Two-time murderer housed in psychiatric prison unit without current operating orders throws urine in eyes, nose and mouth of correction officer ordered to take prisoner to health care. Correction Officer fired from Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) and charged with assault with intent to cause great bodily harm less murder.
Sounds unbelievable? Try believable. Because it is true. On January 29, 2007 four MDOC officers were fired. On February 7, 2007 they were charged with the felony of assault with intent to cause great bodily harm less murder. Four men and their families were devastated.
So, you think that all state employees have it easy. Try being a correction officer for one day. No one on career day in kindergarten will say that they want to be a correction officer when they grow up. They may say that they would like to be a firefighter or police officer but not a correctional officer. Why? The MDOC officer job description says, “…oversee and participate in the custody, security, and treatment of prisoners in correctional facilities…” Prisoners are the folks who commit rape, murder, torture, burglary, fraud, conspiracy and on and on. Corrections officers oversee these folks 24/7. Aren’t you glad the prisoners are locked up and you don’t have to think about them? If you’re so glad how come you don’t generate a “Corrections Officer Appreciation Day”? Maybe right around Labor Day? Or how about asking your corrections officers to march in your parades or come to your neighborhood group picnic?
Imagine that you are a correction officer ordered to enter the cell of a prisoner who has committed two murders and believes that throwing urine and blood are acceptable communication tools. Your order is to escort the prisoner to the infirmary. The prisoner is not cooperative. Indeed, the prisoner manipulates with silence. Then the prisoner produces a cup of his urine and taunts you with it. You quietly but firmly request the prisoner to cooperate. You are a correction officer and the prisoner’s behavior is familiar. You are trained to deescalate. Unfortunately, the psychiatric unit that you work on doesn’t have post orders customized for this type of prisoner nor any safety procedures to protect employees from this type of prisoner. So, to protect yourself you brought in a shield because this prisoner had thrown urine on you two weeks ago.
Never mind. All your training doesn’t prevent the prisoner from throwing urine in your eyes, nose, mouth and upper body. The correction officer is blinded. The prisoner becomes combative and kicks the blinded correction officer in the lower abdomen. It takes four correction officers to subdue the assaultive prisoner.
The prisoner has a long history of assaulting correction officers. The prisoner has a long history of degenerative changes in his bones and joints making him extremely vulnerable to fractures. Indeed, he experienced fractures as a result of the incident and was treated and discharged from a local hospital and transferred to Jackson.
The officer who had urine thrown in his eyes, nose, and mouth was not taken to the hospital. He went to the prison infirmary. Indeed, no supervisor asked him if he was all right. That officer requested that the prisoner be charged with assault. Washtenaw County denied that request.
The following day all four officers received telephone calls that put them on “stop work order”. They were forbidden to go to work or enter the facility. They were wounded to their souls. They were being investigated for assault on the prisoner. The prisoner called a lawyer and claimed that these four officers assaulted him.
In December 2006 the four officers had their Disciplinary Conferences. That’s nine months after the incident. Nine months that the State paid overtime to fill the positions of the four officers. Didn’t someone mention that the budget was tight? The warden dismissed the testimony of the interviewed mentally ill prisoners who either said they witnessed nothing or they believe the prisoner was assaulted by the correction officers. The warden dismissed the testimony because unlike the investigator who never visited the unit, she visited the unit and concluded that there was no visible access from any of the prisoner’s cells. Plus, she just didn’t place high value on the testimony of prisoners on psychotropic drugs housed in the state’s only critical mental health unit. Go figure?
The warden sent the summary of the conference to Lansing. That’s where Pat Caruso’s office is, she is the Director of the MDOC. Because the warden’s summary excused most of the work rule violations cited, the officers had reason to be hopeful. Never mind. Pat Caruso authorized that they all be fired on January 29, 2007.
On February 7, 2007 all four officers were charged with assault with the intent to cause great bodily harm less murder.
Injustice happens. The Michigan Department of State Police document given to each ex-correction officer charged with assault reads, “On August 21, 06 MDOC Internal Affairs investigator John Dama forwarded his investigative report dated 8/2/06 to us. He sustains the use of excessive force by all four of the named correction officers. MDOC is proposing termination of the employees.” This quote is in violation of due process. The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the deprivation of liberty or property without due process of law. Indeed, the contract between the MDOC and corrections officers requires that no decision is made until after disciplinary conferences occur.
Injustice is bidirectional. Injustice can occur external to MDOC. Injustice can occur internal within MDOC.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He also said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?”
Deficits continue in the operations of MDOC that put all employees at risk. What happened to my wonderful son Joshua Zussman who had urine thrown in his eyes, nose and mouth, who lost his job, his families health insurance, who was accused of assault with intent to cause great bodily harm and has been denied unemployment will happen again.
This article is my attempt “to do for others”.
These are some of the deficits in MDOC operations that put employees at risk:
1. No post orders customized for first ever psych unit at Huron Valley Complex (Mens) opened in November 2004
2. Post orders were requested regularly by the union, Michigan Corrections Officers, during labor/management meetings
3. There are still no post orders on the unit.
4. No safety measures are in place to protect corrections officers from psych unit prisoners who regularly spit and throw urine, both of which may be contaminated with HIV and/or Hepatitis
5. Psych unit prisoners at Huron Valley Complex (Mens) on psychotropic drugs are regarded as viable witnesses.
6. Internal Investigators assigned to write reports on alleged work rule violations may not visit the unit on which the incident occurred and yet their report is not challenged.
I ask you to care. I will continue to honor my gratefulness for the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. who said “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
Good people. Please speak up. Let your legislators and Governor Jennifer Granholm know that our MDOC corrections officers and employees are at grave risk. By all means ask Pat Caruso to take responsibility for safety and corruption in her department. Good luck!!!
On Friday, May 11 the criminal charges against the four officers were dismissed during the preliminary exam in Washtenaw County. My son Joshua continues to try to get his job back and to secure unemployment. The psychiatric staff at Huron Valley Mens has been exemplary in their support. My son Joshua was voted by his graduating class as the correction officer most people would want to work with. I am so proud of him. He will never be the same. Would you?
Suellen Hozman describes herself as a human being, mother, daughter, grandmother, friend and student of life. She is an artist, photographer, and writer.
Please visit her website at www.facialvision.com. Or
have a cup of coffee or tea and conversation with her
at The Caffe in Lopez Bakery or email her at