'Party behind bars' still on display on social media - WSMV News 4

'Party behind bars' still on display on social media

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The last time Beverly Shelley saw Derek Cunningham, the murderer of her husband, he was a teenager sentenced to 30 years in prison.

So when she saw Cunningham, now taller and older, on Facebook, displaying photos of himself hanging with his friends in his cell, listening to headphones, asking people to call him and posting the hashtag #freeme, she was disgusted.

“I was just dumbfounded to see that he continues to post from prison, asking people to even call him from prison,” Shelley said.

Shelley then found the Channel 4 I-Team investigations from 2013 where we first exposed the problem that ultimately resulted in state investigations in 14 prisons and more than 70 inmates given disciplinary violations.

“I just could not believe my eyes that this is what happened then, and it's still continuing to happen to this day,” Shelley said.

Once again, the I-Team started searching for inmates on social media in Tennessee prisons.

We found a Tennessee inmate not only posting pictures of himself, but also displaying a video of his rapping skills.

We also found Lance Matlock, serving time at Riverbend Maximum Security prison, posting on Facebook in late May, writing how phones can get expensive in prison.

A Facebook friend writes, “What they running now?? Was like $250, for small touch screen.”

Another Facebook friend teases Matlock and wrote, “All that time in prison you still ain't learn how to spell yet.”

“I think Tennessee citizens should be outraged that this behavior continues in Tennessee prisons,” Shelley said.

Lee Dotson, the newly appointed chief interdiction officer for the Tennessee Department of Correction, agreed to sit down with the I-Team for an interview.

“What do you say to the families who are so frustrated by this who say, why can't you guys just stop this?” the I-Team asked.

“It's disheartening. As a department, this bothers us, especially when it hits home with families,” Dotson said.

Dotson said he knows that families ask why the state can’t simply block cell signals and Wi-Fi to prisons.

Dotson said federal law does not allow for it.

“Total disruption technology. The technology does exist, however it's against the law for us, as a state agency, for us to implement that technology,” Dotson said.

The I-Team also pointed out that the photos show inmates having fun together in cells, displaying gang signs and making music.

“I think it's fairly offensive to see the amount of freedom the inmates are having in their own cell. Does that indicate they have too much freedom?” the I-Team asked.

“That's a question I can't answer because you're asking me to speculate on something I don't know about,” Dotson said.

A spokeswoman for TDOC said that each inmates’ free time is different and is based on their behavior and convictions, and what’s shown on social media is only a snapshot of moments in their day.

All Shelley knows is what she’s seen, she doesn’t like.

“It frankly looks like a frat party in there, just having fun with his friends,” Shelley said.

After the I-Team once again started looking into inmates with social media pages, Cunningham’s page was taken down, but the others were still up at the posting of this story.

A spokeswoman for TDOC said they can’t discuss Cunningham’s case because of a pending investigation.

The I-Team also asked for specifics of what TDOC was doing to stop the flow of phones into prisons, but Dotson said he couldn’t discuss it because of ongoing investigative plans.

Dotson did stress if you see prisoners on social media, report it to TDOC at 1-844-TDC-FIND.

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