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Donald Trump mounted an aggressive defense of his presidency Thursday, lambasting reports that his campaign advisers had inappropriate contact with Russian officials and vowing to crack down on the leaking of classified information
Donald Trump mounted an aggressive defense of his presidency Thursday, lambasting reports that his campaign advisers had inappropriate contact with Russian officials and vowing to crack down on the leaking of classified information
“If you cooperate, no one will get hurt. Otherwise,” one abductor warned the bank depot manager, “you’ll get a hole …
At first glance it seemed like typical MMA clickbait, a low-rent version of Conor McGregor threatening to box against Floyd Mayweather, or Demi Lovato trolling for a professional fight. England s Daily Star recently reported that Alex Reid and Lee Murray were in talks to meet in a cage. Reid, a former MMA fighter and British tabloid heavyweight, is best known for his brief marriage to model Katie Price and his turn on Celebrity Big Brother. As for Murray, he too is a former fighter; he made it to the UFC and once went the distance with the great Anderson Silva. It s hard to imagine how he could meet an assignation to fight, however, given that he s currently incarcerated in Morocco. While he s there on drug-related charges, he s best known for having masterminded the Securitas Heist, this century s equivalent of the Great Train Robbery. In 2006, with his professional fighting career on the decline, Murray rounded up a group of friends and training partners. Posing as policemen, they abducted a guard, entered a repository where currency was transferred among banks, and absconded with 53 million, or roughly $100 million at the time. (It would have been more, if only Murray and his crew had thought to rent a larger van.) As it was, theirs constituted the largest cash heist in history pulled off without a single physical injury or even a bullet being fired.
As slick and organized as the thieves were during the actual heist, they were equally clumsy afterward. Because they hadn’t thought through where to store the cash, they ended up stashing bills in closets. They abandoned one of the vehicles used in the crime and set it afire in the middle of a field, attracting attention. Inside another vehicle the bandits carelessly left ski masks, guns and more than 1 million in bills. The gang members soon began accusing each other of informing the police. The son of a British mother and a Moroccan father, Murray fled to Morocco, which does not have an extradition policy with the U.K. But there Murray found himself involved in an altercation in a Rabat shopping mall, and when his home was searched police found drugs. He was sent to prison in Morocco, where he has resided since 2007, notwithstanding an attempted escape using tiny saws that were snuck in inside of biscuits. In 10, Murray was convicted of masterminding the Securitas Heist and he faces 25 years in prison. It is still to be determined whether he will be extradited. In 2008, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED covered Murray and the Securitas Heist in a magazine story titled Breaking the Bank. While the piece was optioned by Universal Studios and ran in print, British laws about ongoing criminal cases prevented the story from running online at the time. With the case s criminal trials finally resolved, we are permitted to present this SI True Crime classic.
With flashing blue lights illuminating his rearview mirror, Colin Dixon pulled his car to the side of a deserted road. It was around six on the evening of Feb. 21, 2006, and Dixon had just clocked out from his job at the Securitas cash depot in Tonbridge, England, 30 miles southeast of central London. A purposely nondescript, brown building tucked behind a car repair garage, the depot serves as a regional warehouse of sorts, where cash for the Bank of England is stored and disbursed. Dixon, 52, was the manager.
Now, driving home, he figured he was getting pulled over by an unmarked police car for a routine traffic stop. A tall, athletic-looking man in a police uniform approached. Though it would turn out that the cop was no cop at all the uniform was fake, the Kent police badge he flashed had been purchased on eBay, and the guy’s face had been distorted with help from a professional makeup artist Dixon was compliant. He got out of his Nissan sedan and was handcuffed and placed in the back of the other car. He would later testify that the driver, a second man in uniform, turned and said menacingly, You will have guessed we are not policemen…. Don’t do anything silly and you won’t get hurt. When Dixon tried to adjust his handcuffs, he says the officer who’d apprehended him brandished a pistol and barked, We’re not f—— about. This is a nine-millimeter.
Police examine the car of Securitas depot manager Colin Dixon, which was found abandoned by a pub. GARETH FULLER/AFP/Getty Images
Dixon was blindfolded and transferred to a van, then taken to a remote farm in western Kent. Meanwhile, two other fake cops drove to Dixon’s home in the nearby town of Herne Bay, along with accomplices in a second van. Greeted at the door by Dixon’s wife, Lynn, they explained that her husband had been in a serious traffic accident. They said that Lynn and the couple’s young child needed to accompany them to the hospital. Outside the home, the Dixons were placed in the back of the second van and taken to the farm, where the Dixons were reunited. At once relieved and terrified, they were bound and held at gunpoint. Colin Dixon was ordered to give the plotters information about the depot. If you cooperate, no one will get hurt. Otherwise, one abductor warned, you’ll get a hole in you.
