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Jul-21-2010 09:23printcomments

Eyes on the Oregon State Prison: Voicing Concern for an Inmate's Life

"Look at him squirming, trying to defend himself, asking for our help. He needs our help now." - conversation between guards watching tape of prison stabbing.

Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon
Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon

(SALEM, Ore.) - It wasn't your average prison conversation; an inmate in Oregon's oldest penitentiary told a guard he was going to kill another inmate.

"I'm going to get him, I have permission to get him."

"Permission from who?"<

"Management, they said I'll be doing them a favor if I got him."

"I looked at him and said, 'man, you can't go around doing stuff like that', you can't stab another brother".<

A Dubious Level of Corruption

Would the state of Oregon orchestrate, encourage, and even pay for the murder of an inmate? If so, who would that inmate be?

Would it be a sex offender, child killer or cop killer?

How about a super smart African American jailhouse lawyer who has won nine cases for inmates against the state of Oregon while losing none? Clayton Howard is respected among inmates both black and white.

This is a conversation held between Oregon Corrections officials as they reviewed a video tape showing the brutal near fatal stabbing of an inmate. Former Corrections officer William remembers his superiors laughing, and overheard these words:

"Look at him squirming, trying to defend himself, asking for our help. He needs our help now."

The term "jailhouse lawyer" is used to describe inmates who learn the legal ropes of the system, often simply because they have so much time on their hands. This is the story behind Clayton Howard's very measurable success representing inmates who have been the victims of injustice themselves.

The players in this story:

Orrio's case against Coleman, which was a 15-count indictment for cigarette smuggling; a crime Coleman was totally innocent of, when down in flames like the loser in a dogfight.

The Victim
Clayton Howard- African-American jailhouse lawyer who wins cases for state inmates. He had a friendship with a white female corrections officer who had a reputation for close relationships with both inmates and her superiors. He also is a thorn in the side of Oregon's Corrections Dept. as he constantly gives sound advice to help inmates; he also knows the rules of the prison system better than most guards.

The Assailant
William "Dollar Bill" Thomas- African American member of the Bloods; has stabbed or 'shanked' a total of five black inmates while incarcerated in Oregon, where he is serving a life sentence for Murder. Dollar Bill had a romantic interest in the female guard referenced above; he was jealous over time the female guard spent around Clayton Howard.

The Witness
William Coleman- African-American former prison guard who reported over 21 serious crimes involving racism, discrimination, retaliation, corruption and Civil Rights violations in the Oregon State Prison. Coleman was informed by Dollar Bill Thomas, that the inmate planned to stab Clayton Howard. Coleman turned this in, but like the other 21 incidents, his report was dismissed.

These men all play integral roles in the story of racism at the Oregon State Penitentiary.

The Stabbing

As referenced in the conversation above, Coleman knew Thomas was "going to attack Howard", because he told him that he planned to "get the jailhouse lawyer" on more than one occasion. Coleman believed he had been able to talk this killer down with some success, since officials were choosing to leave Dollar Bill Thomas in the main population, even though he was planning to attack Clayton Howard.

Coleman recalls his captains and security managers replying to his report about the planned inmate on inmate attack by saying, "We know there's bad blood between those two individuals".

Coleman said, "They thanked me for reporting it and said they already knew."

Howard was attacked by Thomas about two months after initially telling Coleman he planned to do it. It happened one day in the chow hall; Howard was stabbed with an icepick in the side, in a spot that often causes nearly irreparable damage to internal organs.

After seeing the videotape of the incident, Coleman believed it took officials too long to respond. He, along with Howard, remain very suspicious as to why 'Dollar Bill' was not sprayed with mace, which is typical protocol.

But even more importantly, anyone with even a small amount of knowledge about the corrections industry, knows that you don't leave a murderer in main population who has a history of slicing the heads of inmates open with a prison made stabbing device known as a 'shank'.

William 'Dollar Bill' Thomas should have been maintained in a separate facility away from other inmates. Now the state of Oregon has a serious civil lawsuit on its hands, and Coleman is the witness. Conversely, Howard was called as a witness for a recent trial involving Coleman. The state of Oregon's answer for him, a Civil Rights Whistleblower, was to frame him with the help of a couple of white racists willing to lie on the stand for Marion County, Oregon prosecutor Brian Orrio.

Orrio's case against Coleman, which was a 15-count indictment for cigarette smuggling; a crime Coleman was totally innocent of, when down in flames like the loser in a dogfight.

When Howard was stabbed in the chowhall by Thomas, with a 14-inch ice pick, officials with the Oregon State Prison did not call 911 immediately, instead they took Mr. Howard to a cell where, former Corrections Officer William Coleman believes, "They tried to bleed him out, just let him bleed to death right there without calling for further medical attention."

