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Donovan prison hit for botched investigation of disabled inmate abuse

$34 million needed to fix corrections department deficiencies

Donovan's then-warden was Marcus Pollard, who retired in November 2021.
Donovan's then-warden was Marcus Pollard, who retired in November 2021.

A newly released audit report blasts a now-retired warden of San Ysidro's Donovan state prison and higher-ups at the California Department of Corrections for abusing disabled inmates and then stalling an investigation of alleged misdeeds.

"Overall, the [Corrections] department completed staff misconduct inquiry cases for this project that were delayed, poorly conducted, and compromised, and the warden made many inappropriate decisions," says the March 1 report by the state's Office of Inspector General.

"Second, we found that, overall, the quality of the investigators' inquiry work was poor due to deficient interviews, improper or inadequate evidence collection, and inaccurate or incomplete inquiry report submission.

"In a case involving allegations that an officer allegedly threatened to harm an incarcerated person and that the officer was part of a gang of officers called the Green Wall, the officer who was the subject of an inquiry asked an investigator, 'How am I supposed to remember an incident that was two years ago?'

"Third, we determined the investigators compromised the confidentiality of several of the inquiry cases, primarily by either conducting interviews in nonconfidential locations or unnecessarily revealing confidential information to witnesses or subjects during the cases.

"Consequently, as a whole, the department did not appropriately address the staff misconduct allegations submitted by the disabled incarcerated persons at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility during the special project in 2020 and 2021."

Donovan's then-warden was Marcus Pollard, who retired in November 2021.

The saga began back in January 2020, says the report, when "several disabled incarcerated persons" at Donovan "submitted a series of declarations signed under penalty of perjury in federal court describing staff misconduct allegations at the prison," per the document.

Though the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched an in-house review, its "investigators did not begin their actual inquiry work on the cases until June 2020," says the document.

The Inspector General's office says it only found out about the ongoing investigation that August when it "immediately assembled its own team of attorneys to monitor the cases," according to the report.

"From August 2020 through July 2021, [Office of Inspector General] attorneys monitored 204 of the 257 inquiry cases. We fully monitored 155 of the 204 cases, personally attending interviews and evaluating the final inquiry report."

Those findings, according to the audit report, raised a series of red flags.

"We found that the overall quality of the [correction department] investigators' work in completing the inquiry cases was deficient, especially in how they conducted interviews, collected evidence, and prepared reports." the Inspector General's report says.

"In the 155 cases we fully monitored, we concluded the quality of investigators' inquiry work was poor in 96 of the 155 of the fully monitored cases, or 62 percent.

"In the remaining 59 of the 155 cases, or 38 percent, we assessed the quality of the investigators' interviews, evidence collection, and report preparation as satisfactory."

"In two cases involving allegations that officers caused incarcerated persons to be struck with cell doors, the investigators failed to search for and collect evidence that control booth officers at the prison were using pieces of wood to hold open the electronic levers or buttons to open multiple cell doors simultaneously.

"In some cases, in which an incarcerated person was struck with a cell door, the control booth officer used a wood piece to open or close multiple doors simultaneously. The investigator seemingly did not collect this evidence during the inquiry because it was not documented in his inquiry report.

"We learned of the existence of this evidence only after the warden reviewed the final inquiry reports, submitted a memorandum concerning his decisions on the cases, and disclosed photographic evidence concerning the pieces of wood that he either discovered or were known to him, but which had escaped the attention of the investigators."

In a February 24 letter to state Inspector General Amarik Singh, the Department of Corrections said it had moved to fix the problems cited in the report.

"In January 2022, the Department implemented emergency regulations to standardize the process for addressing allegations of staff misconduct toward an incarcerated person or parolee statewide.

"These regulations represent a large-scale restructuring of the process for handling staff misconduct allegations, as a result in part of the feedback that the OIG has provided in this and prior reports.

"In addition, the Governor's proposed 2022-23 Budget would add 175 positions and would allocate over 34 million dollars annually to support these progressive changes."

"Finally, there have been some critical staffing changes that we believe will positively impact the implementation of these changes going forward. [Richard D. Donovan] welcomed new acting Warden Raymond Madden last year.