If you cooperate, no one will get hurt. Otherwise, one abductor warned the bank depot manager, you’ll get a hole in you.
A group of at least seven men then drove to the Securitas depot, Colin Dixon accompanying a phony police officer in a sedan and his family bound in the back of a large, white Renault truck. By now it was after midnight on the morning of Feb. 22. Surveillance video shows Dixon being buzzed into the depot with an officer beside him. Once inside, the fake cop overpowers the security guard and buzzes in the rest of the robbers wearing ski masks and armed with high-powered weapons, including an AK-47. Dixon told the 14 staffers working the graveyard shift, They’ve got my family, and instructed them not to touch the alarms. He proceeded to deactivate the security system and hand over the keys to the vault. The Dixons and the staff were then bound and placed in metal cages normally used for storing cash. The truck can be seen backing up to a loading dock.
The truck used to transport the money, parked at the loading dock of the Securitas depot. Kent Police via Getty Images
The robbers clearly knew their way around the depot where the doors were located and how they locked and with good reason. One member of the gang, Ermir Hysenaj, 28, an Albanian immigrant, was the classic inside man. Months earlier, after just a 10-minute job interview, Hysenaj had been hired for roughly $11 an hour to work the evening shift at the depot. It was later revealed that in the weeks before the robbery, he had come to work wearing a small video camera hidden in his belt buckle. For the next 40 minutes, the gang emptied the vault of its contents, wheeling metal carts filled with cash into the truck. The supply of 10 and 20 notes was so massive that by the time the truck was filled to capacity, it accounted for only one quarter of the money in the vault. Still, the conspirators absconded with a haul of 53 million, or more than $100 million.
The supply of 10 and 20 notes was so massive that by the time the truck was filled to capacity, it accounted for only one quarter of the money in the vault. Still, the conspirators absconded with a haul of 53 million, or more than $100 million. If the caper didn’t entail pyrotechnics worthy of, say, the current movie The Bank Job, it seemed to come off remarkably smoothly, at least from the robbers’ perspective. All their discipline and meticulous preparation had paid off. There were no surprises. No one was physically injured, much less ventilated with bullets. No one had triggered the alarms. At around 3 a.m., Dixon’s child was able to slither out of a metal cage and the police were summoned. By then the thieves were back at the farm divvying up the money a bounty that one British prosecutor would later characterize as dishonest gain almost beyond the dreams of avarice. As investigators worked to crack the case, they began to suspect that the ringleader was Lee Murray, and that he and his pal Lea Rusha were the impostors who had first abducted Colin Dixon. Murray was no stranger to London law enforcement. He spent time in a juvenile detention center as an adolescent and later was tried and acquitted in a serious road-rage incident. Ironically, he’d also been questioned by police after a traffic stop in the area of the Securitas depot the summer before the robbery. But he was a prominent figure in pockets of the sports community as well, a fearsome British cage fighter who’d recently gone the distance against the great Brazilian champion Anderson Silva. Murray lost a decision and was paid the equivalent of a few thousand dollars for that fight. Now, Kent police contended, he was a fugitive in Morocco, luxuriating poolside at a villa in an upscale part of Rabat. Lightning Lee was now worth a small fortune in pounds sterling, they alleged, having just orchestrated the largest cash heist in history.
Lee Murray came into the world in 1977 with his fists balled, and he never quite seemed to unclench them. The son of a British mother and a Moroccan father his given name is Lee Lamrani Ibrahim Murray he grew up poor in public housing in a rough-and-tumble section near London’s East End.
His salvation, such as it was, came through fighting. It wasn’t so much what he did as who he was. By his own reckoning, he was a veteran of hundreds of street fights, lining up his target, transferring his weight and then unloading punches that would seem to detonate on impact. After so many bare-knuckle brawls, he figured, not unreasonably, that he might as well get paid for his violence. He frequented boxing and kickboxing gyms, channeling some of his primal tendencies into mixed martial arts (MMA), the increasingly popular sport that combines the striking of boxing and Muay Thai with the ground game of wrestling and jujitsu. In particular Murray had designs on competing in the Octagon, the eight-sided cage used for bouts in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the preeminent MMA league, which is headquartered in the U.S.