It was a prison nurse, Coleman said, who heard about the injury and ultimately overruled the prison's decision to not transport the man to the hospital for medical care. He was taken in for treatment of a life-threatening wound, and Clayton Howard went on to live another day, to win another case as a jailhouse lawyer.

But Coleman says the initial news was more than shocking. He tried to protect a man from harm, and believed he may have failed in part. But that is difficult in an institution were serious reports are constantly dismissed.

"When I heard the attack took place in June 2006, I was working C block. inmates were coming in from chow saying 'He got him' and that is all I knew, then I heard "Dollar Bill got Clayton" and I dropped to my knees."

And then came more conversations that are lodged in Coleman's mind:

"He got what's coming to him".

Coleman remembers his superiors also saying: "Who doesn't want to get Clayton Howard?"

Where is Dollar Bill?

As to the fate of Dollar Bill: this is possibly the biggest mystery of all. Coleman had received information that this state inmate was whisked away to a totally different state. How could this be?

I called the Oregon Dept. of Corrections about this, was told that there was a record of William Thomas, but no information about his location was available. I thought I would try another prison, the Oregon State Correctional Institute (OSCI) in Salem, and the same operator answered the phone. I now had her curiosity. She transferred me to someone at the Dept. of Corrections, I left a message, and never received a return call.

Then I called another source and confirmed that William "Dollar Bill" Thomas is indeed an Oregon inmate, and I was told directly, "Somebody doesn't want us to know where he is, hmmmmm."

Dollar Bill was simply taken away. He has hard evidence on the state prison management giving him the green light to stab Clayton Howard.

Coleman said, "I don't even know if Dollar Bill is alive".

For the past few weeks I have been sharing the story of former prison guard William Coleman. There are many incredible aspects to his story and sequences of events that are absolutely mind boggling. The thing is, every single part of the story is documented and there is little room for speculation. He endured racism on a personal level and witnessed inmates subjected to overt and in-your-face racial harassment.

Oregon's Dept. of Justice has been fully contacted and have informed us that they won't even discuss the case. We don't expect that agency to stand up and do the right thing.

Now Clayton Howard has been informed that he will be transferred back to where it all began: the Oregon State Prison in Salem. William Coleman says this is concerning. If anything happens to Clayton Howard, it was stated in this story that the concern was on the table. If the state was involved in the previous attempt on his life, there is no reason to think they wouldn't do it again.

Oregon is notorious in many circles over the murder of former Corrections Chief Michael Francke who was hired to clean up corruption in Oregon prisons, and was stabbed to death about a year after being hired. The state in that case, used a young drug addict to convict a man named Frank Gable. There are amazing similarities in the case involving William Coleman.

Previous Installments in this series:

Great resources on the Michael Francke Murder:

Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines.

Tim holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. You can send Tim an email at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Jabberwocky August 21, 2010 4:32 pm (Pacific time)

Excellent piece done again by "Requiem for a Reckoning." It says it all.

Rob Taylor-www.freefrankgable.com July 25, 2010 8:08 am (Pacific time)

Which is it Tim? Are his remarks insulting, racist or comedic? I'm confused now. Never known insulting or racist to have any comedic value.

Tim King: Rob, OK, he tries to be funny, is that closer?  The guy is welcome to post here but it has to have substance and not simply be the repeat of past false allegations.   

Rob Taylor-www.freefrankgable.com July 24, 2010 11:30 pm (Pacific time)

Joe's "suggestion" that Coleman may somehow be guilty of something is Joe's opinion, just like it's your opinion Tim that Joe's "suggestions" are ridiculous. Why is your opinion allowed and Joe's is not? Everyone has a right to their opinion regardless of whether or not you, me or anyone else thinks it's ridiculous or unfounded. Why not let the rest of us decide for ourselves? I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to my death your right to say it. Ring a bell?

Stop the censorship.I'm a grown man and I like to decide for myself whether or not something is ridiculous, offensive, racist or whatever, and I like hearing different perspectives.

Tim, you say "once something is proven in a court of law that's the record." True, so how come we don't buy the jury's decision in Frank Gable's case?A jury's decision may be the record, but they could still be wrong. Many believe the jury was wrong in the OJ trial. Some even believe the jury might've been wrong in acquitting Liz Godlove of Tim Natividad's murder. Matter of fact, the person that posted that poem below that you find amazing believes the jury may have been wrong about Godlove's acquittal. That person has another little diddy they posted once about the murder on Iberis street. Oh do please post that again requiem. I don't think Kevin will take you off his facebook friends list if you do. LOL! BTW requiem, you see that SJ article about Kevin's old run down, boarded up house that he says he didn't even know he still owned? Cracked me up I tell ya. Like the A-Shed fire at the prison 'cept Kevin didn't get paid. ROFL!

Oh, sorry for gettin off track...anyway Tim, if you think this guy Joe is one of the insiders based on what he's written...then I'd really like to see what he's written, and I bet requiem would too.

