Geoghan was tied, beaten, officials say
Attacker struck when guard was distracted
By Thomas Farragher and Sean P. Murphy, Globe Staff, 8/25/2003
Defrocked priest John J. Geoghan was bound, gagged, strangled, and stomped by a fellow inmate who followed the notorious child molester into a cell Saturday afternoon while one prison guard was distracted with other prisoners and another officer was temporarily away from the area, according to correctional officer union officials.
The fellow inmate, Joseph L. Druce, then jumped from Geoghan's bed onto Geoghan's chest at least twice, the officials said.
"An officer heard a noise, went over to the cell, and he saw Geoghan on the floor, gagged and tied," said Robert W. Brouillette, business agent for a 5,000-member corrrectional officer union. "Druce was standing on the bunk."
Brouillette's account of the attack comes from correctional officers who work at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center.
Geoghan, hands tied behind his back, was strangled with either one of his T-shirts or a bed sheet, and beaten, Brouillette said.
Druce used one of Geoghan's shoes or sneakers to tighten the sheet or shirt, another union official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. "He twisted the shoe to tighten the ligature around Geoghan's neck," the official said. "It all happened in a matter of minutes."
Brouillette said six or seven guards, alerted by a commotion in the cell, rushed to the scene but were unable to immediately open Geoghan's cell because, he said, Druce had jammed it from inside, perhaps with a stick.
Brouillette said there is no video surveillance inside the inmates' cells.
Union officials said inmates had finished their lunch, eaten on trays in their cells. The inmates had returned their trays to a common collection area outside their cells, when Druce trailed Geoghan and pounced on him in his quarters, the officials said.
One official said Druce had been closely following the unit's staffing patterns the last three months, apparently in an effort to strike when staffing levels were at their barest minimum. "These guys have nothing better to do 24 hours a day than to watch what you do and how you do it," said Brouillette, who represents the Massachusetts Correctional Officers Federated Union.
Union officials yesterday said they have complained about inadequate staffing levels in the protective custody unit, which opened earlier this year. The area where the attack took place is typically patrolled by two correctional officers, but during Geoghan's assault, one officer was assigned to monitor lunch activities elsewhere, one of the officials said. The union had been seeking to have three officers on duty.
Kelly Nantel, the state Department of Correction public affairs director, yesterday declined to give any description of the attack.
The details about the assault came as state officials struggled to explain how a serial pedophile could have been left alone with an inmate convicted of a "gay-bashing" murder.
Prisoner rights activists yesterday called for an independent probe into Geoghan's strangulation death inside Massachusetts' most modern and secure prison.
Nantel acknowledged there are 366 surveillance cameras at the Souza-Baranowski facility, which straddles the town line between Shirley, which is in Middlesex County, and Lancaster, which is in Worcester County. She would not say whether Saturday's attack, or the events that led up to it, was captured on videotape.
"There are significant video capabilities in the facility," Nantel said.
Geoghan, whose serial child molestation offenses helped to ignite the roiling scandal in the Catholic Church, was housed in a unit away from the prison's general population with inmates deemed not to pose a threat to him, Nantel said.
The state is investigating how officials could have allowed Geoghan, 68, to share the same prison space as his alleged killer -- the 37-year-old Druce, a convicted murderer with a white supremacist past and an apparent disdain for homosexuals. Geoghan was accused of molesting about 150 children, mostly boys.
Nantel said the correction department's policy is to keep any two inmates with a documented history of antagonism apart, even if that means allowing only one into the protective custody unit.
But prisoner rights leaders said Geoghan's slaying should be the focus of an independent probe, declaring the state Department of Correction incapable of policing itself.
"Everybody in prison knows that prisoners who have attacked children are hated," said Joshua Rubenstein, Northeast regional director of Amnesty International. "Mr. Geoghan was sentenced to a long jail term. He was not sentenced to be beaten or murdered by another inmate."
Rubenstein and Leslie Walker, executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, said federal investigators such as the FBI or the US attorney's office should open an investigation independent of those begun by the DOC and Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte.
"Let's face it," said Walker. "They screwed up. This was a skinny old man that they allowed to be murdered on their watch and in our name."
