Riot at Attica prison

Riot at Attica prison

Prisoners riot and seize control of the maximum-security Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York. Later that day, state police retook most of the prison, but 1,281 convicts occupied an exercise field called D Yard, where they held 39 prison guards and employees hostage for four days. After negotiations stalled, state police and prison officers launched a disastrous raid on September 13, in which 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed in an indiscriminate hail of gunfire. Eighty-nine others were seriously injured.

By the summer of 1971, the state prison in Attica, New York, was ready to explode. Inmates were frustrated with chronic overcrowding, censorship of letters and living conditions that limited them to one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper each month. Some Attica prisoners began to perceive themselves as political prisoners rather than convicted criminals.

READ MORE: What the Nixon Tapes Reveal About the Attica Prison Uprising

On the morning of September 9, the eruption came when inmates on the way to breakfast overpowered their guards and stormed down a prison gallery in a spontaneous uprising. They broke through a faulty gate and into a central area known as Times Square, which gave them access to all the cellblocks. Many of the prison’s 2,200 inmates then joined in the rioting, and prisoners rampaged through the facility beating guards, acquiring makeshift weapons, and burning down the prison chapel. One guard, William Quinn, was severely beaten and thrown out a second-story window. Two days later, he died in a hospital from his injuries.

Using tear gas and submachine guns, state police regained control of three of the four cellblocks held by the rioters without loss of life. By 10:30 a.m., the inmates were only in control of D Yard, a large, open exercise field surrounded by 35-foot walls and overlooked by gun towers. Thirty-nine hostages, mostly guards and a few other prison employees, were blindfolded and held in a tight circle. Inmates armed with clubs and knives guarded the hostages closely.

Riot leaders put together a list of demands, including improved living conditions, more religious freedom, an end to mail censorship and expanded phone privileges. They also called for specific individuals, such as U.S. Representative Herman Badillo and New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, to serve as negotiators and civilian observers. Meanwhile, hundreds of state troopers arrived at Attica, and New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller called in the National Guard.

In tense negotiations, New York Correction Commissioner Russell Oswald agreed to honor the inmates’ demands for improved living conditions. However, talks bogged down when the prisoners called for amnesty for everyone in D Yard, along with safe passage to a “non-imperialist country” for anyone who desired it. Observers pleaded with Governor Rockefeller to come to Attica as a show of good faith, but he refused and instead ordered the prison to be retaken by force.

On the rainy Monday morning of September 13, an ultimatum was read to the inmates, calling on them to surrender. They responded by putting knives against the hostages’ throats. At 9:46 a.m., helicopters flew over the yard, dropping tear gas as state police and correction officers stormed in with guns blazing. The police fired 3,000 rounds into the tear gas haze, killing 29 inmates and 10 of the hostages and wounding 89. Most were shot in the initial indiscriminate barrage of gunfire, but other prisoners were shot or killed after they surrendered. An emergency medical technician recalled seeing a wounded prisoner, lying on the ground, shot several times in the head by a state trooper. Another prisoner was shot seven times and then ordered to crawl along the ground. When he didn’t move fast enough, an officer kicked him. Many others were savagely beaten.

In the aftermath of the bloody raid, authorities said the inmates had killed the slain hostages by slitting their throats. One hostage was said to have been castrated. However, autopsies showed that these charges were false and that all 10 hostages had been shot to death by police. The attempted cover-up increased public condemnation of the raid and prompted a Congressional investigation.

The Attica uprising was the worst prison riot in U.S. history. A total of 43 people were killed, including the 39 killed in the raid, guard William Quinn, and three inmates killed by other prisoners early in the riot. In the week after its conclusion, police engaged in brutal reprisals against the prisoners, forcing them to run a gauntlet of nightsticks and crawl naked across broken glass, among other tortures. The many injured inmates received substandard medical treatment, if any.

In 1974, lawyers representing the 1,281 inmates filed a $2.8 billion class-action lawsuit against prison and state officials. It took 18 years before the suit came to trial, and five more years to reach the damages phase, delays that were the fault of a lower-court judge opposed to the case. In January 2000, New York State and the former and current inmates settled for $8 million, which was divided unevenly among about 500 inmates, depending on the severity of their suffering during the raid and the weeks following.

Families of the slain correction officers lost their right to sue by accepting the modest death-benefit checks sent to them by the state. The hostages who survived likewise lost their right to sue by cashing their paychecks. Both groups attest that no state officials apprised them of their legal rights, and they were denied compensation that New York should have paid to them.


This Day In History: A Riot In Attica Prison, New York Begins (1971)

On this day in history prisoners riot and seize control of the Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, New York. The state police eventually retook most of the prison that day after a brief confrontation with prisoners. However, some 1200 prisoners using prison guards as human shields stayed in the prison yard. In total some 39 guards were held hostage by the prisoners. Immediately negotiations begin between the prisoners and the authorities. The prisoners made many demands and it soon became apparent that the negotiations are going nowhere. This persuaded the state police to launch a raid to rescue the prison guards being held hostage. The police using tear gas and submachine guns, had easily regained control of much of the prison with no casualties. This persuaded them that a show of force would intimidate the prisoners into surrendering. The prisoners had blindfolded the hostages and encircled them. The Governor of New York State also sent in the National Guard to support the police as they attempted to rescue the hostages.

However, the raid launched on September the 13 th was a disaster. It began when helicopters dropped tear gas on the prisoners and for reasons not clear the police and the National Guard began to fire. Some 3000 rounds are believed to have been fired. It was a bloodbath. There are also reports of summary executions of prisoners and ill-treatment.

Nelson Rockefeller, New York Governor, who sanctioned the raid at Attica

In total some 10 hostages and 29 inmates are killed in the botched raid and almost one hundred people are seriously injured. There was a national outcry over the raid and many believed that the raid was unnecessary and that the state police were responsible for the bloodbath.

The prisoners had rioted after conditions in the summer of 1971 had become intolerable.

Many Attica prisoners, influenced by left wing groups and the Black Panthers began to regard themselves as political prisoners rather than convicted criminals. On this day in history the prison erupted. They took advantage of a faulty gate in order to take control of the prison. Soon a mob of 2000 prisoners with makeshift weapons are on a rampage. One guard, was thrown out a second-story window and later dies in hospital from his injuries.

The official version was that the ten hostages had all been killed by the prisoners. There was even a story spread that one hostage had been castrated. However, these reports were all later proven to be false.

In total some 43 people are believed to have been killed in what was the worst prison riot in American History. The prison guards are accused of committing torture after the retaking of the prison. One allegation was that prisoners are forced to crawl naked over broken glass in the prison yard. In 2000 many prisoners received compensation for their ill treatment in the wake of the riot. However, the families of the hostages did not receive any compensation, which remains controversial to this day.


1971: The Attica prison uprising

Against the background of the mass revolutionary, black power and prisoners' movements in the US, a five day revolt began on September 9, 1971 at the Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, NY in the United States. Its repression left 39 people killed.

