Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June 1 - Can't Keep A Good Man Down

Wednesday, June 1

On June 1, 2016, Clayton Allison celebrated his second birthday within the Goose Creek Correctional Center; turning 33 years old.  This birthday would be a new challenge.  In addition to being confined to the facility, Clayton had been struggling with illness for the last few days.  He had requested to be seen by medical, but at last report it was taking the nurses more than five days to see someone after they filed an official request. However, Clayton was determined not to let his spirits be brought down by circumstances.  

“I didn’t want to let DOC steal my birthday from me,” he said.  “I wanted to make it special.”

Clayton’s family wanted to help him, but struggled to find options available to do so.  Clayton still currently resides within the Special Management Unit (SMU) in the Goose Creek Correctional Center, and has been confined there since September 16, 2016.  Confinement of this nature is recognized as unhealthy and inhuman when forced upon individuals for extended periods of time; but no progress has been made in getting the protective custody inmates at GCCC housed in more appropriate long-term quarters.  They have been confined there for nine months.

Conditions have improved marginally over the last months, while Clayton served in a temporary “Advocate” position with prison staff; where he worked with other inmates to communicate improvements that could be made by the facility for quality of life.  Some of the ground gained included access to previously restricted items like radios and MP4 players, colored pencils, warm clothing, personal shoes, and vitamins.  They also managed to propose a schedule change that now allows the inmates to be out of their cells for 1.5 hours in the morning, 45 minutes in the afternoon, and 1.5 hours in the evening.  They otherwise remain confined for the other 20 hours each day.

The Day Before

Two of the changes achieved were critical to Clayton’s birthday plans: increased access to the phone through time out, and colored pencils.  With these two elements, and basic access to the mail system in advance, Clayton’s family managed to find a way to play one of their favorite board games by phone - Settlers of Catan.  The game is a board-based resource strategy game which normally takes 3-4 hours to play with a group of 5-6 people, so every minute of phone access counted.  

The family chose to play the game with Clayton the day before his actual birthday, because the rotating schedule would allow him the ability to call out for the full available 3.75 hours.  Family members rolled the dice for Clayton and helped manage his hand of cards from their side, and left the game to wait between periods of the day when he could call.  He kept track of the board, his hand, and other relevant details by paper using the colored pencils and a map the family had created and mailed in advance.  

Clayton was occasionally interrupted by the curious individual wandering up and asking him what on Earth he was doing.  Family members would laugh when they could hear him politely shooing away the onlookers, so he could focus on the game.  Game play was a struggle, because his head cold was making it nearly impossible for him to breathe without taking a shower; waiting for access to a decongestant that would never come.  However, the same time he had access to the shower was the same time he had access to the phones, and the phones were the priority for him today.  

In the end, the family managed to play a hurried game, and the champion (Clayton’s wife) shouted victory with less than 2 minutes of phone time to spare.  Clayton was very excited to have pulled off something so complex and entertaining, while being included in the family he was divided from, in such an important week.  

The Big Day

Clayton’s family knew they wouldn’t hear from him much by phone on the day of his birthday.  His plans were elaborate, and he would be busy coordinating while still battling the effects of his cold.  Clayton’s number one enjoyment in life is making people smile, so he wanted to find a way to include as many people in his birthday plans as possible.  Therefore, he decided to host a “spread” for his birthday dinner.  

“Spread” is prison lingo for a meal that inmates plan together, and each contribute ingredients from commissary and meals to, in order to make something which does not appear on the prison’s standard menu.  Clayton had collected many ingredients in advance; having taken advantage of a ‘special commissary’ ordering option which had come around a couple of months before.  The spread for his birthday would be the largest he’d attempted, and the most complex due to his inability to cook anything himself because of his cold.  When the day came, he was entirely dependent upon the other inmates to cook everything.

At the end of the day, he did get a call out to his wife to confirm that he wanted to go ahead and use his contact visit for the week that night.  (Inmates in the SMU are still being forced to choose a single day each week that they are allowed to have physical contact with their loved ones; resulting in less than 10 seconds a week to actually hug their families.)  When she arrived, his wife was amazed at how high his spirits were despite his terrible cold.  

