Inmate strikes employee at US Penitentiary Atwater

04/12/2011 5:02 PM

04/13/2011 3:58 PM

A correctional officer at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater was taken to a hospital Tuesday afternoon after being assaulted by an inmate.

The assault is under investigation, said Miguel Chavez, public information officer for USP Atwater. Union officials confirmed the injured employee was a correctional officer, but the prison hasn't released the officer's gender or identity.

The inmate approached the officer about 2 p.m. and struck the officer in the face inside one of the prison's housing units, Chavez said. After being treated for injuries by the prison's medical staff, the officer was taken to a hospital for evaluation as a precautionary measure, Chavez said. The officer is in stable condition.

The inmate was subdued, and the FBI has been notified about the assault, Chavez said.

Andy Krotik, spokesman for the organization Friends and Family of Correctional Officers, said the assault is an example of why correctional officers need batons, mace and better stab-proof vests to safely perform their jobs.

The correctional officer was conducting a routine cell search alone when the incident happened, Krotik said. The officer sustained major head trauma and was drenched in blood from head to toe after the assault.

Friends and Family of Correctional Officers was created soon after USP Atwater Correctional Officer Jose Rivera was killed in 2008 at the prison by two drunken inmates who stabbed him to death in a housing unit.

"Yet again, this just goes to prove that correctional officers at USP Atwater do not have the tools to defend themselves," Krotik said about Tuesday's attack.

Deactivating six of the prison's seven security towers in January also has caused concern for correctional officer safety, said Krotik, adding that 18 positions vacated from the towers should be used to increase staffing in housing units.

Instead, the 18 freed-up shifts have been used to alleviate overtime, he said. "How many more attacks and how many more people have to die?" Krotik said. "It's a ticking time bomb."

In the housing units, it's common for one correctional officer to be among more than 100 inmates, often with nothing more than a set of keys and a panic button, he said.

Donald Martin, AFGE Local 1242 Atwater Prison Union president and chief executive officer, said correctional officer safety should be a priority, and he agreed with Krotik's ways to make that happen.

"Our priority right now is getting support to our brother officer and his family," Martin said. "We continue to believe that putting a second officer in the housing units as well as properly equipping our officers is key to improving safety at the penitentiary."

The prison went on temporary lockdown after the incident, Chavez said.

This was the first assault by an inmate on a staff member at the prison this year.

USP Atwater houses about 1,150 high-security male inmates.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.

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