Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Tear gas fired into state jail dorm at 'largely motionless inmates'

When prisons have high rates of staff turnover - thanks in large part to low pay, long hours, and a lack of air conditioning - you end up with inexperienced corrections officers, dumbed down supervision, and bad decisions. Reported Ted Oberg at KTRK in Houston (Aug. 27):
A corrections supervisor fired a canister from a tear gas rifle inside a Lychner State Jail dorm at a crowd of inmates at short range, hitting an inmate in the shoulder and sending him to the hospital for burns and other injuries, according to records and interviews.

A video obtained by Ted Oberg Investigates shows the incidents leading up to the shot as well as the canister being fired from the tear gas gun into a crowd of largely motionless inmates, hitting one with a shower of sparks.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice's initial review of the incident, in which Lt. Cody Waller fired the canister on May 19 soon after 11:20 p.m., "revealed several mistakes," TDCJ officials told ABC-13.

Among those mistakes: That canister fired at the inmates is designed for outdoor use, not inside a dorm and that any "chemical agents should have been administered through the door rather than in the middle of the housing area," TDCJ officials said.

Waller was put on a 10-month probation on July 8 but kept on the job at the Humble-based facility.
Reading the details from Oberg's account, the episode exhibits not so much malicious behavior by the supervisor as confusion, frustration at facing a situation beyond his skill set to resolve, and a general lack of professionalism. In the absence of more able management, unit staff appeared to make stuff up as they went along instead of following their training, even though the inmates posed no immediate threat. Noted Oberg, in the video, "Waller and other staffers walk right through the inmates. They are clearly not being aggressive to the guards."

It's hard to pin responsibility for any one incident on anybody besides the inmates and staff involved, but the diminution of experience and competence among TDCJ staff thanks to many years of high turnover to me is a likely secondary cause for this sort of event. We've heard much about the need for police to use de-escalation tactics at traffic stops to prevent events like the Sandra Bland arrest, but that skill's just as or more important for prison guards. And apparently nobody on duty at the Lyncher State Jail that night in May had the skills to de-escalate a tense-but-not-yet-violent situation.

See TDCJ's statement on the incident.


Anonymous said...

Along with the suspect shot and killed with his hands up, it's almost like Texas LEOs are trying to foment armed uprisings.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing about this incident is the officer had no idea how to properly use this non-lethal firearm. A high ranking TDCJ administrator asked Governor Abbott's office to veto HB 1855, which would have required annual firearms training and proficiency. The bill also required mental health crisis intervention training.

Texas needs to establish higher professional training and recruiting standard for both corrections and law enforcement. Training actually requires time and proficiency testing, not a 10 minute video. TCOLE should have oversight on TDCJ training. TDCJ claims they don't want to be micromanaged, but has a history of negligence when no one is looking.

Unfortunately this isn't the first time the 37/38 mm non-lethal gun has been been misused. Fred Figueroa a warden at the Estelle Unit ordered a lethal amount of CS gas to be fired its a cell which ended his career with TDCJ.

If a warden isn't properly trained, the lower rank and file is poorly prepared. Correctional institutions in Texas are drowning in their own ignorance. Better standard and oversight of those standards need to be implemented. Call it micromanaging, the current system is broken.

Harry Homeless said...

Reminds me of Eastham Prison, aka The Bloody 'ham, where they'd fire blindly into the prisoners' dorm if it got too loud, each time progressively lower.

Anonymous said...

"...hitting an inmate in the shoulder..."

I guess I'm the only one that watched the clip. So far, I'm the only one calling Complete Bullshit. He was hit in the middle of his chest area (where one places ones right hand when pledging allegiance). But in order to see it you'd have to watch it. In reality it doesn't matter where he was hit, the point is he was clearly targeted before the weapon was raised, he was aimed at and he was struck. The hide 'em over in Admin. or send 'em over to another Unit, won't fly this time igits. Its' Attempted Murder when you fire at close range objects not meant to be fired at closes range inside. In the end, the taxpayers will fund the bribery account for this victim's new life and he just might get enough to buy that house down the street from the goofy ass power tripping guard. The taxpayers will also fund the guard's security detail when he says he's too afraid to go to Mexican restaurants by himself.