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An unusual $14 million defamation suit was filed this week by a Virginia prison warden against a dozen Connecticut defendants — including newspapers, state legislators, and a civil rights leader — alleging they portrayed him as a racist. The suit, pending in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District ofVirginia, charges the defendants with claiming Wallens Ridge State Prison Warden Stanley Young is a racist who encourages his officers to abuse Connecticut inmates, many of whom are African American or Latino. Named as defendants were three Connecticut newspapers — the New Haven Advocate, the Hartford Courant, and the Connecticut Post — and various journalists in their employ. Also named were Connecticut State Sen. Alvin Penn (D-Bridgeport) and Rep. Michael P. Lawlor (D-East Haven). Carolyn Nah, president of the Bridgeport chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was also named — as well as the national NAACP. Warden Young, whose display of Confederate memorabilia from the Civil War was made an issue by his Yankee critics, referred all questions to his lawyer, R. Stuart Collins of Norton. Collins said in a published statement that Young is dangerous because he is a Southerner who besmirches the entire South. “As a Southerner, it kind of offends me,” Collins said. “All the statements, they really down the South.” Under an $11 million annual contract between the nutmeg state and the Commonwealth of Virginia , nearly 500 Connecticut inmates are held at Wallens Ridge, a tough “supermax” prison. Brutality complaints by black and Hispanic inmates from Connecticut have received widespread publicity in their home state, capped by the controversial suicide last month of a 20-year-old Connecticut inmate serving a short term for a drug conviction. The suit contends that “slanderous accusations” made about him by the defendants, and printed in Virginia and Connecticut newspapers, were meant to convey “the impression that Warden Stanley Young is a racist, and a member of the Ku Klux Klan, who not only tolerates, but encourages abuse by the guards under his control, and that he is a liar.” The suit further alleges that little if any effort was made by news organizations to verify allegations of inmate abuse. Except for the Hartford paper, all Connecticut media declined comment. Brian Toolan, editor of the Hartford Courant, said, “Obviously, we don’t believe we have defamed anyone, and we’ll just see where it goes from here.” After a visit by Connecticut lawmakers who objected to seeing a Confederate battle flag in his office, Warden Young has removed all Civil War mementoes. Jamie Fellner, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, which earlier this year investigated and strongly criticized conditions at Wallens Ridge, deplored the lawsuit. Fellner said the warden has “used the cudgel of a defamation suit to shut down criticism that he doesn’t like.”

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