Twenty-five prisoners told a lawyer the same disturbing story: Two armed correctional officers poured hot sauce into sandwich bags and forced inmates to stick their hands inside and lick the sauce from their fingers.
“Taking the sauce,” the officers allegedly called it.
It was not a mild Texas Pete-type sauce, but an “exotic hot” variety sold over the internet and stronger than police pepper spray. Inmates claimed it was so toxic that it blistered their skin and mouths. They said the officers wore surgical gloves.
What began as a perverse initiation rite a few years ago for prisoners on a road crew in rural Sampson County grew into systematic and sadistic torture and humiliation over two years, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of the inmates.
“We have good information that supervisors knew full well what was going on, witnessed it with their own eyes and – more egregiously – ignored complaints that came from members of the road crew,” attorney Christian Dysart said.
The lawsuit also claims the two officers forced inmates to smuggle contraband into the prison. The inmates allege correctional officers made thousands of dollars a week off the sale of cellphones, cigarettes and marijuana.
I DID SOME BAD THINGS IN MY PAST. I PAID FOR THAT,” PATTEN SAID… BUT THAT DIDN’T GIVE THEM THE RIGHT TO DO THIS TO ME.
Thomas Patten, former inmate at Sampson Correctional Institution.
The lawsuit details numerous sordid allegations: Inmates told to line up according to skin color, from “lightest to darkest.” Inmates forced to kiss snakes and throw rabbits in front of oncoming traffic. Inmates forced to hide cellphones, cigarettes and illegal drugs inside their anal cavities – known as “suitcasing.” The officers supplied surgical gloves and Vaseline, the lawsuit said, to make it easier to insert the contraband and smuggle it into the prison.
Did authorities know?
Working on the road crew was considered a plum assignment at Sampson Correctional, which houses 450 medium- and minimum-custody inmates in Clinton in Eastern North Carolina. Prisoners were deployed in groups of eight to pick up litter off the sides of roads. It allowed them to get outside prison grounds and earn time toward an earlier release.
But inmates said their days on the road crew turned hellish in 2011 and 2012.
Cedric Williams said officers forced him to rub hot sauce on his testicles and made him lick sauce off the white line on the road.
Jeremy Cline said they made him pull his pants down and dance naked on the prison bus while an officer filmed him.
Thomas Patten, who can’t swim, said he was ordered into a swamp to retrieve a beer can – and survived near-drowning only with the help of other inmates.
“I did some bad things in my past. I paid for that,” Patten said. “… But that didn’t give them the right to do this to me.”
Attorneys believe authorities at the prison knew what was going on.
The lawsuit contends that Sampson’s assistant superintendent once came on the bus, saw the hot sauce and asked officers, “if this is what they used.”
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