During October 2013, Christopher Woolverton, an asthmatic man confined at the Clements Unit in Amarillo, Texas, died after being gassed by guards as he lay unresponsive in medical distress on his cell floor. He was assaulted despite that he was under medical “no gas” orders because of his respiratory condition. I witnessed his assault and subsequent death. I also helped expose it and brought the facts of the incident and witnesses’ identities to the attention of attorneys who ultimately brought federal suit against the responsible medical staff and guards at the prison. That lawsuit is,still pending.
One would think the pending litigation and actions taken against Woolverton’s killers would deter similar abuses at the prison. Not at all.
In fact, on July 2, 2016, I witnessed a blatant attempt by guards to murder another prisoner by gassing him despite that he too is under medical ‘‘no gas” orders, because of suffering from a respiratory illness. This prisoner, Joe Don Turner, #1655636, suffers chronic cardiopulmonary disease, and relies on daily breathing treatments to breathe, including prescription inhalers of QVAR steroid and ventolin HFA. Here’s what happened to him.
Attempted Murder by Asphyxiation
At the time of Turner’s incident we were housed in the same cell block and a few cells down from each other. On the night of July 2, unit guards failed to pass out scheduled supplies, so Turner protested to speak to a ranking guard.
A lieutenant Chad Perry came to his cell and basically told Turner he didn’t care about the supplies and didn’t want to hear anything else out of Turner. Turner persisted in protesting about the supplies, so Perry left, leaving the food access slot on Turner’s cell door open, and returned with a group of five guards dressed out in full body armor and gas masks. Perry, also wearing a gas mask, carried a large canister of gas.
Under the “use of chemical agents” policy of the Texas Department of Criminal (In)Justice (TDCJ), medical staff are supposed to be present to observe uses of gas; and they are supposed to be consulted prior to the use of gas to determine if the prisoner who’s to be gassed has any medical conditions that bar the use of gas on him/her. As said Turner was/is under medical “no gas” orders. In fact Perry knew this, so deliberately didn’t consult medical about Turner nor inform them of the identity of the prisoner he was about to gas. But, a nurse, Patricia Hunter did report to the cell block, at which point Perry told her to leave; but she came back.
As Turner stood at the cell door talking to Perry through the open slot, Perry suddenly sprayed him without warning with a large and continued burst of gas directly in the face. Turner’s face and upper body were drenched with gas and the entire cell contaminated.
Blinded and asphyxiating, he was handcuffed and brought outside of the cell, where he promptly collapsed onto the floor, gasping for air and began convulsing violently. The nurse tried to come to his aid, but the armored guards pushed her out of the way and bodily blocked her, leaving her to stand aside looking on as Turner lay helplessly in distress on the tier floor shaking and gasping for breath for several minutes. He was left there without help until gradually he recovered enough to be brought to his feet and climb onto a gurney. At that point he remarked through panting breaths that the guards “tried to kill me.” To which one of the armored guards was heard to remark, “That was the idea.”
Turner was then wheeled to the segregation medical clinic where Hunter manually wiped some of the gas from his face, and administered oxygen to him. When she realized who he was, she informed Perry that they weren’t supposed to use gas on Turner. Perry and another ranking guard, captain T. Phillips, who was present and supervising the entire incident, were at odds whether to allow Turner to have his prescription inhalers back in his cell.
Perry wanted to strip Turner of all property, including his inhalers, but the nurse insisted that he needed them to breathe. Ultimately he was given the inhalers, but was placed right back into the same still contaminated cell. All of us in the cell block listened for hours to Turner’s loud retching, choking, coughing and gagging so violently he couldn’t talk nor respond to our inquiries whether he as alright. He was left with gas contaminated clothes until days later when we all received routine clothing exchanges.
Before the gassing ever occurred, both me and Turner stated to Perry that gas wasn’t supposed to be used on him because of his medical condition. Perry even responded to Turner, “I know,” so Turner was caught completely by surprise when Perry still gassed him, and directly in the face at that.
Above the Law
Perry and his colleagues confronted and acted against Turner with murderous intentions as explicitly as if they had pointed a loaded gun at his head at point blank range and pulled the trigger. The difference however, is his would-be killers wore government uniforms, and therefore, like the legions of killer cops across Amerika, they are insulated from consequences by merit of the “Blue Wall” of their peers and the system’s protectionism and code of silence. This empowers them to act above the very laws they are sworn to uphold and self-righteously punish others for allegedly violating. In these prisons we live under the jackboot of real and overt fascism.
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
 For prior reports on the death of Christopher Woolverton and the subsequent lawsuit, see, ‘‘Asthmatic Prisoner Doused With Pepper Spray Refused Medical Care, Dies: Just Another Day in the Texas Prison System,” http://rashidmod.com/?p=917; ”Who Is Lying Now? Official Records Show Texas Officials are Murdering Prisoners,” http://rashidmod.com/?p=2128