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Former corrections officer claims training incident racially motivated

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A former guard at a private prison near Eloy claims he was shot at point-blank range with a riot-control weapon in a racist attack.

In a lawsuit filed Dec. 6 in Pinal County Superior Court, Jason Pearson said commanding officers at the CoreCivic facility “harbored racial animus leading to intentional mistreatment of black inmates and/or co-workers, and either tolerated or endorsed such attitudes and risks.”

The specifics of this case involve a 2018 incident in which Pearson, named to the Tactical Support Unit at the Red Rock prison, attended his first training session. That unit is responsible for responding to inmate disturbances.

During that session, another member of the unit fired a 37mm Muzzleblaster, used in riot control, directly at Pearson from a distance of three feet, the lawsuit states, despite the fact that it was known it could be fatal at close range. It says Pearson was struck in his chest but told that if he left training to seek medical attention he would be fired.

Only later was Pearson allowed to put on a ballistics vest. The lawsuit says that doctors subsequently told Person that he likely would have died had the vest not put pressure on the wound for the remainder of the training session.

As a result of the incident, the lawsuit says Pearson is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, cannot work in a prison setting and now is “relegated to working at a call center, with significantly inferior projected lifetime earnings.”

There also were medical bills.

The lawsuit says that Pearson was the only black member of the Tactical Support Unit and that others had made statements showing resentment of Pearson “whom they apparently perceived as an uppity black man.”

Among the claims is that CoreCivic knew or should have known about the racist attitudes of commanding officers at the facility and that there was a conspiracy to deny Pearson of his rights under the law.

It also says that three supervisors “conspired to shoot Jason at close range with a lethal weapon.”

Amanda Gilchrist, spokeswoman for CoreCivic, said the company does not believe Pearson was targeted during the training.

“He also stated he was physically fine after the incident,” she said.

But Gilchrist said once leadership at the facility became aware of what had happened “it was investigated and the (three) instructors were terminated.”

She also said that once officials became aware of the incident there was an investigation, including an interview with Pearson “who, at that time, did not allege the incident was racially motivated.”

“The company stands by the actions facility leadership undertook once they learned of the incident,” Gilchrist said.

Gilchrist also said that Pearson’s physician gave the OK for him to return to work last December, which he has not done.

The lawsuit also names the Arizona Department of Corrections, which houses about 2,000 inmates at the facility under contract. There was no immediate response from that agency.

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