Tim King: Rob, he makes comedic remarks that are of little to no value here.  Believe me, if he writes something of substance that provokes some interesting conversation, thanks. 

Joe July 23, 2010 7:45 pm (Pacific time)

I don't think I made any racisit comments but if you want the kind of news that just blocks opposing views, which even Fox doesn't do you will fall by the wayside. If you allow everyone to comment and don't block that which you don't agree with you open up discusion and discusion opens eyes and makes people think of others feelings. Sure vulger racist comments shouldn't get the time of day but everyone else should.

Tim King: Joe, I am not against people making comments that I disagree with, but in the case of William Coleman, he proved his innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt in a court of a law with a jury of his peers, and they voted in unison that he was not guilty of all charges brought by the state and DOC.  Therefore, your suggestions that he is somehow guilty of something are completely ridiculous and I would never allow them, no.  Once something is proven in a court of law- that is the record man.  I think you are one of the insiders on this, based on what you have written it is almost impossible that you aren't; and on that notion, I'm not even sure if you do know what racism is, since it is such a prevailing system of belief at OSP.  You asked questions and left your assertions out and now it is published.  I am not against disagreement, but I am not here to compromise my own efforts.  Coleman's story is going to bring great sweeping change to the Oregon DOC and it will be a better place for people to work in after that.     

Joe July 22, 2010 9:02 pm (Pacific time)

Stop blocking the truth you...

Editor: Wow Joe, you are really an unsavory character, I'll just leave it at that.  Obviously you are right in the middle of this ugly mess and you think your insulting and racist comments will actually be published here?  Do you not understand that we approve these with living people?  Keep sending crap, I find it interesting and we need all the clues we can get, but offer rational comments that aren't so dick-headed if you ever want to see one show up here. 

Rob Taylor-www.freefrankgable.com July 22, 2010 1:56 pm (Pacific time)


Requiem for a Reckoning July 22, 2010 10:24 am (Pacific time)

On Asylum Avenue the Dome building stood,
where it had near a century, through both bad and good.
Beside the locked door, beneath a portico hood,
Francke’s body lay waiting in the cold winter night,
for someone to wander within his death’s sight.

Missing since seven, it took hours to find him.
A night-watchman squinted ‘neath lights that were dim,
at a man sprawled on his back, yet tall and trim.
Blood on the wall, the door glass was broken,
he looked at the scene, and knew death had spoken.

The murder was left an unfinished lyric,
of twisted truth and horrors terrific,
yet no shred of evidence, nothing specific.
Soon badges with sirens deafened death’s sound,
and trampled the scene and truth in the ground.

After his murder, upstairs a shredder was humming,
“Seventeen bags and six more a' coming”
When they reopened the building,
Freddie thought, carrying them out,
“More bags than ever, beyond a doubt”.

Francke’s family was called, they told what they knew.
He’d confided he was watching, more than a few.
Corruption was rampant, he’d planned something to do.
As he watched over Prisons and counted the heads,
The Governor kept calling, “Now, we need beds!”

No one would listen that his staff had been stealing.
He practiced his shooting and held back the feeling,
that he might not be safe with the cards they were dealing.
Day tried to expose them, and he suddenly died,
and Thompson would later, when he finally tried.

Diablo told Angie, I stabbed Francke at dark.
Crouse would confess, and say, ”The answer’s at “Park”.
Then Jodie would say on a lark,
“My dead boyfriend did it” “I know more than you”
Then Keerins and Harden came for reward money, too.

Prosecutors suborned, and worked it just right,
with lie-detector practices into the night.
Then, right on cue each bird took flight,
swirling, twitting, “Perjury Procured”.
The lawyers smiled, conviction secured.

In the room at the Courthouse, they lined up their story.
For Jodie and Harden, even a Mock grand jury.
When the real one convened and they lied, no worry.
Remember? Immunity means it’s alright,
to make snitches from felons till they get it just right .

Gable’s feathers clipped and placed in a cage,
a patsy was framed, and rightly outraged.
A jury wouldn’t know that the trial was staged,
as the parakeet snitches, some caged up too,
prepared their song, to all sing in tune.

Francke’s briefcase is missing, Barger would spar.
The answer lies in “Why, it wasn’t found in his car.
“But, it wasn’t corruption!”, the D.A. argued at Bar.
“Twas a drug-addict, surprised, that wielded the knife,
and Francke, though bigger, just lost his life.”

“Jodie stays in jail! No recant in my Court!”
Again before trial, “No-third party retort!”,
and, “NO to Natividad’s autopsy report!”
In West’s court, motions in limine work really well.
An innocent convicted, well what the hell?

Tim King: This is amazing, understanding that you might want to retain anonymity, I would appreciate it if you would drop me an email: tim@salem-news.com 

Another Agency July 21, 2010 2:44 pm (Pacific time)

Good to put it out there, we are all now watching this in particular and have Clayton Howard's name written down.

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