Governor tours damaged Tecumseh prison

Gov. Pete Ricketts prepares to tour Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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May 19, 2015 - 4:36pm

Gov. Pete Ricketts, Corrections Director Scott Frakes,  Warden Brian Gage and about two dozen members of the media toured the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution Tuesday -- nine days after  inmates took over part of the maximum security prison in a disturbance that left two prisoners dead.


In a beige concrete room guarded by two sets of grey metal and glass doors, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts herded a group of journalists into the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. “C’mon in folks. It’s a double door here so everybody c’mon in,” Ricketts urged.

Through that second door, down a hallway and past the grassy green yard lies a gymnasium, where Tecumseh Warden Brian Gage said about 30 prisoners were present during the disturbance that began about 2:30 on Mother’s Day afternoon.

Gage pointed to an adjoining room where a female recreation staffer was trapped. “She pushed a desk against the door. She felt that she was being threatened. They were pounding and they wanted her out of that office,” he said. The woman was eventually rescued as authorities retook control of the prison by Monday morning.

Gage led reporters out into the yard, stood in front of a guard tower, and gestured toward one of the buildings where the trouble started. “The grouping of the inmates were over in front of Unit One. Staff members seen that grouping, went over there and wanted people to move on. One person we understand was not supposed to be in that group. They were on what we call room restriction. They shouldn’t have been out of their housing unit. They were taking care of him and that’s when they were attacked,” Gage said.

The Department of Correctional Services says two staff members were injured. Two inmates were wounded, one with rubber bullets, one with live ammunition. Inmates took over two of three housing units at the prison, which holds just over 1,000 people, but not death row. The worst damage was in Unit Two. Gage pointed out smoke damage above doors where a fire was set, describing how the plexiglass melted, when Ricketts interrupted with a question. “I want to just be clear. This was the facility where the 32 cells that were the crime scene were out of commission?” he asked. “Yes. I’ll show you that,” Gage replied. “There’s 32 cells. There’s up to 64 inmates that live in that unit. Right now it has not gone in for cleaning.”

Ricketts crime scene reference is to the place where the Department of Correctional Services says inmates Donald Peacock and Shon Collins were found dead after authorities retook control of the prison,  apparently killed by other prisoners.

Surveying the scene, Corrections Director Frakes said things are getting better. “As bad as (Unit) 2B looks -- and it certainly looks bad right now -- we estimate 48 hours maybe a little less it’ll be cleaned up and it will look like the other units,” he said.

After the tour, Ricketts stands outside the prison and answers questions. He’s asked his reaction to what he’s seen. “Seeing the damage inside only reinforces that these are dangerous, hardened criminals that are inside this facility. And that we need to have facilities like this to protect the public safety and we need strong laws,” he said.

Ricketts, Frakes, and Gage praised the staff for all they had done to help the prison recover. Since the incident, 9 of those staff members have resigned their positions.  That leaves about 40 vacant positions of the 483 total positions at the Tecumseh prison.

 

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