Incarceration Nation

Another Texas Prisoner Dead

Prison officials killed Alton Rodgers

By Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

Thirty-one-year-old Alton Rodgers, a Black man imprisoned at the Clements Unit in Amarillo, Texas, died on January 19, 2016, at the Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo. He was found unconscious in his cell the day before by guards.

According to the autopsy reports, the official cause of death was bleeding of the brain and skull fracture caused by blunt-force trauma. He was also covered in bedsores and in a state of acute starvation and dehydrated.

According to officials, Rodgers and his cellmate were involved in a fight during which they claim Rodgers suffered his head injury. With this narrative set, officials have focused on investigating and treating Rodgers’ death as a homicide committed by his cellmate. But as the media has pointed out, the head trauma could have happened before the altercation.

This and other facts such as Rodgers’ physical condition are complicating the story officials want to maintain. Particularly the fact that the bedsores showed that he’d been lying unattended for weeks, during which time he’d slowly wasted away. Which meant prison officials were at least in part responsible for his death, and therefore as liable as they were trying to make his cellmate, if not more so. And the liability could extend as far up as the Director’s office of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) [sic!].

So, a mild in-house “investigation” of staff was staged. Not a criminal investigation, mind you, but one obviously addressed to “fixing” those inconvenient details, giving an impression of administrative discipline of those found responsible (but not of Rodgers’ death of course), and minimizing and tightening the circle of officials found responsible and liable. In short, it was an exercise in damage control.

Since I’ve been imprisoned at Clements Unit as this entire situation unfolded, I’ve borne witness to much of it.

The staff involvement

At the time of Rodgers’ death TDCJ director Brad Livingston and various guards and medical staff at Clements Unit had just been sued by the families of two prisoners who’d died at the Unit as a result of neglect by medical staff and guards. In fact I contributed to and wrote articles about those killings, and brought those incidents and material evidence and witnesses to the attention of the attorney who brought those lawsuits.

This is likely why Livingston’s office was sensitive to the fact of distancing itself from responsibility in yet another prisoner death at the same Unit, and making itself appear to have pinpointed those who were liable and punished them. He also saw need to change around the administration of the Unit which those lawsuits showed to be notorious for violent abuses of its prisoners.