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HIGHWAY TO HELL: Prison transportation officer sentenced to 2 years for abusing detainees

HIGHWAY TO HELL: Prison transportation officer sentenced to 2 years for abusing detainees

HIGHWAY TO HELL: Prison transportation officer sentenced to 2 years for abusing detainees

A former prison transportation officer has been sentenced to two years in prison for violating the civil rights of those he was duty-bound to protect.

Anthony Buntyn, 55, is accused of intentionally and knowingly subjecting prisoners to “dangerous, painful, and unhealthy conditions,” when riding on a correction institution van between jurisdictions.

“Detainees are entitled to basic human dignity,”  U.S. Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez for the District of New Mexico said. “Those who are responsible for their detention, from transport personnel to law enforcement and corrections officers, have the same duty to protect the rights and safety of their charges.”

Except Buntyn didn’t.

According to the DOJ, the transportation officer would retaliate against prisoners speaking out about the conditions endured during the trips in an inhumane fashion.

Buntyn would restrain the dissenters by tying the incarcerated passengers’ hands behind their backs and forcing them to remain in a segregated cage.

Buntyn amped up the sadism by denying those in his care access to food and water – and ignoring calls for restroom breaks.

Left with zero options, many of those being transported resorted to relieving themselves on the floor of the van, or in empty bottles if available.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time abuses by the for-profit prison transport industry have been in the spotlight.

In 2016, The Marshall Project collaborated with The New York Times on a story detailing the inner workings of an industry that has been allowed to operate with little government oversight.

In 2012, Florida business owner Steven Galack was arrested on an out-of-state Ohio warrant for failure to pay child support – but the father of three wouldn’t see the end of the 1,000-mile trip.

Packed in a van with several others, Galack was handcuffed from his wrists to his ankles and became delirious while traveling without air conditioning in over 90-degree heat.

According to inmate statements, on the third day of the trip, one of the guards told others in charge “Only body shots,”  as the others began stomping on the prisoner.

“This is someone’s brother, father, and it’s like nobody even cared,” the deceased’s ex-wife, Kristin Galack, said.

Tennessee-based Prisoner Transportation Services of America is the nation’s largest for-profit extradition company. The company is paid by the number of prisoners transported on each trip – as well as by the mile.

They make up to $1.50 a mile for both, The Marshall Project wrote.

Companies like PTS have operated with relative impunity while traveling across multiple jurisdictions adding to the lack of accountability for abusive actions that occur across several state lines.

Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, condemned Buntyn’s willful disregard for the prisoners’ rights.

Reminding the public that officers transporting prisoners are beholden to protect the constitutional rights of those in their custody – regardless if they are employed by a private company.

“The department will continue to vigorously enforce our nation’s laws to ensure that officers who break the law — including those who are driving the nation’s backroads in prisoner transport vans and may therefore wrongly believe they can act with impunity — are held accountable,” Clarke stated.

“Any abuse of detainees or failure to provide necessities is a violation of that trust and a violation of the law, and it will be roundly prosecuted,” Uballez said.

Buntyn’s egregious violations of prisoners’ civil and human rights were reported to federal authorities by officials at the Shawnee County Detention center located in Topeka, Kansas after noticing the condition of inmates.

According to Kansas City field office Special Agent in Charge Charles Dayoub, “Buntyn’s actions disparage the very core of what he was employed to do – protect these individuals while in his custody,” the DOJ wrote in its statement.

“He knowingly disregarded the detainees’ basic civil rights, putting these individuals in harm’s way. Today’s sentencing demonstrates the FBI’s unique ability to conduct a successful nationwide investigation alongside our law enforcement partners.”

Buntyn faces an additional year of supervised release after serving his two-year sentence.

Based on the former prisoner-turned-prisoner-transporter’s treatment of those incapable of standing up for themselves, it’s not nearly enough.

There are currently 26 states which hire for-profit extradition companies like PTS, the non-profit news website Muckrock reported.

Hopefully, the arrest and conviction of Buntyn will force the Justice Department’s hand in holding all of those accountable who violate the rights of prisoners being taken from point A to point B – including inhumane treatment, sexual assault – and in some cases, death.

Original reporting by Eli Hagar and Alysia Santo at The Marshall Project.

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

Ty Ross
News journalist for Occupy Democrats.

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