A Conversation on Investigating Attica

Days after his story “A Brutal Beating Wakes Attica’s Ghosts” appeared on the front page of the Sunday edition of the New York Times, investigative reporter Tom Robbins spoke to Ronnie M. Eldridge of CUNY TV’s “Eldridge & Co.” about his interviews with officials and inmates, observations of the western New York prison and other research that shaped the story.

The vicious beating in August 2011 of inmate George Williams, then 29, resulted in criminal charges against three corrections officers – the first time in state history, Robbins notes, “that guards have been charged criminally for a non-sexual assault of an inmate.” The trial would have begun on March 2 but at the last minute, the three pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of official misconduct, and resigned.

An article that Robbins wrote following the plea, as well as the original story, can be read at The Marshall Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that provides coverage of America’s criminal justice system.

Robbins teaches at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and conducted his research and produced his report for The Marshall Project.

He said, “It was the grimmest story I’ve ever worked on, both the story of the beating of this man George Williams as well as the other stories that were told to me by inmates who are still there and whose names I ultimately decided not to use in the story because the threat of retaliation is so real.”

Robbins elaborates on The Marshall Project, Attica inmates living in fear, the differences in transparency when a city officer gets in trouble versus a state officer, the historic nature of the case and other topics concerning the maximum security prison and the criminal justice system in New York state.

He recalls a question he was asked by an Attica inmate: “Why is it that people in your profession care so much about what goes on in Guantanamo and aren’t interested in what happens right here in New York?”

How did he respond? Watch the interview above.

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