Jules Annan/Photoshot/Getty Images
Murray recognized that while his stand-up fighting was exceptional, he was at a loss when a bout went to the ground. That is, he needed to improve his grappling and jujitsu, disciplines predicated less on brute strength and aggression than on technique and smarts. So in the winter of 2000 he packed a duffle bag, flew to the U.S. and made his way to gritty Bettendorf, Iowa. Pat Miletich, a former junior college wrestler and five-time UFC champion, had opened an MMA training gym in Bettendorf a few blocks from the banks of the Mississippi. Aspiring fighters came there from all over the world, making Miletich’s gym to fighters what Florence was to Renaissance painters though with bloodier canvasses. To this day, Miletich’s so-called Battlebox represents athletic Darwinism at its most brutal. Under the open-door policy, anyone is welcome to come and spar against a stable of regulars, many of whom have fought in the UFC. Self-styled tough guys show up every Monday. Those with the requisite skill and ruggedness stay. The other 95% are back on the interstate, bloodied and bruised, before sundown. Murray was one of the few who stuck it out. All bone and fast-twitch muscle, Murray was built like a sprinter. He stood 6’3″ but could cut weight and fight as light as 170 pounds. One Miletich fighter likened the kid with the Cockney accent to a British greyhound. Lee Murray had world-class punching power, recalls Robbie Lawler, a top mixed martial arts fighter who sparred frequently with Murray. Man, he would hit the mitts pop-pop-POP-POP and you would stop your workout and look over because it sounded like gunfire.
Lee Murray had world-class punching power, recalls Robbie Lawler. Man, he would hit the mitts pop-pop-POP-POP and you would stop your workout and look over because it sounded like gunfire. Murray crashed with other Miletich fighters before getting a room at a shopworn motel not far from the gym. He wasn’t averse to going out for a beer from time to time, but he’d come to America’s heartland to train. When he wasn’t in the gym, strip-mining Miletich for wrestling tips, he was lifting weights or going for runs under a big dome of Iowa sky. Not one sign of trouble, says Miletich. One of his first days, I told him, ‘It’s up to you how far you want to go in this sport. At your height and weight and the way you hit, you could be a champion.’ It was just a question of learning what to do once the fight hit the ground.
That spring, Murray entered a four-man MMA tournament in rural Wisconsin. After winning his first bout, Murray fought a burly Canadian, Joe Doerksen, now a UFC veteran. Murray showed his inexperience and got caught in a submission hold called an arm bar. He tapped out (surrendered) and cursed himself the entire drive back to Iowa. Having exhausted his budget, Murray returned to England. But he kept fighting and started to win. While MMA was becoming mainstream in the U.S., the sport was still an underground pursuit in the U.K. Still, among the niche audience Murray was regarded as perhaps England’s best fighter. He was one of those guys who rose to the occasion when he fought, says Paul Ivens, an instructor at the London Shootfighters Club, where Murray often trained. You get guys who are tough on the street but they crumble in a real fight. He was one of the fortunate ones who would bask under pressure.
Jules Annan/Retna Pictures
In July 2002 Murray attended a UFC card at Royal Albert Hall in London. The UFC was trying to spread the gospel to the other side of the pond, and in addition to the fighters on the card, most of the organization’s brightest stars were on hand, including Miletich, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell. The headline bout featured a Miletich fighter, Matt Hughes, defending his welterweight title. After the card ended, the fighters repaired to a local club for an after party, a long-standing UFC tradition. At closing time the fighters and their entourages filed out. Walking down the street, Miletich felt a body on his back. It turned out to be a buddy of Tito Ortiz’s. The guy was giving Miletich a playful bear hug, but suddenly Miletich felt the man getting ripped off his back. Another fighter had mistakenly believed that Miletich was being attacked. As the misunderstanding was being sorted out, Paul (the Enforcer) Allen, a longtime associate of Murray’s, approached. In what he surely thought was a show of loyalty to both Miletich and Murray, Allen cold-cocked Ortiz’s pal. This triggered what might rank as the Mother of All Street Fights, a scene that’s become as much a part of UFC lore as any bout inside the Octagon. A who’s who of the UFC and their entourages drunk and in street clothes began throwing haymakers indiscriminately. One posse member was knocked into the street and his arm was run over by a cab. Liddell got cracked in the back of the head and went ballistic. I’m hitting guys with spinning backfists, just dropping guys, says Liddell. It was a classic street fight. ‘If I don’t know you, I drop you.’
I’m hitting guys with spinning backfists, just dropping guys. It was a classic street fight. ‘If I don’t know you, I drop you’, says MMA legend Chuck Lidell of the most famous street fight. In the mayhem Ortiz and Murray backed into an alley and squared off. According to multiple witnesses, Ortiz threw a left hook. He missed, and Murray then fired off a combination that decked Ortiz. The self-proclaimed Bad Boy of the UFC fell to the pavement. (Ortiz declined to comment to SI.) Officially, Murray was still a promising up-and-comer. But as accounts of the melee rocketed through UFC circles, the rangy British kid who poleaxed the mighty Tito Ortiz became a minor legend. He’s a scary son of a bitch, says the UFC’s outspoken president, Dana White. And I don’t mean fighterwise.
As for sanctioned fights, Murray continued to win those too, mostly with devastating knockouts. In July 2003, he took on the well-regarded Brazilian fighter Jos (Pel ) Landi-Jons at a London event. After getting pummeled for a round, Murray regrouped and starched Pel with a right hand. He’s probably still in the ring, probably still sleeping, catchin’ flies, Murray gloated in the postfight interview, mimicking the dazed, open-mouthed look of his opponent. I know now that … [the] UFC have gotta open their eyes to me, they gotta take me. There’s no ifs or buts. Sure enough, six months later Murray was summoned by the UFC to fight on a Las Vegas card. Concealing the inconvenient detail that he’d recently been questioned about his involvement in a road-rage incident that left a middle-aged motorist in a coma he was later charged with causing grievous bodily harm, but the jury failed to reach a verdict Murray flew to the U.S. He won the fight in the first round, trapping his opponent’s head between his legs as he tried for a triangle choke, then finishing him off with an arm bar, hyperextending the man’s elbow joint. He had reached the highest level, and all of his discipline and preparation had paid off: He’d won with a classic jujitsu maneuver, proving he was no one-dimensional fighter.
He’s a scary son of a bitch, UFC’s outspoken president, Dana White, said of Murray. And I don’t mean fighterwise. Murray’s next bout came in the summer of 2004 in Cage Rage, a British UFC knockoff. He was pitted against Anderson Silva, the ferocious Brazilian who is currently the Zeus of MMA. Emboldened by his recent success, Murray snarled at Silva at the weigh-in. He talked an unbelievable amount of s—, Silva remembers. He said, ‘I’m gonna do to you what I did to your friend Pel .’ According to Silva, at one point Murray spotted a pair of his fighting shorts hanging from a chair. Murray grabbed them, ripped off a Brazilian flag patch and tossed it at Silva. Though both fighters dispensed and withstood considerable punishment, Silva ended up winning by unanimous decision. As the two shook hands, Silva winked and pushed a gift into Murray’s palm. It was the patch of the Brazilian flag. Still, Murray did himself proud, all the more so in retrospect, as Silva would go on to become one of the UFC’s brightest stars.
But in September 2005, while training for an upcoming fight at Wembley Stadium, Murray attended a birthday party for a British model at Funky Buddha, a trendy club in London’s Mayfair district. At around 3:15 a.m., a street brawl broke out. Murray was stabbed repeatedly in the chest, suffering a punctured lung and a severed artery. As he explained in a 2005 interview with the website MMAweekly.com, One of my friends got involved in the fight. I tried to help him because about six or seven guys was on [him]. That’s when I got stabbed. I got stabbed in the head first. I thought it was a punch. When I felt the blood coming down my face, I just wiped the blood and just continued to fight. Next, I looked down at my chest and blood was literally shooting out of my chest…. It was literally flying out of my chest like a yard in front of me…. I died three times. They said, ‘Because you’re an athlete and all the training you put your body through, that’s what saved your life.’
I got stabbed in the head first. I thought it was a punch, said Murray. Next, I looked down at my chest and blood was literally shooting out of my chest…. It was literally flying out of my chest like a yard in front of me…. I died three times. They said, ‘Because you’re an athlete and all the training you put your body through, that’s what saved your life.’
In the same interview, he casually noted that he had been stabbed outside the same club a week earlier. On that occasion, he’d only had one of his nipples sliced off. It was just a minor stabbing, like these things happen every night of the week, says Andy Geer, a British promoter for Cage Rage. He had stab wounds, bullet wounds. He was a proper from-the-streets kid. Three weeks after the stabbing, though covered in zippers of scars, Murray had resumed his training in the gym. But realistically, his promising career was threatened. Particularly as mixed martial arts was becoming gentrified, what promoter would permit a man with such serious injuries to fight again? What if a scar opened during a fight? Murray may have realized as much, and that could have been an incentive to turn to crime.
The thieves took too much money. Had the Securitas gang made off with, say, a few million pounds, it might have been one thing. But the magnitude of the heist was such that overnight it became an international cause c l bre. Even the most staid British newspapers covered the case breathlessly and exhaustively. The surveillance video from the depot was televised nationally and, inevitably, made it online. Hundreds of British policemen were immediately deployed to investigate. Hefty reward money provided an incentive to anyone with any knowledge to come forward. The gang had no chance, says Howard Sounes, the British author of a forthcoming book on the heist.
The suspects, though, also did plenty to hasten their demise. Mirroring Murray’s fighting career disciplined and methodical in MMA; arrogant and unthinking in street brawls the same thieves who had been smooth and poised in the actual pilferage could scarcely have been sloppier in the aftermath. Some gang members boasted to friends about the heist. One of the vehicles used in the crime was set afire in the middle of a field, attracting attention. The money was poorly hidden. Ocean’s 11 quickly devolved into a comedy of errors that recalled the Al Pacino classic Dog Day Afternoon. That’s what happens, says Bruce Reynolds, the convicted mastermind of Britain’s Great Train Robbery of 1963 and now something of an armchair analyst of British crime. All the planning goes into the robbery and none goes into what happens once you have the money.
A portion of the money recovered from the heist. AP
Within 48 hours, police had made their first arrest. Acting on a tip, they apprehended Michelle Hogg, a makeup artist and the daughter of a policeman. Police found a quantity of latex they alleged Hogg had used to make prosthetic disguises for the robbers. (Under questioning, Hogg gave a statement saying she was too scared to identify the thieves.) Later that day, police found the van used to hold the Dixons. The next day, acting on another tip, they located a second van used in the robbery. When they looked inside, they found guns, ski masks, bandannas and 1.3 million in cash. Acting on still another tip the following day, police raided the homes of Murray’s pal Lea Rusha, an aspiring mixed martial arts fighter, and Rusha’s friend Jetmir Bucpapa. In Rusha’s bedroom, police found plans of the Securitas depot, and hidden in a nearby garage was 8.6 million in cash. All told, within 10 days, five people had been charged. Millions of pounds had been recovered. And innumerable additional leads had surfaced. A gang of misfits and bruisers pulled off the biggest robbery ever with considerable criminal aplomb, says Sounes. But they were also stupid. This was a brilliant caper which turned into a farce.
From left to right: Emir Hysenaj, Stuart John Royle, Lea John Rusha, Jetmir Bucpapa and Roger Coutts. AFP PHOTO/KENT POLICE/HANDOUT
The fate of the accused was sealed in the fall of 2006 when Hogg went QE (Queen’s Evidence), as the Brits say, and testified against her co-conspirators in exchange for her freedom. She explained how she created the disguises so the gang members who posed as police officers couldn’t be accurately identified. On Jan. 28, 2008, after seven months of trial during which more than 200 witnesses were called, five men including Rusha, Bucpapa and Hysenaj, the insider were found guilty for their part in the robbery and sentenced to a total of 140 years in jail. At the sentencing, authorities urged the public to resist romanticizing the caper. Fearing for their lives after giving extensive testimony, the Dixons entered the British equivalent of witness protection. So did Hogg, the makeup artist, who, according to multiple newspaper accounts, has a 7 million bounty on her head. This crime was, at heart, a crime of violence, Nigel Pilkington of the Crown Prosecution Service told reporters. And with more than half the loot still unaccounted for, he vowed to continue to pursue the case. This is not the end of the matter for these criminals, he said. We intend to seize their ill-gotten gains, wherever they may be.
As the Securitas gang was being rounded up systematically, Murray apparently did not stand idly by. He left the country, leaving his wife and two children behind. Accompanied by his friend Paul Allen he of the infamous UFC street brawl he drove from London to Dover. There, according to Kent police, the two piloted their car onto a ferry headed for France. Murray is believed to have then traveled from France to Amsterdam to Spain, where he and Allen crossed the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry before finally finding sanctuary in Morocco.
If Morocco has historically held a certain exotic allure for Europeans, Murray is believed to have gone there for more practical reasons. Because of his lineage on his father’s side, Murray is considered a Moroccan national. And Morocco has no formal extradition agreement with Great Britain. By all accounts, Murray lived lavishly in Northern Africa. He, Allen and two other friends from England, Gary Armitage and Mustafa Basar, lived in a villa in Souissi, an upscale district popular with diplomats, in Morocco’s capital city, Rabat. They tooled around town in a Mercedes and spent prodigious amounts of money on clothes, jewelry, electronic equipment and jaunts to Casablanca.
Paul Allen (left) and Gary Armitage. ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images
After a few months, Murray reportedly spent close to $1 million on a concrete manor around the corner from a cousin of Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, outfitting it with an additional 200,000 in upgrades that include marble floors and a fully equipped gym. He also commissioned a giant mural above the hot tub, depicting his victory in his one and only UFC fight. Allen bought a property of his own nearby.
The mural Murray had commissioned for his home in Morocco. JAMES MILLS/DAILY MAIL
Shortly after Murray’s arrival in Morocco in March ’06, the Kent police and Scotland Yard officials handling the investigation contacted Moroccan authorities and conveyed their concerns. Likely unbeknownst to Murray, almost from the day he arrived in the country he was under 24-hour surveillance. On June 25, 2006, dozens of Moroccan police sealed off a portion of the Mega Mall in Rabat, where Murray, Allen, Armitage and Basar were shopping. Because some of the suspects were experts in martial arts (and were potentially carrying weapons), the small army of police officers was armed. After a physical struggle, the four men were arrested. A Kent police spokeswoman asserted that Murray was arrested for offenses linked to the 53 million Securitas raid. Murray and three of his friends were charged with drug possession and for violently resisting when police arrested them at the mall, a crime a Moroccan judge termed beating and humiliating members of the security forces.
When the Moroccan police went to Murray’s residence, they found cocaine and marijuana. The four men were charged with drug possession and for violently resisting when police arrested them at the mall, a crime a Moroccan judge termed beating and humiliating members of the security forces. They were found guilty and in February 2007 received sentences ranging from four to eight months in prison. Armitage and Basar were released soon after for time served and returned to the U.K. Allen was extradited by the British government and is currently in a British jail, awaiting trial for his alleged role in the heist.
Murray (right) being taken to Sake Court to stand trial in Morocco. ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images
Murray’s situation was somewhat more complicated. Because of his Moroccan heritage, the U.K.’s extradition request was initially denied. The British government has been putting a lot of pressure on Morocco, says Abdellah Benlamhidi Aissaoui, Murray’s lawyer in Morocco. But Moroccan nationals cannot be extradited [from Morocco]. That is the law, and the law should govern. The Moroccan government discussed swapping Murray for Mohamed Karbouzi, a suspected terrorist living in London and sought for questioning in a 2003 Casablanca bombing. But the British government reportedly declined the exchange. Aissaoui says he has also heard that Britain might file a formal request to have Murray tried for the Securitas heist by Moroccan authorities in Morocco. While the extradition mess is being sorted out, Murray, at the behest of Britain, sits in a jail cell just outside Rabat, a caged cage fighter. It’s tough for him, says his lawyer. He states that he’s innocent. He has not participated in this robbery. He made money from his fights. He doesn’t need to do this.
If Murray was in fact the ringleader, the Mr. Big, it wouldn’t surprise Reynolds, the Great Train Robber. He compares a heist to sport. You’re challenging the authority of the state the challenge is what it’s all about, says Reynolds, now 76 and living outside London. [Same as] Jesse James and Pancho Villa. What about the money? It’s a benchmark. Everyone wants to beat the record. It’s like [Formula One] drivers want to beat Michael Schumacher’s record.
Murray isn’t granting interviews these days (his lawyer says that for Murray to speak to SI is impossible right now ), much less speaking publicly about his guilt or innocence with respect to the heist. But he told a friend this story: After learning about Murray’s saga the street fights, the stabbing, the Securitas accusation a London casino wrote him a formal letter explaining that he was no longer welcome at the establishment. That was fine by Murray. He says he wrote a quick note back: Haven’t you already heard? I hit the jackpot.
