A federal judge is warning prison staff at Oregon’s Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla to not retaliate against an adult in their custody who sued corrections officials because they wouldn’t follow masking rules.
Following hearings in federal court this week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman issued a new written order Wednesday that told employees at the prison to not take actions against Aaron Hanna.
In October, Hanna asked the court to force prison officials and correctional officers at Two Rivers to comply with the Oregon Department of Corrections’ policy on wearing masks.
That policy requires correctional officers and staff to wear masks anytime they are in the facility, even as most statewide mandates for mask wearing were lifted in March.
On March 21, Beckerman issued an order that required prison staff follow their own rules and wear masks inside the prison.
“It didn’t take long for that to really kind of sour things over at TRCI,” said Juan Chavez, Hanna’s attorney. He said the guards and leaders at the Two Rivers prison “took the judge’s conclusions that they need to enforce their masking orders and amplified that against AIC’s [Adult in Custody] by several magnitudes.”
That was not Beckerman’s intent, a point she clarified this week stating that the injunction applied only to staff and not to the prison’s policy for adults in custody.
Inmates were forced to wear masks while chewing food and only allowed to slip their masks down to take bites, Chavez said. They had to wear masks outside in the yard and while taking showers.
“They ratcheted up mask enforcement against AICs, which made AICs not happy,” Chavez said. “Staff were telling people, ‘well don’t be angry with us, be angry with Hanna.’”
That put Hanna in a vulnerable position.
Chavez said the implication from Two Rivers was clear: “Come against us, come get accountability against us, we’re going to make you feel the pain even worse.”
Beckerman said any violation of her injunction, or retaliation against Hanna, could result in civil or criminal contempt proceedings.
A spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Corrections said the agency “cannot comment on the specifics of this case, but the DOC makes every effort to comply with court orders and will continue to do so.”
A hearing is set for May 10 to discuss the retaliation Hanna faced at Two Rivers.