Sayre CCA worst since prison opened.

Inmates but no employees injured in Sayre prison riot


Published: October 12, 2011

Beckham County Sheriff Scott Jay said Tuesday’s riot at the North Fork Correctional Facility is the worst he has heard about since the private prison opened in 1999.

When he arrived at the scene, Jay said. “We saw mass fighting all over the yard.”

Sixteen inmates were taken to area hospitals to be treated for injuries, according to a statement released about 8 p.m. by the operator of the private prison, Corrections Corp. of America. One had been returned to the prison by evening. The statement also said that 30 inmates were treated at the facility.

No staff injuries were reported, the statement said.

Prison spokeswoman Michelle Deherrera said the riot broke out about 11:45 a.m. at the medium-security facility that houses inmates from California.

Officers contained riot

Jay said he saw weapons in use by the brawling inmates, but he couldn’t identify what they were. Knowing prison culture, Jay said, he would speculate they were homemade weapons.

Smaller incidents have happened at the prison, Jay said, but he was only aware of one other time when local law officers were called in to help.

Officers from the Beckham County Sheriff’s Department, and the Sayre and Elk City Police Department, as well as the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, helped contain the riot.

Ambulance crews from nearby towns such as Elk City and Erick provided medical care.

At 5 p.m., after as many as a dozen patients had been taken to the hospital, seven ambulances remained lined up outside the gates.

Jay said at least 11 ground ambulance runs were made from the prison.

Midwest City Police Chief Brandon Clabes said at least two injured prisoners were taken by medical helicopter to Midwest Regional Medical Center. Midwest City police were asked to provide security until prison employees arrived, Clabes said.

Inmates also were airlifted to OU Medical Center, a spokesman said, but he referred further questions to corrections authorities.

“Right now, we don’t know if this was racially motivated, or they had a beef with the facility or what,” Jay said.

Deherrera did not release any information about a possible reason for the riot.

Sayre police escorted ambulances to the Sayre hospital, and Elk City police provided security for ambulances that took injured inmates to the hospital in Elk City, Sayre Police Chief Eddie Holland said.

“We’ll be here as long as it takes,” Holland said about 4 p.m. “Right now, the whole place is a crime scene.”

Relatives concerned

Relatives of prison employees, gathered at the county barn about two miles away shortly after the riot broke out, spent the afternoon pacing and waiting for their cellphones to ring.

A Beckham County dispatcher said local law officers and ambulance crews were called about 11:50 a.m. to assist in the riot at 1605 E Main St.

Bill Barrett, spokesman for Great Plains Regional Medical Center in Elk City, said multiple patients were taken to that hospital.

Deherrera said public safety was never threatened. She did not say how long it took the staff to contain the riot.

Dale Denwalt, a reporter for the Daily Elk Citian, said a sheriff’s deputy provided details about the riot to the waiting relatives.

A source inside the prison said 530 people are employed there but did not release numbers on how many were at work when the riot broke out.

Louis Thompson, 20, of Elk City, said his mother, Cherie, is a correctional officer with CCA.

He said he heard about the riot from his sister and was pacing across the street from the prison throughout the afternoon, worrying about his mother’s safety.

“She said they had a couple of small riots, but nothing very big,” Thompson said.

“She said she could feel something was about to happen, and it did. I just hope she’s all right.”

Deherrera said the prison was being placed on complete lockdown, with all inmates confined to their cells and movement restricted until further notice.

“When I arrived a little bit after 12:30, the situation from outside the facility seemed calm,” Denwalt said. “There were some inmates who were in the courtyard sitting against the wall, and the guards were obviously watching them.”

According to the Oklahoma Corrections Department, North Fork can house up to 2,500 male inmates.