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Incarcerated Activist Sues Alabama Prison Officials After Facing Retaliation For Exposing Gambling Ring

Incarcerated activist Kinetik Justice Amun filed a lawsuit on September 28, 2020 seeking damages and injunctive relief against Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) employees, who he claims engaged in retaliation against him in violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The defendants in the lawsuit are Jeremy Pelzer, Correctional Sergeant at Limestone; Dustin Brewer, Correctional Officer at Limestone; Denise McKenzie, Correctional Captain at Limestone; Stephen Langford, Correctional Captain at Limestone; Deborah Toney, (former) Warden at Limestone; Scarlette Robinson, Deputy Warden at Limestone; Cheryl Price, ADOC Institutional Coordinator; Jefferson Dunn, ADOC Commissioner. 

Kinetik, also known as Robert Earl Council, says he faced prolonged solitary confinement for speaking out against alleged gambling rings run by staff at Limestone Correctional Facility.

His isolation is the culmination of years of retaliation by ADOC in response to his political organizing and whistleblowing activities. In his piece “Enemy of the State,” Kinetik argues, “the main use of solitary confinement is to ‘break’ those the Administration deems ‘too influential’ or ‘too outspoken.’” 

As a member of the Free Alabama Movement, Kinetik has spent most of the last five years in solitary confinement. The group, which organizes across prison walls in Alabama, began advocating coordinated work strikes against prison slavery in 2015.  

After Kinetik led a hunger strike at Holman Correctional Facility in March 2019, he was transferred to Kilby Correctional Facility for nine days before going to Limestone, where he was placed in solitary confinement in October of that year. 

At Limestone, Kinetik says he immediately began to experience “blatant abuses.” 

He provided Shadowproof with a timeline of his whistleblowing activities at the facility. This included exposing a prison captain, who subjected incarcerated people to “bucket detail”: a practice whereby prisoners are placed in a cell without a toilet and left there until they defecate in a bucket, allegedly to ensure that they are not hiding contraband in their body cavities. 

Kinetik argues that in April of 2019, Limestone had a “slick pick ticket” gambling ring, which was overseen by a captain and sergeant. A “slick pick ticket” is where prisoners gamble on sporting events as a means to occupy themselves and make money. Unlike other prisons where this gambling happens, Kinetic argues Limestone’s captain and sergeant ensured that their gambling ring was the only “slick pick ticket” able to operate within the facility.

In October 2019, Kinetik worked with other prisoners at Limestone to expose another gambling and contraband ring run by guards, which had restarted as the public outcry and media buzz around the “bucket detail” and the previous gambling operation died down. This new operation was coordinated by two captains and their sergeant, Kinetik alleged, and used the proceeds to pay prisoner informants.

As a result of his whistleblowing and practice as a jailhouse lawyer, guards were sent to “shakedown” Kinetik’s cell. Kinetik alleges that a captain gave a correctional officer five “strips of paper” to plant and then to find in Kinetik’s cell during the search. 

During the search, Kinetik and his cellmate observe from outside the cell as two correctional officers search their cell. A half hour into the search, one correctional officer stands in the doorway partially obstructing the views of Kinetik and his cellmate, which is when, Kinetik alleges, that the other correctional officer fumbles inside his pocket for the white sheets of paper. Seeing this, Kinetik then demanded to see their supervisor, who then told the officers to place him in segregation for “disorderly conduct.” 

He was then given a disciplinary infraction for “Possession of Contraband,” but he’s adamant that guards either lied about finding drugs or planted them among his letters and correspondence. Prison staff alleged that the five pieces of paper found among Kinetic’s property were “flakka,” a nickname for alpha-Pyrrolidinopentiophenone, without providing evidence of any laboratory testing, according to Kinetik. 

To further support their retaliation, ADOC charged Kinetik with being the head of a “Security Threat Group” (STG) and claimed he had organized the STG to “distribute drugs throughout the facility.” Kinetik lost phone and visitation privileges for 150 days and was held in isolation for three months. 

When Kinetik’s term of isolation was set to expire in January 2020, he learned that ADOC officials were relying on testimony from two prisoners, who claimed he was their “enemy,” in an attempt to justify placing him in solitary confinement indefinitely. “Enemy Validation” is a process used to separate members of rival gangs. Kinetik claims he did not even know these prisoners who declared him their enemy. 

Kinetik has since learned the identity of the two prisoners and claims that neither of them actually filed an enemy validation against him. Instead, he believes this was part of a paper trail to cover-up the corruption ring he had helped discover. 

Kinetik provided Shadowproof with a copy of an affidavit by an ADOC prisoner, who swears and affirms that he “never had any confrontations, no problems with inmate Robert Earl Council” and would have no problem with Kinetik being released from segregation. In the affidavit, the prison further details the incident in which staff at Limestone coerced the prisoner into listing Kinetic as an “enemy,” through threats of physical violence and administrative segregation while secluded one-on-one in an isolated area of the prison. 

According to Kinetik, the allegedly planted contraband and the coercion of this ADOC prisoner happened on the same day in March 2020. In his opinion, staff at Limestone, particularly a sergeant, wished to use the “Possession of Contraband” ticket and the “enemy list” to prevent Kinetic from speaking with the media about the corruption happening there. 

In a piece titled “Culture of Corruption” provided to Shadowproof, Kinetik details that “[a]s a result of the national media coverage and public outcry, the ‘“bucket detail’” was discontinued, all ‘slick pick tickets’ were shutdown.,” while one of the staff members overseeing these practices was allowed to retire quietly. 

Kinetik Justice is currently out of solitary confinement and in general population. He has also been transferred to William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama. 

On April 20, 2020, Kinetik filed a complaint with administration officials at Limestone and the Commissioners Office. In this complaint, which was shared with Shadowproof, Kinetik seeks damages and injunctive relief due to Limestone staff’s violation of his First Amendment rights through their retaliation against him for speaking out against corrupt practices, and their violation of the Fourteenth Amendment right of due process for his detention in segregation. 

This ordeal follows a pattern of retaliation he faced after being a lead voice in the National Prison Strike in 2016. During that prison strike, Kinetik was transferred from solitary in Holman to Kilby and then on to Limestone. At the time, one of Kinetik’s comrades in the Free Alabama Movement referred to Kilby as ADOC’s “bully camp,” and shortly after he was transferred to Limestone where he was beaten by officers and thrown in a cell without running water (“dry cell”). 

“I don’t bend, fold, or break. I’m Kinetik, my mama didn’t raise no quitters. Still standing strong, I remain!,” he wrote.

Jared Ware & James Potuck

Jared Ware & James Potuck