Ahmed Mohamed is in single cell confinement in Pinellas jail

04/02/09 Seán Kinane
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The jury in the federal trial of Yousef Megahed did not reach a verdict today. They have been deliberating since Tuesday following a more than two week trial. Megahed and fellow USF student Ahmed Mohamed were arrested in August 2007 in South Carolina after they were stopped for speeding. They were charged with illegally transporting explosive materials based on what the students say were home-made fireworks found in their trunk. But there is concern about the prison conditions under which Mohamed is being held.

Rather than seek a trial, Ahmed Mohamed pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorists and was sentenced last December to fifteen years in prison. His offense was creating a video of how to make a detonator out of a remote control toy and posting it to the internet site YouTube. It was viewed 782 times before it was removed, according to a U.S. Attorney. Mel Underbakke, a member of Friends of Human Rights, says she was surprised to learn that Mohamed is confined by himself in the Pinellas County Jail.

“I assumed that Ahmed Mohamed would be in a federal prison somewhere. But I learned yesterday he’s in the Pinellas County Jail and he’s been there since December. I called the jail and talked to them. And they say he is in solitary confinement and he’s also been in solitary confinement ever since his arrest.”

The Pinellas Sheriff’s Office would not comment on the confinement conditions of Mohamed because the Pinellas Jail is housing him under contract from the U.S. Marshals Service. Sgt. Jim Bordner, with the Sheriff’s Public Information Office says the jail does not have solitary confinement, only something called individual cell or single-cell confinement. Sgt. Bordner would only speak in general terms about incarceration conditions of the Pinellas County Jail.

“Housing itself in the Pinellas County Jail ranges from a single-person cell all the way up to a direct housing unit which may house as much as 70-plus inmates.”

But Underbakke says Mohamed’s treatment is inappropriate, whatever they call it.

“To me it means he’s in solitary confinement. He’s by himself in a cell. They say he gets out for – he gets out for recreation. So I asked them, ‘Is he with other people then?’ and they say ‘No, he has recreation by himself.’ So he’s by himself all the time.”

Sgt. Bordner with the Sheriff’s office said only the U.S. Marshals Service would be able to comment on the specific conditions under which Mohamed is being imprisoned.

Deputy U.S. Marshall Owen Cypher, with the Middle District of Florida office, said that because of security concerns they never comment on confinement conditions of inmates. Besides, Cypher said, the Jail is in complete control of the confinement conditions of U.S. Marshals prisoners in their care.

Regardless of who ordered Mohamed’s prison conditions, Friends of Human Rights’ Mel Underbakke calls spending that much time alone in a cell “very inhumane.”

“I think very few people can actually go at being in solitary confinement that long without human contact. And it’s just my personal opinion. I’m not an expert on that. … You know his family is in Egypt, so he’s really even got no one here to visit him, so he’s really, really by himself.”

Full disclosure, this reporter used to be a member of Friends of Human Rights.

A federal jury is deliberating the fate of Mohamed’s friend and fellow USF student Yousef Megahed. If convicted of all charges, Megahed faces up to 20 years in federal prison. Thursday morning Megahed’s defense attorney made a motion for a mistrial after it was learned that a member of the jury mentioned Ahmed Mohamed’s fifteen year sentence. The motion was later withdrawn and the judge asked the jury to only consider the facts of the current case.

Pinellas County Jail booking information for Ahmed Mohamed

U.S. Marshals Service Middle District of Florida

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