After an ABC15 investigation exposed how many cells don’t lock inside Arizona’s Lewis Prison, dozens of state corrections officers, inmates’ families, and prisoner advocates are coming forward with information about other facilities with broken and faulty doors and locks.
At a press conference Tuesday, inmate advocate Donna Leone Hamm said she’s received dozens of emails and phone calls since last week’s news report broke.
“Since (ABC15) covered this story, we have received dozens of emails and telephone calls from inmates family who report that this problem just does not exist in the Lewis Prison,” Hamm said. “It is much more widespread. We have received reports about Perryville and Tucson.”
ABC15 has received a flood of emails from corrections officers and inmates, who also specifically identify those two prisons, among others, as problematic. And lawsuits show the problems at Lewis prison mirror issues at other prisons in recent years.
In a 2016 federal lawsuit, multiple officers working at multiple prison units claimed they were assaulted by inmates who slipped through defective and faulty doors and locks.
In one example, Sgt. Armando Salazar and other officers were attacked by 10 inmates who opened their own cell doors in the Cimarron Unit of the Tucson Prison Complex in October 2015.
“(The wardens) contributed to the creation of this obvious unsecure and dangerous environment and were deliberately indifferent to Armando’s rights when they made the decision to operate the Cimarron Unit with cell door locks that were known to be faulty and/or defective, and created the heightened danger that extraordinarily dangerous inmates who were purportedly “locked-down” could freely open their locked cell doors to attack officers,” according to the lawsuit.
Salazar suffered multiple broken bones and a concussion. Through an attorney, he declined to be interviewed because it would be too emotionally traumatic to discuss the incident.
ABC15 obtained an internal memorandum related to the attack on Salazar. It documents that inmates “popped” their cell doors and has pictures of 10 of the inmates involved.
Faulty locks at Arizona prisons are a sensitive subject dating back to 1997.
In March of that year, Officer Brent Lumley was stabbed to death by an inmate who accessed a control room because of a faulty door lock.
At the Tuesday press conference, Hamm spoke about the officer’s murder.
“That should have been a message. That should have been a wakeup call,” she said.
In 2011, the state Auditor General released an audit on the Department of Corrections security operations that found a long list of problems and deficiencies.
Top Arizona Democrats cited the audit in a Monday letter sent to Governor Doug Ducey calling for prison director Charles Ryan to be fired.
“In the last Auditor General report, which was published in September 2011, the auditors found many troubling security violations, including broken perimeter alarm systems that staff simply ignored and failure to keep an inventory of keys,” according to the letter. “In that same audit report, auditors found that in one private prison, the staff reported that the indicator lights on the control room panel were not functioning, which meant that staff could not determine if inmate doors were unsecure or ajar. The failure to secure doors – which is a fundamental function of a prison facility – is a problem that continues to plague our state-run facilities.”
Lawmakers, union members, and inmate advocates also demanded on Tuesday a detailed accounting of the millions of dollars designated for building maintenance annually to find out why door lock fixes weren’t prioritized.
On Tuesday afternoon, Governor Ducey announced two retired Arizona Supreme Court justices will lead an investigation into Lewis Prison problems exposed by ABC15.
Officers and advocates also called for an audit of all security devices in all prisons across the state.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at email@example.com.