CA Says Attica Guards’ Plea Deal in 2011 Gang Assault is Historic, Not Justice

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The misdemeanor plea deals offered to the three Attica guards who brutally beat George Williams are historic. Indeed, it is the first time in the history of New York State that any guard has been prosecuted for brutality against someone in prison. It is significant because it sends a message that prosecution is possible.

But there’s another message here, one that we know all too well — that the lives of people who are incarcerated hold little to no value. The union representing the guards loudly proclaims that gang violence inside the prisons is a huge problem. We agree. The gang violence engaged in by the three now convicted guards is a huge problem. They savagely beat Mr. Williams and then, conspired to cover it up. Remember, they were charged with gang assault, a felony. In light of the allegations, why weren’t they charged with attempted murder?

In the face of these horrific facts, something else historic happened. On the eve of trial, the prosecution again offered the defendants the same misdemeanor plea deal that had been rejected by the guards for three years. In the world of criminal defense that almost never happens. In the rare instances that it does occur, the allegations are nowhere as serious as those that existed here – allegations that clearly evinced a depraved indifference for human life.

Considering the circumstances, it is also historic that Judge Muhon went along with the deal and accepted the pleas. He did not have to do so. Judges in criminal cases reject pleas all the time if they feel that the offer diminishes the severity of the offense. It is hard to imagine a plea deal that could have gone further in diminishing the severity of the offense than the one that ended this case: official misconduct misdemeanor charge, resign from employment, no loss of pension and a promise of no jail time. The only thing missing is a letter of recommendation for future employment.

Mr. Williams has not been vindicated. The men and women who were willing to tell the truth about what they saw and heard have been ignored. But the stage is set. The unions can no longer deny, as they have consistently done, that the assault on Mr. Williams occurred. No longer is the public able to turn a blind eye to the abuses that happen inside prisons. And that too, is historic.