Since March of 2021, ten former Texas prisoners were reported to have died while incarcerated at the Alfred Hughes Unit, in Gatesville, Texas. According to custodial death reports, Carlos Martinez died April 1, 2022, from what witnesses say was a suicide by hanging, following a verbal altercation with guards who’d been interrogating Martinez about contraband cell phones.
On April 14, 2022, Philip Henry Freeman was found hanging inside of a small holding cage, located right in front of the 12 Building supervisor’s office. Witnesses say he was stripped of all clothing except a pair of boxers and taken to the cage, following a verbal altercation with guards, concerning a female guard Freeman supposedly exposed his genitals to. At the time of Freeman’s death, he was housed in 12-Building’s solitary confinement mental health diversions program.
At the time of Martinez’s death, he was housed in a solitary confinement cell in another part of the prison.
An in-house TDCJ-inspired investigation determined that both Martinez and Freeman committed suicide, with the Office of Inspectors General (OIG) conducting an investigation of their own.
By coincidence, on the morning of Feb 14 2022, I crossed paths with, and briefly spoke to, Freeman, just before he was found dead in the exact spot I’d last seen him.
Directly across from the supervisor’s office, Freeman stood in the small, cage-like holding enclosure, with only a pair of boxers on. We briefly looked at each other and he nodded “what’s up” as if nothing was wrong. This is the same type of punishment cage I complained about to the San Francisco Bay View during my stay at Ellis Unit, which is often used to hold prisoners for hours without food or restroom breaks.
When I was escorted from the supervisor’s office, Freeman was still in the cage, this time demanding the rationale as to why he couldn’t return to his cell. His inquiry was met with indifference by passing staff.
On Feb 17, 2022, prisoners living on 12-Building C-Pod complained to me that a black inmate (Freeman) was stripped of his clothing, removed from his C-Pod cell, to never return. A staff-instigated rumor claims that the inmate who had lived in that cell hung himself in the dog cage, which is indoors and in constant view of various staff and prisoners, not to mention surveillance cameras.
Not only is such a feat impossible to accomplish without some form of staff awareness, the boxers Freeman wore wouldn’t hold up long enough to strangle him to death, given his height and size. And before a prisoner is removed from their cell, in response to suicidal tendencies, measures are used to ensure the prisoner isn’t in possession of anything that can be used for cutting or strangling, including socks and boxers. And they remain in view of qualified staff.
If Freeman did manage to hang himself, it couldn’t have been done without the direct knowledge and consent of one or more staff. It wouldn’t surprise me if surveillance footage that proves the former and latter just happen to malfunction on that day.
In my 14 years’ stay in Texas prisons, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern of prisoners found dead or injured, following altercations with staff or accusations of exposing their genitals to female staff. I’ve also seen that TDCJ’s million dollar hi-tech surveillance equipment seems to “malfunction” during incidents where a ranking staff member commits a criminal act.
Destroying evidence – the TDCJ way
Despite a past TDCJ budget cut that saw reduced funding for food, medical care, and recreation for inmates, money that should’ve gone elsewhere was used to install hi-tech security camera that are often ignored, erased, or edited to obscure a staffer’s role in committing on-the-job felonies.
Most of these cameras were installed to replace past primitive ones, that were only monitors and had very limited recording capabilities.
And in contradiction to their installation, supposedly designed to stem in-prison violence, in areas where prisoners are assaulted the most and “justified” uses of force by staff are the highest, these cameras are absent. Like in the main hallways at “redbrick” units, eg. Ellis Unit, Eastham Unit, Ferguson Unit. Places where guard and prisoner interaction is unavoidable.
The Hughes Unit, where I currently reside, affords many instances where high-ranking administrative staff deliberately destroy or edit incriminating video footage; in an effort to frame prisoners with disciplinary cases or protect staff from exposure of their assaultive tendencies.
Former Assistant Warden Michael E. Alsobrook, Major Treyvon D. Hocutt, Captain Daniel W. Parker and Sergeant Tremanielle K. Cofield and Lieutenant Johnny Jackson are among the most dirty staff at Hughes Unit.
First, Warden Alsobrook, Major Hocutt and Sgt Cofield are fingered as being involved in the cover-up of a prisoner beaten by guards in solitary confinement. Second, Alsobrook said what needed to be said and did what needed to be done to ensure the filing of grievances and in-house complaints went nowhere.
Apparently this prisoners’ family got involved and demanded that an investigation and review of all relevant video footage take place, which had already been botched, and records altered to support.
Then, on Feb 8 2022, Sergeant Luis A. Martinez collected all of my property from my cell while I was detained in 11-Building. He threw away food, letters and other things. Broke my mirror (so as to warrant its confiscation as having been altered), removed my name from my books (to warrant the same), then placed what was left in the property room (see attached grievance #2022062910).
My request for a camera review went ignored, warranting the loss of my property and the momentum for Martinez to do it to others.
Lastly, supporters from the public filed complaints with the Ombudsman and the Hughes Unit warden’s office. Lt Jackson not only falsified my disciplinary records and report; Warden Alsobrook and an accomplice deliberately destroyed video footage that would’ve proven my complaint and got Jackson fired.
During my visit with the warden concerning the Feb 27, 2022 incident, he claimed a review of cameras brought back a blank screen due to a malfunction.
Unfortunately, he said, if the camera hadn’t malfunctioned, and he saw what I complained about, Jackson would’ve been fired on the spot and the disciplinary overturned.
My effort to appeal the decision and get a camera review went nowhere. The appeal was denied. A review of the camera as action to resolve the complaint was intentionally ignored (see attached grievance #2022071158).
I’ve borne witness to, and been approached by, prisoners who complained of attempting to defer to cameras as evidence, only to learn that a malfunction occurred at the exact time and day their rights were violated. Yet the firing of a few staff, here and there or whatnot, does nothing to quell the internal practice of Hughes Unit staff spoiliating vital camera footage.
Keri Blakinger, if you happen to read this, please investigate this practice. I ask that any concerned readers also do the same. The murders-as-suicides are a product of this.
Dare to struggle, dare to win! All Power to the People!
Jason Renard Walker #1532092
Hughes Unit Rt 2, Box 4400
Gatesville, TX 76597
Jason Renard Walker has engaged in investigative journalism since 2015. Many of his past and present exposes can be read in his book: “Reports from Within the Belly of the Beast – Torture and Injustice inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice”.
Please visit his website for radio interviews, essays, artwork, and a short look inside prison life videoed beyond guard scrutiny: www.jasonsprisonjournal.com