Tensions were higher than usual at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Alabama early on the morning of January 30. A couple of days prior, guards had attacked and choked an elderly incarcerated man, Cat Diamond, in the cafeteria under the reportedly false pretense that he had gotten in line for a second meal.
That morning, Robert Earl Council, an incarcerated organizer who is also known as Kinetik Justice, questioned Officer Griffin about the beating, witnesses said. Officer Griffin called for reinforcements and Sgt. “Shakedown” Brown, Sgt. Binder, and Officer Milton liberally maced the area.
They beat Ephan Moore, a Black man who had filed a lawsuit against Sgt. Binder previously, with a meat cleaver, splitting his skull open. Four to five guards stomped Moore while he was unconscious, and then again once he was handcuffed in a wheelchair at the prison’s infirmary.
Witnesses told the Free Alabama Movement, a group organizing against prison slavery and mass incarceration in Alabama, it would be “a miracle” if he survives. His injuries include an orbital and nose fracture, a broken jaw, and two broken hands. He has at least 10 staples in his head, Moore’s cousin told the podcast Abolition Today .
Then, witnesses say the officer unit descended on Kinetik Justice, a well-respected organizer and whistleblower, and beat him with their metal batons as he lay defenseless on the ground. After the attack, at least two other incarcerated people, Wilbert Smith and Detrol Shaw, were badly beaten while the prison was on lockdown.
The aftermath was akin to a scene from a horror film: a tooth, and large puddles and streaks of blood painted across the floor, showing where guards dragged bodies.
Kinetik Justice and Moore were airlifted to the trauma center at UAB Hospital in Birmingham. Worried loved ones staged a protest at the hospital with the demand that officials allow Kinetik Justice’s family in to see him — a demand which has been unmet.
Moore underwent surgery, while Smith and Shaw’s conditions are unknown. Moore and Kinetik Justice have been moved to the Kilby infirmary, where they reportedly are not receiving basic medical care or ice for their wounds.
In a press release, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) said it called on the FBI to assist in an investigation, and claimed that both guards and incarcerated people sustained injuries.
Nikki Davenport, a prison abolitionist with the support coalition known as the Free Alabama Movement Queen Team and a close friend of Kinetik Justice, told Shadowproof that guards had beaten Kinetik before, but this was the worst incident.
“His eyes are glued shut, he has three broken ribs, and his head is busted open in three places,” Nikki said.
“Because he tends to expose the things [ADOC does] that are dehumanizing, they retaliate on him,” she explained. “Whenever they get a chance. And he doesn’t go about it the wrong way. That’s the thing. He follows their policy. They don’t follow their own policy.”
Kinetik Justice has spent a majority of the last five years in solitary confinement. As a former member of the Free Alabama Movement, he played a key role in organizing work strikes in 2016 and 2018. ADOC put him in solitary and beat him for his involvement.
“He’s just a genuinely good person that everybody cares about, like, you won’t really meet anybody across the state of Alabama in the prison system that has anything negative to say,” Nikki said. “He helps everybody that he came across, teaches them to read, teaches them to write, you know, helps them with their legal work, helps them with whatever they needed help with. That’s just him.”
In 2019, Kinetik helped expose and end a tortuous practice at Limestone Correctional Facility known as “bucket detail,” whereby guards shackled incarcerated people to buckets for days on end in cells without running water until they defecated in the bucket several times. He sued Alabama Department of Corrections employees in September, 2020 for alleged retaliation he faced after speaking out against gambling rings run by a captain and sergeant at Limestone.
He was transferred to Donaldson, a facility with a well-doumented culture of horrific violence, sexual assault, and deliberate indifference toward the needs of incarcerated people.
In October 2019, prison guards at that facility beat 35-year old Steven Davis to death. “They beat him so badly his head was misshapen. He looked like an alien, or a monster,” Davis’ mother said. ADOC never provided her with information about the murder beyond a notification that her son was in the hospital.
In June of last year, guards at Donaldson used ‘Cell Buster,” a potent chemical agent, on Darnell McMillian’s cell while he was on suicide watch. An employee said Darnell yelled that he couldn’t breathe. He died shortly after.
Tommy Lee Rutledge, a man who struggled with mental health issues and spent a majority of the last several decades in solitary confinement, was cooked to death in an overheated cell on December 7. Unable to turn down the heat, he died from hyperthermia when his core body temperature rose to 109 degrees.
The most recent round of beatings follows a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against ADOC on December 9. The DOJ wrote that Alabama “fails to provide adequate protection from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, fails to provide safe and sanitary conditions, and subjects prisoners to excessive force at the hands of prison staff,” in its prisons for men.
Professor Robert Chase, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Stony Brook and author of We Are Not Slaves: State Violence, Coerced Labor, and Prisoners Rights in Postwar America, explained how history is repeating itself. From 1965 to 1995, federal courts found eight of the eleven states of the U.S. South — including in Alabama — as having unconstitutional conditions in prisons, he told Shadowproof.
Incarcerated people organized labor strikes, filed a flurry of civil rights lawsuits throughout this period, and, Chase said, “were susceptible to accelerating levels of targeted violence and brutality meant to silence their public outreach campaign for civil and human rights.”
In the 1970s, Alabama attempted to appease the federal government by constructing new prisons.
Alabama’s solution, again, is to spend an estimated $3 billion on two new mega-prisons, a move solidified on February 1, when Governor Kay Ivey signed two 30-year leasing contracts with private prison company CoreCivic.
CoreCivic will construct the prisons and serve as the landlord for the government. Such a “public-private partnership” (sometimes called a ‘P3’) allows Alabama to skirt incurring debt in the short-term, but will be substantially more costly for taxpayers in the end.
Advocacy groups quickly criticized Gov. Ivey’s plan. “The ACLU of Alabama condemns Governor Ivey’s reckless decision to put the state of Alabama into a multi-billion-dollar lease to build new prisons, despite overwhelming opposition from community members and state leaders of both parties,” the organization wrote in a statement.
“Prison construction is not and has never been the answer to the unconstitutional conditions in Alabama prisons, and the Department of Justice said as much when it issued the first report in April 2019.”
Organized resistance to the construction plan appears to be on the rise, too. Relatively new advocate groups, like Alabama Students Against Prisons, have created a virtual protest toolkit, and are promoting an in-person demonstration on February 13, and a fundraiser for Ephan Moore.
Nikki isn’t sure what Kinetik will say about the recent assault, but she thinks he will continue struggling. ADOC, she says, should probably expect yet another lawsuit.