Alaska Ombudsman Kate Burkhart has released a public summary of the investigation of a complaint that correctional officers used excessive force on three inmates at Anchorage Correctional Complex (ACC).
The investigation began after an inmate at the Anchorage Correctional Complex contacted the Ombudsman on November 22, 2017 to report that he had been inappropriately sprayed with oleoresin capsicum (OC, Pepper Spray) by a group of correctional officers. The incident allegedly occurred that morning, after the complainant and two other inmates were transported in a van from ACC West to ACC East.
According to a press release from the Ombudsman, the complainant had alleged that Department of Corrections (DOC) officers sprayed him and other inmates with OC while they were seated in the van, and then closed them in the van for about 10-15 minutes. The complainant also alleged that he was not offered any materials to decontaminate (to wash the OC off his skin), nor was the inmate offered an opportunity to shower and change clothes. When he contacted the Ombudsman’s Office, the complainant said that he was still wearing the same clothing.
The Ombudsman said it investigated five allegations based on the inmate’s complaint and concluded they were justified based on a preponderance of the evidence.
- The Ombudsman found that the use of OC spray was not reasonably necessary or appropriate to maintain order and was therefore an excessive use of force, which is contrary to law.
- That ACC staff unreasonably denied inmates the means to decontaminate themselves. The Ombudsman found that the third inmate was provided the means and opportunity to decontaminate more than an hour after the use of force, which was not within the time required by agency policy.
- That DOC staff did not follow DOC policy on the use of active force. The Ombudsman found that the officers did not follow the policy in either the use of force or the documentation afterward.
- That while the DOC, PCU and Human Resources investigated accountability for all of the officers involved in the incident, the process did not result in meaningful accountability for all the officers involved in the incident.
- The Ombudsman also concluded that while it would have been inappropriate for the PCU to provide a full account of its investigation and findings to the inmates due to PCU’s reports being confidential, nothing precluded the PCU from providing notice that it had concluded its investigation and whether the complaints were substantiated or not.
According to the Ombudsman, the Department of Corrections partially objected to the findings of allegation three but did not dispute the Ombudsman’s other investigative findings.
The Ombudsman’s report says that it made 11 recommendations to the DOC, which included recommendations to establish an agency-wide use-of-force policy that included specific provisions governing the use of OC spray and other chemical agents and decontamination afterward. The Ombudsman also recommended that DOC ensure that all inmates exposed to OC spray are offered a medical exam, and that medical staff clearly document those exams. Other recommendations made were to clarify how use of force incidents should be documented and how the agency should review incidents for compliance.
The Ombudsman said that it renewed its 2017 recommendation that DOC use body cameras to document interactions between officers and inmates, and made a new recommendation that DOC install audio and video recording equipment in transport vans.
The Department of Corrections accepted the first recommendation, noting that the agency is still working on revising its use-of-force policy. DOC did not respond to the remaining 10 recommendations according to the Ombudsman’s report.
The Ombudsman’s public report on the results of its investigation can be found below.A20172163-Public-Report-1-6-22-1