BUFFALO, N.Y. — Unanswered questions linger 50 years after the rebellion at the Attica Correctional Facility, which remains the nation’s bloodiest Attica prison uprising.
Will the state of New York ever apologize for the suffering inflicted by both the first inmate revolt and the brutal carnage perpetrated by police and guards when they retook the prison?
Deeanne Quinn Miller, whose father, William Quinn, was the sole guard killed by prisoners during the siege at the overcrowded maximum-security prison in rural western New York, stated, “I’ve gone through seven governors now, begging for an apology.”
The Attica revolt began on September 9, 1971, when prisoners dissatisfied with their living circumstances took possession of a section of the prison and held members of the staff hostage. Four days later, state troopers and guards blasted blinding tear gas into a prison yard, followed by hundreds of bullets fired into the smoke over a six-minute period.
The gunshots claimed the lives of 29 prisoners and ten hostages.
As authorities stormed the jail, state officials erroneously stated that convicts had cut the throats of hostages, and press outlets at the time, including The Associated Press, cited those bogus stories. However, an autopsy revealed that all of the captives had been shot by their would-be rescuers a day later. Reports that inmates had castrated a guard were eventually shown to be untrue.
The rebellion and siege claimed the lives of 11 staff members and 32 prisoners. For their participation in the massacre, no law enforcement officials were placed on trial.
After forming in 2000 as a voice for killed and injured prison staff and their families, Miller and other members of the Forgotten Victims of Attica demanded five things from the state.
Financial reparations, counseling, permission to perform an annual celebration on the prison grounds, and the unsealing of riot-related papers have all been granted, while certain records holding secret grand jury information remain sealed.
After a $12 million settlement with the Forgotten Victims in 2005 and an $8 million payout to convicts and their survivors, Miller believes any concern of liability associated with an apology is irrelevant.
Miller, whose latest book, “The Prison Guard’s Daughter,” chronicles the uprising’s enduring emotional consequences, added, “I’m exhausted.”
Quinn, who was 5 when her father was brutally beaten, said over the phone, “I think it’s particularly sad that it would occur on the 50th.” “When someone says ‘I’m sorry,’ and it comes across as sincere and honest, you get the impression that someone genuinely cares about these state employees and their families, who sacrificed everything they had for very little in return.”
Governor Kathy Hochul’s office did not immediately reply to a query regarding Hochul’s willingness to apologize on behalf of the state. Hochul was raised in western New York and served in Congress as a representative for Wyoming County, where the jail is located.
Previous Governor Andrew Cuomo, who Hochul succeeded in August, and three other former governors who served while the time the request was pending: David Paterson, Eliot Spitzer, and George Pataki, all declined.
On Monday, there will be an annual remembrance in the prison’s front yard.
State Senator Zellnor Myrie has introduced legislation that would authorize the publication of some grand jury papers “on the basis of lasting historical significance.”
Although the Brooklyn Democrat’s bill, which stalled last year, does not directly mention the Attica case, Myrie has pointed out that grand jury procedures following the revolt resulted in several indictments of prison prisoners but none of law enforcement officers.
Supporters point to the publication earlier this year of grand jury transcripts in Attorney General Letitia James’ inquiry into the murder of Daniel Prude in March 2020, who died after being held by Rochester police. The grand jury proceedings in a police-involved fatality were made public for the first time in New York history.