CCA giving Sayre cops “the runaround” on prison riot

Interesting follow-up coverage from what appears to be the Oklahoman’s on-line edition, newsok.com. In addition to exploring the attempts of local police to investigate the riot, it goes into the distribution of California prisoners in for-profit facilities across the country. 

———-from newsok.com———

Cause of October prison riot in Sayre continues to be withheld

The cause of the Oct. 11 riot at a private prison in Sayre has yet to be released due to ongoing investigation by local authorities.

 
BY ANDREW KNITTLE aknittle@opubco.com  

Published: December 10, 2011



— Nearly a month after a riot that injured inmates at a private prison in western Oklahoma, prison officials say they do not have a cause that they can release.

They will say that 16 of the inmates who were hospitalized after the riot have since been released, but they won’t say what types of injuries they suffered in the Oct. 11 melee.

Mike Machak, spokesman for Corrections Corp. of America, said it’s too early to release details on the riot at the North Fork Correctional Facility.

“While we are not aware of any criminal charges that have been filed, we do know that the Sayre Police Department‘s investigation is ongoing,” Machak said.

“To that end, we do not want to release details that might undermine those ongoing efforts.”

Sayre Police Chief Ronnie Harrold said he has yet to receive anything from the prison regarding the riot. He said he thinks something is close to happening, but that the prison corporation has “been giving us the runaround.”

“It’s coming close to the point where we would expect for them to turn it over to us,” Harrold said. “At some point, if they want charges filed, they’ll have to turn it over to us.”

Prison spokeswoman Michelle Deherrera said the riot erupted just before noon, and the help of local law enforcement agencies was required to subdue the prisoners.

In addition to the 16 inmates who required hospitalization, another 30 were treated at a medical facility at the prison, she said.

Deherrera said no prison staff members or assisting law enforcement officers were injured.

The more than 2,000 prisoners held at the private prison are from California. Machak said inmates from Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Vermont have been housed at the prison over the past 12 years.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation website, the state has more than 9,588 inmates serving time in out-of-state prisons.

In addition to North Fork, Arizona has two prisons that house 4,596 inmates from California. A facility in Mississippi has custody of an additional 2,592 prisoners.

California began transferring prisoners to out-of-state facilities in 2007 to alleviate overcrowding and restore rehabilitation programs in its state-run lockups, according to the California department’s website.

The move to transfer the inmates was prompted by an executive order issued in October 2006 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and was expected to be a temporary measure to allow prison reform in California.

Sayre CCA worst since prison opened.


Inmates but no employees injured in Sayre prison riot

BY RON JACKSON, TIFFANY GIBSON and MATT PATTERSON

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.