Union leader: Iowa DOC downplaying recent prison assault

“The dangerously low staffing levels at all of our correctional facilities mean that incidents like this one will continue to escalate in severity," the union leader said

By Rod Boshart
The Gazette

DES MOINES, Iowa — The head of Iowa’s largest state-employees’ union expressed concern Thursday that the Iowa Department of Corrections was attempting to downplay the severity of an assault by an inmate on a corrections officer that took place last week at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.

Danny Homan, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61, said reports from eyewitnesses that have come to light “detail a situation far more serious than what the department has led the public to believe.”

Corrections officials last Friday reported the assault took place while the corrections officer was conducting routine duties in a living unit when he was confronted by the inmate who used “closed-fist strikes to force him to the ground, then proceeded to kick the officer once he was on the ground.”

According to state officials, additional staff members were nearby and able to quickly come to the assistance of the officer, who was transported to a hospital for evaluation and treatment before being released.

However, Homan said information provided by eyewitnesses indicates there were four inmates involved in the assault — “one who threw six punches and 13 stomps to the head, and three others who helped plan the assault and attempted to slow down the responding staff while the assault was taking place.”

The AFSMCE leader said prison video footage shows the group of inmates plotting at a table and watching the corrections officer make his rounds. The inmate who assaulted the officer had just completed a long-term restricted housing program intended to make him less dangerous, Homan said in a news release. Additionally, cocaine and a shank were discovered during the shakedown and inmate property search following the incident.

“Until yesterday, the warden at (Iowa State Penitentiary) had refused to meet with union members over their concerns about the safety and security of staff within the facility,” Homan said in his statement. “The dangerously low staffing levels at all of our correctional facilities mean that incidents like this one will continue to escalate in severity. When will Gov. Reynolds and the legislative Republicans who have created this budget disaster realize that their carelessness is going to get someone killed?”

Corrections department spokesman Cord Overton issued a statement in response to AFSCME’s account, saying the well-being of prison staff members is the agency’s highest priority and the details of last week’s assault issued by the department were accurate, timely and something it stands by.

“After any assault on staff or other inmates, the department initiates an investigation into the incident. Any attempt to pre-emptively release the confidential details and evidence compiled as part of that investigation undermines the integrity of the investigation and the security of the correctional system,” Overton said in the statement Thursday. “Attempts to politicize attacks on our staff damages the overall security of our facilities and the safety of our staff.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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