PHOENIX — As top Arizona Democrats call for the state prison director’s firing, Governor Doug Ducey announced he is launching an independent investigation in response to recent ABC15 reporting about the dangerous conditions at the Lewis Prison complex.
The ABC15 Investigators expose leaked surveillance videos and documents from inside Lewis Prison. Experts call it one of the most chaotic and dangerous environments they've ever seen. Click here to read the full investigation.
In an email Monday, the governor's office says the conditions ABC15 uncovered are "deeply concerning."
"There is zero excuse for anything that compromises public safety," a governor's spokesman said. "An environment that poses a threat to the safety of either correctional officers or inmates is unacceptable and must be addressed immediately."
The governor's office said it was immediately sending a team of law enforcement and management leaders to the prison in the southwest Valley "to ensure immediate action is being taken by the Department of Corrections to protect the safety of officers and inmates." The team will be comprised of representatives from several state departments, including public safety, homeland security, administration and the office of the State Fire Marshal.
The state is also starting a third-party, independent review of the Department of Corrections' policies and actions "with long-term recommendations on how to prevent a situation like this again," though additional details were not available.
The response from Ducey's office comes less than a week after ABC15 published leaked videos from inside the Lewis prison showing inmates assaulting corrections officers and having complete control over their cell doors.
“These are top-of-the-line offenders, and they’re running rampant with open doors. How do you like that? They don’t even need a key,” Carlos Garcia, a retired 20-year employee of the Arizona Department of Corrections, said. “They just open their own door.”
On Monday, top Arizona Democrats sent a letter to Ducey demanding that he fire Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan.
“The alarming news that Mr. Ryan knew of the broken locks in multiple units at the Lewis Prison Complex is just one in a long line of shocking mismanagement and unconscionable neglect of the $1 billion state agency,” according to the letter. “Mr. Ryan has been a poor steward of Arizona taxpayer money, has lost the public's trust, and should not spend another day in your administration.”
The letter was signed by Reps. Charlene Fernandez, Randall Friese, Athena Salman, and Reginald Bolding. Democratic lawmakers also introduced a bill Monday requiring a full financial audit of the corrections department. Read the full letter here.
Last week, the governor had stood by Ryan as he faced harsh criticism from the corrections officer's union for not fixing the broken doors for at least five years.
When confronted about the problems at Lewis Prison, Ryan said that of the department's $5 million annual budget for building maintenance, other issues had take priority. The department has yet to specify which projects were placed ahead of the cell doors that don't lock.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at email@example.com.