Senators call for investigation into alleged serious misconduct at FCC Hazelton

Security camera footage shows two escaped inmates from FCC Hazelton being held at gunpoint by a local resident.
Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 10:45 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (WDTV) - U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are calling for an investigation into alleged serious misconduct at Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Hazelton in Preston County.

Capito and Manchin sent the letter, which was led by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, and Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Colette Peters on Tuesday.

In the letter, the senators call for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the BOP to immediately investigate whistleblower reports of abusive treatment of incarcerated individuals and other employee misconduct at FCC Hazelton, and to include USP Hazelton and FCI Hazelton.

“These reports, combined with public reporting on FCC Hazelton’s dire staffing shortages and proliferation of weapons contraband, paint a grim picture of the institution’s inability to ensure a safe environment for those in BOP custody and employees alike,” the senators wrote in the letter.

The letter then goes on to detail other allegations that whistleblowers disclosed to the senators’ offices, including the following:

  • A group of inmates escaping from the prison camp and supervisory staff attempting to cover it up.
  • Supervisory staff at FCC Hazelton falsifying documents, encouraging inmate abuse, and covering up alleged abuse and escapes of incarcerated individuals.
    • The falsified documents include medical assessments, incident reports, duty rosters, and time and attendance sheets, along with requests to tamper with corresponding security cameras to cover up inmate escapes.
    • The employees engaged in these practices have not been disciplined, and, in some cases, received promotions, despite open investigations into their misconduct.
  • Staff members using restrictive housing punitively against incarcerated individuals in violation of BOP policy, and staff engaging in a pattern of physical abuse of inmates residing in Special Housing Units.
  • Staff repeatedly directing racial slurs against minorities towards other staff members and incarcerated individuals.
  • Staff urinating on prisoner property.
  • Staff forcing incarcerated individuals to urinate and defecate on themselves as a condition of being released from restrictive custody.
  • Staff assaulting an incarcerated person, breaking the individual’s ribs.

“If these allegations are true and accurate, they reflect a rampant culture of abuse and misconduct at FCC Hazelton. We request that you conduct a full investigation of employee misconduct at FCC Hazelton facilities, including interviews of individuals incarcerated in SHU about these allegations,” the senators continued. “We also request that you commit that no taxpayer money will be used to identify, expose the identity of, or retaliate against any whistleblowers and that the anonymity of all individuals interviewed is maintained, regardless of whether or not they corroborate any allegations of misconduct.”

The senators’ letter concludes by asking that DOJ and BOP provide specific information related to FCC Hazleton to understand the scope of the alleged misconduct.

5 Investigates has spoken with several concerned neighbors who have witnessed prisoners outside of camp grounds.

For months, people living in the Hazleton area have been seeing inmates going in and out of the prison, roaming through their neighborhood.

Larry Reese says he’s lived in this area his whole life, but this is the first time he’s ever felt unsafe.

“How are you supposed to feel safe in your own home when there’s inmates running around outside? That’s supposed to be a federal prison. What’re they doing over here? I mean this has got to stop,” Reese said.

Reese says he’s especially concerned for his neighbors that have young children.

Courtney Buzzo moved in with her family about three years ago. She says she never would have moved here if she’d known it was so dangerous.

“Prior to this, I can see them from the kitchen window, so I mean I would wash dishes, and I could see them playing. We don’t do that anymore. We’re inside the house. I have all of the doors locked. It’s just ridiculous,” Buzzo said.

Buzzo says her family has installed more than $1,000 in security measures to protect their home.

“You shouldn’t have to worry about this kind of stuff, and here we are on pins and needles every day because we don’t know every noise we hear. When the sun goes down, we’re nervous,” Buzzo said.

Thomas Casuccio retired from Hazleton Penitentiary back in 2011, and he says his property runs adjacent to the prison yard.

“It feels like I’m still doing my job because of the inmates that are running freely out here, and I’m getting no cooperation from the prison,” Casuccio said.

The security footage seen below came from Casuccio’s home from an incident that happened at the beginning of July.

Security camera footage shows two escaped inmates from FCC Hazelton being held at gunpoint

Casuccio says he’d seen a mysterious vehicle pull onto his property that evening while feeding his dogs.

Armed with a gun and decades of prison guard experience, Casuccio knew he had to exercise his right to defend himself and his property.

“They turned into my lot behind the garage, and the car was leaving, but with all of the inmate activity we’ve had over here, I wanted to walk over there and see what was going on,” he said.

Casuccio says he found two escaped inmates, one in camoflague and another in a prison jumpsuit. They had a bag and appeared to be in the process of smuggling contraband.

Casuccio gets them to surrender after firing a warning shot into the ground.

“I didn’t know if they were reaching for weapons, if they’d stolen stuff from my garage, I didn’t know if they were trying to escape or what their status was,” he said.

Casuccio then leads the surrendered prisoners to his front porch to grab his phone and call for help.

As Casuccio calls the prison and the Preston County Sheriff, the prisoners attempt to bribe him.

“I tell you sir, we’ll pay you money. Please, I promise you sir, please you’d be doing us a huge favor. Please do not make that phone call sir.”

As Casuccio is making the call, the prisoners further plead to let them get rid of their cell phones.

They even admit to having escaped before.

“Sir, you’ve never seen us before. It’s only my second time down here.”

The prison guards then arrive and identify them as prisoners, and the Preston County Sheriff seizes the alleged contraband.

5 News called the sheriff’s department to see if charges had been brought up, but they said it’s still an active investigation.

Now, neighbors are just hoping something can finally be done to make them feel safe again.

“We’ve been notified, and notified, and notified some more how long does it take to do something,” Reese said.

5 Investigates sent a Freedom of Information Act request about all of the alleged escapes back in April. We sent a follow-up request back in July after the incident caught on the security camera happened that can be seen above.

In the letter from the senators, prison escaping is only one of the many issues they are asking the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons to investigate.

You can read the full letter sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, and BOP Director Colette Peters below: