BUCKEYE, AZ — A corrections officer at the Lewis Prison was stabbed in the chest Wednesday morning by an inmate armed with a piece of metal, according to multiple sources.
In a statement from the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC), a spokesperson said the officer was transported to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
The attack happened around 10:30 a.m. in the prison’s Buckley Unit -- one of the three units exposed in an ABC15 investigation that have cell doors that don’t properly lock.
ABC15 spoke with prison director Charles Ryan outside the hospital where the officer was being treated. He denied broken locks played a role in the attack. “No sir, that is not the case,” Ryan said.
The ADOC spokesperson said an inmate was being escorted out of his housing pod to the prison's medical facility after complaining of dizziness to officers.
While being transported, the inmate pulled out "an improvised prison-made weapon and began swinging at a correctional officer, stabbing him in the chest."
Sources told ABC15 the weapon was an 8-inch piece of metal with a shoelace string for a handle.
Dozens of steel pins used in door locking mechanisms at the prison have been lost in the past year, according to months of security inspection records. However, ADOC claims the weapon fashioned did not include one of those pins.
ADOC said while the investigation is ongoing, "It appears the weapon used in the attack was fashioned from a portable immersion heater coil, not a door pin."
"Preliminary information on this incident indicates that it was not related to the functionality of doors or locking mechanisms at the prison," the ADOC spokesperson continued. "Additionally, the housing unit where the incident occurred was fully staffed at the time of the incident."
The inmate will be moved to maximum security housing and will face criminal charges for the stabbing.
But multiple sources told ABC15 the inmate, Leonard Bacon, a convicted murder with a history of violence in prison, should have already been in max custody because of an incident three weeks ago.
On April 15, Bacon was found with another weapon on him, sources said. It’s not clear why he was not placed in maximum security.
In response to a question about Bacon's status, a Department of Corrections spokesman said, "Today’s incident is under investigation and, as part of that investigation, the inmate’s custody classification at the time of today’s incident will be reviewed."
Tensions in Lewis Prison have been high since ABC15 exposed how many doors inside multiple units of Lewis Prison don’t properly lock – and haven’t for years.
The stabbing won’t quiet calls for Governor Doug Ducey to fire Ryan. “We are aware of that,” Ryan said outside the hospital. “There are a lot of things being evaluated. Right now, the primary focus is on looking for a solution relative to the door-locking mechanisms.”
On April 26, the day after ABC15’s report broke, Director Charles Ryan ordered the emergency padlocking of up to 1,000 cells in Lewis Prison. The move was in violation of state fire codes and has stretched staff resources.
The State Fire Marshal has temporarily approved the move because of the serious safety issues in the prison.
The padlocking has also incensed inmates, who have been making threats against officers, multiple sources said. On Monday, the department announced it would be transferring many inmates to other prisons across the state because of safety and staffing concerns.
Ryan said his department and a special team deployed by Ducey are making progress on long-term solutions. Officials have reached out to 47 other state prison systems to ask about their locks and have brought in outside companies for quotes. “I think we’re getting closer to a solution,” Ryan said. “I think there’s two proposals out of five or so that are due for costing information. And we’ll go from there.”
Ryan would not commit to a timetable for when the lock fixes would be started and completed.
Take a look at timeline below to see all of the coverage stemming from ABC15's investigation of broken cell locks at Lewis Prison.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at firstname.lastname@example.org.