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Light punishment for 3 Attica guards fails to make up for the vicious beating of inmate

Where do people like this come from? Were Sean Warner, Keith Swack and Matthew Rademacher born bestial, or did they learn it – become it – by working in the state prison system?

Whatever the answer is, if the three former guards at Attica Correctional Facility who brutally attacked an inmate didn’t get off scot-free, it was all but. They deserved far tougher punishment, but, in the end, the plea deal they struck may serve a larger purpose. That may at least make the deal palatable, even if it was galling.

Here’s what happened to inmate George Williams, who had been imprisoned for grand larceny. The three guards, apparently mistaking him for someone who yelled a crude insult, punched him, kicked him and struck him with a hard object that may have been a police baton. It got worse, and by the time the guards were done with him, Williams had suffered a broken shoulder, two broken ankles and a broken eye socket. He had to have been in fear for his life.

And the attackers planted a razor blade on him in a pathetic attempt to justify the assault. None of Williams’ DNA could be found on the blade and another inmate told investigators that he was ordered by a corrections officer to clean Williams’ blood from the floor and, if anyone asked him about it, he was ordered to say there was no blood. Is that how innocent people behave?

And for all of that – the razor blade-planting charge was dropped – the three criminals pleaded guilty to misdemeanors and resigned. They will serve no jail time. It’s unfair but it undoubtedly serves the needs of their own continued good health. Behind bars, they would have been marked men.

Of course, that prisoner who cleaned the blood could be lying and inmates do sometimes acquire weapons. How that might explain a broken shoulder, two broken ankles and a broken eye socket has yet to be cleared up. And it won’t be.

Their lawyers said the long-suspended men took the pleas to avoid the risk of jail and to put the incident behind them. It’s plausible. But it doesn’t ring of innocence. By contrast, when Williams was told of his attackers’ guilty pleas, he broke into tears. That does.

The only positive aspects to this horrible assault are that the three men admitted wrongdoing and, in so doing, put prison workers on notice about the potential costs of crossing the line. It also gives prosecutors a base from which to evaluate similar cases that arise.

No one should doubt that prison guards have enormously difficult and stressful jobs. And no one should doubt that these facilities contain prisoners who would, given the chance, do them harm. It’s dangerous work and not everyone is cut out for it. Plainly, Swack, Rademacher and Warner, who was a sergeant, weren’t. Others, though, deserve the support of the community.

That is just one of the reasons why guards, like increasing numbers of police officers, should be outfitted with cameras, and why there should be no unmonitored rooms or hallways where guards can take prisoners. That’s the way to protect the state’s thousands of honest prison guards from unfounded accusations by prisoners and how to protect inmates from the depraved conduct of officers who will otherwise break their shoulders, ankles, eye sockets and whatever else they can reach.

Misdemeanors. These guys got off easy.