The Minister of Justice, Marta Cartabia, asked for “a complete report on each information passage and on the entire chain of responsibility” for the violence of 6 April 2020 in the prison of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, conducted by the prison police officers of the structure and external against 300 people detained. The judiciary had been investigating the matter for some time, but the topic has returned to current interest following the dissemination of the videos of the internal cameras of the prison, disseminated by the newspaper Tomorrow, which showed unequivocally the violence carried out on people who had no way and no possibility of defending themselves.
Protests and pandemic
The Santa Maria CV prison is often described by associations that deal with the rights of detainees as poorly maintained, with poor sanitation and infested with insects, due to its proximity to a landfill. The structure hosts a thousand people (its maximum capacity is 809 seats) divided into various departments that are called with the names of some rivers such as the Danube, Tiber and Nile.
At the beginning of April 2020, in some sections of the Nile ward there were protests and demonstrations by the detainees, who asked for the possibility of having masks and hand sanitizers to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus in the facility and contesting the suspension of visits. The protest began when news circulated in the prison that a grocery distribution worker had been placed in solitary confinement, with a high fever and other symptoms, and that he had later tested positive for the coronavirus.
On April 5, the protest became more intense, with a hundred people inmates who began to beat against the bars of the cells. They also improvised the construction of a sort of barrier with some cots, continuing to demand that personal protective equipment against the coronavirus be distributed. Similar protests had also affected other prisons, where overcrowding had made it clear how impossible it was to practice physical distancing, but above all following the decision to suspend visits from relatives to reduce the risk of infections from outside the structures.
April 6, 2020
The day after the protest, the situation in the Santa Maria CV prison was relatively calm, especially when compared with that of the previous day. About 300 prison and external prison police officers – superintendents, inspectors, commissioners and members of the Intervention Support Group (a structure that depends on the regional administrator of the Department of Penitentiary Administration) – organized according to the judiciary “arbitrary personal searches and abuses of authority ”, in order to respond to the previous day’s protests in the Nile ward.
The initiative had been called a “general extraordinary search”, but in fact it was a sort of reprisal with repeated violence against the detainees, which lasted for about four hours. The videos show officers who slapped, punched and kicked the detainees, who tried to protect themselves from the blows by at least protecting their heads. Batons were also used, the use of which is permitted only in very rare circumstances and for reasons of immediate danger and urgency, which did not seem to be present at the time of the “search”.
Messages and wiretapping
According to the magistrates, the purposes of the intervention in the Santa Maria CV prison are evident by reading some messages that the agents involved exchanged and listening to some telephone interceptions. Pasquale Colucci, at the time head of the Intervention Support Group, and Gaetano Manganelli, commander of the penitentiary police of Santa Maria CV, exchanged information on the phone talking about “four hours of hell” for the people detained in the prison: “The the operation involved 8 sections of the Nile department: no one was saved ».
In other intercepted conversations there are expressions such as “we kill them like calves”, “tame the cattle” and “tomorrow key and pickaxe in hand” referring to the detainees. According to the magistrates from these and other documents it would emerge how many of the agents involved believed they could act freely and without consequences for their work.
In the weeks following the violence of 6 April, several people detained or recently released from prison denounced what had happened in the Nile ward. Complaints and complaints also followed by some associations, while several prison guests were transferred to other structures.
One detainee said he was punched while being searched by a guard from the freshman office: “Laughing, he said literally: ‘Well done, you are the first inmate who told the truth’, alluding to the fact that I did not have mobile phones with myself”. An officer threatened some of the occupants of a cell saying he would return the next day to beat them. Others were assaulted as they were passed from one section of the prison to another, as also shown by the videos of the internal camera system.
Salvatore Q., a 45-year-old man who was in prison at the time on drug dealing charges and is now under house arrest, told Republic that after the mistreatment his back was full of bruises and effusions, which took months to resolve: «But let’s talk about the effects that are seen. Then there are those who are not seen. I speak of the fact that, even when I went out of the prison of Santa Maria, I have not slept for weeks ».
He then said that on April 6, the agents who arrived from the outside had all their helmets and their faces covered so as not to be recognized. The judiciary is in fact still struggling to identify who was present in the prison that day and carried on the violence: «They forced us to go out and threw us in the corridors. Where there were dozens of them left and right. We passed in the middle: batons, kicks, punches came. I took a lot of punches and blows in the back, they photographed me, it is in the records ».
Hakimi Lamine, a 28-year-old man of Algerian origin and with schizophrenia problems, suffered a broken nose and was left in isolation for about a month, before he died according to the judiciary following the simultaneous intake of several psychotropic drugs. Another detained person with disabilities, confined to a wheelchair, was beaten in the chest and head with a truncheon.
Investigations and arrests
The Santa Maria CV prosecutor issued an order against 52 people, which provided for the arrest in prison for 8 people, 18 under house arrest and 23 disqualification measures with suspension from public office. Among those involved are the administrator of the Campania prisons, Antonio Fullone, and the aforementioned Manganelli and Colucci.
The investigation began following a complaint presented by the National Guarantor for the rights of detainees or deprived of personal liberty, and thanks to complaints from family members of detainees. The videos seized in the prison and the phone calls with relatives then made it possible to have even more consistent evidence, and which confirm most of the reports and complaints collected among those who were present in the structure.
According to the judiciary, 283 agents participated in the “search”, 144 of whom came from the Secondigliano prison in Naples, and for whom identification is still underway, because they had their faces covered or were wearing a helmet.
The first notices of guarantee had been delivered to the agents about a year ago, with some protests by the interested parties, who had climbed on the roof of the structure to challenge the decision and the choice to deliver the documents in the presence of the family members of the detainees.
In recent days, numerous politicians have asked to quickly clarify what happened in Santa Maria CV, condemning the violence of the agents. The facts date back to when Alfonso Bonafede (M5S) was Minister of Justice, who in Parliament commented on the protests for the pandemic in prisons with rather peremptory words: “The riots in prison are minority criminal acts, the state does not back down”.
The leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, expressed his solidarity with the agents of the penitentiary police, saying that: “You cannot involve all the 40 thousand women and men of the prison police and you cannot put names and surnames on the front page, we need respect for men in uniform who protect on the street, individual errors must be punished, I know those fathers of families under accusation and I am convinced that they would not have done anything wrong ».
A meeting was organized on 30 June at the Ministry of Justice to take stock of prisons and the conditions in which detained people and officers work. Minister Cartabia said that what happened is “an offense and an outrage to the dignity of the person of the detainees and also to that uniform that every woman and every man of the prison police must wear with honor, for the difficult, fundamental and delicate task that is called to perform. […] It is a betrayal of the Constitution: Article 27 explicitly calls the “sense of humanity”, which must characterize every moment of life in every prison ».
Between March and April 2020 in many other prisons there were protests related to the pandemic and the lack of clear plans on how to deal with it, both from a health point of view and for the management of visits from the outside and more generally of life in prisons. . In that period there were 13 dead and 69 wounded among the people detained, plus dozens of wounded officers. Some judicial investigations are underway, but after a year and a half the responsibilities have not yet been identified.