Hearing focuses on retaliation complaint against prisons

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

A judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit over the quality of health care in Arizona's prisons said Monday that correction officers cannot take disciplinary action against inmates close to the time they testify or meet with their lawyers because it could be conceived as retaliation.

U.S. Magistrate David Duncan repeatedly told Arizona corrections staff testifying that though their disciplinary action might not have been intended as retaliatory it could still be construed that way from inmates and disrupt truthful communication in the courtroom.

"I need to make sure even the perception doesn't exist because the perception is in this case as dangerous for my purposes as the reality," Duncan said. He told corrections staff they would have to find another time enforce that discipline

[READ MORE: Hearing to focus on retaliation complaint against prisons]

The concern over retaliatory action arose because of incidents like one inmate's reassignment into another cell after their bunkmate testified, prisoners being put in jumpsuits, and an inmate's property being moved when the inmate went to testify for the case.

Perryville Warden Kim Currier testified the cell change was not retaliatory and occurred because another set of inmates were having issues and couldn't live together anymore.

Duncan told Currier officers had 166 other inmates they could have switched instead and advised the unit should not interfere because other inmates would think that's retaliation.

The judge also asked at least six witnesses to explain why certain email chains submitted to the court had different formatting for dates and times, and sometimes showed the incorrect day of the week beside the date.

"One of them is true, one of them is not. But we don't know why," Duncan said to one witness when asking if corrections staff can control the day or time while sending an email.

Daniel Struck, a lawyer representing the state, told Duncan that the attorneys will be checking with the technology teams for the department to find an answer for the varying email sequences.

[RELATED: Prison's boss grilled about email on retaliation allegations]

The 2014 settlement was won on behalf of 33,000 Arizona inmates after some complained that their cancer went undetected or they were told to pray to be cured after begging for treatment. It also alleged that the failure of medical staff at one prison to diagnose the metastasized cancer of one inmate resulted in his liver enlarging so his stomach swelled the size of a pregnant woman at full term.

The state did not acknowledge any wrongdoing in settling the lawsuit.

Attorneys challenging health services in the prisons have repeatedly said the state is dragging its feet in making improvements promised when settling the case.

Duncan was critical of the state's methods of communication in relaying the court's directives and said it's not working.

"Again it's not just in this retaliation context, it's in other contexts as well where we've heard there are mixed messages and contrary messages," Duncan said.

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