This report is part of WBRC's ongoing investigation into Alabama prisons. We've uncovered a second death row inmate apparently using social media on a contraband cell phone, the second such case we've exposed this year.
If you want to know what's going on behind the walls of Alabama prisons, a few clicks on Facebook can offer a revealing look inside. WBRC has identified several Facebook accounts connected to inmates in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC), including one in which an inmate bragged about beating another inmate over a drug debt.
We also found an account connected to a death row inmate, the second time since May our reporting has identified a convicted killer apparently posting to Facebook on a contraband cell phone from death row.
WBRC reached out to ADOC earlier this month and a spokesperson responded with this statement:
"The Alabama Department of Corrections will investigate recent reports of inmates using illegal cell phones to post to social media sites and will pursue all available resources to metigate this serious problem, which is a Class C felony."
A viewer sent WBRC screen grabs of what appeared to be an active Facebook account linked to an inmate under the username "Avondale Jay."
The account included a September 15 post featuring a photo of a man's battered face and a caption boldly bragging about beating the man over a drug debt.
(Facebook post from September 15 by username Avondale Jay)
"When you owe the wrong n****.. a n**** will have u like this..Kmsl don't f**** with a n**** s**** u can't pay," the poster wrote.
Avondale Jay wrote in a later comment that the beaten inmate owed him for methamphetamine, also known as "ice."
"Owe 500$ for some ice," he wrote. "u no how they money good but they a try to walk a n**** a knew batch drop."
The post has more than 80 likes and a dozen comments, including one from another apparent inmate, who wrote a profanity-laced comment that ended with "he owe me from Limestone."
"I guess he'll pay next time..Lol," another commentor wrote.
Who was the inmate behind Avondale Jay? A quick search on ADOC's inmate database turned up Ricky Rahaj Jay at Bibb Correctional Facility. Court records show Jay pleaded guilty to murder in a 2009 Christmas Eve robbery and shooting death at an East Lake clothing store. He's serving a 30-year prison sentence.
It wasn't hard for us to identify at least three other potential inmate Facebook accounts, just by a few clicks on profiles from the comments on Avondale Jay's page.
One account appeared to belong to death row inmate Roderick Byrd, convicted in a triple murder in a 2005 Thanksgiving Day robbery at the Airport Inn in Birmingham. A Jefferson County jury recommend Byrd be sentenced to death.
The account, listed under the username "Rip Og Ro" included multiple photos of Byrd apparently inside Holman Prison, including one in his prison cell. The timeline included a music video shared from Avondale Jay's account, depicting what appeared to be multiple inmates lip synching to rap lyrics inside a prison cell block while dancing, with one inmate waving and counting money at the camera. Cash is considered contraband in prison.
(Photos posted Facebook account under username Avondale Jay)
This is the second Facebook account linked to an Alabama death row inmate that WBRC has exposed this year.
Joe Roberts, Deputy District Attorney in Jefferson County said it's disturbing to hear that inmates convicted in violent homicides are using contraband cell phones in Alabama prisons, but particularly surprising that a death row inmate would have access to a phone and be able to post regularly to social media.
"The community should be shocked by this information and quite frankly appalled," said Roberts. "I can only imagine the pain and shock the family of a victim who was murdered must feel learning that the inmate on death row is using a cell phone to post on social media. A family who has lost a loved one should not have to endure seeing their loved one's killer on social media. It is unacceptable and I hope the Alabama Department of Corrections can find a solution to this problem."
(Photos posted to Facebook account under username Rip Og Ro)
WBRC attempted to reach relatives of the three victims Byrd was convicted of killing, but was not able to make contact.
We first alerted ADOC of the Facebook accounts on Tuesday, October 31 and sent a list of usernames for the four Facebook accounts that featured posts, including photos and/or videos apparently taken in prison.
The ADOC spokesperson responded via email earlier this month to multiple questions we posed in light of our dicovery. The Q & A is below.
Q: Is ADOC aware of the following active Facebook accounts that appear to be connected to inmates in ADOC custody?
A: The Alabama Department of Corrections is aware of the illegal social media post and DOC investigators have had the service providers to close all accounts.
Q: A post on the "Avondale Jay" account includes a photo of a man who appears beaten and the caption indicates this was to settle a drug debt. What specific action is taken by ADOC in incidents like this?
