BOISE, Idaho – The surveillance video from the overhead cameras shows Hanni Elabed being beaten by a fellow inmate in an Idaho prison, managing to bang on a prison guard station window, pleading for help. Behind the glass, correctional officers look on, but no one intervenes when Elabed is knocked unconscious.
No one steps into the cellblock when the attacker sits down to rest, and no one stops him when he resumes the beating.
Videos of the attack obtained by The Associated Press show officers watching the beating for several minutes. The footage is a key piece of evidence for critics who claim the privately run Idaho Correctional Center uses inmate-on-inmate violence to force prisoners to snitch on their cellmates or risk being moved to extremely violent units.
On Tuesday, hours after the AP published the video, the top federal prosecutor in Idaho told the AP that the FBI has been investigating whether guards violated the civil rights of inmates at the prison, which is run by the Corrections Corporation of America.
The investigation concerns the prison’s rate of violence and covers multiple assaults between inmates, including the attack on Elabed, U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson said.
CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the company is cooperating with federal agents, as it has with other law enforcement overseeing the prisons.
Lawsuits from inmates contend the company denies prisoners medical treatment as a way of covering up the assaults. They have dubbed the Idaho lockup “gladiator school” because it is so violent.
The AP initially sought a copy of the videos from state court, but Idaho 4th District Judge Patrick Owen denied that request. The AP had already obtained a copy and decided to publish the videos after a person familiar with the case verified their authenticity.
The videos show at least three guards watching as Elabed was stomped on a dozen times. At no time during the recorded sequence did anyone try to pull away James Haver, a short, slight man.
About two minutes after Haver stopped the beating of his own accord, the metal cellblock door was unlocked. Haver was handcuffed and Elabed was examined for signs of life. He bled inside his skull and would spend three days in a coma.
CCA, the nation’s largest private prison company, said it was “highly disappointed and deeply concerned” over AP’s decision to release the videos.
“Public release of the video poses an unnecessary security risk to our staff, the inmates entrusted to our care, and ultimately to the public,” the prison company said in a statement.
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