"If we can't live as men, we sure as hell can die as men"
- Attica prisoner

In 1970 the National Guard had gunned down unarmed students protesting against the Vietnam War at Jackson State and Kent State Universities. Armed guards smashed a Teamsters truckers' strike. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had both been murdered. When George Jackson, Black Panther and political prisoner was murdered at San Quentin by the guards on August 21, 1971, his book "Soledad Brother" was being passed from prisoner to prisoner, tensions were running mounting. A prisoners' rights movement was growing.

Attica was surrounded by a 30-foot wall, 2 feet thick, with fourteen gun towers. 54% of the inmates were black 100% of the guards were white, many of whom were openly racist. Prisoners spent fourteen to sixteen hours a day in their cells, their mail was read, their reading material restricted, their visits from families conducted through a mesh screen, their medical care disgraceful, their parole system inequitable, racism everywhere. How perceptive the prison administration was about these conditions can be measured by the comment of the superintendent of Attica, Vincent Mancusi, when the uprising began: “Why are they destroying their home?”

Most of the Attica prisoners were there as a result of plea bargaining. Of 32,000 felony indictments a year in New York State, 4,000 to 5,000 were tried. The rest (about 75%) were disposed of by deals made under duress, called “plea bargaining,” described as follows in the Report of the Joint Legislative Committee on Crime in New York:

The final climactic act in the plea bargaining procedure is a charade which in itself has aspects of dishonesty which rival the original crime in many instances. The accused is made to assert publicly his guilt on a specific crime, which in many cases he has not committed in some cases he pleads guilty to a non-existing crime. He must further indicate that he is entering his plea freely… and that he is not doing so because of any promises made to him.

In plea bargaining, the accused pleads guilty, whether he is or not, and saves the state the trouble of a trial in return for the promise of a less severe punishment.

When Attica prisoners were up for parole, the average time of their hearing, including the reading of the file and deliberation among the three members, was 5.9 minutes. Then the decision was handed out, with no explanation.

The official report on the Attica uprising tells how an inmate-instructed sociology class there became a forum for ideas about change. Then there was a series of organised protest efforts, and in July an inmate manifesto setting forth a series of moderate demands, after which “tensions at Attica had continued to mount,” culminating in a day of protest over the killing of George Jackson at San Quentin, during which few inmates ate at lunch and dinner on a hunger strike, and many wore black armbands.

Uprising
On September 9. 1971, a series of conflicts between prisoners and guards ended with a relatively minor incident, involving a guard disciplining two prisoners. This was the spark that set off the revolt a group which began when a group of inmates from D Block broke through a gate with a defective weld and taking over one of the four prison yards, with forty guards as hostages.

Then followed five days in which the prisoners set up a remarkable community in the yard. A group of citizen-observers, invited by the prisoners, included New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, who wrote (A Time to Die): “The racial harmony that prevailed among the prisoners—it was absolutely astonishing. That prison yard was the first place I have ever seen where there was no racism.” One black prisoner later said: “I never thought whites could really get it on. . . . But I can’t tell you what the yard was like, I actually cried it was so close, everyone so together." All the prisoners - black, Latino, white - who took part in the revolt were united. It was no "race riot" but a united class action.

The prisoners demanded removal of the warden, amnesty for those who had taken part in the revolt, and better conditions. The state agreed to 28 of the 33 demands but not amnesty. The prisoners were not willing to back down on this, as they knew repression would fall heavily on them.

Repression
After five days, the state lost patience. Governor Nelson Rockefeller approved a military attack on the prison (see Cinda Firestone’s stunning film Attica). One thousand National Guardsmen, prison guards, and local police went in with automatic rifles, carbines, and submachine guns in a full-scale assault on the prisoners, who had no firearms. Thirty-one prisoners were killed. The first stories given the press by prison authorities said that nine guards held hostage had their throats slashed by the prisoners during the attack. The official autopsies almost immediately showed this to be false: the nine guards died in the same hail of bullets that killed the prisoners.

Guards beat and tortured prisoners after the revolt. A wave of other prison rebellions spread like wildfire, involving 20,000 people.

Today
There were several hundred thousand in prison in 1971 - now there are two million. The memory of Attica is still there - in 2004 prisoners in Texas started a hunger strike on the 33rd anniversary to commemorate the Attica uprising and to support prisoners' rights.

OCRed by Linda Towlson and lightly edited by libcom - US to UK spelling, additional details, clarifications and links added - from two articles by Howard Zinn and the Anarchist Federation.


21 Images of the Horrific Attica Prison Uprising

The Attica Prison riot of 1971 took place at Attica Correctional Facility in New York. During morning roll-call on September 9, the 5 Company inmates heard that one of their fellow block-mates was going to be held, isolated in his cell. A group of protesters broke the roll call line to go back to their own cells in solidarity. Rather than remaining in their cells, the group freed the isolated prisoner and they all went to breakfast. When the command staff was alerted of what transpired, they hastily changed the 5 Company schedule. Rather than going outside as they typically would, the inmates and corrections officer (CO) found the door to be locked.

When more COs arrived to bring the prisoners to their cells, an angry inmate assaulted an officer and the riot began. The inmates quickly gained control of the D-yard, two tunnels, and the central control room known as Times Square. The inmates took 42 COs and civilians hostage and produced a list of grievances demanding their conditions be met before ending the rebellion.

Frank &ldquoBig Black&rdquo Smith, was appointed head of security over the negotiations and kept the hostages and the observers safe. Over the next four days of negotiations, authorities agreed to many of the prisoner&rsquos demands but refused to give amnesty from prosecution for the prison takeover nor was the removal of Attica&rsquos superintendent agreed to. The negotiations were led by 21-year-old inmate, Elliott James &ldquoL.D.&rdquo Barkley, who would be killed when the prison was retaken.

As a result of all the demands not being met, negotiations broke down and the inmates prepared for battle. Trenches had been dug, metal gates had been electrified, crude battlements were fashioned out of metal tables and dirt, gasoline was put in position to be lit in the event of conflict, and the &ldquoTimes Square&rdquo prison command center was fortified. Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered the prison to be retaken.

On September 13, tear gas was dropped into the yard and New York State Police troopers opened fire into the smoke. Hostages and Inmates, who were not resisting, were killed. Former Corrections Officers were allowed to participate which a committee, established by Governor Rockefeller to study the protest and aftermath, deemed &ldquoinexcusable.&rdquo

When the smoke cleared, 10 hostages and 33 inmates had been killed.

