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Reporter wants video after inmate's unusual death

Apr 7, 2017

Last September at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Center near Ionia, an inmate died. He’d been in some kind of confrontation with another prisoner.

Corrections officers used stun guns to subdue 24-year-old Dustin Szot, who was serving time for home invasion. An autopsy listed his death as a homicide due to blunt force trauma. That's according to a recent article by The Detroit Free Press' Paul Egan.

Spencer Woodman, a New York-based freelance reporter, wanted to see a video of the event. He filed a Freedom of Information Act request, which the Department of Corrections denied.

The Department of Corrections issued two reasons for denying Woodman’s request:

Woodman said the department worried releasing the video would inform prisoners about the type and location of prison surveillance. The department also said it had to protect its methods of restraining inmates. In other jurisdictions, Woodman said, these concerns had not stopped the release of video tapes from prisons.

Woodman also said this case showed an unusual use of force, as Szot was shot by three different Tasers before he died. 

The Ionia County prosecutor issued a statement indicating the actions of each corrections officer involved in the altercation were investigated. The prosecutor said the use of force and the use of Tasers did not violate any criminal law.

Woodman and the ACLU of Michigan have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections for release of the video.

Szot’s family also demanded the release of the video, and Woodman said taxpayers too deserve to know what happens in state prisons.

“The correction department might have acted with total proprietary in this case, but until they release the footage, we don’t know for sure,” he said.

Stateside reached out to the Michigan Department of Corrections for this story. A spokesperson said they couldn't comment on pending litigation, but say the incident was thoroughly reviewed by state police and the Ionia County prosecutor, who determined use of force was not an issue and that staff reacted appropriately and responsibly.

Listen to the full interview above.  

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