Power corrupts, and the greater the power, the greater the corruption—thus the problem in law enforcement
Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:
I haven’t yet read it all, but I’m happy to see Heather Thompson’s widely acclaimed new history of the Attica prison uprising includes the story of John F. Edland, the heroic medical examiner whose ethics and professionalism likely changed how history remembers the story. I’ve been doing some research on Edland for my own forthcoming book, which includes a short history of medical examiners in the United States.
The Attica uprising began on Sept. 9, 1971, with inmate protests against against brutality and living conditions at the facility. Armed with knives, a group of inmates seized control of the prison and took guards as hostages. After four days, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller ordered a massive raid to retake the prison. Six minutes after the raid began, 29 inmates and 10 hostages were fatally wounded.
Local officials and law enforcement authorities quickly began circulating rumors about the raid,which were then picked up by the media. New York officials claimed some of the hostages were murdered by prisoners as soon as the raid began, some in horrifyingly grisly ways. According to one account, the prisoners castrated some of the guards, then shoved the guards’ detached genitals into the guards’ own mouths. According to another, the prisoners slashed the guards’ throats.
Many of the dead were sent to Edland, the medical examiner for Monroe County, N.Y. As Thompson writes, Edland was forced to conduct the autopsies in a morgue packed with state troopers, “milling around and trying to oversee everything.” Edland also heard from officials at all levels of state government, right up to the governor’s office. He was under an enormous amount of pressure to confirm the official narrative.
Yet Edland found that the hostages’ wounds weren’t consistent with police accounts of the raid. In fact, he found that all of the deceased hostages had been killed by gunfire. Because the prisoners didn’t have guns, his findings meant that the hostages weren’t murdered by inmates but had been mistakenly killed by raiding police officers. Some law enforcement authorities tried to argue that the hostages must have been shot with crudely fashioned prison guns, but the wounds didn’t support that theory either.
Edland’s conclusions ruined the official narrative. They also put him in the crosshairs of some powerful people. The harassment started almost immediately, when a spokesman from the state’s department of corrections called Edland a “clown coroner” and promised a new autopsy from another doctor they were flying in from New York City. Others called Edland a “radical left-winger” and insinuated he was part of a communist plot. Edlund was a registered Republican who had voted for Barry Goldwater, and Richard Nixon three times. As Thompson writes, Edland was also known among other medical examiners to be a “right-winger.” (He was also known to be an excellent medical examiner.)
Edland only further infuriated state and local officials when he attempted to ensure that the bodies of the prisoners be treated with dignity and humanity. He fingerprinted them in hopes that they’d be identified and someone would notify their families. (No one did — most prisoners’ families heard about their loved ones’ deaths on the news.)
Edland was then subjected to public ridicule, harassing phone calls and death threats. Thompson writes that one anonymous letter sent to his home read, . . .