A: Investigators will determine the appropriate charges based on the use of a contraband cell phone and content of the social media post.
Q: A music video on the same account includes multiple inmates, one counting and waving cash money for the camera. Are inmates allowed to have cash?
A: Inmates are prohibited from having currency.
Q: How many investigators or other personnel does ADOC have dedicated to combating contraband? What specific steps are being taken to confiscate cell phones and prevent them from coming in?
A: The Department of Corrections employs 25 agents who work contraband investigations in the department's 28 correctional facilities. Agents are assigned to offices throughout the state and are responsible for conducting criminal investigations. The Department of Corrections conducts routine facility inspections, searches employees and visitors coming into facilities, and is in the process of installing body scanners to detect contraband. The use of canine units to detect illegal cellphones is another option the ADOC is considering.
Q: The man connected to the Rip Og Roe account appears to be a death row inmate. This is the second time this year WBRC has identified a death row inmate using Facebook. What specific steps has ADOC taken to prevent cell phones reaching death row?
A: Measures the ADOC is taking to mitigate the introduction of contraband cell phones applies to all correctional facilities to include where death row inmates are housed.
All four accounts we identified could not be accessed on Facebook by the end of business on Wednesday, November 1. Since then, it appears one account has been reactivated under the name Avondale Jayback.
(New Facebook account under username Avondale Jayback)
Two correctional officers currently employed by ADOC said there are not enough officers to make cell phone searches a big priority. The officers, both requesting their names be withheld, said contraband cell phones are widespread in prisons and become more prevalent when facilities are short staffed.
"The inmates will fight the officers more over a cell phone than a bag of drugs," one officer said. "We have to choose our battles."
Violence in Alabama prisons has increased as staffing has dwindled. 228 assaults have resulted in inmates suffering a serious injury in 2017, according to year-to-date numbers from the latest ADOC statistical report. 195 inmate assaults resulting in a serious injury were reported at the same time in 2016. So far in 2017, 9 inmates have been killed by other inmates. That compares to 6 inmate homicides at the same time last year.
The last ADOC report in which staffing data was available was June 2017, which listed total staffing for major prison facilities at 49%. The correctional officer staffing level was 42%.
"Officers (are) retiring and leaving for other jobs it seems like every day," one officer said. "Working 16 if not more hours a day is becoming a regular thing for most officers and I can tell everyone is getting really tired of it."
The tipster who alerted WBRC of the Avondale Jay account said she is concerned for an incarcerated family friend.
"People are beat like this every day and nothing is being done even when reported," she wrote. "Most of these guys are drug addicted and can't pay the debt so these guys keep giving them drugs then beat them if their families can't send the money."
ADOC has said eliminating contraband cell phones in Alabama prisons is a top priority, but it's a problem that continues to plague the agency, as WBRC has reported on extensively.
In May 2017, a WBRC investigation revealed a convicted child killer using multiple active Facebook accounts to post rap videos and other content from death row at Holman Correctional Facility.
The family of 10-year-old victim Latonya Sager contacted WBRC after they said they called the prison multiple times to report the Facebook activity, but the accounts were not taken down. We contacted ADOC on April 26, and Facebook closed the killer's account on April 27, according to a spokesperson for ADOC.
"Prison officials confiscated a contraband cellphone from the inmate and DOC agents monitored the social media site for illegal activity as part of its investigation," the spokesperson wrote.
At the time, we asked ADOC what additional steps it has taken to combat the problem of illegal cell phones. A spokesperson sent us the following response:
"The Department of Corrections conducts routine facility inspections and searches and is in the process of installing new body scanners to prevent contraband from coming into the facilities. Training and using canine units to detect illegal cellphones is another option the ADOC is considering. Commissioner Jeff Dunn and corrections directors from other states met with FCC officials in Washington DC in March to address the use of illegal cellphones in prisons and available technologies for rendering them ineffective. The ADOC has made it a top priority to eliminate the introduction and use of cellphones in Alabama prisons."
(Unidentified inmates in photo posted by username Avondale Jay)
The ADOC said in 2016, it seized more than 3,500 illegal cellphones and made over 70 contraband arrests.
The public can report illegal Facebook accounts by going to the ADOC website or by calling 1-866-293-7799.
Copyright 2017 WBRC. All rights reserved.