DRAPER, Utah – Videos obtained by KSL investigators offer a first look at the violence that erupted within prison walls after a 2019 decision to house two rival gangs together.
Utah prison officials are unwilling to discuss that controversial decision, citing a pending lawsuit. And they never intended for the public to see surveillance footage of the fights. KSL was recording when portions of surveillance video from the fights on January 7 and February 13, 2020, were shown in open court. KSL investigators later filed a public records request seeking the full video from the Utah Department of Corrections.
That request, filed under the Utah Government Records Access Management Act, was denied.
The department argued that the surveillance footage is exempt from GRAMA and even if it were not, “releasing it would endanger the lives and safety of individuals and the safety of the Department’s secure facilities.”
KSL appealed that decision, noting that parts of the videos had already been made public and that prison officials discussed their response to the incident in open court. Additionally, all of the inmates have moved out of the old Draper Prison, the facility shown in the surveillance videos. With big plans afoot to redevelop the site, it will almost certainly never house prisoners again.
But the department also denied that appeal, again citing safety and security concerns. Deputy Director James Hudspeth wrote in the denial letter: “Only part of it was shown in court. The Utah Department of Corrections does not have to provide images that have not been made public.”
Hudspeth also cited concerns that gang members featured in the videos could face retaliation from rival gangs or their own if the footage is released.
“Release of the video would create risks for those individuals, jeopardize the security of the correctional facility, and interfere with the incarceration of the offender as gangs act on what they see in the video,” Hudspeth wrote.
KSL also requested the clips shown in open court from the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office, which denied the request and a subsequent appeal. The office cited a recent change at GRAMA that they say prevents them from publishing a record they obtained from another government agency. KSL attorneys continue to fight for full public access.
Several families with loved ones who are incarcerated told KSL researchers that they want prison officials to face greater transparency and accountability in how they handle people in their custody and respond to incidents of violence.
“They’re playing with people’s lives,” said Alex Veloz, the father of a man recently injured in a fight at the new Salt Lake State Prison.
Veloz said that with so much at stake, the public has a right to know more about what goes on inside the prison walls.
“What are you trying to hide?” she asked.
Much more footage from the Jan. 7 fight was released late Thursday afternoon by an outside source to the KSL newsroom. KSL investigators are in the process of viewing and verifying that video.
Have you experienced something that you think is not right? KSL researchers want to help. Send your suggestion to [email protected] or 385-707-6153 so we can work for you.
Source : ksltv.com