State responds to prisoner’s claim that corrections officer allowed him to be beaten

Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2014
The attorney general’s office has acknowledged that a former corrections officer at the Concord state prison allowed an inmate to enter a fellow prisoner’s cell last year and then walked away shortly before the prisoner was allegedly attacked.

The disclosure, filed Wednesday in federal court, comes three months after the prisoner, John Barber, filed suit against the officer and the prison, alleging that the officer directed the assault and that the warden responded unjustly by locking him in isolation for six straight days.

Barber claims the officer, Brian Hill, approached his cell with the other inmate and then radioed for the door to be opened. Hill then walked away as the inmate, Scott Collier, walked in and began beating him with his fists, according to the suit. Hill returned soon after and ordered Collier to stop, Barber wrote.

Hill was fired in July, but the Department of Corrections has not said whether that was connected to the alleged incident. The attorney general’s office is not representing Hill in the lawsuit.

In the response filed Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Francis Fredericks said Warden Richard Gerry admitted that Hill asked for the cell door to be opened, that he walked away briefly and that Collier entered the cell in his absence. But Gerry “lacks sufficient knowledge” to say what happened inside the cell, Fredericks wrote.

Barber, 23, is serving a 2½- to five-year sentence for felonious sexual assault. He was housed in the prison’s maximum security unit at the time of the alleged attack. Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons said the facility has surveillance cameras but that they monitor mostly common areas, not individual cells.

Hill, a Concord resident, has yet to respond to the suit. He has not responded to previous requests for comment.

In the suit, Barber alleges he was moved to an isolation unit following the attack and told that the warden had requested the transfer. He contends that he was left there for six days without clean clothes or toiletries.

When asked why a “medical watch” sign had been placed outside his isolation room, an employee told Barber “that was placed on the door so we have a reason to house you here,” he wrote.

Fredericks responded that Gerry did not know the specific conditions of Barber’s stay in isolation.

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.”

Hill joined the department in 2007. Lyons has previously declined to say whether claims similar to Barber’s were ever made against Hill.

Barber was transferred from isolation to the Rockingham County jail March 28, 2013, and held there until the investigation into the incident was completed, according to Frederick’s response. He returned to the prison July 26, more than three weeks after Hill was fired. He was then sent back to Rockingham County on July 29 and returned to the Concord prison Sept. 17.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)