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Eyes on the Oregon State Prison: Voicing Concern for an Inmate's LifeTim King Salem-News.com
"Look at him squirming, trying to defend himself, asking for our help. He needs our help now." - conversation between guards watching tape of prison stabbing.
(SALEM, Ore.) - It wasn't your average prison conversation; an inmate in Oregon's oldest penitentiary told a guard he was going to kill another inmate.
"I'm going to get him, I have permission to get him."
"Permission from who?"<
"Management, they said I'll be doing them a favor if I got him."
"I looked at him and said, 'man, you can't go around doing stuff like that', you can't stab another brother".<
A Dubious Level of Corruption
Would the state of Oregon orchestrate, encourage, and even pay for the murder of an inmate? If so, who would that inmate be?
Would it be a sex offender, child killer or cop killer?
How about a super smart African American jailhouse lawyer who has won nine cases for inmates against the state of Oregon while losing none? Clayton Howard is respected among inmates both black and white.
This is a conversation held between Oregon Corrections officials as they reviewed a video tape showing the brutal near fatal stabbing of an inmate. Former Corrections officer William remembers his superiors laughing, and overheard these words:
The term "jailhouse lawyer" is used to describe inmates who learn the legal ropes of the system, often simply because they have so much time on their hands. This is the story behind Clayton Howard's very measurable success representing inmates who have been the victims of injustice themselves.
The players in this story:
These men all play integral roles in the story of racism at the Oregon State Penitentiary.
As referenced in the conversation above, Coleman knew Thomas was "going to attack Howard", because he told him that he planned to "get the jailhouse lawyer" on more than one occasion. Coleman believed he had been able to talk this killer down with some success, since officials were choosing to leave Dollar Bill Thomas in the main population, even though he was planning to attack Clayton Howard.
Coleman recalls his captains and security managers replying to his report about the planned inmate on inmate attack by saying, "We know there's bad blood between those two individuals".
Coleman said, "They thanked me for reporting it and said they already knew."
Howard was attacked by Thomas about two months after initially telling Coleman he planned to do it. It happened one day in the chow hall; Howard was stabbed with an icepick in the side, in a spot that often causes nearly irreparable damage to internal organs.
After seeing the videotape of the incident, Coleman believed it took officials too long to respond. He, along with Howard, remain very suspicious as to why 'Dollar Bill' was not sprayed with mace, which is typical protocol.
But even more importantly, anyone with even a small amount of knowledge about the corrections industry, knows that you don't leave a murderer in main population who has a history of slicing the heads of inmates open with a prison made stabbing device known as a 'shank'.
William 'Dollar Bill' Thomas should have been maintained in a separate facility away from other inmates. Now the state of Oregon has a serious civil lawsuit on its hands, and Coleman is the witness. Conversely, Howard was called as a witness for a recent trial involving Coleman. The state of Oregon's answer for him, a Civil Rights Whistleblower, was to frame him with the help of a couple of white racists willing to lie on the stand for Marion County, Oregon prosecutor Brian Orrio.
Orrio's case against Coleman, which was a 15-count indictment for cigarette smuggling; a crime Coleman was totally innocent of, when down in flames like the loser in a dogfight.
When Howard was stabbed in the chowhall by Thomas, with a 14-inch ice pick, officials with the Oregon State Prison did not call 911 immediately, instead they took Mr. Howard to a cell where, former Corrections Officer William Coleman believes, "They tried to bleed him out, just let him bleed to death right there without calling for further medical attention."
It was a prison nurse, Coleman said, who heard about the injury and ultimately overruled the prison's decision to not transport the man to the hospital for medical care. He was taken in for treatment of a life-threatening wound, and Clayton Howard went on to live another day, to win another case as a jailhouse lawyer.
But Coleman says the initial news was more than shocking. He tried to protect a man from harm, and believed he may have failed in part. But that is difficult in an institution were serious reports are constantly dismissed.
"When I heard the attack took place in June 2006, I was working C block. inmates were coming in from chow saying 'He got him' and that is all I knew, then I heard "Dollar Bill got Clayton" and I dropped to my knees."
And then came more conversations that are lodged in Coleman's mind:
Where is Dollar Bill?
As to the fate of Dollar Bill: this is possibly the biggest mystery of all. Coleman had received information that this state inmate was whisked away to a totally different state. How could this be?
I called the Oregon Dept. of Corrections about this, was told that there was a record of William Thomas, but no information about his location was available. I thought I would try another prison, the Oregon State Correctional Institute (OSCI) in Salem, and the same operator answered the phone. I now had her curiosity. She transferred me to someone at the Dept. of Corrections, I left a message, and never received a return call.
Then I called another source and confirmed that William "Dollar Bill" Thomas is indeed an Oregon inmate, and I was told directly, "Somebody doesn't want us to know where he is, hmmmmm."
Dollar Bill was simply taken away. He has hard evidence on the state prison management giving him the green light to stab Clayton Howard.
Coleman said, "I don't even know if Dollar Bill is alive".
For the past few weeks I have been sharing the story of former prison guard William Coleman. There are many incredible aspects to his story and sequences of events that are absolutely mind boggling. The thing is, every single part of the story is documented and there is little room for speculation. He endured racism on a personal level and witnessed inmates subjected to overt and in-your-face racial harassment.
Oregon's Dept. of Justice has been fully contacted and have informed us that they won't even discuss the case. We don't expect that agency to stand up and do the right thing.
Now Clayton Howard has been informed that he will be transferred back to where it all began: the Oregon State Prison in Salem. William Coleman says this is concerning. If anything happens to Clayton Howard, it was stated in this story that the concern was on the table. If the state was involved in the previous attempt on his life, there is no reason to think they wouldn't do it again.
Oregon is notorious in many circles over the murder of former Corrections Chief Michael Francke who was hired to clean up corruption in Oregon prisons, and was stabbed to death about a year after being hired. The state in that case, used a young drug addict to convict a man named Frank Gable. There are amazing similarities in the case involving William Coleman.
Previous Installments in this series:
Great resources on the Michael Francke Murder:
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.
Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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