To home page Classifieds Search the site Have your say in forums Chat Weather information
Marketplace  |   Services  |   Contact Us  |   Community  |   Arts & Entertainment  |   Local Guides
graphic header for Caller.com

 

Local News
| News | Sports | Business | Opinions | Columns | Entertainment |
| Science/Technology | Weather | Archives | E-mail Us |



Tuesday, December 21, 1999

Unit riots at Beeville prison

Inmate gets through three doors

By Jennifer Stump
Caller-Times

 

David Pellerin/Caller-Times
Guards stop a car on Monday at the main gate of the William G. McConnell Unit in Beeville. A riot broke out around 4 a.m. Monday at the prison after an inmate got out of his cell and stabbed a guard, corrections officials said.
BEEVILLE - An inmate pried his way out of his cell and made it through three security doors before stabbing a correctional officer and seizing control of a maximum security area of the William G. McConnell Unit, releasing 83 inmates from their cells at about 4 a.m. Monday.
   Prisoners ruined the control room and shattered Plexiglas throughout the area before a tactical team of 80 to 100 correctional officers entered at 5 a.m. and used pepper spray and teargas to subdue the inmates.
   Prison officials, meanwhile, continued to try to piece together the events that led to the riot. Accounts differed throughout the day as to how the inmate managed to enter the control room.
   On Monday morning, Texas Department of Criminal Justice Spokesman Larry Todd said a correctional officer allowed the prisoner into the control room.
   "One of the inmates got out of his cell and approached the officer in the control room," Todd said. "He had something in his hand. She thought he was bringing her some contraband. She opened the control room door and he seized control."
   Later in the day, however, prison officials said that the inmate followed a male guard into the control booth through a security door before pulling a knife on him.
   Todd said that the inconsistencies in the stories are due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.
   Officials identified William Steed Kelley, 31, as the prisoner who attacked a female officer in the control room Monday morning with a shank, or handmade weapon, and started the riot. Kelley is serving a life sentence for aggravated sexual assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder on a conviction from Harris County.
   He has been in prison since July 1987. Kelley was also convicted of attempted murder for a 1991 attack on a fellow inmate at the Coffield Unit in Palestine. He received 10 years for that assault.
   State officials plan to charge Kelley with inciting a riot and attempted capital murder of a correctional officer, said Gary Johnson, institutional division director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
   Officer injured
   Officials, who did not have a cost estimate for the amount of damage caused, said they had not yet discovered a motive for the riot. Internal affairs officers are investigating how Kelley broke out of his cell, Johnson said.
   Johnson would not say how Kelley managed to get through three security doors.
   After entering the control room, Kelley stabbed a female correctional officer in the arm, but she escaped almost immediately, Todd said. She was treated and released from a local hospital Monday morning and was back at the prison within hours.
   The male correctional officer escaped into a recreational area, where he remained until prison officials regained control of the unit. He was overcome by pepper gas and tear gas and was rescued by the tactical team.
   Both officers were being interviewed by internal affairs investigators Monday afternoon, Johnson said.
   Lockdown since Friday
   All 2,900 prisoners housed in the McConnell Unit have been on lockdown since Friday, when Correctional Officer Daniel Nagle was stabbed to death at the prison.
   Johnson said investigators had identified the inmate they believe killed Nagle. Johnson said prison officials would present the case to the Bee County Grand Jury in January.
   Monday's riot happened in the E Pod of Building 12, the maximum-security area of the McConnell Unit. Each of the prison's 6 maximum-security pods can hold 84 inmates.
   Inmates uninjured
   Todd said 80 of the 83 prisoners housed in the unit are believed to have taken part in the riot. No inmates were injured during the riot.
   All prisoners who were housed in the E pod were taken out of the McConnell Unit in small groups Monday morning and were transferred to prisons around the state. Kelley was being held at the McConnell Unit and was being questioned late Monday afternoon, Johnson said.
   Johnson said the McConnell Unit would remain on lockdown indefinitely but that there are no plans for a statewide prison lockdown.
   Staff on edge
   The atmosphere at the unit has been tense since Nagle's death, the first on-duty killing of a Texas correctional officer since the early 1980s, Johnson said.
   "The guards are anxious, scared, frustrated and mad," Johnson said. "The staff is very upset. That goes without saying. People, of course, are scared right now."
   One correctional officer resigned Monday morning, he said.
   The three security doors between inmates and the officers in the control room are typically only opened by someone in the control room, Todd said.
   "There are several doors in there," Johnson said. "I don't want to get into how it occurred."
   Kelley released dozens of fellow inmates from their cells by manipulating the control panel, Johnson said.
   "We assume this was just random pushing of buttons," Johnson said.
   Riot gates were closed after the two officers escaped, so inmates had access only to their cells, the control room and part of a hallway leading out of the unit, Todd said.
   Putting down the riot
   A tactical team entered the E Pod at 5:00 a.m. through three separate entrances and sprayed the inmates with chemical agents, Johnson said. Prisoners immediately began returning to their cells and did not resist further, Johnson said.
   Prisoners who are housed in maximum security are either confirmed gang members or have a history of violence within the prison walls, Johnson said. They are allowed out of their individual cells for an hour each day for a shower and recreation time.
   The McConnell Unit houses about 2,900 prisoners and employs about 500 guards.
   Prison officials took a head count of all correctional officers and inmates after the riot, and all were accounted for, Johnson said.
   The female officer who was injured in the riot has been with the McConnell Unit since February 1995. The male officer who was caught by the tear gas joined the unit in May 1997, said Glenn Castlebury, spokesman for the Department of Criminal Justice.
   Staff training
   Corrections officers receive 160 hours of training prior to working in a prison and 80 each year afterward.
   Statewide, the Department of Criminal Justice has had a 20 percent attrition rate for its employees, one of the worst in years, Johnson said.
   The Texas prison system is understaffed by about 1,000 officers, Johnson said. But he said he didn't know if the McConnell Unit is understaffed. The state has had a difficult time controlling turnover because the salaries for correctional officers are so low, he said.
   Johnson said he did not recall any major problems identified in the most recent state security and operational audits of the McConnell Unit.
   Johnson said recent state security and operational audits of the McConnell Unit didn't identify any major problems. Cell breakouts happen from time to time at prisons around the state, he said.
   "We all have to remember where we are working," Johnson said. "The nature of the business is somewhat dangerous. We do all we can to mitigate those dangers."
   Causes for riots
   Kevin Wright, professor of criminal justice at State University of New York-Binghamton University, has studied prisons for 25 years.
   "We used to think that (riots) were these random acts, but studies indicate that they are caused by organizational disorganization," Wright said. "They're usually caused because things aren't as they should be."
   And although riots are more likely in maximum-security prisons than medium and minimum-security prisons, that's not because of the offender's crime.
   "It's not the type of prisoner, it's more the conditions of confinement," Wright said.
   Mini-riots, such as those when prisoners take control of a cellblock, refuse to leave their cells or refuse to leave the eating area, aren't all that rare, Wright said.
   "Any organization - and prisons aren't unique in this - many problems stem from leadership," Wright said. "The outcomes in prison can be dangerous. Well-run prisons don't tend to have riots.
   "This is not to point fingers, though. It doesn't mean someone's at fault," Wright said. "But could things have been done differently? Sure. But that's hindsight."
  
  




Staff writer Stephanie Jordan and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Staff writer Jennifer Stump can be reached at 886-3778 or by e-mail at stumpj@caller.com

| Talk about this story | Next Story | Home |

Scripps logo
  © 1999 Caller-Times Publishing Company, a Scripps Howard newspaper. All rights reserved.
spacer spacer


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Search our site:

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]