Federal authorities who started an investigation last month into the death of an inmate at Maryland’s Western Correctional Institution were already looking into broader allegations of prisoner abuse at the rural prison, the Baltimore Sun reports. The broader inquiry focuses on charges that a small group of correctional officers arranged inmate-on-inmate assaults and other types of retaliation against prisoners who wrote complaints or filed lawsuits about their treatment. The officers involved were assigned to the prison’s segregation unit, the same section that had housed Ifeanyi A. Iko, whose death April 30 was ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner’s office and is being investigated by the FBI.
In dozens of letters to The Sun since May, inmates at the prison described rising tensions between them and officers in the segregation unit in the weeks and months before Iko’s death. Two days before he died after a violent clash with officers, more than two dozen inmates embarked on a daylong protest in the unit over complaints of poor food and unfair or abusive treatment from officers. Civil lawsuits filed in federal court by three inmates before Iko’s death allege a pattern of abuse dating back to 2001 – allegations that the officers and state prison administrators strongly deny. Most inmates held in protective custody are usually either “snitches” – inmates who made enemies by informing prison authorities of the activities of other inmates – or former law enforcement officers who needed to be kept apart from the general population for their own protection.