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News + PoliticsCOVIDEditor sues over gag rule at private prison in Tenderloin

Editor sues over gag rule at private prison in Tenderloin

Keith Malik Washington, who runs the SF Bay View, was punished for telling a reporter about a COVID outbreak at a halfway house operated by the Geo Group.

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Keith Malik Washington and the San Francisco Bay View filed suit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons Feb. 1, charging that Washington faced illegal retaliation for sharing information with a reporter about a COVID outbreak at a private prison in the Tenderloin.

Malik Washington alleges retaliation after talking to a reporter.

The suit also names the Geo Group, the multinational corporation that runs the Taylor Center, the re-entry facility where Washington is confined.

The suit alleges that employees of the Geo Group confiscated the cell phone that Washington needs for his work as the editor of the Bay View, denied him the right to attend a press conference, and informed him that he can’t speak to reporters without filling out a form and getting special permission.

He also lost some of his “good time,” meaning the period before his release has been extended.

At a press conference today, Washington said he was operating under a “gag order” and a “violation of the First Amendment.”

Just appearing at the event was a risk, Washington’s lawyer, Richard Tan, said: Since the BOP and Geo Group have denied him the right to speak to the press, he could be facing further retaliation.

Public Defender Mano Raju said he supports Washington:

“As public defenders, we continue to be disturbed by GEO Group’s pattern of neglect and deceit in its response to COVID pandemic – both at its immigration detention facilities and at the Taylor Street reentry center – and have worked tirelessly to get our clients released from these facilities. I stand in solidarity with Malik Washington and applaud his willingness to expose what has been taking place under the watch of GEO Group. I am also disappointed to learn of GEO Group’s alleged retaliatory acts against Mr. Washington, who was attempting to exercise his freedom of speech and his right to protect his health and community from a potentially deadly disease.

The Taylor Center, which (tragically) now occupies the site of the historic Compton’s Cafeteria, is technically a half-way house, but inmates are only allowed to leave for work, and only with the permission of the staff. That permission can be revoked at any time.

“This is one of the dirty, dark secrets of San Francisco,” Washington said.

The suit seeks a

Temporary Restraining Order, Preliminary Injunction, and Permanent Injunction mandating forthwith return to Plaintiff Washington of his cell phone; restoring Plaintiff Washington’s 14 days of good time credits; restraining Defendants from enforcing any and all restrictions on Plaintiff’s communicating with journalists, newspapers, online news sites, news media, and members of the public in the course of carrying out his duties as Editor-in-Chief of Plaintiff S.F. Bay View; and restraining Defendants from retaliating against Plaintiff for carrying out his aforesaid duties and bringing this lawsuit.

Tan said he didn’t know when the first hearing will be scheduled.

The case started when Washington contacted 48hills to report that several workers and inmates at the Taylor Center had tested positive for COVID.

After I emailed the center’s director, Maria Richard, for confirmation, Washington had his phone confiscated and learned of the other disciplinary actions.

Washington took over in the fall as the editor of the Bay View. Longtime publishers Willie and Mary Ratcliff are stepping back from their duties because of health problems. They are both in their eighties.

Mary Ratcliff said today that the actions against Washington are “retaliation for years of our work.” For more than 25 years, she said, the paper has been an outlet for the work of incarcerated people and a voice for prison reform.

“They want to silence this newspaper,” she said.

You can read the complaint and supporting materials here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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