When he walked into the visitation room he was extremely excited, and grinning from ear to ear.  He couldn’t wait to report what his day had been like.  

He’d spent the entire morning rec (time out of his cell) and afternoon rec giving instructions to numerous inmates that were helping prepare the meal.  Their first order of business had been the preparation of their experimental dessert.  Weeks earlier, Clayton’s wife had noted that she believed they had access to most of the basic ingredients of no-bake cookies.  With Clayton’s love of all things peanut butter and chocolate, he was sold on the idea immediately.  

To make the cookies, the inmates melted: 3 Hershey’s chocolate bars, 3 Reese’s peanut butter cup 2-packs, milk, and a small bag of Riesen dark chocolate caramels into a large bowl.  They then added 4 finely-crushed Oat & Honey granola bars, an entire jar of creamy peanut butter, and an entire box of maple and brown sugar oatmeal packets.  

They spread plastic out over the table tops, and then used gloves to scoop the blended mixture out into palm-sized balls to harden.  Clayton was shocked to realize that after everything was complete, they had enough to make 38 chocolate cookie-balls!  Without access to a freezer or fridge, getting them ready early was essential to give them time to firm up.  

For the main meal, they tried a variety of mixtures.  In one large bowl they made a sort of bean dip, including: white rice, chili, refried beans, and chopped up summer sausage.  A couple of folks had donated bags of Doritos to use for dipping.  In a second large bowl, they combined white rice, jerk pork, and packets of squeeze cheese.  In a third large bowl, they blended a combination of: mashed potatoes, powdered milk, Funyuns, mustard and mayo packets.  For any of the available combinations, they used several packages of tortillas to make wraps.  

Clayton explained that even after the morning and afternoon rec, they still did not have all of the steps completed for the meal to be ready.  He was beginning to stress about being pressed for time when he realized he would not be able to make it through the rest of the day without taking a shower so he could breathe.  Therefore, he prepped a “To Do” list with all the remaining steps, and passed it off to his roommate with instruction to grab specific people to help.  On his way to the showers, numerous people gave him ‘What the hell are you doing?’ looks, and he just kept walking while shouting to them to go help his roommate finish everything.  

In the end, an incredible number of people were helping out, even if they could not contribute ingredients, to get the job done.  Clayton was relieved to find everything ready after exiting the shower and getting a brief call out to his wife about the visit.  He was excited, because he’d already wanted to include as many people as possible and there had been a lot more cookie-balls for dessert than he’d imagined.  Altogether, they were able to have 37 people join in with Clay for his epic birthday meal, and he still noted that he felt a little guilty that there wasn’t enough for everyone.  

Some of the men seemed moved nearly to tears for being included.  Many of them do not have funds for commissary, and are considered indigent; so they never have access to things like chocolate.  Some others, like one of Clayton’s former elderly roommates, have just enough to ration a small portion for themselves each day or each week.  To have an entire palm-sized no-bake cookie-ball was unbelievable!  

“I love seeing people’s faces light up, and knowing I made their day!” Clayton explained.  “That’s what makes me happy.”

Then, much to Clayton’s surprise, his fellow inmates took matters a step further.  One man insisted that they sing Clayton Happy Birthday.  Clayton teared up as he explained that the 37 men participated began to sing, and were then joined by numerous other inmates from around the mod who weren’t even participating.  Then he was surprised again and again during clean-up, as inmates began bringing him improvised birthday presents.  One man brought him ½ a package of cookies, while another one followed with an unopened box.  One man gifted him an elaborate hand-drawn picture of a female anime character in full armor, while another offered a hand-made picture frame.  One man offered a package of top ramen; which Clayton was very excited about because he’d run out a couple of days before and was still sick.  And yet another handed over one of his most prized possessions; his last remaining bag of microwave popcorn (which they can no longer order).  

