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AP sues over video of prison grenade explosion

The Associated Press files a lawsuit Monday against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections seeking the release of a video showing a stinger grenade exploding inside a prisoner's cell.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Associated Press filed a lawsuit Monday against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections seeking the release of a video that shows a powerful stinger grenade exploding after a guard dropped it inside a prisoner's cell.

The lawsuit, filed in Dane County Circuit Court, alleges that the Corrections Department's refusal to release the tape showing detonation of the device that sprays 180 rubber pellets in a 50-foot radius is a violation of the state open records law.

In refusing the AP's request on July 29, the department said releasing the tape would expose the limitations of the prison's surveillance camera system and thereby jeopardize security and the safety of inmates and staff. The AP's lawsuit contends that was a false explanation because the video was taken by a hand-held camera, not a surveillance camera.

The AP pointed that out to the department in July in a request to reconsider not releasing the tape. In its reply, the department acknowledged its mistake about how the video was taken but said the tape still could not be released because doing so would allow prisoners who view it to "devise counterstrategies" for when guards use force.

The lawsuit, filed by the AP and reporter Ryan J. Foley, alleges that the 2005 video doesn't reveal anything about security and the department's reasons for denial do not outweigh the public's right to see the tape. The lawsuit asks for the tape to be released immediately and seeks attorneys' fees and damages.

A message left with Department of Corrections spokesman John Dipko seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Inmate subdued by grenade
The 135-pound Raynard Jackson, who said he suffered hearing loss after the blast, is the only Wisconsin inmate ever subdued by a stinger grenade. The grenade creates a flash of light, followed by a loud blast accompanied by smoke and the spraying of rubber pellets. It is meant to control dangerous unruly crowds, including riotous inmates.

Officials at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility in Boscobel, formerly known as the Supermax prison, used the grenade to extract Jackson from his cell after he provoked a confrontation with guards.

The state paid Jackson $49,000 in July to settle a lawsuit he brought arguing that detonating the grenade amounted to excessive force. The deal was made to avoid trial in U.S. District Court.

The department also said it would no longer detonate that device inside a cell.

Court documents say the video shows guard Joan Gerl dropping the stinger grenade into Jackson's cell and then quickly moving away. The grenade explodes, shaking the cell and sounding like a 12-gauge shotgun blast. Fire alarms go off as smoke fills the cell. Jackson is shown in pain, holding his hands to his ears.

Tape under court seal
The tape was given to the court under seal, which has shielded it from the public.

Prison employee Janet Fischer, who shot the video from in front of Jackson's cell, filed an affidavit in March saying she believed using the grenade was appropriate to subdue Jackson.

Jackson experienced ringing in his ears for months after the blast, a condition later diagnosed as tinnitus that persists today when he hears loud noises. He says he's had trouble sleeping since the incident.

Jackson, 29, was serving time for possessing a gun as a felon, carrying a concealed weapon and resisting an officer. Police said he was caught with a glock pistol, the same type used by officers, after a foot chase in 2003.

Jackson claimed officers framed him by planting the weapon. An appeals court overturned his conviction in July, citing potential police misconduct, and prosecutors dropped the charges.

However, Jackson was charged with two felonies in September for possession of a firearm and recklessly endangering safety. A hearing on those charges is set for Dec. 1 in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.