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State rehires, then rescinds job offer to warden who let inmates set fires

Posted at 12:23 PM, Jun 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-15 22:42:12-04

PHOENIX — The Department of Corrections quickly reversed a decision to rehire a former deputy warden out of retirement who was previously accused by the state of having derelict leadership and minimizing a major security breach inside his prison unit.

In an email Friday, Director David Shinn told staff that Jeffrey Rode would begin working at the Winslow prison complex later this month. However, by the next business day, the state said that was no longer the case.

The department claims the decision was independent of ABC15's request for comment on Monday morning about Rode's hiring.

"Our media relations office was able to look into this matter. Prior to receiving your email, the offer to Mr. Jeffrey Rode was rescinded," according to an unattributed statement released by the department.

On June 5, 2019, Rode was forced into an early retirement on the day of an ABC15 investigation that exposed a chaotic incident in his maximum-security unit.

RELATED: More mayhem at Lewis Prison: New videos show inmates lighting fires outside cells

During a November 2018 incident that lasted more than hour, inmates inside Rast Max at Lewis Prison repeatedly set fires outside of their cells.

Surveillance video obtained by ABC15 showed a team of officers watched much of the destruction unfold with little or no intervention.

The reason: Rode and another administrator directed the staff to let inmates get it out of their system and avoid calling it a critical incident, which would have to be thoroughly documented and sent to the Arizona Department of Corrections’ headquarters, according to union leaders.

Multiple outside experts called the incident one of the worst breakdowns of security in a maximum custody setting they’ve ever seen.

In response to ABC15’s report, ADC and the Governor’s Office quickly condemned the prison’s leadership. Prison officials also said that official incident reports covered up the severity of what happened.

“Official reporting from the complex at the time is incomplete and/or inaccurate, clearly downplaying the severity and scope of the incident, when contrasted with the incident video. What is observed on the video is a dereliction of leadership and inconsistent with expectations,” a department statement said at the time.

The Governor’s Office added their own statement, “It's clear from this video that this incident was extremely mishandled. The obvious disregard for safety and lackadaisical response is inexcusable. Because of that, effective today, administrators who oversaw Lewis Prison at the time of the incident are no longer with the state.”

If Rode was rehired, it would have allowed him to collect his pension benefits in addition to his salary. State rules allow retirees to double-dip if they wait one year after their retirement before being rehired by the same agency.

Union officials told ABC15 that Rode had been seen touring the Winslow prison recently and staff had been notified directly to welcome him back.

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