Earlier in the week, it had warmed Clayton’s wife’s heart to hear that some of the inmates had been attempting to do what they could to help him while he’d been so sick.  He’d been running an extremely high fever, and despite having been placed on the ‘sick call list’ to be seen by a nurse, he was denied access morning after morning.  He’d been too weak to bother retrieving meal trays a couple of times, and had been surprised by one of the men sending him a special meal tray with more soup and food appropriate for illness to his cell.  A few of the other men had offered up tissues or tea as they saw him struggling.  

It is important to note that this type of behavior is not typical in any prison housing unit.  In general, anything an inmate has access to through commissary is prized and traded as money if offered up at all.  But Clayton being himself, and taking care of those around him through sheer natural habit, seems to be reaping back some of what he has sown over the last several months; and his family is happy to see that other people around him truly care about his well being.  

Friday, June 3, 2016

May 27 - Alaska's Broken System

Friday - May 27

In mid-May, Clayton Allison's wife met a third time with Governor Walker's staff to discuss the corruption that led to Clayton's conviction, and the cruelty witnessed since he was placed into the care of Alaska's Department of Corrections (DOC).  The goal of this week's meeting was to summarize the seemingly futile efforts made over the last 15 months to make state officials aware of the corruption in Clayton’s case, 3PA-09-2996 CR, and request investigations of the parties involved.

In prior meetings with the Governor’s staff, numerous statewide agencies and resources were recommended; who were theoretically responsible for investigating and intervening for Alaskan citizens with various segments of Alaska's justice system.  However, the information presented to the Governor's staff this month summarizes that, in reality, it is nearly impossible for any Alaskan citizen to request investigations, or even address serious and substantiated misconduct of state officials, through any of the offices that were recommended.  

In reality, Clayton Allison’s supporters have learned that agencies at both the state and federal level will typically turn a blind eye to blatant evidence until a request for an investigation is made by a high-level figure of authority within the state or federal government itself.  For example, the recent Federal bust of a Goose Creek Correctional Center guard who is accused of attempting to smuggle contraband into the facility was investigated at the request of the Alaska Department of Corrections.

Federal Authorities

In an attempt to report the conduct of the medical examiner in 3PA-09-2996 CR (who is still actively conducting more than 200 autopsies per year in the state of California) to federal authorities, federal staff expressed that issues of that nature were "outside of our jurisdiction." They explained that the only recourse available to protect additional citizens from the ineptitude or misconduct (as evidenced by an extensive brief to the court by a forensics expert in our case, and reported in other cases) would be to: follow the man's progress over the course of the rest of his life, and report the medical examiner's history to the medical board of all 50 states and U.S. territories individually as he practiced within them.  When expressing disbelief, Free Clayton Allison (FCA) supporters were told by federal authorities that it was, "an unfortunate flaw in our federal system."  

Federal authorities also expressed that misconduct of state officials was not something they possessed the ability to investigate unless there was evidence of a specific individual accepting a bribe.  FCA supporters have found numerous examples of federal authorities assisting with the types of investigations we are requesting, but in all cases they seem to have stemmed from a request from that state's government.  Part of the problem appears to boil down to the issue of investigating "crimes," and unbelievably, framing an individual for murder is not currently considered a federal or state crime.  

Mrs. Allison discussed with a high ranking federal authority the ineffectiveness of the state’s systems of public accountability as outlined below.  The authority assured her many times that "ultimately someone at the state level is responsible for investigating these types of issues."  However, after listing out the details of the offices she had contacted and their responses, or lack thereof, they seemed to be at a loss for additional agencies or offices to recommend.  

In contacting the Office of the Ombudsman, Mrs. Allison was informed that the Ombudsman is not allowed, under any circumstances, to investigate any aspect of the justice system which takes place within a courtroom.  Regardless of the evidence which may be available, prosecutors, judges, and other court officials are immune to the scrutiny of the Ombudsman.  When she attempted to report the behavior of the police, they explained that an investigation would not be conducted unless they had the power to require a corrective action of some form, which they did not.  Lastly, when informed about the inappropriate actions taken by Probation Office staff, they explained that the ruling during sentencing from Judge Vanessa White, stating that no one would care enough about the facts for corrective action to be required, would supersede their ability to investigate.

