An assistant warden at a private prison snatched a camera out of a man’s hands as he was video recording on public property from across the street of the facility Saturday afternoon.
George Dedos, assistant warden at Lake City Youthful Offender Facility in northern Florida, essentially committed strong-armed robbery against Jeffrey Gray, a Photography is Not a Crime correspondent who was out there to see if they would respect his right to video record from public property.
As you can see in the top video, it only took seconds before he was confronted by prison officials, who tried to tell him he was breaking the law.
Gray had a back-up camera in his pocket which continued recording after his first camera had been snatched – which is highly recommended if you are going to put yourself in these situations.
Dedos called Columbia County sheriff’s deputies who ended up returning Gray’s camera, but who also refused to provide him with the name of the assistant warden.
Gray later called the facility to confirm his name, then called Dedos who hung up on him.
A deputy asked Gray to see his identification but Gray refused on the basis that he wasn’t being detained on suspicion of committing a crime, so the deputy obtained his name through a license plate search because he was standing next to his car.
A deputy also advised Gray that next time he found himself in such a situation, it is probably best if he cooperated and turned off the camera.
But Gray pointed out that the camera was the only thing protecting him.
As it is now, the two videos will be the strongest piece of evidence in a possible lawsuit Gray may file against Dedos and the Lake City Youthful Offender Facility, which is owned by Corrections Corporations of America, the largest private jailer in the country, a company that makes millions on the imprisonment of citizens.
Because it is a private company, Dedos or CCA should not be able to argue for qualified immunity as a government agency would normally do in a situation like this (not that it would have a strong argument).
But this may be the first time it finds itself in controversy over an incident that took place outside its prison walls.
UPDATE: Besides Idaho, Texas and Mississippi have also terminated contracts with CCA.
Idaho cut ties with the corporation on Wednesday, which turned the state’s largest prison into a violent hellhole inmates called “Gladiator School.” Earlier this year, CCA was caught understaffing the prison and using prison gangs to control the population. The company admitted to falsifying nearly 4,800 hours of staffing records to squeeze more money out of the state for nonexistent security work. Shift logs at the prison showed the same security guards working for 2 to 3 days at a time without breaks.
Last week, Texas closed two CCA prisons, including one with a history of suspicious prisoner deaths. One lawsuit alleges prison staff ignored an inmate’s cries for medical assistance, forcing her to give birth in a prison toilet to a baby that died four days later.
CCA was also booted from Mississippi earlier this month after multiple deadly riots over poor food and sanitation, lack of medical care, and mistreatment by guards.