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Kedric Buie

On August 12, 2017, Sirrena Buie of Birmingham, Alabama talked to her son Kedric. He was incarcerated in a federal prison, United States Penitentiary Atlanta, and called his mother from inside.

The next morning another call came; a prison administrator dialed Sirrena and told her that Kedric had died.

I'm like, What happened? I just talked to my son. What happened to my child? What happened to my son?” she said she asked the woman who called her that Sunday morning.

To this day it’s not clear what happened to Kedric Buie. The official story, according to his death certificate and autopsy report, is that “hypertension and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease” snatched 26 year old Kendric Buie’s life.

But those explanations didn’t make sense to his mother. When Sirrena viewed Kedric’s body, she noted a gash on his head as well as swelling so severe that he looked looked like he had gained 100 pounds. Moreover, a note sent to the autopsy provider suggested that Kedric might have overdosed on black tar heroin but the official toxicology report stated that he didn’t have any drugs or alcohol in his system.

Led by his mother, the search for what happened to Kedric Buie has been ongoing since his death. But lawyers bounced her around. Reporters and investigative journalists never prioritized her son's story.

To compound the mystery, a well-known journalist provided Sirenna what purports to be an amended autopsy report that says blunt force trauma killed her son.

That document from the journalist is particularly troublesome because Sirrena Buie was told by people familiar with the situation that her son Kedric was beaten by guards after he balked at a guard allegedly spitting in his food.

So Kedric’s death was either a homicide or a sudden deadly illness. Not knowing which one is unacceptable.

I commenced an investigation into what happened to Kedrick Buie and the results so far are concerning. On May 19, 2021 I filed a simple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for a copy of Kedric Buie’s file within the Bureau of Prisons.

Over a year later, the Bureau of Prisons is either unable or unwilling to furnish a copy of Kedric Buie’s file. The Bureau acknowledged the request on July 6, 2021 and noted that the pandemic had caused processing times to get longer; it might take as long as nine months to provide the records requested, an estimate they later increased to 12 months because of pandemic-induced understaffing. The FOIA unit claims to have sent several requests for the file to the archive holding his file.

I followed up several times and the Bureau of Prisons’ responses bordered on nonsensical. On February 16, 2022, a paralegal explained that Buie’s file is beyond my reach because it hadn’t been received by the office that sent it out. “A search is still being conducted for records responsive to your request. In [particular], the file has not been received by institution who sent into to Archives” the email read.

Vincent Shaw, regional counsel for the Southeast regional office of the Bureau of Prisons, promised to update me on May 10, 2022. He didn’t and he hasn’t responded since, including not returning a request for comment on the matter.

Either Kedric Buie’s file is there in the Bureau of Prisons records or it’s not. And if it’s not, there’s cause for concern because it looks like a potential cover-up.

Covid-19 woke up the public to the reality that people die in prison without an assist from a death warrant. We don’t know exactly how many inmate lives COVID claimed — the Marshall Project and the Associated Press estimate it was about 2715 last June – but the problems with notifying families of prisoners’ health statuses came into full view during the pandemic. Many had no idea that their incarcerated loved ones had contracted the disease, ended up hospitalized or even succumbed to it.

On May 20, Senators John Ossoff (D-GA) and John Kennedy (R-LA) introduced the Family Notification of Death, Injury, or Illness in Custody Act of 2022. Representative Karen Bass (D-CA) introduced an identical bill late last year. If the bill becomes law, it would require federal prison administrators to contact a person’s next of kin within twelve hours (during the day), provide the circumstances of their loved one’s passing and whether an investigation has been opened into the death. The bill’s sponsors hope that it would provide a model for state corrections systems.

COVID or not, the bill will get good use if it passes. In 2018, the last year for which data exists, state prisons reported 4,135 deaths (excluding 25 people executed in those facilities). That’s more than 10 per day and it’s the highest number since the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) started tabulating mortality data in 2001.

Dividing deaths between natural (illness) and unnatural (suicide, homicide, accident or overdose) the BJS said 77 percent of all prison deaths in 2018 were natural but it might not remain in that proportion for long; the number of unnatural deaths is growing. They were 11 percent of deaths in federal prisons in 2015 and 14 percent in 2018.

Notifying family of inmates’ health status should be dignified and empathetic, so it should be standardized. But this notification bill does more to make people who aren’t incarcerated feel better than it does to protect inmates and make these systems truly transparent. The Buie case demonstrates exactly why formal notification requirements can end up being an end run around real transparency.

An administrator called Sirrena Buie well within 12 hours of her son’s death and therefore preemptively satisfied what lawmakers think is a reasonable expectation for timely communication. And that administrator wasn’t required to tell the grieving mother about any investigation because none had been opened — even though the facts apparent now certainly warrant an inquiry.

Requiring administrators to connect with inmates’ family and friends won’t stop corrections officers from stomping prisoners and raising that number of unnatural inmate deaths even higher — nor from preventing the discovery of what caused these deaths.

Unfortunately, homicide at the hands of correctional staff is a pretty common occurrence. Just last month, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement charged four guards with the murder of an inmate whom they allegedly beat to death. Another was charged in 2021. Those cases were unusual in that investigators identified perpetrators and held them accountable. Authorities held no one responsible for the murder of an inmate who was essentially boiled to death in a shower in 2012.

Kedric Buie’s death may be one of those cases where staff get away with murder even though they notified his family quickly and dishonestly. Without even a general file on his incarceration, it’s still up for grabs who’s going to answer the question of what really happened to him — if that question ever gets a reply at all.

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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