"Warden Madden has over six years of experience as Warden at Centinela State Prison and is committed to accountability and process improvements."

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Donovan's then-warden was Marcus Pollard, who retired in November 2021.
Donovan's then-warden was Marcus Pollard, who retired in November 2021.

A newly released audit report blasts a now-retired warden of San Ysidro's Donovan state prison and higher-ups at the California Department of Corrections for abusing disabled inmates and then stalling an investigation of alleged misdeeds.

"Overall, the [Corrections] department completed staff misconduct inquiry cases for this project that were delayed, poorly conducted, and compromised, and the warden made many inappropriate decisions," says the March 1 report by the state's Office of Inspector General.

"Second, we found that, overall, the quality of the investigators' inquiry work was poor due to deficient interviews, improper or inadequate evidence collection, and inaccurate or incomplete inquiry report submission.

"In a case involving allegations that an officer allegedly threatened to harm an incarcerated person and that the officer was part of a gang of officers called the Green Wall, the officer who was the subject of an inquiry asked an investigator, 'How am I supposed to remember an incident that was two years ago?'

"Third, we determined the investigators compromised the confidentiality of several of the inquiry cases, primarily by either conducting interviews in nonconfidential locations or unnecessarily revealing confidential information to witnesses or subjects during the cases.

"Consequently, as a whole, the department did not appropriately address the staff misconduct allegations submitted by the disabled incarcerated persons at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility during the special project in 2020 and 2021."

Donovan's then-warden was Marcus Pollard, who retired in November 2021.

The saga began back in January 2020, says the report, when "several disabled incarcerated persons" at Donovan "submitted a series of declarations signed under penalty of perjury in federal court describing staff misconduct allegations at the prison," per the document.

Though the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched an in-house review, its "investigators did not begin their actual inquiry work on the cases until June 2020," says the document.

The Inspector General's office says it only found out about the ongoing investigation that August when it "immediately assembled its own team of attorneys to monitor the cases," according to the report.

"From August 2020 through July 2021, [Office of Inspector General] attorneys monitored 204 of the 257 inquiry cases. We fully monitored 155 of the 204 cases, personally attending interviews and evaluating the final inquiry report."

Those findings, according to the audit report, raised a series of red flags.

"We found that the overall quality of the [correction department] investigators' work in completing the inquiry cases was deficient, especially in how they conducted interviews, collected evidence, and prepared reports." the Inspector General's report says.

"In the 155 cases we fully monitored, we concluded the quality of investigators' inquiry work was poor in 96 of the 155 of the fully monitored cases, or 62 percent.

"In the remaining 59 of the 155 cases, or 38 percent, we assessed the quality of the investigators' interviews, evidence collection, and report preparation as satisfactory."

"In two cases involving allegations that officers caused incarcerated persons to be struck with cell doors, the investigators failed to search for and collect evidence that control booth officers at the prison were using pieces of wood to hold open the electronic levers or buttons to open multiple cell doors simultaneously.

"In some cases, in which an incarcerated person was struck with a cell door, the control booth officer used a wood piece to open or close multiple doors simultaneously. The investigator seemingly did not collect this evidence during the inquiry because it was not documented in his inquiry report.

"We learned of the existence of this evidence only after the warden reviewed the final inquiry reports, submitted a memorandum concerning his decisions on the cases, and disclosed photographic evidence concerning the pieces of wood that he either discovered or were known to him, but which had escaped the attention of the investigators."

In a February 24 letter to state Inspector General Amarik Singh, the Department of Corrections said it had moved to fix the problems cited in the report.

"In January 2022, the Department implemented emergency regulations to standardize the process for addressing allegations of staff misconduct toward an incarcerated person or parolee statewide.

"These regulations represent a large-scale restructuring of the process for handling staff misconduct allegations, as a result in part of the feedback that the OIG has provided in this and prior reports.

"In addition, the Governor's proposed 2022-23 Budget would add 175 positions and would allocate over 34 million dollars annually to support these progressive changes."

"Finally, there have been some critical staffing changes that we believe will positively impact the implementation of these changes going forward. [Richard D. Donovan] welcomed new acting Warden Raymond Madden last year.

"Warden Madden has over six years of experience as Warden at Centinela State Prison and is committed to accountability and process improvements."

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