NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A Tennessee jury found a prominent prison reform advocate guilty of vandalism Thursday after he disguised himself as a construction worker to hide guns, handcuff keys and hacksaw blades inside the walls of a Nashville jail under construction.
Alex Friedmann was found guilty of vandalism over $250,000 in a case that a prosecutor likened to something out of a Hollywood movie. Much of it was caught on surveillance video and went undisputed. The prosecutor also said the case ends on a cliffhanger, leaving it anyone's guess as to what Friedmann planned to do. He did not testify at trial.
“We don’t know: Who were those bullets intended for? Who was going to be stuck with that knife?” Deputy District Attorney Amy Hunter said during closing arguments Thursday. “Who was going to try to get something from the other side of the visitation booth, and what were they going to do with it? And why?”
Ben Raybin, an attorney for Friedmann, argued that the state was overcharging his client through its calculation of damages. He urged the jury to look to the law and only hold Friedmann responsible for the actual physical damages to the jail.
To arrive at a charge of vandalism over $250,000, prosecutors said the entire facility had to be rekeyed at a cost of just over $291,000.
Fellow defense attorney David Raybin noted that an early news release from the sheriff’s office said that between 85 to 100 locks would need replacement, while the final total included rekeying 1,800 locks.
The government also argued that Friedmann’s vandalism includes more than $300,000 in personnel costs incurred when sheriff’s officers reviewed thousands of hours of surveillance video.
Nashville's sheriff, Daron Hall, has suggested Friedmann was planning a massive jailbreak. The theft of the keys was discovered just weeks before the facility was scheduled to open. Speaking to reporters after his testimony Tuesday, Hall said they were just “two weeks away from a massive loss of life.”
Prosecutors said Friedmann had already been going in the building for several months when a sheriff’s office official first noticed in December 2019 that two keys were missing from a set of keys at the new $150 million Downtown Detention Center.
Surveillance video showed the same person who took the keys entering the jail numerous times and doing some type of work on the walls. When he entered again on Jan. 4, 2020, Friedmann was stopped in a secure area while police were called. During the wait, Friedmann took jail schematics out of his pocket, ripped them up and ate them, Hunter said.
As an activist against prison privatization, Friedmann had worked with Hall on the future of another Nashville jail — one that had been privatized but was returning to the control of the sheriff’s office. That is why Hall said he knew the security breach was serious when he learned the intruder was Friedmann.