ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Ala. – An inmate at the Holman Correctional Facility is allegedly on a hunger strike because he said he was put in segregation at the facility despite any disciplinary infraction.
Robert Earl Council is in prison, serving life without the possibility of parole for a murder conviction.
According to a news release sent by people inside the prison system, Council was in the St. Clair Correctional Facility where there was a shakedown on Feb. 28. The news release said Council was inside his general population cell at St. Clair Correctional Facility around 2 a.m. when members of ADOC’s emergency response team members and local law enforcement SWAT team officers entered his cell.
“They shook down his cell and they found a cell phone there, which his cell mate said was his,” Gespass explained. “But, he was told, ‘Well you violated your probation,’ which he never knew he was on.”
Council was handcuffed and immediately escorted to a bus to be transported to Holman. The news release said he was placed there “without any altercation, investigation, or disciplinary infraction from the ADOC.”
Once Council arrived at Holman and was placed in solitary confinement, he began his hunger strike, according to the news release.
David Gespass represents Council and is currently involved in an open case with him in Jefferson County for “writ of habeas corpus.” He filed that on December 11, 2017.
“If we could ever litigate the habeas corpus, maybe we could know their reasons,” Gespass said. “Right now, I just don’t know.”
Gespass said he filed it after his client, Council, was placed in segregation at Holman Correctional Facility on January 22, 2014 for having a cell phone battery and a Facebook page, the filing said. The document goes on to say Council was held in solitary for four years, at different prisons, without a hearing, regular review, or a means to get out of segregation and into the general population.
“Robert is really strong-willed,” Gespass said of his client. “I expect that he is going to remain mentally strong even if he becomes physically weak.”
In a letter to Warden Cynthia Stewart at Holman Correctional on March 8, Gespass said he wanted to meet with his client after learning he was transferred there from St. Clair Correctional following some sort of raid in his unit. Gespass said it is his understanding Council did not have any contraband in his possession.
Gespass said he wanted to meet with Council this week; ADOC officials said inmates in the segregation unit may only meet with their lawyers from Tuesday through Thursday, but they did not have any openings for Council to meet with Gespass this week.
Alabama Department of Corrections Spokesman Bob Horton would not confirm whether Council is on hunger strike, nor if he is in segregation. He released this statement to WHNT News 19:
“The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) does not publicly disclose a person’s level of confinement during incarceration because of security reasons. In addition, an inmate’s medical condition is safeguarded through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA); therefore, ADOC cannot release the inmate’s current health information as protected by federal law.
However, Horton did confirm to our news partners at AL.com in 2016, Council was on a hunger strike in Limestone County. At that time, Horton told AL.com, “Prison officials confirm the inmate has declared a hunger strike … Medical staff has conducted an initial assessment of the inmate’s condition. The inmate will be weighed daily, his food intake monitored, and proper medical care will be provided as needed,” Horton said via email. He added later that “[t]he inmate states his reason for the hunger strike is over concern for his safety.”
In a phone call with WHNT News 19, Gespass said he does not believe Council would have contraband in his possession as he is well-respected by both inmates and ADOC staff.
Gespass said Council was in Holman’s segregation until before going to Donaldson.
“He was in charge of a couple prison strikes, day-long strikes by inmates,” Gespass explained his understanding of the reason for segregation. “He had also done a number of media interviews, to do that he had a cell phone, cell phones are contraband. Since then, he’s just remained in seg without any real explanation.”
From Holman he went to Limestone Correctional for a little while in 2016.
“The security level was too low for him, so they couldn’t put him in population because of that,” Gespass explained. “Then he went to Donaldson, he was in seg there.”
Then, was transferred to Donaldson where he was in segregation until 2019 when he was brought to St. Clair Correctional Facility, Gespass said. Gespass said he was only in St. Clair for a week before the raid.
Gespass said he does not want to file for any emergency hearing without talking to Council first.
“It’s hard to know what to do without discussing it with him,” Gespass said. “He’s one of these guys that really actively involves himself in the litigation.”