo Wise poses for a photograph at the U.S. Attorney's Office in downtown...

Associated Press

Prosecutor in Hunter Biden case cut a contentious path in Baltimore

BALTIMORE (AP) — Before being assigned to investigate President Joe Biden’s son, Leo Wise built a reputation in Baltimore as a tough and hard-charging federal prosecutor, taking on powerful, and seemingly untouchable, figures — whether a gang of corrupt cops, a police commissioner, a top local prosecutor and even a mayor. Wise’s backers call him […]

6 hours ago

A portion of a mural by artist sloe_motions depicting Oscar De La Hoya, Vin Scully, Kobe Bryant, Sn...

Associated Press

Arrest in Tupac Shakur killing stemmed from Biggie Smalls death investigation

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The first arrest in the 1996 slaying of Tupac Shakur had its roots in the investigation of the killing of Biggie Smalls. The shooting deaths of the two hip-hop luminaries and rivals — Shakur in Las Vegas and Smalls in Los Angeles six months later — have always been culturally inseparable, […]

6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

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