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New documents show prison officials reaction to ABC15 lock investigation

Posted at 10:28 PM, Sep 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-03 12:04:24-04

The ABC15 Investigators obtained more than 1,600 pages of documents detailing what top-ranked Arizona Department of Corrections officials knew about broken cells locks years ago and how they responded when ABC15 aired our Unlocked and Unsafe investigation.

ABC15 asked for the documents through an Arizona Public Records request four months ago; however, the documents were not released until after Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced his retirement.

Internal emails confirmed 1,675 lock and door repairs were requested at Lewis Prison in Buckeye between July 2018 and April 2019.

Open work order reports show that sometimes months went by without repairs as inmates let themselves out of their cells and attacked corrections officers. Director Ryan, aware of at least some of the problems, replaced top wardens at Lewis Prison within the last year. He also inspected some of the padlocks installed as a temporary fix.

FULL SECTION: Unlocked and Unsafe

A 2015 memo between three of Ryan's top administrators analyzed the attack of Sgt. Armando Salazar in a Tucson prison, finding inmates involved in the assault popped the locks of their cells. The memo recommended ADC complete a statewide survey of all facilities to determine the existence of locking mechanisms that are susceptible or have a history of being defeated. It also suggested ADC evaluate and determine alternate locking mechanisms and begin systemic scheduled replacement of locks.

"They know what they are hiding; they know what they didn't do," Salazar's attorney Scott Zwillinger told ABC15 after seeing the memo.

In a statement sent to ABC15, ADC officials say they did conduct additional review of doors and locks and installed some door pins and an alternate locking mechanism. However, the agency admits not enough was done, and prison officials are now working diligently to make things better.

It remains unclear why ADC failed to get funding for significant repairs. It wasn't in the governor's or legislator's budget prior to the ABC15 investigation.

At least 800 people emailed Governor Doug Ducey urging him to fire Chuck Ryan this spring. At the same time, top ADC administrators emailed each other for information for the governor's staff. Requests included efforts to reduce prison assaults and how the department was addressing fire code issues, but it also asked for "a listing of top accomplishments" under Director Ryan - "as much positive stuff as they can provide."

Governor Ducey left the director in charge for months and allowed him to retire instead of being fired.

"This is someone who has served the public for 40 years," Ducey said. "He's got an announced retirement date, and we're going to move on from there."

Ryan's last day is September 13.