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Survivors of Attica prison riot press on for release of records

Survivors of Attica prison riot press on for release of records

Kentt Monteleone hopes there might be film of his long-gone father being held hostage by Attica inmates. Former guard Michael Smith wants to know all he can about the prison battle that left him shot and bleeding on a catwalk 35 years ago.
Both men want New York state to open more records of the four-day inmate takeover of Attica state prison in 1971. They are among the former hostages and relatives of slain prison employees who already won a $12 million (euro9.1 million) settlement from the state. Now some of them _ feeling they have been deceived, ignored and backhanded for decades _ say the information is as valuable to them as the money.
Maybe it could finally put some ghosts to rest, they say.
"Information would do some good for our family members," said Dee Quinn Miller, a longtime leader of the group, Forgotten Victims of Attica. "It's not about the money. The money doesn't heal anything."
Inmates spontaneously took over the western New York prison on Sept. 9, 1971. State troopers ended the standoff four days later with an all-out assault, firing more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition in what one critic called a "turkey shoot."
Eleven prison employees and 32 inmates died. Hundreds more were wounded.
Scandals followed. Autopsies showed that hostages reportedly slashed to death by inmates were actually shot during the retaking. Inmates said they were abused and tortured after the prison was recaptured. Widows of prison employees said that _ on the advice of state officials _ they cashed benefit checks that disqualified them from filing civil lawsuits.
Gov. Hugh Carey effectively ended official scrutiny of the uprising in 1976 when he pardoned seven inmates and barred disciplinary action against 20 of the troopers and guards who retook the prison. He also commuted the sentence of John Hill, who was found guilty in 1975 of murdering guard William Quinn, the father Miller lost when she was five.
Carey said he wanted to "firmly and finally close the book" on the ordeal.
It did no such thing for the families of prison employees. Survivors in the rural area around the western New York prison describe families living in quiet pain.
"This was something that you never talked about. It was a big hush-hush," said Monteleone, who lost his father _ a prison staffer _ at age 7.
The dam only broke in 2000 when the state settled a civil suit by inmates with a $12 million (euro9.1 million) payment. Then the families of prison workers asked: What about us? After five years of lobbying, the families won their own $12 million (euro9.1 million) and the right hold a yearly ceremony outside Attica's walls. They never received the apology they wanted from the state, nor did their lobbying for open records succeed.
There are literally tons of Attica-related material _ pictures, blue-ribbon commission paperwork, legal documents. Much of it has been released as part of the litigation by the inmates.
But Gary Horton, a lawyer who has advised the survivors' group, said he thinks there is a lot of unreleased material. He noted that the state released only one of three volumes of the so-called Meyer Report, which found the state made "serious errors in judgment" in retaking the prison.
The group's document hunt has been unsuccessful despite years of lobbying and Freedom of Information Law requests. While grand jury testimony cannot be released without special permission, group members say they have never been given a satisfactory answer from the state for withholding other material.
"It sure creates the suspicion that something happened that the state recorded and doesn't want anyone else to know," Smith said.
Their task is made more difficult because they are not even sure what exists in state warehouses. And state officials offer little guidance.
State prison system spokeswoman Linda Foglia said the Meyer Report was an "unresolved issue" and declined further comment.
Still, Horton hopes for a new opening after Eliot Spitzer becomes governor and Andrew Cuomo takes over as attorney general on Jan. 1. The group will file fresh requests for information with the new year.
Miller acknowledge that not all the survivors who lobbied for the money are on board for this fight. Some of the widows are well into retirement age now, and have had their fill of the fight these past 35 years. And she realized that the contents of a box deep in a warehouse might not provide many answers at all.
But she asks: "How could you ever let it go?"
"You can let the anger go, but you can't let go of who you are," she said. "I go into my office and there's a picture of Dad. I go into my office 15 times a day. What do I do? Pack up my pictures? I don't necessarily want to forget this either."


Updated : 2021-03-07 07:22 GMT+08:00