Concord inmate sues prison, corrections officer over alleged assault
An inmate at the Concord state prison is suing the Department of Corrections and a former corrections officer who he says allowed another prisoner to attack him in his cell.
The inmate who filed the suit, John Barber, 23, is serving a 2½- to five-year sentence for felonious sexual assault out of Rockingham County, said Jeff Lyons, a corrections spokesman. Barber was housed in the secure housing unit, or SHU, on March 22, 2013, the day of the alleged incident.
According to Barber’s suit, filed earlier this month in federal court, corrections officer Brian Hill was distributing books to inmates in the unit with the other prisoner, Scott Collier. Collier, 33, had a toilet jack and was using it to remove clogs, Barber said.
According to the suit, Hill finished his round, approached Barber’s cell and asked, “Your toilet is clogged, right?” When Barber said it wasn’t, Hill replied, “I think it is,” the suit alleges.
Hill then allegedly requested via radio that the cell door be opened and walked away as Collier entered, set the jack down and began beating Barber with his fists. Hill returned after an unspecified amount of time and directed Collier to “stop,” the suit alleges.
In an earlier grievance, filed in April, Barber wrote, “Collier then picked up the (tool) and exited my cell. . . . Hill stood there for a few more seconds then exited and shut (the cell door).”
Under department protocol, inmates housed in the SHU are to have no contact with other prisoners and are to be handcuffed any time they’re not locked in their cells.
Barber wrote that he was brought later that day to the prison’s medical unit and treated for “physical pain and bumps on (the) head.” While there, he wrote, he told a nurse of the incident.
Barber is seeking $150,000 in damages and a court order directing prison officials to “stop allowing inmates in the (New Hampshire) state prison SHU and every other unit to assault other inmates.”
Lyons declined to comment on the suit or the alleged incident, citing an ongoing investigation. But he said Hill was fired July 2, less than four months after it supposedly occurred. He would not say whether the firing was related to the alleged attack.
Lyons said Hill had worked for the department since 2007. He declined to say whether claims similar to Barber’s had been made against Hill during his time there. Attempts to reach Hill, a Concord resident according to the city assessor’s office, were unsuccessful.
Lyons referred comments about the suit to the attorney general’s office, which handles litigation brought against the department. Michael Brown, a senior assistant attorney general who typically handles such claims, said he was not yet aware of it. An electronic docket indicates the court is reviewing the case.
Barber was transferred to the Rockingham County jail six days after the alleged assault, for undisclosed reasons. “The usual reasons relate to institutional safety if we feel the inmate was threatened or was threatening other people,” Lyons said in an email. Barber returned to the prison July 26, more than three weeks after Hill was fired, but was then sent back to Rockingham on July 29. He returned once again Sept. 17 and has been in and out of the SHU ever since, Lyons said.
Barber previously served a two- to five-year sentence for second-degree assault out of Hillsborough County. He has also been convicted of robbery, and is eligible for parole as early as December of next year, Lyons said.
Collier is being housed in the prison’s secure psychiatric unit – again, for undisclosed reasons. He began serving a two- to five-year sentence in January 2013 and will max out in March 2017, Lyons said.
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, email@example.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)