The commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction said the state's prison system is under control despite a series of Channel 4 I-Team investigations that revealed inmates' wild behavior displayed on social media, threats to innocent people from inmates using cell phones and the firing of a correctional officer following recordings indicating he was making a deal to smuggle a cell phone into Riverbend prison.
Commissioner Derrick Schofield also appeared to finally agree to an interview with the Channel 4 I-Team to address all our findings, but instead walked into the elevator after answering questions from reporters about his budget.
Schofield had no problem answering all kinds of questions from Gov. Bill Haslam during his budget hearing, and the Channel 4 I-Team was waiting with questions of our own as well.
We wanted to ask Schofield about our ongoing "party behind bars" investigation.
We've uncovered how, to this day, inmates are getting on Facebook and displaying their sometimes wild behavior, like setting shirts on fire and bragging about drug use in videos.
We've also uncovered how innocent people are being harassed by inmates through social media and cell phones.
Our investigations this week showed how the Channel 4 I-Team obtained recordings and text messages that appear to show a correctional officer making a deal with an inmate to get a cell phone inside Riverbend Maximum Security Prison. As a result of our findings, the TBI set up a sting on the correctional officer and he was fired.
Tuesday, we aired our investigation into the alleged beating of an inmate by correctional officers and how he was hog-tied afterwards.
When Schofield approached the media after the budget hearing, Channel 4 chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley said, "I'm going to start by asking some questions about the cell phones. We've been doing a lot of stories about this."
"I understand, can we talk about budget today?" Schofield asked.
"I've got questions for you as well about the cell phones," Finley said.
"We'll talk about budgets and we'll do a separate one [interview] for you," Schofield said.
And the Channel 4 I-Team was fine to wait for a separate interview after the media availability, especially because in Schofield's budget presentation, he discussed a salary survey for correctional officers.
Repeatedly, the Channel 4 I-Team has been told by prison watchdog groups that a reason so many correctional officers have been busted carrying in cell phones is because they need to make extra money due to their low salaries.
"Is that [raises for correctional officers] something that has to happen, to get more of the issues under control?" Finley asked.
"You make the assumption about issues under control. I think we have our prison system under control, and what we do in the community is under control," Schofield said.
Once the budget questions were over, the Channel 4 I-Team was ready for our interview. We moved over to the side of the hallway, showing the commissioner where we could do the interview.
But Schofield's communications director stepped in and said, "Today, he's saying, we're doing the budget, on the other issue, we'll talk to you [later] at the other issue."
Schofield then headed right for the elevator and got in.
The Channel 4 I-Team will continue to hold the commissioner to his word that at some point, we will get an interview.
There is also an update on the lawsuit against the state from inmate David Faulkner.
Faulkner is suing the state for what he says was a beating at the hands of correctional officers in 2009 at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary. Video shows the cell extraction of Faulkner, and when he emerges, his eye is swollen and he complains he was kicked by guards and his nose was broken.
A nurse can be heard saying that nothing was broken and Faulkner was left hog-tied in his cell. Faulkner's medical records show he had a broken nose, possible facial fractures and a dislocated shoulder while he was hog-tied.
Faulkner later said in an interview that one of the correctional officers told him they were going to teach him a lesson and provided what he said was a settlement offer from the state, offering $85,000 to end the lawsuit but not admitting guilt. The document appeared to be signed by senior counsel from the state attorney general's office.
We asked the Department of Correction about the settlement offer, but they declined to comment because of the pending litigation.
After our story aired, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office said they had not made Faulkner a settlement offer and that although the signature and name on the letter is indeed the attorney working on the case, the attorney general's office did not send the letter.
We reached David Faulkner Wednesday and he said that the letter came to him in the mail.
The Channel 4 I-Team continues to investigate the origin of that document.
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