1. We Demand the constitutional rights of legal representation at the time of all parole board hearings and the protection from the procedures of the parole authorities whereby they permit no procedural safeguards such as an attorney for cross-examination of witnesses, witnesses in behalf of the parolee, at parole revocation hearings. Oneida Daily Dispatch 2. We Demand a change in medical staff and medical policy and procedure. The Attica Prison hospital is totally inadequate, understaffed, and preju¬diced in the treatment of inmates. There are numerous &ldquomistakes&rdquo made many times improper and erroneous medication is given by untrained personnel. We also demand periodical check-ups on all prisoners and sufficient licensed practitioners 24 hours a day instead of inmates&rsquo help that is used now. AP 3. We Demand adequate visiting conditions and facilities for the inmate and families of Attica prisoners. The visiting facilities at the prison are such as to preclude adequate visiting for inmates and their families. Boston Globe 4. We Demand an end to the segregation of prisoners from the mainline population because of their political beliefs. Some of the men in segregation units are confined there solely for political reasons and their segregation from other inmates is indefinite.
Inmates of the Attica Correctional Facility negotiating with Russell G. Oswald, lower left, the state prisons commissioner, in September 1971. Associated Press 5. We Demand an end to the persecution and punishment of prisoners who practice the Constitutional Right of peaceful dissent. Prisoners at Attica and other New York prisons cannot be compelled to work as these prisons were built for the purpose of housing prisoners and there is no mention as to the prisoners being required to work on prison jobs in order to remain in the mainline population and/or be considered for release. Many prisoners believe their labour power is being exploited in order for the state to increase its economic power and to continue to expand its correctional industries (which are million-dollar complexes), yet do not develop working skills acceptable for employment in the outside society, and which do not pay the prisoner more than an average of forty cents a day. Most prisoners never make more than fifty cents a day. Prisoners who refuse to work for the outrageous scale, or who strike, are punished and segregated without the access to the privileges shared by those who work this is class legislation, class division, and creates hostilities within the prison. Black panther leader Bobby Seal to help mediate the riot in it&rsquos third day of siege. AP 6. We Demand an end to political persecution, racial persecution, and the denial of prisoner&rsquos rights to subscribe to political papers, books, or any other educational and current media chronicles that are forwarded through the U.S. Mail.
Capt. Frank Wald, a correctional officer at the Attica State Prison (Hands Clasped) as he and other guards held hostage by inmates tell newsman they were being treated fairly by inmates. AP 7. We Demand that industries be allowed to enter the institutions and employ inmates to work eight hours a day and fit into the category of workers for scale wages. The working conditions in prisons do not develop working incentives parallel to the many jobs in the outside society, and a paroled prisoner faces many contradictions of the job that add to his difficulty in
adjusting. Those industries outside who desire to enter prisons should be allowed to enter for the purpose of employment placement.
Inmates in D Yard at Attica Correctional Facility before the deadly police assault. Pinterest 8. We Demand that inmates be granted the right to join or form labour unions.
A state trooper holds the burnt cap of a hostage guard, an ugly memento of five terrible days from inside the prison. Pinterest 9. We Demand that inmates be granted the right to support their own families at present, thousands of welfare recipients have to divide their checks to support their imprisoned relatives, who without outside support, cannot even buy toilet articles or food. Men working on scale wages could support themselves and families while in prison. State Troopers prepare to retake Attica. Pinterest 9. We Demand that inmates be granted the right to support their own families at present, thousands of welfare recipients have to divide their checks to support their imprisoned relatives, who without outside support, cannot even buy toilet articles or food. Men working on scale wages could support themselves and families while in prison. Two inmates at Attica visit with another inmate inside a makeshift hospital set up by the inmates in cellblock D. AP


The true story of the Attica prison riot

When a helicopter flew over the yard at Attica Correctional Facility on Sept. 13, 1971, five days into a takeover of the prison by its 1,300 inmates, some of the prisoners thought it held New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, come to help negotiate an end to the standoff.

Prison officials clean up weapons and other materials used in the Attica Correctional Facility uprising of 1971. AP

They realized their error when the gas dropped.

The combination of CS and CN gas created a “thick, powdery fog” in the yard “that quickly enveloped, sickened and felled every man it touched.”

But while the gas subdued the prisoners, it was merely the opening salvo in a full-on sadistic assault that set the stage for days of death and bloodshed, weeks of torture, years of pain and decades of lawsuits, investigations and recriminations.

For her new book “Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy,” Heather Ann Thompson tracked down long-hidden files related to the tragedy at Attica — some of which have since disappeared — to tell the saga in its full horror.

The book’s many revelations include how police had removed their identification prior to the raid and how prisoners were misled into believing negotiations were ongoing at the time. Thompson reveals that the state took its actions knowing its own employees, then being held hostage, would likely be killed. She lays out how officials as high up as President Richard Nixon supported many of these actions and how in the years following the riots, the state went to extraordinary lengths to try to obscure facts and protect offenders.

“I found a great deal of what the state knew, and when it knew it,” she writes, “not the least of which was what evidence it thought it had against members of law enforcement who were never indicted.”

The Attica riot was the culmination of a growing frustration at the time with conditions in America’s prisons, including severe overcrowding, virtual starvation, and an often complete absence of medical care. (Located in Western New York, Attica prison remains active, and has since held the likes of David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz and John Lennon’s assassin, Mark David Chapman.)

Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and President Nixon approved of the brutal retaking of Attica. AP (right)

The corrections officers were often locals simply looking for steady work. They received no training on how to deal with caged, often violent men and were paid so poorly that many required a second job to make ends meet, yet each was expected to oversee anywhere from 60-120 prisoners at once.

Early in the summer of 1971, the commissioner of prisons received a list of demands from a prisoner group calling themselves the “Attica Liberation Faction.” The letter cited how the administration and prison officials “no longer consider or respect us as human beings,” and demanded 28 reforms including “improvements in the working and living conditions and a change in medical procedure.” The state’s reaction was to punish anyone found in possession of this manifesto with 60 days in solitary and to tighten prisoner conditions overall.

Soon, prison officials realized that traditional factions among racial and religious lines were breaking down, the men instead forging a new solidarity. On Aug. 22, the day after a prisoner in California was murdered, “most of the prisoners were wearing a strip of black cloth as an armband,” and ate their breakfast in unnerving silence. Attica’s officers began expressing fears to their families some began “leaving their wallets at home in case anything ‘jumped off’ at the prison.”

A violent confrontation on Sept. 8, 1971, led prisoners to believe, incorrectly, that one of their own had been killed when they saw guards carrying his limp body to his cell.

The tension exploded on Sept. 9. After a prisoner in lockdown was released when a fellow inmate managed to flip the switch to his cell door, a group of convicts were locked in a passageway, known as A Tunnel, on the way back from breakfast. Believing they were about to suffer a fate similar to the prisoner from the day before, one attacked a guard, and several others immediately joined in.

“All of a sudden, it seemed to dawn on [the prisoners] that they were little more than sitting ducks locked in the tight confines of this ill-lit tunnel,” Thompson writes. “As prisoner Richard X Clark put it, ‘We expected the goon squad any minute.’ ”

Now petrified they were about to face harsh reprisals, the prisoners “began grabbing anything they could find to protect themselves.”

Some inmates hid in fear, while others saw a chance for revenge against guards or prisoners who had done them wrong. “Within mere minutes,” Thompson writes, “A Tunnel had disintegrated into a blur of flying fists, breaking windows, and screaming men.”

