On March 18, 2022, political prisoner Eric King was acquitted by a federal jury of twelve people in the U.S. District Court in Colorado. Eric was charged with assaulting a federal officer, a federal felony with a potential 20-year sentence, after he defended himself from an attack by a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Lieutenant in a storage closet. After Eric was punched repeatedly in the face, he was subjected to retaliatory physical punishment including the use of four-point restraints (in which he was shackled by his wrists and ankles in a spread-eagle position to a concrete bed for more than six hours), “diesel therapy,” additional physical attacks, and nearly continuous solitary confinement in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) for the last 3 and a half years, all at the hands of the BOP. CLDC is currently suing the BOP on Eric’s behalf because of these appalling acts of abuse. As such, this win is incredibly momentous for Eric, his family, his community, and our movement, and we hope you join us in celebrating this hard-fought victory.
Eric’s acquittal is especially significant in the face of the horrific odds most federal criminal defendants face, and the intense pressure and blatant aggression directed from the BOP against Eric, before and during his trial. Less than 1% ofall federal criminal defendants are acquitted at trial. The criminal punishment system is always stacked against defendants, especially political prisoners like Eric.
Before Eric’s trial started, the judge ruled that all evidence related to Eric’s torture at the hands of BOP had to be withheld from the jury, including the illegal use of four-point restraints. This meant that the jury never got to hear that Eric was subjected to violent retaliation by the BOP, or that Eric was suing the BOP—even though this evidence would have shown that the BOP and its employees were engaged in a cover-up, were biased against Eric, and had a motive to lie and justify their torture during the trial.
The jury also didn’t get to hear that on nearly every day of Eric’s trial, the BOP attempted to disrupt Eric’s emotional well-being and his ability to defend himself in court. After the first day of Eric’s trial, he was informed he would be moved to a “suicide cell,” for unspecified “security reasons.” Eric was told the new unit would be for suicide monitoring, with continuous lights on and camera monitoring while Eric was inside his cell, despite the fact that Eric was not suicidal, and needed to sleep and prepare for his trial. Even though Eric was ultimately never moved, his property, including his legal paperwork, was removed from his cell after he left for court and twice inventoried by the BOP. That same inventory paperwork was later destroyed when, according to BOP, a bird flew into Mr. King’s cell, a guard chased the bird into the cell, and somehow upended a cup full of coffee onto Mr. King’s papers. According to BOP, during this same time period, toilet paper ended up in Eric’s sink (also blamed on the bird) which caused Mr. King’s cell to flood while he was in court for his trial, damaging his books, personal photographs, and legal paperwork.
Many of the witnesses called by the government had previously physically attacked or injured Eric during his incarceration, and Eric had to calmly face them all for hours. Even though all criminal defendants have a constitutional right to testify on their own behalf it can be risky and terrifying. As such, many defendants make the strategic choice to invoke their constitutional right to remain silent during a trial. Eric decided to testify on his own behalf, facing dogged cross-examination by the government’s lawyer and despite BOP’s actions during the trial. Not only did Eric testify about what Lt. Wilcox did to him in the storage room, but also about the violent realities of prison life:
So being in prison sucks. Prison is not like normal life. Prison is dark. And there’s good things you can do in prison, but you have to seek out those things. You have to find those things. For the most part, prison is built around violence. It’s built around who can have the most power, who can take the most power, who can inflict most damage.
In the face of hours of frustrating and opaque testimony by BOP employees, Eric’s direct and truthful testimony was a breath of fresh air—he was clearly the most important witness in the case and he rose to the occasion.
During almost the entire trial, including during Eric’s testimony, a BOP lawyer sat in the gallery, within Eric’s eyeshot and directly behind where some of the jurors sat. Spectators in the gallery heard the lawyer scoff or talk during trial testimony, possibly within earshot of the jurors. At one point, Eric’s current SHU Lieutenant, a BOP officer, also sat with that attorney.
CLDC attorneys put BOP’s behavior on the record, while government attorneys tried to say everything that happened was just a mere coincidence—just like getting taken to a storage closet for an “interview.” At one point, Judge Martínez stated in response, “I am just amazed — I have never had anything like this happen in one case in 11-plus years of being on the bench. At some point, the explanation that it was an accident becomes too far removed from reality.”
BOP’s behavior was clearly intended to throw a wrench in Eric’s defense, and another attempt to silence Eric, but they failed. Thanks to Eric’s courage and CLDC’s advocacy, Eric was able to boldly tell his story to the jury, even in the face of this persistent repression. Best of all, despite the limited picture painted for the jury, they were still able to clearly and unanimously see that Eric was not guilty. CLDC is still investigating the BOP’s egregious behavior during the trial to add additional claims to Eric’s civil suit against the BOP.
CLDC is honored to have worked with Eric to win his criminal case. With your help, we will continue to hold the BOP accountable, until there is no such place as prison. Please consider supporting our work with a sustaining donation.