The mission statement of the Alaska Judicial Council (AJC) is "To screen and nominate judicial applicants; evaluate the performance of judges and make evaluation information and recommendations available to the voters; and conduct studies and make recommendations to improve the administration of justice."  

Mrs. Allison contacted the AJC to make them aware of the behavior of Judge Vanessa White in 3PA-09-2996 CR.  The AJC representative expressed grave concern about the reports of various behaviors, and recommended that FCA supporters be present at the upcoming public hearings on June 23, 2016, at our local Legislative Information Office where members of the public would be able to discuss concerns about the retention of judges who were up for reelection in November.  They also strongly encouraged us to contact the Office of Victim's Rights and the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct.  They explained that only the Commission could take any actual action of reprimand against a judge for behavior in the courtroom, and that AJC was limited to recommendations to the public about retention.  

The Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) is responsible to "addresses problems of judicial conduct and disability."  Their website claims that "complaints alleging judicial misconduct can be filed by any person," but it remains unclear what their responsibility is to investigate - or even document - those claims.  

In 3PA-09-2996 CR, Judge White demonstrated obvious bias in the courtroom against both defense counsel and defense witnesses.  It was even stated on court record by defense counsel, as had been witnessed by many in the courtroom,  that Judge White’s demeanor was distinctly different during Mrs. Allison's testimony than during the testimony of other witnesses at trial.  Alarmingly, Judge White also limited the testimony of Mrs. Allison in extensive ways that questioned her status as a fact witness; creating lists of subjects before testimony that Ms. Allison was not allowed to mention or discuss even if directly asked by prosecutors - which they ultimately did, which left her with no means of addressing their inferences and accusations while not being able to speak of the facts at hand.  Judge White also made numerous questionable rulings against the introduction of evidence, the use of experts, and disallowing character witnesses, calling these items -  "too prejudicial for the defense" - meaning, of course, that if the jury were to be informed of these facts or exposed to these witnesses, it might tend to make Clayton look “too” innocent. She also made statements that the State had a "right" to a “fair” trial to justify these questionable rulings.  

Upon reporting this to the ACJC, the representative expressed that individual rulings would never be investigated under any circumstances, because bad rulings should be addressed by the appeals process.  This is a grossly inadequate response, because not only does the appeals process take years, but it normally does not include any real scrutiny of the judge's demeanor, favoritism, or even possible patterns of faulty rulings over many cases.  

The ACJC representative expressed that demonstrated bias was inappropriate for any judge, but that even if witnesses and evidence existed to support the claim, no investigation would ever be conducted.  She said that this was because the ACJC would not choose to take any action against a judge for such behavior.  When asked what would prompt action from ACJC, the representative explained that unless a judge had sworn, “cussed”, at someone on record, or used a racial slur in court, no investigations would be conducted. This is a remarkably low bar for people entrusted with power over the remainder of an individual’s life.

According to their website, "The Office Of Victims' Rights is an agency of the Alaska Legislature that provides free legal services to victims of crime to help them obtain the rights they are guaranteed under the Alaska constitution and statutes with regard to their contacts with police, prosecutors, judges, and other criminal justice agencies in this state, as well as to advance and protect those victim rights in court when necessary and authorized by law."

Mrs. Allison was frankly hesitant to contact the OVR, due to the understanding that they most frequently work very closely with prosecutors and police.  However, throughout the years of court proceedings, Mrs. Allison was the individual who met the legal definition of a victim in the case, and so would be the individual most appropriate to contact the OVR.  Therefore she called, per the recommendation of the AJC, and requested an investigation into the actions of the police and prosecutors in the Allison case.  

At first, the OVR incorrectly directed Mrs. Allison to the Ombudsman's office, and seemed unaware that the Ombudsman was not allowed to investigate matters of court.  Then they expressed that they were not able to investigate the facts of a case that was already closed.  However, during the course of the conversation, an additional staff member joined in and clarified that the OVR did have very limited authority to investigate the actions of both police and prosecutors if the accusation was related to a broader risk of harm to the public.  

