NewsLocal NewsInvestigations

Actions

New whistleblower says Arizona Department of Corrections 'hiding' broken doors

Posted: 8:08 AM, Dec 03, 2019
Updated: 2019-12-05 14:56:10-05
Lewis Prison unlocked doors

Following a major scandal over broken cell locks, a new whistleblower inside the Arizona Department of Corrections claims the prison administration is still hiding problems of more failing doors, maintenance crews are falsifying reports to indicate broken ones have been fixed, and top administrators are ignoring warnings.

Shaun Holland, an associate deputy warden inside the Lewis prison complex, filed a whistleblower disclosure on Tuesday with Governor Doug Ducey, ADC Director David Shinn, and several state lawmakers.

FULL COVERAGE: UNLOCKED AND UNSAFE

“We’re going back to exactly where we were before. Before you guys broke the news,” Holland said during his interview. “Things aren’t getting fixed… It’s only a matter of time before these doors get kicked open by inmates and other inmates get hurt, assaulted, killed; and staff get hurt, assaulted, killed.”

He continued, “Frankly, I’m so tired of it.”

Holland is the most senior-level official to go public since ABC15 began investigating broken doors and locks inside the prison system.

He said he’s raised repeated concerns with his warden and other executive staff without success.

“I can’t engage in the same conversation over and over and over again,” Holland said. “That’s insanity, right?”

An official with the Governor's Office released the following statement:

"We are reviewing the complaint and gathering the facts. Safety is the top priority. We have a new director and have confidence in him. Additional resources were allocated over the summer to fix doors and this will continue to be a focus in next year's budget. Our goal is to ensure a safe environment for all officers, inmates and staff."

The Arizona Department of Corrections also shared the following statement with ABC15:

"There’s no more important issue than the safety of our officers. We are taking this issue seriously and have begun a full review of the claims made in this letter. Our focus continues to be on the safety and security of our officers and inmate population, as well as on the ongoing efforts to address the door/locking issues that exist.

The implementation of a long-term solution is currently underway. If there are other issues that exist, we want to know about them so they can be fixed, and will take appropriate action based on the findings of the review."

In April, ABC15 exposed leaked surveillance videos showing how hundreds of cell doors inside the Lewis prison didn’t properly lock, leading to ambush assaults on officers and likely contributing to multiple inmate deaths.

It was a problem largely ignored by top officials for years, records show.

After ABC15’s original investigation, the Governor’s Office ordered an outside investigation, which confirmed the station’s reporting. The prison’s former director Charles Ryan abruptly retired. The legislature also approved millions in funding to replace the doors.

Null

The complete replacement of the broken doors will go into next year, if not longer.

Officials also moved nearly 800 inmates out of the Morey Unit, a specific section of Lewis prison notorious for having door and lock problems.

But now, just months after the scandal, Holland said the problem continues unabated in four other units that have the exact same door model.

“Instead of identifying and repairing the doors, the prison administration is hiding the problems by “closing out” hundreds of repair orders without completing any repairs,” Holland said in his whistleblower disclosure. “Subordinates in my chain of command have been reporting broken and damaged cell doors. I have ensured that these reports are properly raised through the chain so that repairs can be made. I reviewed the documentation and discovered that many of the cells doors that we reported are now identified as “repaired” when no repairs ever occurred. I personally checked the records and confirmed by actually checking the cell doors myself. I raised these issues in my own chain of command, including the warden, several times with no action being taken to address the issue.”

Holland provided ABC15 with documents and videos to support his allegations.

Multiple prison surveillance videos from late November show inmates repeatedly opening and closing their own cells doors. Other surveillance videos showing door crews spend less than an hour analyzing and working on nearly 50 work orders, according to Holland.

Additional videos shot by Holland and his staff document him trying to close and lock dysfunctional doors inside his units.

Holland included a pair of screengrabs from the videos in his whistleblower disclosure.

He wrote that the footage, which reveals groups of inmates walking around unrestrained, shows staff with “zero control” over inmates who have “control of their own doors.”

When asked why inmates don’t have any sort of fear for breaking the rules, Holland responded, “They shouldn’t. They are able to do whatever they want, whenever they want.”

For more than a year, Lewis prison and department administrators have relied on using padlocks on dysfunctional doors as a stop-gap security measure. But the padlocks are cumbersome and require an extensive amount of time for staff to lock and remove them one by one.

So in many situations, they are either locked or removed all at once, allowing long periods where inmates are not secured.

“They’re praying,” Holland said. “Just crossing their fingers hoping that nothing bad is going to happen.”

In both the whistleblower disclosure and his interview, Holland raised repeated concerns over the falsification of government documents.

“I have also observed employee work crews who were tasked with repairing doors,” according to his disclosure. “They go through the units, toy with broken doors, and then designate them as 'repaired’ in official ADC records. Again I have reviewed the work and the doors remain broken and present a significant danger to officers and inmates. I raised the failure to properly repair the doors with prison administration and warned that the doors were not actually being repaired. Again, no action being taken to address the issue.”

In an interview in October, new ADC Director David Shinn said the door problem is what drew him to the open position running Arizona prisons.

Shinn called the problem “entirely unacceptable.”

Holland said, he believes Shinn needs to make widespread leadership changes.

“Every key player, every person of the previous administration is there. They are the ones making the decisions,” Holland says.

He also said, “I think (Shinn) came in and he’s got everybody that was there before…and they’re telling him what they want to tell him. He’s getting news. But he’s not getting the right news.”

After ABC15’s reports, two top executives retired. But others, including Deputy Director Joe Profiri, remain on the job.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.