Judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit over banned media interviews by 1993 Ohio riot prisoners

Associated Press

Inmates and reporters challenging a ban on face-to-face media interviews with prisoners convicted for their roles in Ohio's deadly 1993 prison riot can proceed with their lawsuit, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The state argues that allowing the interviews could give the inmates too much "notoriety and influence" among fellow prisoners and cause problems throughout the correctional system. The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction called the lawsuit frivolous and wanted it thrown out.

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Judge Edmund Sargus denied that request Tuesday, saying the lawsuit was filed within the proper time frame and the state hadn't proved the inmates failed to completely exhaust an internal grievance process first.

The Ohio chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the state in late 2013, arguing that the prison system's policy is inconsistent, especially when the backgrounds of other high-security prisoners granted access to reporters are reviewed.

The only plausible reason for granting interviews to other prisoners while denying access to the Lucasville ones "is the desire to stifle public discussion of the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising," according to the ACLU.

The 11-day siege was one of the deadliest prison riots in U.S. history, leaving one guard and nine inmates dead.

No one was available to comment for the state. The ACLU said it was reviewing the ruling.

Under recent policy changes, Lucasville riot prisoners may make telephone calls of up to an hour, including to reporters. But the prisoners have argued that in-person meetings captured on video are a more powerful way to tell their side of the story.

The ACLU lawsuit was brought on behalf of Noelle Hanrahan, director and producer of Prison Radio in Philadelphia; Christopher Hedges, an author and former New York Times reporter in Princeton, New Jersey; Derrick Jones, a former Bowling Green State professor now at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado; and James Ridgeway, co-editor of a website, "Solitary Watch" in Washington, D.C.

The lawsuit was also brought on behalf of death row inmates Siddique Abdullah Hasan, George Skatzes, Keith Lamar and Jason Robb, as well as prisoner Gregory Curry, who is serving a life sentence for the Lucasville riots.