Update: Two inmates killed in Tecumseh prison riot identified

Tecumseh State Correctional Institution remains on lockdown after prisoners took control of multiple housing units Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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May 11, 2015 - 5:45pm

Two inmates are dead following a riot at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in southeast Nebraska.


The disturbance at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution began after two correctional officers tried to break up a gathering of around 40 inmates Sunday afternoon.  Scott Frakes, the director of the Department of Correctional Services, said inmates are not permitted to gather in such large numbers.

“At the point that [correctional officers] directed [the inmates] to disperse, one staff member was assaulted. A second staff member stepped in to assist. They were also assaulted. The officer in the tower felt there was potential for serious injury to staff or other offenders, other inmates, and first fired a warning shot and then fired a shot at an inmate that struck him in the leg,” Frakes said.

Frakes added the two correctional officers and injured inmate received medical attention for non-life threatening injuries.

Frakes said shortly after the initial incident, somewhere between 100 and 200 inmates in multiple housing units began rioting. Ceiling tiles and walls were torn down, windows smashed and several fires were set, including some outside that were seen burning for hours.

“So by one o’clock (Monday morning), we had brought all the inmates into spaces that we controlled, and either locked them into cells or locked them into programming or other areas, including three small outside yards. So they were locked within that space. It was a cool evening, and it got a little cooler as we got into the early morning. [The inmates] had plastic chairs available. Not sure what they used for the ignition source, but they were able to get a fire going. A bonfire would be a good word. [The chairs] were plastic so they burned well and burned with a lot of black smoke,” Frakes said.

After officers retook the facility at around one o’clock in the morning, Frakes said they discovered two inmates had been killed. They have been identified as Donald Peacock and Shon Collins. Both men were 46-years-old and convicted child molesters. The Nebraska State Patrol is investigating the deaths. Frakes said the two appear to have been killed by other inmates, but wouldn’t elaborate on what led him to that conclusion.

Frakes said the reason it took almost 11 hours for correctional officers to retake the facility was to prevent more injuries to correctional officers.

“There was pockets of inmates in a variety of locations so we needed to move very thoughtfully, methodically, and carefully. We didn’t know if the inmates may have acquired weapons during this time. In some cases, [inmates] had destroyed or at least covered the cameras so we didn’t have any good sense of what was on the other side of the door until we opened it,” Frakes said.

No officers were injured in the retaking of the maximum security prison. Frakes said all inmates and staff have been accounted for and the public is safe.

The riot at Tecumseh State Correctional Institute started just one day after the Nebraska State Penitentiary was put on lockdown.

Tecumseh Facility Staffing Questions

At his news conference Monday, Corrections Director Scott Frakes was asked if there are enough staff members at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.

"I don’t believe that the facility is understaffed," Frakes said.

Frakes explained how his department ensures there is enough staff on hand to handle the prisoners.

"For the custody staffing those are mandatory posts. So we fill those posts if there’s vacancies, we either use released staff or we will use overtime to fill those positions," Frakes explained.

Mike Steadman, a field worker for the NAPE/AFSCME union that represents staff workers at Tecumseh, said the use of overtime is a problem.

From 2001 through 2013, he worked in the prison as a caseworker, connecting prisoners with needed services. Steadman said it was common for someone to be ordered to stay on the job after completing their eight hour shift.

"We’ve had instances at Tecumseh where the third shift that works from 10 at night to 6 in the morning have been mandatoried the complete shift three days a week in a row. It’d be ten to six and six to two so they would be working 16 hours. And then they are expected to come back after working 16 hours after not really an eight hour break," Steadman said.

He added working that schedule can lead to problems.

"If you work a sixteen hour shift, how vigilant can you be as time goes? And the vigilance is a problem for the facility – for the safety and the security of the facility. But it’s also a problem for the inmates. Because if you can’t protect your staff, the staff can’t protect the inmates," Steadman said.

Steadman said another problem is pay. People who have been on staff at TSCI for a long time are paid the same amount as someone hired off the street who has just gone through training. One result, said Steadman, is high turnover, leaving inexperienced staff in charge of some of the state’s toughest prisoners.

"What you have is a situation where you have newer staff at all of the facilities, but at Tecumseh specifically, that are having to work with the problematic inmates from across the state. And That’s a witches brew," Steadman said.

Dawn Renee Smith of the Department of Correctional Services said Steadman’s points are generally true: there is no step plan for pay increases, staff are held over to fill positions on a regular basis, and there is a significant turnover rate at Tecumseh. However, Smith added, “there is no evidence that suggest these issues contributed to the disturbance” at the prison. She said internal and external investigations and a critical incident review will be conducted to help determine what factors contributed to the disturbance.

Below is video from Monday's press conference with NDCS Director Scott Frakes.

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