Many in other sections of the prison could see the melee, and others still could hear it. Word spread quickly, and throughout the prison, men were grabbing any potential weapon they could find and stripping guards of their keys. A guard named William Quinn, after surrendering his keys and nightstick, was “hit on the head with tremendous force by someone wielding what was later described as either a two-by-four or a ‘heavy stick.’ Quinn fell to the ground, where others set upon him and trampled him.”

Inmates of Attica state prison in upstate New York raise their fists to show solidarity in their demands during a negotiation session with state prisons Commissioner Russell Oswald, Sept. 10, 1971. AP

Many prisoners went out of their way to protect guards who had treated them well. When one group of prisoners forced a guard named G.B. Smith to strip, another grabbed him, screaming “that this was his ‘motherf—ing hostage.’” As he whisked Smith away, he told him, “Don’t worry, I’m going to try to get you to the yard as easy as possible.” Meanwhile, more than 30 guards were held captive in the prison yard.

The events of the next four days, which Thompson relays in visceral detail, included strained negotiations that found a team of observers, including famed attorney William Kunstler and New York Times reporter Tom Wicker, attempt to assist negotiations between the prisoners and the state, and Rockefeller refuse to make an appearance that many later believed might have quelled the entire incident.

Despite Quinn’s treatment — he soon died of his injuries — the prisoners made attempts at good faith negotiations. But in the end, their greatest demand was for amnesty for their actions during the riot. Quinn’s death made this impossible.

State police and others in law enforcement arrived at the prison en masse on day one, hoping to retake it by force. On day five, Rockefeller gave the order, with President Nixon’s support, to overtake the prison. But it was clear to all, Thompson writes, that the retaking would almost certainly result in the deaths of at least some of the guards being held hostage.

The force that stormed the prison consisted of 550 uniformed members of the New York State Police plus hundreds of sheriffs, deputies and police from neighboring counties, many brandishing their personal weapons, eager to take a shot at prisoners who killed one of their own. State officials later said these officers arrived of their own accord, but the officers claimed they were invited.

Capt. Frank Wald, a correctional officer at the Attica State Prison (Hands Clasped) as he and other guards held hostage by inmates tell newsman they were being treated fairly by inmates. AP

One officer, Technical Sgt. F.D. Smith, later commented that, “an attitude of disgust was apparent among troopers and guards . . . a number of our people were heard wishing for ‘something to happen even if it’s the wrong thing.’ ”

As such, many of the officers removed their identification before entering the prison, allowing them to act with impunity. One officer, who arrived with his rifle, said he was told by a member of the state police to “‘pick a target’ and shoot to kill.” Many of the officers used “.270 caliber rifles, which utilized unjacked bullets, a kind of ammunition that causes such enormous damage to human flesh that it was banned by the Geneva Convention.” While the plan called for officers to clear one section of the prison after the gas was dispersed, there was little set in stone after that.

Once the gas was dropped, recapturing Attica was quick and easy. What happened after that was something else altogether.

“It was instantly clear that troopers and COs were no longer merely trying to regain control of the facility. This was already done,” Thompson writes. “They now seemed determined to make Attica’s prisoners pay a high price for their rebellion.”

What followed were acts of brutality so heinous they beggar the imagination. Officers were shooting indiscriminately, smashing in convicts’ heads with the butts of their guns and shooting them, then sticking gun barrels in their mouths for laughs. One prisoner was shot seven times, then handed a knife by a trooper and ordered to stab a fellow prisoner. (He refused, and the officer moved on.) Another was shot in the abdomen and leg, then ordered to walk. When he couldn’t, he was shot in the head.

Some of the black prisoners heard the N-word screamed at them as they were shot, or taunts of, “White power!”

“[The guards] received no training on how to deal with caged, often violent men and were paid so poorly that many required a second job.”

As this was happening, a group of prisoners formed a circle of protection around the hostages but were soon gunned down. Several guards found themselves staring into a fellow officer’s barrel, seconds from death, saved only by a last minute scream of, “He’s one of ours!” But in the chaos and savagery, both hostages and members of the rescue force fell victim to their fellow officers.

A half-hour after the operation began, 128 men had been shot 29 prisoners and nine hostages had been killed. And the real chaos had just begun.

In the hours and days following the retaking, while Rockefeller touted the mission as a great success and the public was told the dead hostages had been killed by prisoners, Attica became a chamber of horrors.

Naked prisoners were forced to run gauntlets, beaten with batons as they ran. One 21-year-old inmate shot four times heard troopers debating “whether to kill him or let him bleed to death . . . as they discussed this the troopers had fun jamming their rifle butts into his injuries and dumping lime on his face and injured legs until he fell unconscious.” Prisoners were made to crawl naked on concrete through blood and broken glass, subjected to Russian roulette and even forced to drink officers’ urine.

For the victims of this abuse, no medical care was made available, in some cases for days or even weeks. One doctor was ordered not to treat a shooting victim with blood running down his face, and a guardsman was literally ordered to rub salt in another prisoner’s wounds.

Even Attica’s official physicians got in on the act. According to Thompson, when presented with an injured prisoner with a swollen neck, Attica’s Dr. Paul Sternberg “laughed and said, ‘Ha, ha, you swallowed your teeth.’ ” Either Sternberg or the prison’s other doctor, Selden Williams, was reportedly overheard saying of a prisoner, “That n—-r is a f—-r and he should have died in the yard so we won’t treat him.”

Meanwhile, thanks to a pliant press, the nation was initially convinced that all the savagery had come at the hands of the prisoners.

In many ways, even 45 years later, the ordeal at Attica has never really ended. As the truth emerged over the coming years, protests erupted around the country, the prisoners’ abuse becoming a symbol of a government and a system out of control.

Investigations that followed found police visiting many of the same prisoners who endured this torture, threatening them with abuse or indictments if they didn’t testify against their fellow inmates.

In 1976, Gov. Hugh Carey, overwhelmed by the complexities and the political minefield of it all, announced clemency and pardons for every Attica prisoner for cases related to the riots.

In 2000, a class action of prisoners won $12 million from the state and, perhaps more meaningfully, got to tell their tales of abuse on the record.

The judge’s order included a 200-page summary detailing the atrocities these men had faced. But even with this, their story feels something less than complete.

“Even though they had settled with the state, the state still would not admit to wrongdoing at Attica,” writes Thompson. “It wasn’t even close to justice. But it was the closest thing to justice that these men would ever get.”


The Attica Prison Riot: An Oral History by Michael S. Smith

Michael S. Smith was a 22-year-old corrections officer when, on September 9, 1971, a group of inmates overtook Attica Prison in rural New York City. Officers and civilian employees of the prison were taken hostage as the inmates and state officials negotiated. Three days into the negotiations, Corrections Officer William Quinn died from injuries sustained on the first day of the riot. Quinn’s death made the inmates’ central demand for immunity impossible, and heightened the anxiety both inside and outside the prison.