Mrs. Allison relayed that, as a victim, not as a suspect, she had been tortured for hours by Alaska State Troopers forcing her to look at autopsy photos of her little girl in an effort to turn her against her husband, before his appearance in court, and that police had attempted to influence the belief of other members of the family, before a cause of death had even been determined. She explained that she was convinced that this was part of a larger pattern of behavior, because numerous defense professionals had commented to her that they had seen the kind of interrogation which had been conducted against her many times, never before seeing someone who hadn't been "broken" in the process.   Police and the DA had also buried evidence during the investigation, failed to present relevant facts to medical experts, and dramatically erred in forcing coerced statements from a deeply grieving parent using a method outlawed in many countries because it is known to elicit false information.
She also expressed her concerns that the prosecutors involved with the case had lied in court about case evidence in their possession, which at times they were even holding in their hands, and expressed concern about their specific attempts in court to mislead and deceive the jury concerning the true nature of interactions between police and herself and other family members.  She explained that other community members have subsequently informed her that they have experienced very similar behavior in the cases of people they know.  

OVR staff then requested that she submit an official complaint, and said they would follow up with her.  

The next phone conversation would prove to be shockingly different.  A manager from the OVR office followed up with Mrs. Allison later, and started grilling her on the case evidence in her possession (which officials of the court had been aware of for years).  They accused her of obtaining case evidence inappropriately, and attempted to intimidate her by making statements that she "should be careful" because action might be taken against her.  Then the tone turned mocking, and they said, "I think I remember your case now.  Didn't the state spend thousands and thousands of dollars defending your husband... and you still lost?"  

At this point, it felt obvious to Mrs. Allison that pursuing help from the OVR was futile. She maintains the belief that ORV staff spoke directly with the prosecutors in the Allison case before attempting to intimidate her.  To her knowledge, no official investigation was ever conducted into the validity of her claims or the risk of ongoing harm it represents to other Alaska citizens.

At an earlier meeting, the Governor's staff had advised Mrs. Allison to contact the Attorney General (AG) about the behavior of the prosecutors involved in the Allison case.  Upon doing so, the AG staff seemed utterly confused by her attempt to report.  They inquired about whether she had contacted the Alaska Bar Association.  She explained that to her understanding, even if she had, she wouldn't be allowed to disclose that information.  More importantly, she explained that this was not an attempt to remove their license to practice law, but to report the misconduct of employees to their employer.  

As a state employee, every prosecutor is ultimately operating under the authority of the State of Alaska's Department of Law and the Attorney General.  If someone at a restaurant spits in your food, you report them to their manager and public health officials.  While public health or safety officials may at some point intervene because of their behavior, the employer is immediately liable and responsible for their behavior and for removing the threat to the public.  

After briefly reviewing the laundry list of misconduct committed by prosecutors in the Allison case, AG staff seemed a bit overwhelmed.  They asked repeatedly about where Mrs. Allison had already reported this information.  They asked if Mrs. Allison had sought legal council for damages.  She argued that she was a member of the public attempting to report misconduct of a professional to their employer, and that a citizen's finances should not be a barrier to due process.  She again requested information on how to file an official complaint.  Ultimately, she left a voicemail with staff requesting a follow-up, and no response from the AG's office has been received to date.  

Despite the fact that the DOC had no involvement in the wrongful conviction of Clayton Allison, and instead, has inherited the mess passed along by the court system, FCA efforts have been continually derailed and delayed by the need to address Clayton's, and other inmates', immediate health and safety within that system. Contrary to expectation, however, DOC is the one agency which has shown tangible, implemented change due to the reports of individuals and families of inmates.  That change has been largely due to the investigation conducted by the Governor's staff, the report that followed, and the subsequent change of leadership within the department.  

Mrs. Allison has been afforded the ability to express her concerns to statewide DOC officials about: direct threats against Clayton by staff members, hostility toward members of the public by high level facility staff, intimations to inmates by DOC staff that coercive actions were taken against inmates who had provided information to the Governor’s investigators, and specific instances of actions that were and are negatively affecting inmate health and safety.  At all times Mrs. Allison has praised the heroic efforts of many of the DOC staff in the trenches to take proper care of the inmates and provide contact and supportive services to their friends and loved ones.  

