The ABC15 Investigators have obtained a pair of leaked videos that show prisoners brutally assaulting officers in separate attacks that highlight continued safety and security failures inside Arizona prisons.
Union officials said the recent assaults happened at different prisons but involve the same security issue: custody overrides.
An “override” is when an inmate’s security level is lowered or raised outside of their normal classification.
In the separate attacks, the inmates' level of custody were lowered, putting them in less secure areas and positions, said Carlos Garcia, Executive Director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association.
The assaults — recorded in high-quality surveillance video — also highlight issues with prison staffing, officer vacancies, allegations of malfunctioning equipment, and a delay by prison administrators to report the crimes.
In one of the assaults, the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry didn’t forward the case to prosecutors for eight months — and not until ABC15 began seeking information about what happened.
In an email response, prisons officials did not answer specific questions from ABC15 but sent a statement.
"As is evidenced, the environment that our correctional officers work in on a daily basis is challenging and potentially dangerous," the statement said. "We do everything in our power to control this environment and are extremely proud of our men and women who serve in these vital public safety roles."
ASSAULT ON NOVEMBER 3, 2020
On November 3, 2020, a handful of inmates take turns assaulting a single corrections officer in the Cimarron unit of the Tucson prison complex.
The attack lasts roughly two minutes.
No backup arrives until after the officer is able to escape the pod himself. ABC15 is withholding the identity of the officer, who could not be reached for comment.
“So here’s the secret why nothing happened… According to interviews with the appropriate personnel, there was a person that was watching him who was not from that unit. They called another unit and said hey, come help us (because we’re short staffed),” Garcia said. “They put that individual in that spot, and when they tried to call for help, the radio did not work, it was busted. So they tried to call on the phone, no response. This person had to call their own unit that they originated from, saying ‘I’m desperate here, I’m watching an assault, and I can’t reach anyone.’ No radio. No phone. The other unit has to relay to this unit, you’ve got an assault going on.”
The surveillance footage shows inmates clearly punching, kicking, and stomping on the officer in the middle of a pod of cells. At multiple points, some of the prisoners take breaks during the beating out of exhaustion.
Amazingly, the officer was not seriously injured, sources said.
“They were going for a kill,” Garcia said. “So literally, these inmates should have been pursued for attempted murder because they did everything including kick his head like a football and hit him over the head with an OC canister.”
ABC15 reached out to the Pima County Attorney’s Office to seek information about the status of the case in mid-June — almost eight months after the attack.
The question was a surprise to prosecutors because a spokesperson confirmed PCAO was never sent a case from prison officials. ABC15’s inquiry prompted the county attorney’s to reach out to ADCRR for information about the assault.
Pima County prosecutors said they will review the case for a charging decision on July 7th. A spokesperson said if there’s enough evidence the case will go before a grand jury for a potential indictment.
ASSAULT ON JUNE 21, 2021
On June 21, 2021, a corrections officer was airlifted to the hospital after a brutal assault inside the Florence prison kitchen.
Over a period of 30 seconds, an inmate beats the officer by punching, kicking, and stomping on him before other officers arrive.
Garcia said the inmate in this case was also an “override” with a history of assaults that should have excluded him from working in the kitchen.
Internal prison records show the inmate carries a “high” risk classification.
As part of ABC15’s “Unlocked and Unsafe” investigation in 2019, the station learned there were thousands of inmates on override classifications throughout the prison system.
ADCRR officials did not answer ABC15's questions about how many of the inmates involved in the assaults were on overrides or how many total overrides are in the Arizona prison system.
Instead, a spokesperson forwarded a link to the department's inmate classification policies.
ADCRR's full statement about the assaults is below.
"Both of these cases remain under investigation, and the department fully intends to seek prosecution of the inmates involved. As is standard procedure, criminal investigations were initiated immediately following the occurrences. Of the many public safety updates that ADCRR has made since March 2020, we have decreased our detention space by 673 beds, allowing for better management of our inmate population. Among additional security enhancements, ADCRR has purchased more than 500 new radios and we are fully funded in the 2022 budget to purchase new radios for all of our officers. Other security enhancements include the purchase of 46 walk-through metal detectors and five Backscatter X-ray machines, using advanced x-ray imaging technology in areas of greatest need. We are also pleased to note that Governor Ducey and legislative leaders have approved a 5% pay increase for our hard working correctional officers and stab proof vests which have also been fully funded in the budget cycle for added officer safety. As COVID-19 restrictions have been eased, we will also better be able to deploy officers department wide through the use of overtime to mitigate any staffing shortages. As is evidenced, the environment that our correctional officers work in on a daily basis is challenging and potentially dangerous. We do everything in our power to control this environment and are extremely proud of our men and women who serve in these vital public safety roles."