As the head of a statewide nonprofit law office for prisoners, Walker said she visited Geoghan at Souza-Baranowski in April just after he became one of the first inmates at the new protective custody unit there following his transfer from the state prison in Concord.
"He was very relieved to be at Souza-Baranowski," Walker said of Geoghan. "He told me he felt safe there."
As an inmate in the maximum security prison's protective custody unit, Geoghan was locked alone in a cell secured by a wooden door with a window cut into it except for the roughly three hours a day he was allowed out of his cell. State prison regulations require correctional officers to make rounds at least every 30 minutes.
Nantel said corrections officials are prepared to make changes in procedures, if necessary, to protect inmates. She declined to answer questions about why Druce and Geoghan shared a common area, other than to say that prison officials assign all inmates who might be in danger to the small, well-monitored unit known as protective custody where both Geoghan and Druce were housed.
Inside protective custody, however, the inmates are in regular contact with fellow prisoners also considered at risk, she said.
"Inmates in protective custody are not isolated from all others," the DOC spokeswoman said. "They do get out of their cells and have contact with others in protective custody."
Inmates in protective custody share recreational facilities, access to telephones, and a visitor area, she said. The number of inmates they come into contact with is vastly lower than in the general population. When Geoghan was killed, there were 24 inmates in the protective custody unit, compared with 1,200 in the general population.
Nantel said the Department of Correction considers the safety of inmates on a case-by-case basis. While the nature of an inmate's offense might be taken into consideration, there is no general rule for the security of all inmates convicted of a particular type of crime, such as child molestation, she said.
"We don't assess the safety of all inmates by a category of offense," she said. "The process is to identify anyone who may be at risk and house them where their safety can be assured. I don't want to get into a particular offense as being more risky or more susceptible. The bottom line is the safety of all."
A prisoner cannot be assigned to the protective custody unit simply by requesting it, she said. "There has to be a documented history of an enemy situation, for example, or some particular notoriety," she said.
In Druce's case, he was an admitted neo-Nazi who was in prison for a crime that mirrored the attack on Geoghan. He strangled a 51-year-old man in 1988, after driving him to a wooded area. Police said Druce apparently believed his victim was gay. A police officer who investigated the murder said Druce "viewed it as a gay bashing."
Dana Smiledge of Byfield, Druce's father, has said his son has a longstanding grudge against homosexuals, in addition to a hatred of blacks and Jews.
The $105 million Souza-Baranowski facility opened in 1998. Prisoner rights advocates have said that since the prison's opening there have been persistent complaints of inmate mistreatment.
"What we have heard is that when one prisoner attacks another prisoner, the guards do nothing," Walker said. "They stand and wait until it's over."
Nantel, the DOC spokeswoman, dismissed that characterization of prison disturbance protocol. "That is not the policy. The policy is to intervene when it's safe to do so," she said.
Walker, the legal services director, said during her April visit with Geoghan, he realized that he was a potential target in prison. "We talked about how difficult it was for him being such a notorious client," Walker said. "He was aware of his notoriety."
Geoghan's old assignment to Concord's protective custody unit was considered too porous, according to James Pingeon, a lawyer with Massachusetts Correctional Services. "There were serious security concerns with the protective custody unit at Concord because of contact with the general population," he said. "My sense is that the situation at Souza-Baranowski was better."
Walker and Pingeon said Geoghan believed his food at Concord was being fouled before it reached him. "He suffered a lot of abuse at the hands of inmates and guards," said Pingeon.
Stuart Grassian, a Newton psychiatrist who has written about prison life, said officials should have realized Geoghan was an obvious target for violence and done more to prevent him from coming in contact with Druce. "The risk to him was fairly obvious," Grassian said, noting that inmates in all prisons maintain an aggressive social pecking order that shunts pedophiles to the lowest rung.
Conte, the Worcester County district attorney, did not return telephone calls yesterday. An autopsy on Geoghan is scheduled to be performed today. A Worcester County grand jury will hear the case against Druce in September.
Michael S. Rosenwald and Michael Rezendes of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents John McElhenny and Ron DePasquale contributed to this report. Thomas Farragher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.