SALEM, Ore. — The union for Oregon correctional officers has hired a lawyer to sue inmates who attack their guards, and the first action alleges that an inmate with HIV bit the inside of his cheek until it bled so that he could spit infected blood.
The president of the officers union said more lawsuits are ahead as they try to stop inmates from throwing urine and feces on officers, spitting on them and hitting them with objects or fists.
"We didn't get hired by the department to be punching bags," said Mike Van Patten, president of the Association of Oregon Correctional Employees.
He told the Salem Statesman Journal the lawsuits are also a way for officers to get an emotional resolution.
"We're doing this partly to get the staff members some closure," he said. "Post-traumatic stress disorder rates are quite high in this industry."
The union has hired lawyer Sean Riddell, once a top investigator for former Attorney General John Kroger.
Officer Jeffrey Parnell's suit alleges that 22-year-old inmate Nickolas John Hainz knew he was infected when he spat at the officer.
The lawsuit said Parnell was tested and "waited several months in fear he was infected until medical tests confirmed he was not."
The suit seeks $700,000.
It could not be determined Friday whether the inmate had responded to the suit, filed Jan. 4. Corrections and court officials were on a state budget furlough day. Riddell said he hadn't been informed of a response.
It is a felony in Oregon for an inmate to throw bodily fluids on an officer, adding as much as five years to a sentence.
Assaulting an officer was a misdemeanor, and many inmates faced few consequences until the Legislature toughened the law in 1999.
That year, the Department of Corrections reported 115 inmate assaults on staffers in a prison system with 9,400 inmates.
In 2012, department numbers show 150 assaults in a system that has grown significantly. It now holds 14,205 inmates, which means the number of assaults hasn't grown as fast as the inmate population.
Even so, Van Patten said it's simply too much.
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"It's the nature of the beast. It's a prison," he said. "And it's a small portion of the inmate population. There are a majority of inmates who do what they're supposed to do. But for us, one assault is too much."