At the Lincoln Hills School for Boys (LHS), a juvenile correctional facility in far northern Wisconsin, two entire buildings called the Krueger Unit and the Roosevelt Unit exist solely for the purpose of holding children in solitary confinement for 22 to 23 hours a day. Each unit holds two-dozen isolation cells, which measure seven by ten feet and contain only a metal sink, a toilet, a mattress, and an odor of sweat and urine. In LHS s smaller sister facility, Copper Lake School for Girls (CLS), one wing of the Wells Unit is reserved for solitary confinement. The lights in these cells remains lit 24 hours a day. Children as young as 14 are sent to these units at the discretion of the staff for disciplinary reasons, including minor rule violations, or for asserted security reasons. According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, from 15 to 20 percent of the approximately 165 children at LHS and CLS are in solitary confinement at any given time, and some remain there for as long as 30 to 60 consecutive days. Even in a nation where the solitary confinement of youth is still widespread, conditions at the Wisconsin facilities are extreme. In a federal class-action lawsuit filed late last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and Juvenile Law Center assert that these conditions are also unconstitutional. They argue that use of solitary, along with mechanical restraints and pepper spray, violate the children s Eighth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as well as their Fourteenth Amendment rights to rehabilitation and due process.
Despite their names, LHS and CLS provide minimal education and maximum disciplinary measures. For those in solitary, class time may be cut down to less than an hour per day, during which the students may have their wrists cuffed to a canvas belt around their waist. Every boy sent to solitary confinement at LHS for the first time, and many girls at CLS, get placed on the belt. In addition, the facilities often keep them handcuffed during their one-hour breaks from solitary confinement, sometimes even during their showers.
JJ, one of the four named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, has been diagnosed with ADHD and placed in solitary confinement on ten separate occasions. While in solitary, he was placed on the belt for most of his time out of the cell. Another plaintiff, C.M., spent two weeks in solitary for two rule violations, though neither incident involved any violence or threat to security. He was never provided any written notice of charges. He too, in accordance with the facilities policy, was placed on the belt for several days. A third plaintiff, R.N., had been on suicide watch before he pulled a fan s electrical cord through his food slot and tied it around his neck. The suit claims that before the guards filled his solitary confinement cell with pepper spray, they yanked on the cord, as evidenced by the marks left on R.N. s neck. In a separate lawsuit, filed within a week of the first, the family of Sydni Briggs claim deliberate indifference to the 16-year-old girl s well-being on the part of CLS staff. The suit states that Briggs hit her call light to summon a guard before slinging a homemade noose over a doorknob and around her neck. While it is unclear how long the guards took to reach Briggs, her suicide attempt induced a month-long coma and permanent severe brain damage.
The State of Wisconsin was clearly aware of conditions at the two facilities long before these lawsuits were filed. Following an investigation by the state of Wisconsin, the FBI launched its own investigation more than a year ago. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The sweeping criminal probe is examining allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and victims, strangulation and tampering with public records. Even a former guard told the newspaper that the environment at the youth prisons was like the ninth circle of Hell. National and international organizations or agreements that have prohibited or strictly limited one or more of the practices employed at these facilities with regard to children include the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, World Health Organization, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention of the U.S. Department of Justice, American Medical Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, UN Rules for Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty, UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. Both Juan E. M ndez, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and former President Barack Obama have called for a total ban on the use of juvenile solitary confinement. The Stop Solitary for Kids campaign was recently founded to unite advocates working for an end the practice. Beyond the legal issues, treating children in this manner has been shown not only to negate the few rehabilitative efforts the facilities provide, but also to exacerbate any prior mental health problems. According to the ACLU and JLC lawsuit, a substantial percentage of the youth held at LHS and CLS have a history of childhood trauma, mental illness, cognitive impairments, or developmental disabilities.
Sydni Briggs, for example, had a history of post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety, insomnia, depression, and suicidal behavior. Although the facility had extensive knowledge of this, Briggs often faced disciplinary action, including solitary confinement, instead of proper mental health care. A CLS guard revealed that suicide attempts had become so frequent that he struggled to keep from becoming numb to them. The ACLU and JLC case presents evidence that the defendants the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, the Administrator of Division of Juvenile Corrections of the Wisconsin DOC, the Superintendent of LHS and CLS, and the Director of Security for LHS and CLS are aware or should be aware of the risks of solitary confinement and restraints, but have deliberately chosen to ignore those risks. They argue that the nightmarish reality of these facilities points to neglect by the people controlling them. Legally confronting these violations accomplishes the essential action of holding responsible the officials at fault. But if this system of disciplinary severity is to be uprooted, another approach must fill its void.
