Ombudsman's report: Tecumseh prison riot was protest that got out of control

Tecumseh inmate Lenaris Brown shows list of grievances. (Photo from video via Ombudsman's report)
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November 2, 2015 - 10:00pm

A new report says last May’s riot at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution stemmed from a planned protest of inmate grievances that got out of control.

In the May 10 riot, two inmates were killed, presumably by fellow prisoners, one inmate was shot and wounded by prison staff, two prison staff were assaulted, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage was done by fire and other means.

A June report ordered by Corrections Director Scott Frakes blamed unclear practices for allowing too many inmates in the prison yard at once. The latest report by State Ombudsman Marshall Lux says the riot started as a protest by inmates against recent rules changes, but quickly escalated into violence.

“Once it became apparent out on that yard that something was going on and that this was an unusual event, the worst case scenario came to pass, because there were other inmates out in that yard who had nothing to do whatsoever with this protest who used the situation as an opportunity to assault staff,” Lux said. 

The Ombudsman’s report features a photo taken from video of the event that shows an inmate holding up a list of grievances, which it says were not detailed in the previous report. It says the leading complaints involved restrictions on access to the prison yard, group sports, and prison laundry jobs.

Lux said the yard restrictions were implemented several years ago to try and limit conflict between gangs. A so-called “wellness league” was designed to restore privileges to inmates who behaved well. But Lux said applying those higher standards to other, existing privileges was an example of a good idea gone bad.

“Unfortunately at Tecumseh, it got turned inside out by the administration and they started to use it as a way to punish inmates in taking away their recreational leagues, softball leagues for instance,” Lux said. “That was taking away something away from the inmates that they had and that they valued and they objected to that.”

The report also discusses chronic under-staffing at Tecumseh, about an hour southeast of Lincoln, and says the prison may have to be changed to handle less challenging inmates. In a written response, Corrections Director Frakes said he’ll use the report to improve operations at the Tecumseh prison.



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