“It was a spontaneous reaction to a perfect point in time for something to explode … like striking a match”

On September 13, 1971, inmates marched seven hostages up to the prison’s catwalk and threatened them with execution. Outside of the prison, Governor Nelson Rockefeller had already ordered the state police to retake the prison. Smith, one of the seven on the catwalk, vividly remembers the wind created by the state trooper’s helicopter when it flew overhead, the gas fog that covered the prison yard, and then the rapid gun fire that surrounded him. Smith was shot four times, ending his career in corrections, and leaving him with lasting scars. Smith says of the experience, “Kind of grounds you at a very early age to what’s important in life … I look at it more of a blessing, because it really opened my eyes.”

Watch Michael S. Smith’s full interview on the Attica Prison Riot, plus other first-hand accounts of law enforcement history in NLEOMF’s Museum Oral History Collection.


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You can count on TVO to cover the stories others don&rsquot&mdashto fill the gaps in the ever-changing media landscape. But we can&rsquot do this without you.

When Ontario isn&rsquot locked down due to COVID-19, the Kingston Penitentiary is a historic site, open for tours, where visitors can go to learn about the events of murder and torture that happened at that site 50 years ago.

Kingston has been Ontario&rsquos &ldquoPenitentiary City&rdquo for nearly two centuries. Its first prison was built in 1835. The celebrated author Charles Dickens actually visited it a few years later. It had become so notorious by 1849 that a commission investigating it described the activity within its walls as akin to barbaric dehumanization more than a century later, it apparently wasn't much different.

Fogarty tells us that, by the 1960s, as the civil-rights movement bloomed and the prison population boomed thanks to the explosion of illegal drugs, Kingston Pen was ready to blow. Prisoners were terrified of their pending transfer to the new, fearsome, maximum-security Millhaven Institution. And, so, on April 14, 1971, as the first dozen prisoners were being moved, an inmate named Billy Knight sucker-punched a guard in the stomach. And with that, the riot began.

​ Members of the Canadian Armed Forces line up outside the walls of Kingston Penitentiary on April 15, 1971. (Peter Bregg/CP)

Eventually, Knight shouted to his fellow inmates: "Brothers! Our time has come to shake off the shackles. We&rsquove taken control of the dome, and we&rsquove got six hostages. You will all be released from your cells.&rdquo

The six guards being held hostage felt sure they&rsquod soon be killed, and why not? Their captors included a prisoner who&rsquod bludgeoned his mother to death with a baseball bat at age 16.

While some prisoners wanted to throw the guards over the railings to their deaths, it was Knight who kept reminding them that, if the riot were to have any meaning, the guards could not be harmed, and the focus had to be on prison reform. Before long, negotiations with the warden had commenced.

We also learn from Fogarty that prisoners had their own hierarchy as much as some prisoners wanted to kill the guards, many were more interested in killing other prisoners they considered inferior, such as sexual deviants or pedophiles. The author does not spare us the gruesome details of some prisoners torturing and beating others to death. One apparently slit his own wrists in hopes of killing himself and avoiding yet another pipe beating to the face.

Meantime, the hundreds of prisoners who&rsquod rioted had destroyed much of the penitentiary. If it had been unlivable before, it was exponentially more so now. Food, drink, and medication were nowhere to be found. In the midst of this inhumanity, Knight got a reporter inside, held a press conference, and got the word out that he wanted a citizens&rsquo committee struck so as to negotiate a peaceful settlement that would include prison reform and access to the above necessities.

Outsiders were allowed into the prison. Two, both journalists, would become household names in years to come: Henry Champ and Ron Haggart. University of Toronto professor Desmond Morton and famed lawyer Aubrey Golden became part of the citizens&rsquo committee, bringing the prisoners&rsquo demands to the outside world.

&ldquoWe want the world to know what they&rsquore doing to us in this festering hellhole,&rdquo Knight told them.

Things seemed to be moving in the right direction when suddenly, 130 troops from nearby military bases showed up, bayonets fixed to the ends of their automatic rifles, and surrounded the prison. The inmates became hysterical. As one prison guard (not a hostage) left to go home for some shut-eye, he told the soldiers: &ldquoMake just one mistake, and you&rsquoll be bringing six stiffs out of there.&rdquo

​ Cell blocks after the riot at the Kingston Penitentiary. (John Scott /The Globe and Mail)

The citizens&rsquo committee did manage to get a deal with both sides, but then, according to Fogarty, the federal solicitor general of the day, Jean-Pierre Goyer, nearly blew the whole thing up by going on the radio and insisting that the government had made no concessions to the prisoners. The inmates were listening, and that bit of bombast led to yet more moments of hysteria and violence. Goyer was the government&rsquos point man on the file, in part because Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was on his honeymoon in Tobago with his new bride, Margaret Sinclair, and thus unreachable.

Sixteen &ldquodeviant&rdquo prisoners were taken hostage, and the ensuing acts of carnage and sadism were just beyond words. I won&rsquot repeat the details of them here. It was almost too much to read about them in Fogarty&rsquos book.

Two prisoners died, and dozens were injured. But, in the end, Attica-style mayhem was avoided. All six prison guards survived the ordeal, and Golden gave enormous credit to an inmate named Barrie MacKenzie, who demonstrated calm leadership in the face of incredibly chaotic circumstances. MacKenzie eventually walked each of those guards out of the penitentiary to safety. That&rsquos more than Morton could say for the solicitor general: &ldquoGoyer blew it!&rdquo he said.

The prisoners, in fact, had good reason to fear the transfer to Millhaven, which had precipitated the riot in the first place. When that transfer did take place, several guards whacked dozens of prisoners with their nightsticks, sending them to the hospital. Eleven guards were eventually charged with assault.

Having said that, the federal government did create the first-ever national commission of inquiry into a penitentiary riot. Ian Scott, a future Ontario attorney general, was commission counsel.

Eventually, many prisoners had to answer for their conduct at subsequent trials. One described the circumstances as &ldquonot a riot,&rdquo adding, &ldquoI&rsquove been in a riot. This was a torture chamber.&rdquo

&ldquoKingston was a living, breathing hellhole,&rdquo Knight said. &ldquoI chose to destroy it before it could destroy me.&rdquo

Knight eventually died in another prison in Saskatchewan. He was 35.

The main questions I kept asking myself while reading Fogarty&rsquos book: Are conditions dramatically better today? Could another penitentiary &ldquoblow its top&rdquo?

I sure hope the answers are yes and no. But the sad truth is, I fear the answers are no and yes.


Attica at 45: 'Events That Have Shaken the American Conscience'

E ven in the aftermath, it wasn&rsquot immediately clear what had gone wrong at Attica Correctional Facility on Sept. 9, 1971. Was it the word that, the day before, an inmate been accosted for refusing to leave his cell? Or was it when reports spread that two inmates had been beaten in the aftermath of throwing a piece of glass at a guard? In any case, around 8:30 that morning, the New York State prison was the scene of an uprising that remains, 45 years later, one of the most famous and infamous events in the history of criminal justice in the United States.