Youth Justice Milwaukee (YJM), a collective voice of persons who were incarcerated as youth, families of those who were or are currently incarcerated as youth, local advocates for youth, and national experts on youth justice, presents an alternative paradigm. Even before the lawsuits surfaced against the two Wisconsin facilities, YJM presented a report with recommendations to address the violence of the incarceration system at LHS and CLS. This 14-page report, entitled Safer Communities, Stronger Families, delineates a model based in community engagement. The report begins by asserting that the responsibility for providing juvenile programs and services should be in the hands of the county where youth live. Most of the children held there at LHS and CLS have been transported from Milwaukee, a 3.5-hour drive away. The ACLU and JLC lawsuit also states that the majority of the youth held at the two facilities are African American, though most of the staff is white and from the rural north of Wisconsin. As Jessica Feierman, Associate Director of the Juvenile Law Center, pointed out in an interview with Solitary Watch, The treatment of young people at CLS and LHS is troubling under any circumstances, but it is particularly devastating when you think of how it functions as part of this racial disparity. The YJM report describes the racial makeup of Wisconsin s juvenile correctional facilities: Only comprising 10 percent of the state s total youth population, African Americans comprise 70 percent of the youth in juvenile correction facilities.
In order to address these disparities, YJM first recommends an increase in public safety through the creation of community-based programs that address the needs and struggles of young people, including family, housing, education, vocational training, employment, emotional health, medical, substance abuse, legal, finances, recreation, culture, and spirituality. According to YJM, shifting these services to a local, community-centered system would allow for the dissipation of the racial and ethnic disparities currently plaguing the system. YJM suggests the necessary funding for these services be reallocated from the incarceration facilities, which currently spend an estimated $100,000 on each youth. Moving even deeper into the community, YJM also pushes for meaningful engagement with families of youth in the system. After reaching out to families in the community, YJM found overwhelming support from families for this recommendation. The final point of the report expounds upon a process to ensure greater transparency, accountability, and effectiveness in juvenile justice services. One of YJM s principles reads, to achieve real and lasting change, we should not only seek to move people in positions of power, but also to build power in our communities. Recognition by federal courts of the unconstitutional inhumanities committed at Lincoln Hills School and Copper Lake School could be a first step toward opening up space for a sustainable method of public safety, mental health, and racial equality built at the heart of the community.
It is clear, however, that change will not come quickly or easily, under the leadership of Republican Governor Scott Walker. Earlier this month, Walker released his budget proposal, which neglected to address the abuses and failures of the juvenile prisons. Instead, according to a report by the Associated Press, the budget allocates $2 million to create eight new guard positions, three new mental health specialist positions for the prison s female wing and convert nine contract nursing positions to state positions. The addition of these new positions still leaves the facilities 50 guards short of the guard-to-inmate ratio required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act. Although the Department of Corrections requested $3.7 million for serious juvenile offender care and community supervision, Walker not only rejected this request, but failed to provide any acknowledgement of or funding for the egregious conditions at LHS and CLS. In fact, Walker s 2011 closure of two other youth prisons in the state, done to save money, are said to have contributed to the overcrowded and hellish conditions at LHS and CLS. Even if its requests for funding were met, it is clear that the Wisconsin DOC has no intention of eliminating solitary confinement for the children in its charge, unless it is forced to do so by litigation or legislation. At a hearing held this week by the Wisconsin state Assembly s Corrections Committee, DOC Secretary Jon Litscher conceded that while there may be too many children in solitary, the practice is needed to bolster safety and security, the AP reports. They are there for a reason, Litscher told the committee.
The JLC s Jessica Feierman vehemently disagrees. There is an increasing recognition that solitary confinement is inappropriate for juveniles under any circumstances, she told Solitary Watch, citing President Obama s ban on juvenile solitary in federal facilities and bans in a growing number of states. The solitary confinement of children, she said, is not a legitimate correctional practice, but a human rights violation.
On a Facebook page for survivors of the abuse at Lincoln Hills School and Copper Lake School and their families, some expressed hope that they would finally witness some change at the facilities. Some were less optimistic. One girl described the ordeal she and others went through at CLS, and concluded: Who cares? Nobody nobody but me, their families, and people with a heart.
- ^ solitary confinement of youth (solitarywatch.com)
- ^ federal class-action lawsuit (aclu-wi.org)
- ^ separate lawsuit (courthousenews.com)
- ^ Sydni Briggs (www.jsonline.com)
- ^ Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (solitarywatch.com)
- ^ Stop Solitary for Kids (www.stopsolitaryforkids.org)
- ^ revealed (www.jsonline.com)
- ^ report (www.urbanunderground.org)
- ^ Associated Press (www.startribune.com)
- ^ AP reports (www.startribune.com)
- ^ Facebook page (www.facebook.com)