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Final report released after ABC15 exposed broken locks inside Arizona's Lewis prison

Posted: 1:53 PM, Aug 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-15 22:08:12-04
Lewis Prison unlocked doors

PHOENIX — The Governor’s Office released a scathing final report on Thursday from the outside investigation ordered by Gov. Doug Ducey after ABC15 exposed broken locks inside Arizona’s Lewis prison.

The report further confirms many of the key findings ABC15 uncovered, and concluded Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan’s leadership and response to the problem was “not acceptable.”

CLICK HERE to read the full 52-page report released Thursday.

“We conclude that the Director, for too long, remained surprisingly uninformed about the poor functioning of the locks and scope and seriousness of the danger the inmate UA issue that resulted at Lewis posed to inmates and officers,” according to the report.

The final report was completed by retired Arizona Supreme Court chief justices Ruth McGregor and Rebecca Berch.

The justices’ report heavily criticized Ryan and other administrators, including wardens and deputy wardens.

After ABC15 exposed the problem, department officials “firmly disputed” that locks were actually broken. The officials blamed inmates for tampering with cell doors and officers for not checking them.

TIMELINE: 'Unlocked and Unsafe' investigation into broken AZ prison doors, fires

But the justices’ investigation concluded that some locks were actually broken and “simply will not close, lock, or stay locked.”

The report says Ryan and other officials still refuse to acknowledge the fact.

“According to statements from ADC, the top leadership team believed until fairly recently – and some, including the Director, still believe today – that the cell door locks at Lewis were not broken, but the inmates could jimmy their cell doors open if they capped the doors.”

The report also details similar locking issues at other prisons, but says they are not as severe as the issues at Lewis prison.

The justices’ completed their final interview of the investigation with Ryan on August 8. Ryan suddenly announced his retirement the following day.

The report also explored what actions were taken by Ryan and other administrators to address the locking problem. The justices discovered that as the problems grew, the department never asked the legislature for money to fix it.

“The Lewis Complex was not included in the requests for funds for prison locking systems in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, or 2020. (See Attachment 4.) This is so even though, by at least 2017-18, assaults and deaths had resulted in part from the ability of inmates to “access their doors” and leave their cells without having the Cos open the doors for them, and ADC leadership had acknowledged being advised that inmates’ ability to get out of their cells had become an increasing problem.”

Money provided for general lock replacements at other prisons also can’t be accurately accounted for.

“ADOA reports ADC as having spent $8.81 M on locks projects from 2012-2018. But we have not been able to trace the money to particular projects.”

The report also determined more than a dozen seriously assaults and deaths could either be directly or possibly linked to the broken locks.

On April 25, an ABC15 investigation exposed a series of leaked surveillance videos proving many cell doors inside the Lewis prison don’t properly secure, leading to severe assaults against inmates and officers. At least two inmate deaths are being blamed on the broken doors.

In the months that followed, ABC15 aired dozens of reports that discovered evidence of the problem was overwhelming.

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

- Routine inspection logs, internal investigations, incident reports, and surveillance videos show there was overwhelming and ongoing evidence – often reaching the Director Ryan’s office – documenting a serious problem inside Lewis Prison.

- A l eaked memorandum and video from 2006 showing that previous top officials knew about failing locking systems for more than a decade, but did not adequately address the problem or seek funds to permanently fix it.

- Officers inside Lewis prison called for backup hundreds of times in late 2018 for incidents that involved inmates getting out of their cells without authorization, according to an internal report.

So far, five high-level administrators, including Director Ryan, have either resigned or retired since ABC15 exposed the broken locks.

The governor said the state will conduct a nationwide search for a new prisons director.

ADC RESPONSE

The Arizona Department of Corrections greatly appreciates the work of Justices McGregor and Berch and the findings and recommendations they have put forward in this report.

Their report provides a thorough and fair assessment of the facts relating to locking system issues at the Lewis prison and the contributing operational challenges within the Department.

The Department supports the recommendations put forward by the justices, and will work diligently to adopt and implement them. We look forward to continuing to work with the Governor’s Office, the Department of Administration, State Legislators, the Public Safety Task Force, stakeholders and more in this effort.

In recent months, the Department has already begun taking steps to address many of the issues identified in the report. These include implementing enhanced training for officers, improving communication among all personnel and identifying a locking system replacement project for Lewis prison. We are grateful for the Joint Committee on Capital Review’s approval for Phase 1 of this project, which remains on track to meet the milestones provided to that committee.

Ensuring safety and security is the Department's mission and highest priority. We remain fully committed to continuous improvement in order to ensure a safer environment for employees and inmates.