For days, about half of the prisoners at Attica held control of one whole cell block, in addition to other parts of the facility, and about 40 hostages. After negotiations stalled and authorities violently retook the prison on Sept. 13, dozens of inmates and nine hostages were dead. Many more were injured.

&ldquoFor some time to come in the U.S., that word will not be primarily identified with the plain upon which ancient Athens nurtured philosophy and democracy,&rdquo TIME noted two weeks later, in a cover story about the event. &ldquoNor will it simply stand for the bucolic little town that gave its name to a turreted prison, mislabeled a &lsquocorrectional facility.&rsquo Attica will evoke the bloodiest prison rebellion in U.S. history. It will take its place alongside Kent State, Jackson State, My Lai and other traumatic events that have shaken the American conscience and incited searing controversy over the application of force&mdashand the pressures that provoke it.&rdquo

Here’s how TIME described the retaking of the prison:

At 9:32, a radio observer in a helicopter reported that hostages, guarded by six inmates, were confined within a circle of park benches in the yard. Sharpshooters were advised to take aim at the threatening convicts&mdash”but you’ll have to have hostile action by the inmates to fire.” Then the two helicopters, loaded with tear-gas canisters, swept low over the prison, one of them barely clearing the walls. “To all posts,” barked the command radio. “Jackpot One is about to make drop.” There was a pause. “Jackpot has made drop. Base to all posts &mdashmove in launch the offensive.”

The choking gas, which induces tears and nausea, filled the yard. At first the gunfire was barely audible over the roar of the choppers. From one helicopter, an amplified voice kept repeating: “Put your hands over your head. Walk to the outside of the yard. You will not be harmed. Do not harm the hostages.”

But as troopers dropped into the clouded compound, hostage blurred with prisoner. Some rescuers tried to reach the captive guards and pull them to safety. Others headed unresisting inmates toward the secure cell blocks. But there was an abundance of shooting. “We piled through and raced past Times Square,” recalled one police sergeant. “The ones that resisted&mdashthrowing spears and Molotov cocktails&mdashwere cut down. We caught some men with arms extended to throw weapons. Anybody that resisted was killed.” Claimed one officer: “They came at us like a banzai charge, waving knives and spears. Those we had to shoot.”

Yet much of the shooting may not have been all that necessary. A team of doctors who treated prisoners in their cells later said inmates in widely-separated parts of the prison described in identical detail instances of “indiscriminate” firing by the officers and the calculated slaying of unresisting convicts. Reported Dr. Lionel Sifontes of Buffalo: “Many of the ringleaders were approached by guards and shot systematically. Some had their hands in the air surrendering. Some were lying on the ground.”

That issue, the question that swept the nation in the aftermath of the riot, helped turn Attica into more than just an isolated moment of darkness. Had it been necessary? To some, the use of force had simply not come soon enough to others, it was a symbol of the tragic inhumanity of the entire prison system. The riot exposed not merely the problems that affected the inmates at one particular prison, but also the fault lines that ran throughout American society.

Read the entire cover story, here in the TIME Vault:War at Attica


1971: The Attica prison uprising

Against the background of the mass revolutionary, black power and prisoners' movements in the US, a five day revolt began on September 9, 1971 at the Attica Correctional Facility near Buffalo, NY in the United States. Its repression left 39 people killed.

"If we can't live as men, we sure as hell can die as men"
- Attica prisoner

In 1970 the National Guard had gunned down unarmed students protesting against the Vietnam War at Jackson State and Kent State Universities. Armed guards smashed a Teamsters truckers' strike. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had both been murdered. When George Jackson, Black Panther and political prisoner was murdered at San Quentin by the guards on August 21, 1971, his book "Soledad Brother" was being passed from prisoner to prisoner, tensions were running mounting. A prisoners' rights movement was growing.

Attica was surrounded by a 30-foot wall, 2 feet thick, with fourteen gun towers. 54% of the inmates were black 100% of the guards were white, many of whom were openly racist. Prisoners spent fourteen to sixteen hours a day in their cells, their mail was read, their reading material restricted, their visits from families conducted through a mesh screen, their medical care disgraceful, their parole system inequitable, racism everywhere. How perceptive the prison administration was about these conditions can be measured by the comment of the superintendent of Attica, Vincent Mancusi, when the uprising began: “Why are they destroying their home?”

Most of the Attica prisoners were there as a result of plea bargaining. Of 32,000 felony indictments a year in New York State, 4,000 to 5,000 were tried. The rest (about 75%) were disposed of by deals made under duress, called “plea bargaining,” described as follows in the Report of the Joint Legislative Committee on Crime in New York:

The final climactic act in the plea bargaining procedure is a charade which in itself has aspects of dishonesty which rival the original crime in many instances. The accused is made to assert publicly his guilt on a specific crime, which in many cases he has not committed in some cases he pleads guilty to a non-existing crime. He must further indicate that he is entering his plea freely… and that he is not doing so because of any promises made to him.

In plea bargaining, the accused pleads guilty, whether he is or not, and saves the state the trouble of a trial in return for the promise of a less severe punishment.

When Attica prisoners were up for parole, the average time of their hearing, including the reading of the file and deliberation among the three members, was 5.9 minutes. Then the decision was handed out, with no explanation.

The official report on the Attica uprising tells how an inmate-instructed sociology class there became a forum for ideas about change. Then there was a series of organised protest efforts, and in July an inmate manifesto setting forth a series of moderate demands, after which “tensions at Attica had continued to mount,” culminating in a day of protest over the killing of George Jackson at San Quentin, during which few inmates ate at lunch and dinner on a hunger strike, and many wore black armbands.

Uprising
On September 9. 1971, a series of conflicts between prisoners and guards ended with a relatively minor incident, involving a guard disciplining two prisoners. This was the spark that set off the revolt a group which began when a group of inmates from D Block broke through a gate with a defective weld and taking over one of the four prison yards, with forty guards as hostages.

Then followed five days in which the prisoners set up a remarkable community in the yard. A group of citizen-observers, invited by the prisoners, included New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, who wrote (A Time to Die): “The racial harmony that prevailed among the prisoners—it was absolutely astonishing. That prison yard was the first place I have ever seen where there was no racism.” One black prisoner later said: “I never thought whites could really get it on. . . . But I can’t tell you what the yard was like, I actually cried it was so close, everyone so together." All the prisoners - black, Latino, white - who took part in the revolt were united. It was no "race riot" but a united class action.

The prisoners demanded removal of the warden, amnesty for those who had taken part in the revolt, and better conditions. The state agreed to 28 of the 33 demands but not amnesty. The prisoners were not willing to back down on this, as they knew repression would fall heavily on them.

