MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin prison officials released a video that shows a guard tossing a non-lethal grenade designed for outdoor crowd control into an inmate's cell and running away as it explodes.
The Department of Corrections released the video Friday after The Associated Press filed a lawsuit last month seeking a copy under the state's open records law. The department agreed to pay $5,000 to cover AP's attorneys fees.
The AP requested the video after the state paid $49,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the inmate, Raynard Jackson. He alleged the detonation of the stinger grenade in his cell at a maximum-security prison in Boscobel amounted to excessive force.
The department refused to release the video, saying it would expose the limitations of the prison's surveillance camera system. The AP, which was represented by Madison attorney Robert Dreps of Godfrey & Kahn, contended that was not true because the video was taken by a hand-held camera, not a surveillance camera.
The department acknowledged its mistake about how the video was taken but said the tape still could not be released because prisoners who view it could "devise counterstrategies" for when guards use force.
Under the settlement, the AP agreed to allow the department to redact portions of the video that showed guards preparing for the use of force. The department did not admit wrongdoing.
Legal observers said Monday it was unusual for the department to make public any video from inside the state's prisons.
"It's probably fairly novel in Wisconsin," said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, which monitors prison conditions and has sued the department in the past. "I can't say absolutely it's unprecedented, but the situation itself seems unique."
Pam McGillivray, a Madison attorney who has represented inmates, said she was surprised the video was released. She said the department has occasionally released videos showing guards using force to remove inmates from cells in her cases, but only under court orders that shield them from the public.
Jackson is the only Wisconsin inmate ever subdued by a stinger grenade, an explosive device that causes a flash of light, a loud blast and the spraying of rubber pellets. Prison officials say they would no longer detonate the device inside an inmate's cell but might in the event of an outdoor prison riot.
The video shows prison supervisor Joan Gerl tossing the grenade through an opening into Jackson's cell. She runs down the hall as the explosion shakes the cell door and sounds like a shotgun blast. Later, the video shows Gerl surveying minor damage to the cell door and its wall from the blast, and rubber pellets spread out on the cell's floor.
Officials at the prison — formerly known as Supermax — have defended the use of the grenade, saying it was appropriate to extract the 135-pound Jackson from his cell after he provoked a confrontation with guards. Jackson said he suffered hearing loss after the blast.