Lawsuit: Federal death row counselor removed from post after tweets celebrating executions

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TERRE HAUTE, INDIANA – JULY 25: Guard towers rise above the grounds of the Federal Correctional Complex Terre Haute on July 25, 2019 in Terre Haute, Indiana. Today U.S. Attorney William Barr announced that the federal government would resume executing prisoners after a two-year hiatus.The first five are scheduled to be executed at the Terre Haute prison between December 9 this year and January 15, 2020. The federal government has executed four prisoners since 1960. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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By Vic Ryckaert for FOX59

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — A high ranking federal prison official has been reassigned after he allegedly shared social media posts cheering and laughing at the executions of the death row inmates it was his job to help, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

Andrew Sutton had been the Special Confinement Unit counselor at the U.S. Prison in Terre Haute until he was suddenly removed from the position in September or October, according to a defamation lawsuit filed in a Marion County court Monday afternoon by Indianapolis attorney Ashley Kincaid Eve.

FOX59 left messages for officials at the prison seeking comment. The Terre Haute prison’s website no longer lists Sutton as the SCU counselor, but it was unclear whether he had been reassigned, demoted or fired.

FOX59 contacted Sutton by phone Monday and asked if he had been reassigned from his position at the prison because of social media posts.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Sutton told FOX59 twice before hanging up.

Sutton, according to the suit, posted a series of messages on Twitter under the moniker “fozzythebear” in which he cheered recent executions at the prison and insults Eve, who had been assisting lawyers for convicted murderer Christopher Vialva.

Vialva was executed in Terre Haute on Sept. 24 for the 1999 murders of Todd and Stacie Bagley in Texas.

“Eve isn’t on Vialva’s legal team,” one message said. “She’s a con artist looking for 15 minutes of fame from the ‘first black man’ executed in 15 years.”

Another message reads: “This crazy lady is not a part of his legal team. She is just trying to be famous.”

According to the suit, Eve was helping Vialva’s lawyers handle media requests and interviews. She was not directly assisting with his appeal.

In another message, fozzythebear quoted a news story in which a media witness described Vialva’s final moments of life, ending with the hashtag: “#hahahaha.”

The fozzythebear account has since been deleted.

The lawsuit said the account’s author boasted that he had worked for 10 years in the Special Confinement Unit and divulged other information only a high ranking prison official would know.

Sutton, according to the lawsuit, posted on LinkedIn that he had worked as a correctional officer on the SCU from 2006 until 2015, when he was promoted to the counselor post. Sutton’s LinkedIn account is no longer visible on the site.

As counselor, Sutton controlled all communications between condemned inmates and the outside world. The counselor’s duties include setting up phone calls and visits between inmates and their attorneys, family and clergy.

When Eve released part of a recorded phone call she had with Vialva on social media, she claims Sutton punished her by canceling her final call with Vialva before his execution.

Vialva in his last hours used some of the time set aside to call his mother to make a short phone call to Eve, according to the suit.

Days later, Eve confronted Sutton about the tweets.

“By the way — and maybe it’s even you — but some BOP (Bureau of Prisons) official who got promoted after ten years of working on death row has been defaming me and got a little too Twitter happy over the last few months about the sadistic pleasure being taken from these killings,” Eve wrote in a Sept. 26 email to Sutton.

Sutton was subsequently removed from the counselor post, according to the lawsuit.

Eve in the suit claims she suffered mental distress and damage to her professional reputation. She is seeking unspecified damages.

“It was clear this Twitter account existed solely for the purpose of expressing pleasure and support of executions,” Eve said in the suit.

Vic Ryckaert is a freelance reporter who previously worked for the Indianapolis Star for 23 years. You can reach him on Twitter at @VicRyc.

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