Repression
After five days, the state lost patience. Governor Nelson Rockefeller approved a military attack on the prison (see Cinda Firestone’s stunning film Attica). One thousand National Guardsmen, prison guards, and local police went in with automatic rifles, carbines, and submachine guns in a full-scale assault on the prisoners, who had no firearms. Thirty-one prisoners were killed. The first stories given the press by prison authorities said that nine guards held hostage had their throats slashed by the prisoners during the attack. The official autopsies almost immediately showed this to be false: the nine guards died in the same hail of bullets that killed the prisoners.

Guards beat and tortured prisoners after the revolt. A wave of other prison rebellions spread like wildfire, involving 20,000 people.

Today
There were several hundred thousand in prison in 1971 - now there are two million. The memory of Attica is still there - in 2004 prisoners in Texas started a hunger strike on the 33rd anniversary to commemorate the Attica uprising and to support prisoners' rights.

OCRed by Linda Towlson and lightly edited by libcom - US to UK spelling, additional details, clarifications and links added - from two articles by Howard Zinn and the Anarchist Federation.


Timeline of Events of the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Subsequent Legal Actions

September 9, 1971 – Prisoners seize control of Attica Correctional Facility. Corrections officer William Quinn is fatally injured in the taking of the control center. State personnel regain control of most of the facility, except for the D Yard and the control center, and a majority of the inmates are confined to their cells.

September 10, 1971 – Prisoners elect representatives and citizen observers are permitted to enter D Yard to aid in negotiations.

September 11, 1971 – Prisoners present a manifesto consisting of 28 demands to New York State officials. Corrections Commissioner Russell Oswald accepts most of the demands, but Oswald’s settlement offer is rejected on the grounds that it will not provide amnesty for the inmates, a request complicated by the death of Officer Quinn from his injuries.

September 12, 1971 – Governor Nelson Rockefeller refuses to visit Attica after being asked by the hostages, prisoners’ representatives, civilian observers and finally Commissioner Oswald. Oswald and the Governor resolve to retake the prison by force if their next demand to release the hostages is refused. As negotiations deteriorate, the prisoners begin fortifying D Yard and the prison control center.

September 13, 1971 – Commissioner Oswald gives the inmates a statement directing prisoners “within the hour” to release the hostages and accept the settlement proposal that had been offered. The inmates decline to release hostages or to surrender. Tear gas is dropped by helicopter and a near-indiscriminate barrage of almost 2,000 rounds is fired by State Police and Corrections officers. During the assault to retake the prison, 29 inmates and 10 hostages are killed, and many more are wounded. Of the 43 deaths at Attica, four were at the hands of inmates. Of those four victims, all but one, Correction Officer Quinn, were fellow inmates.

September 14, 1971 – Contrary to early claims from prison officials that several hostages had had their throats cut by inmates, the Monroe County Pathologist, Dr. John Edland, confirms that no hostages had their throats fatally cut, but were instead killed by law enforcement firearms.

October 29, 1971- At the request of the Wyoming County District Attorney, Governor Rockefeller orders Attorney General Louis Lefkowitz to supersede the District Attorney, to convene a Special Grand Jury and if indictments were to be forthcoming to prosecute same. The Attorney General in turn appoints Robert Fischer as Special Deputy Attorney General in charge of the investigation. Mr. Fischer forms the Attica Task Force. When Fischer later resigns he is succeeded by Special Deputy Attorney General Anthony Simonetti.

November 15, 1971- Governor Rockefeller appoints the New York State Special Commission on Attica and names Dean of NYU Law School Robert B. McKay as Chair. The McKay Commission is directed to investigate the circumstances leading up to, during and following the events at Attica in September, 1971. Governor Rockefeller granted the Commission on Attica subpoena powers under the “Moreland Act” (Executive Law sect. 6). The Commission’s investigation was separate from other investigations that proceeded concurrently.

November 19, 1971- A Special Grand Jury is impaneled by Special Prosecutor Fischer.

September 13, 1972 – The McKay Commission presents its report (published by Bantam Books), which is highly critical of Governor Rockefeller, the State Police and Department of Corrections for their poor planning and rapid resort to lethal force. It describes the event as the “bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War, with the exception of the Indian massacres in the late nineteenth century.” The report concludes that Governor Rockefeller “should not have committed the state’s armed forces against the rebels without first appearing on the scene and satisfying himself that there were no other alternatives and that all precautions against excessive force had been taken.”

December 1972 - December 1975– In the course of the Fischer/Simonetti investigation, the Wyoming County Grand Jury returns 42 indictments charging 62 inmates on 1289 counts. Subsequently, a second Grand Jury, in 1975, indicts a state trooper on a felony charge of reckless endangerment.

September 1973 – Trials of the inmates who were indicted commence in Buffalo, NY. Inmate John Hill is convicted of the murder of Correction Officer Quinn.

September 1974 – A federal complaint alleging civil rights violations is brought by every inmate in D Yard (or their estates) against Governor Rockefeller, Commissioner Oswald, Warden Vincent Mancusi, Deputy Warden Karl Pfeil, Major John Monahan of the State Police, and a number of other senior officials in New York State government. The civil case in the United States District Court, Western District of New York, is titled Al-Jundi, et al. vs. Rockefeller, et al.

October-December 1974 – The first two inmates indicted by the state are acquitted.

April 1975 – Inmate John Hill’s conviction is upheld after appeal. He receives a sentence of 20 years to life for the killing of Officer Quinn.

May 1975 – Special Deputy Attorney General Malcolm Bell, a prosecutor on the Fisher/Simonetti staff, sends a 160 page report to Governor Hugh Carey alleging that his superiors were actively engaged in covering up the criminal actions of law enforcement officers during the riot and had reassigned and then suspended him for attempting to investigate and pursue indictments against officers. Governor Carey appoints Judge Bernard S. Meyer of the NYS Supreme Court to the post of Special Deputy Attorney General to investigate Bell’s allegations.

June 1975 – The fifth indictment levied against an inmate ends in acquittal. No further indictments against individual inmates are brought.

August 1975 – The only state trooper indicted in the Attica uprising is indicted for reckless endangerment, based on the accusation that he had fired his shotgun repeatedly into a mixed crowd of inmates and hostages during the retaking. He is the only law enforcement officer to stand trial in connection with the uprising.

October 1975 - Upon completion of his investigation, Meyer submits a three-volume report to the Governor and Attorney General. It is known as the Meyer Report.

December 1975 –The first volume of the Meyer Report is released to the public, containing Judge Meyer’s findings, recommendations, and methodology. It concludes that despite “serious errors in judgment,” no intentional cover-up was committed. The Report also found “important omissions on the part of the State Police in gathering evidence,” immediately after the retaking assault was over. He further found that the combination of those errors and omissions resulted in an imbalance in the prosecution. Volumes 2 and 3, which contain the factual bases for Meyer’s conclusion including graphic witness statements of the alleged reprisals, are not released. To address the imbalance, Meyer recommends the appointment of a Special Deputy Attorney General whose “function it will be to review all convictions, all pending indictments and the evidence relating to possible future indictments with a view to taking, or recommending to the Governor, whatever action he deems appropriate.”

