A jury found Alex Friedmann guilty of over a quarter of a million dollars in vandalism to a Nashville jail after he was found to have placed guns, handcuff keys, and hacksaw blades in walls under construction. Friedmann had disguised himself as a construction worker.
There is speculation about what the purpose for the weapons were and what the prison reform activist planned to do with them. During their investigation, law enforcement officers looked at thousands of hours of surveillance videos.
“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 in closing arguments. “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?”
Friedmann was a consultant for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016 and was active in organizations promoting prison reform. He had previously served a stint in jail for an attempted armed robbery and later became involved with groups like Prison Legal News, the Human Rights Defense Center, and the Restorative Justice Coalition of Middle Tennessee.
The activist also presented testimony before the Tennessee legislature and Congress involving prison bills.
Friedmann’s attorney said that the state wanted more money in damages than actually done and said he was liable for less damage. Prosecutors, however, said that it cost $291,000 to change all the locks at the facility because Friedmann had stolen keys from the new Downtown Detention Center.
According to Nashville Sheriff Daron Hall, the jail was only “two weeks away from a massive loss of life,” and the stage had been set for a violent jailbreak. Hall had been in talks with Friedmann about at least one other jail in Nashville, the Associated Press reported.
“Understand, this plan went far beyond vandalism. Ultimately, it included planting various tools, weapons and security equipment throughout this facility — all designed to assist in a massive escape plan,” Hall said around the time of the initial arrest, saying that some of the guns hidden in the jail were loaded.
Friedmann was arrested in January 2020 after officers found him entering the prison using keys he had stolen. While he was being detained, he ate jail plans he had been carrying with him.
The activist also faces federal gun charges.