Subsequently, some immediate actions have occurred which addressed major concerns of personal safety.  However, larger, lingering issues remain as statewide officials seem hesitant to address issues of:
  • ongoing confinement of large numbers of protective custody inmates in extremely restrictive administrative segregation environments not meant to be used as long-term housing;
  • the continued denial of access to the amount of contact visitation they were formerly allowed and which is still allowed for most inmates;
  • and transparent actions concerning staff threats against inmates and their families.  

Despite the extremely slow nature of bureaucratic changes on this scale, Mrs. Allison remains optimistic that the new DOC Commissioner and his staff have the department headed in an improved direction, and can only hope that this includes relief for the inmates who appear to have been caught in the crossfire of the investigation and now face an undetermined period of forced extreme confinement.  

The Governor's staff have been provided with documentation on the unethical and deceptive tactics used to obtain the wrongful conviction of Clayton Allison, most of it from state records, and the futile effort of alerting the state authorities that were recommended to address the problems.  Many of these issues have been discussed at length, and some have lead to efforts across the state to increase the accountability of state officials.  However, Clayton's family now poses this question to Governor Walker and his staff:

What will you do about this instance of abuse of authority?

When you saw that inmates in DOC were being killed instead of protected, you took action.  When you learned that there were major problems with the Alaska justice system, you, in concert with other statewide officials, began working on the issues.  When you learned that there was a lack of accountability for statewide officials in the justice system and other state systems, you attempted to implement an investigative arm, and are still fighting for it.

What will you do about the wrongful conviction of Clayton Allison?

There is ample evidence available to illustrate that the conviction was wrongfully obtained.  According to endless amounts of case precedent, misconduct of prosecutors concerning evidence presented and statements of fact made in trial requires that convictions be overturned.  

What justification exists for condemning a man to spend years in prison waiting for an appeal process when the evidence that he was denied his right to a fair trial is so blatant?  What is there to even discourage, let alone prevent, state officials from pursuing these same tactics daily against other citizens when it apparently brings them “success” without any fear that abuse of their power will lead to any level of correction or discipline?  What justification exists for allowing state officials suspected to be a danger to the community to continue practicing without even ordering administrative leave and conducting an official investigation?  What justification exists for not requesting a federal investigation of the parties involved when innocent Alaskans are being framed, sometimes even for “murders” that were likely deaths by accidental and natural causes as has been asserted by a national forensics expert in our case? The multitude of things done to our family member and friend appear to be “business as usual”.  In fact, misconduct has occurred on so many fronts that some have remarked, “It’s systemic.”   

Is it reasonable to expect such a system to correct itself?  

What justification exists for allowing public safety professionals to continue torturing innocent mothers and family members as a means to an end - especially when that end may resemble career advancement more than justice?  How can we expect the many good people in state employment to compete on equal footing within the ranks, when bad behavior is systematically sheltered and rewarded?  Ultimately, how well do you think the police will be able to function in their essential service to protect us when honest citizens realize it is “unsafe” to talk to them?  We hear from many who tell us they feel this way already, because of our case, yes, but also from their own experiences.

The Office of the Governor does have the authority to take action.  As the lead executive in the state, the Governor is the employer of these people.  As the highest state official, he has not only the authority, but the responsibility to ensure that state power is used to serve, not oppress state citizens.  The incredibly insulated and extensive power of the judiciary, in particular, cries out for oversight.  Yes, it is a different branch of government, but our government is supposed to be based on a system of “checks and balances” where each branch has the power to check or restrain undue power of another.  Without consequences, or even the mere threat of a true independent investigation, such power breeds contempt for the weak under its control.  At the very least, citizens should have the right to be defended against its abuses, and should be speedily released from consequences derived from dishonest prosecution.  To do otherwise betrays the trust of the people, and reinforces the presumption that winning by any means is acceptable.  

As a family, and a community of supporters of Clayton Allison, we eagerly await your response.