December 1975 - In accordance with Meyer’s recommendation, Attorney General Lefkowitz, at the request of Governor Carey, appoints Alfred J. Scotti as Special Deputy Attorney General to oversee the further conduct of the Attica prosecution.

December 1975 -At the time of Scotti’s appointment, eight of the 62 inmates indicted had pled guilty, two more were convicted after trial and three were acquitted after trial. Charges against 39 inmates had been dismissed upon the motion of Simonetti, and charges against 27 inmates and the sole indicted state trooper were pending.

February 1976 – Scotti drops all pending indictments against 24 inmates and one state trooper. The two Grand Juries empaneled to hear evidence on Attica were discharged. In his announcement, Scotti notes, “I have found the unavailability of evidence required for successful prosecution of those serious offenses resulting from unlawful excessive force by law enforcement were caused by flagrant deficiencies in the State Police investigation of the retaking. The State Police inexplicably failed to collect and preserve evidence.”

December 1976 – Governor Carey announces he is “closing the book on Attica,” and pardons all inmates who had previously pleaded guilty to obtain reduced sentences, and commutes the sentences of the two inmates convicted in court. He additionally dismisses pending disciplinary actions against 20 law enforcement officers relating to the uprising. He characterizes the Attica prosecution as “the darkest day in the history of New York State’s jurisprudence.”

March 1979 – Defendant John Hill, whose sentence was commuted by Governor Carey on January 4, 1977, was granted parole and was released from prison.

January-December 1980 –Rockefeller died on January 26, 1979, and in 1980 his estate is substituted as the primary defendant in the Al-Jundi case. Judge Elfvin advises that he will dismiss the case if discovery has not begun by February of 1981.

January 1981- The Attorney General’s six-year effort seeking the release of at least portions of Volumes II and III of the Meyer Report fails. New York State Supreme Court Justice Frederick Marshall directs that the two volumes be “permanently sealed.”

February 1981 – Former inmates and chief complainants Akil Al-Jundi and Frank “Big Black” Smith approach their former attorney, Elizabeth Fink, asking her to return as counsel before the case defaults. Fink agrees and a number of former Attica Brothers Legal Defense attorneys resume their positions shortly thereafter. Counsel for the Rockefeller Estate files a motion to dismiss, but the motion is denied and the case proceeds.

November 1988-1989 – The Rockefeller Estate moves for summary judgment, which is granted on the basis of qualified immunity. The decision is appealed on the grounds that there are material questions of fact concerning the former governor’s duty to supervise the state’s response and possible political motivations for resolving the uprising by force, but the appellate court upholds the summary judgment and the Rockefeller Estate is dismissed as a plaintiff on November 30, 1989 and the case is retitled Al-Jundi, et al. vs. Estate of Oswald, et al., as former Commissioner Oswald had also since passed away.

December 1989-1990 – Judge Elfvin sets a trial date and advises the remaining defendants that he will not consider any further summary judgments. Nonetheless, the defendants file for summary judgment and Judge Elfvin allows the motions to proceed. When he denies the motions in the fall of 1990, the defendants appeal the decision.

February 1991 – The defendants’ summary judgments are denied by the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which instructs Judge Elfvin to set a trial date and to try the case with no further delay.

October 1991 – The trial begins at the United States District Court in Buffalo, NY. Dozens of witnesses including surviving plaintiffs and defendants, members of the State Police and National Guard, and medical and administrative personnel take the stand to testify.

February 1992 – A partial verdict, holding Deputy Warden Pfeil liable for the reprisals described at trial following the retaking, is returned by the jury. They are unable to reach a consensus on the other defendants, but the verdict finding liability against a State employee is sufficient to move the trial to the damages phase.

March 1992 – Settlement negotiations begin between the State of New York and hundreds of former Attica inmates or their estates. Questionnaires are filed detailing their treatment during and after the retaking, and the lasting impact that it has had on their lives since.

November 1995 – The Second Circuit Court of Appeals instructs Judge Elfvin to begin trials for damages and to conduct a retrial for the defendants besides Pfeil for whom the jury brought no verdicts.

May 1997 – Frank “Big Black” Smith’s particularly harsh treatment is brought to light and he is awarded $4 million in his damages trial, at that time the largest verdict ever awarded to a prisoner. Inmate David Brosig, whose injuries are far less severe, is awarded $75,000. Akil Al-Jundi, who has since his release been working as a legal advocate for abused convicts, is too ill to be in the courtroom and passes away on August 20, 1997. His estate remains the lead plaintiff in the federal civil suit. Defendant and ex-Deputy Warden Pfeil appeals the verdict against him.

August 1999 – A Federal appeals court panel overturns the $4 million award to Smith and overturns the finding of liability against ex-Deputy Warden Pfeil saying the trial judge’s handling of the case was so flawed that it violated the defendant’s rights. The case is returned to the District Court, and is transferred to Senior Judge Michael A. Telesca of Rochester, NY. The Court states in their decision: “Given the long history of this matter, we direct the district court to give it expedited treatment. We stand ready to exercise our mandamus power should unreasonable delay occur. We respectfully suggest that the Chief Judge of the district court consider assigning this matter to the judge best able to expedite its resolution. We note that the defendants in this case, who are functionally the State of New York, have done all they could – frequently not without the court's acquiescence – to delay resolution. That strategy can no longer be tolerated. The district court should not hesitate to resort to appropriate sanctions to induce the defendants to cooperate in promptly resolving this matter.” The court writes that “there is substantial evidence that, following the retaking, some, and perhaps most or even all, of the D Yard inmates were the victims of brutal acts of retaliation by prison authorities.” Judge Telesca advises the State attorneys that he intends to resolve the case quickly and decisively, telling them: “Don’t tell me you can’t afford to settle. You can’t afford not to settle.”

January 2000 – Attorneys for the State of New York and those representing the Attica prisoners reach a settlement agreement of $12 million, consisting of an $8 million payment to the former inmates and their families and $4 million for legal fees incurred over the 26 years of the civil suit. The State admits no wrongdoing.

January 2005 – The State reaches a settlement with the surviving corrections employees taken hostage and the estates of those who were killed in the retaking of the prison. They receive $12 million.

April 2013 – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announces that his office will seek authorization for the public disclosure of volumes 2 and 3 of the Meyer Report, which remain in possession of the Office of the Attorney General but were sealed by order of the State Supreme Court in 1981. Governor Andrew Cuomo lends his public support to the request.

April 2014 – Justice Patrick H. NeMoyer of the New York State Supreme Court authorizes the release of volumes 2 and 3 of the Meyer Report, but directs the Office of the Attorney General to redact all references pertaining to the evidence, testimony, or witnesses derived from the Grand Jury proceedings. Attorney General Schneiderman calls the decision a “step forward.” and advises that he will continue to take steps to make the redacted material available in the future.

May 2015 – The office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman releases volumes 2 and 3 of the Meyer Report, which contain the factual basis for Judge Meyer’s conclusions, with the stipulated redactions.