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Sunday, May 22, 2005 JOSEPH ROSE The Oregonian
On the morning of April 25, Oregon State Penitentiary inmate Jacob Barrett stood outside a shower in a high-security disciplinary unit, a homemade slingshot rolled up in a towel under his arm.

It was a crude contraption, powered with tattered underwear elastic and made to fire a dart fashioned out of wire from a prison-cell radio. Still, as prison Officer Pat Gauthier discovered, it worked perfectly.

Gauthier was about to escort the convicted murderer back to his cell, but he let his eyes wander. Barrett fired the dart, hitting Gauthier between the eyes.

As the officer staggered and watched his blood drop to the concrete floor, Barrett tossed the crude slingshot at him. "You're infected with hepatitis C," the inmate screamed, "and now you're going to die."

Dark, ugly and unexpected, yes. But on that day, the attack was hardly unique. Gauthier was one of three corrections officers attacked with homemade weapons inside the maximum-security prison in less than 24 hours.

A month later, the officers' union is demanding more protection from what it considers the biggest security threat in the big house in Salem: violent criminals engaged in an arms race.

Knifelike "shanks" fashioned out of scrap chunks of metal. Plastic toothbrushes sharpened into picks or shivs. All designed and made in the OSP.

"It's going on in the shadows," said Scott Cantu, president of the Association of Oregon Correctional Employees, "and we're missing a lot of it."

With the prison's population of roughly 2,300 growing and gang activity on the rise, officers charged with monitoring the state's most violent criminals worry the weapons problem is getting out of control, Cantu said.

Face masks, better training, tougher restrictions on inmate possessions and more officers are among the demands by the union, which is also negotiating a collective agreement with the state.

In 2004, the union says, the frequency of random cell checks inside the prison declined. Still, officers seized 29 homemade weapons, compared with 17 in 2003, 13 in 2002 and eight in 2001, according to prison records.

Random searches of inmates coming and going from cells aren't much help, said Officer Ron Lawson. There are shifts when one or two officers are monitoring 600 inmates. "For every inmate you pat down, 40 walk by," Lawson say. "Hell, you can miss an elephant."

Prison administrators have started talks with the union about how to deal with the threat, conceding that they are dealing with a more dangerous class of inmate at a time when prison staffing has dropped as low as it can safely go.

"These are legitimate concerns," said Brian Belleque, the penitentiary's superintendent. "We're open to listening to any ideas our officers have."

But Department of Corrections officials say they are also shackled by a state budget that is still in crisis -- there isn't even a request for more officers this year -- and a 140-year-old institution that is showing its age.

The 19th-century cellblocks have a neck-craning five tiers of double-bunked units. It's hard to get a clear view at activity in the cells, unless officers are walking past and peer through the barred doors, said Stan Czerniak, the Oregon Department of Corrections' operations manager.

The old building has contributed to the problem, offering up scrap metal that can be shaped into something capable of inflicting fatal injury. Officers have found shanks with blades of metal pulled from walls and the prison yard.


"Hits" on officers

Try as they might, prisons will never be able to stop inmates from fashioning almost anything into weapons, says Jeffrey Ian Ross, University of Baltimore criminologist and author of "Behind Bars: Surviving Prison."

It's a never-ending struggle, he said.

"Every prisoner starts fearing for his safety as soon as he is locked up," Ross says. "They start mentally rehearsing what might happen to them and what steps they need to take to prevent being shanked, poked or gutted."

As the stabbing of an officer last summer and the three assaults in April show, prisoners aren't making weapons just for protection. The prison's 315 officers, who typically earn $35,000 to $40,000 a year, are learning of more "hits" being planned against them, Cantu said.

The attacks in late April started about 9:30 p.m. on April 24, during the 12-hour graveyard shift. Walking from cell to cell, collecting out-going mail from inmates inside the Intensive Management Unit, Cpl. Richard Vineyard felt something sharp fly into his neck. He removed a dart made from a paper clip, probably sharpened on the cell floor.

Trying to shake off the pain, he looked back at the cell he had just passed. The inmate had managed to shoot the dart through a tiny opening in the punch-hole door with a tube made of rolled-up paper.

"As I saw him try to reload, I exited the unit," Vineyard said.

Shortly after 6 a.m. the next day, Barrett, who is serving 60 years for murdering a 75-year-old woman during a store holdup in Klamath County, used his slingshot against Gauthier.

Gauthier was getting his handcuffs ready for Barrett. "My eyes were on my cuffs," Gauthier recalled. "I wasn't watching. And he got me." He faces months of testing to determine if he was infected with hepatitis C.

That night, about 9:15 p.m., two-time rapist and three-time escapee Leighton Bates pulled a 6-inch shank on Cpl. Rebecca McLauchlin in Cellblock D. Bates dragged the officer into a utility room and held her hostage for four hours before releasing her unharmed.


Contraband slipped in

Cantu said the inmates who fired the darts in IMU were both members of the same white-supremacist gang, conducting concerted attacks. But more troubling, he said, is that they managed to make somewhat elaborate weapons in one of the prison's most-monitored units. Paper clips are listed as contraband in the IMU, he said.

"Somehow, they got stuff they were supposed to have in," Cantu said, adding that prison administrators have disregarded past suggestions to crack down on the trafficking of forbidden materials.

After the dart assaults, the prison spent a week searching the unit's cells, X-raying mattresses, pillows and what looked like unopened containers. Four more weapons were found.

Corrections officials say they take the union's concerns seriously, noting that officers have received pepper spray and stab-proof vests, which officers have stopped wearing. "They didn't like the vests," Czerniak said. "Said they were too hot."


Joseph Rose: 503-221-8029; [email protected]
© 2005 The Oregonian © 2005 OregonLive.com All Rights Reserved.
 

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Kozmo, it sounds like this place needs to "lock it down" for a while and do a "shake down" of the entire prison, cell by cell to find as many of these weapons as possible.

MCI Walpole did it a few months ago when a Sgt in DDU was assaulted and stabbed in the eye. He lost his eye.

At the very least, and I say again at the very least, it will show a message that these assaults against staff won't be tolerated without turning a cons life upside down, inside and out, to find as many weapons as possible, to prevent further assaults on staff.
 

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Correct you are Bro. We haven't seen a institutional lock down and search by our TRT in years.

I remember the first year when the TRT team pretty much had its LZ in our parking lot. And we CO's would shake a block down once or twice a week from 9 to 11 PM.

First round is on me Sunday, LOL.
 

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Good To Meet you Big Irish! I hadn't noticed your reply until this morning.

GK, you 2 guys work at Suzee B?

If you don't have shakedowns, than contraband of any variety is kept from your sight right?
So not only could weapons be stashed for use against other cons, but staff as well…
What a convoluted policy… :roll:

A good shakedown have helped prevent that poor guy from getting his eye stabbed right?
 

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Yes Kozmo, as Big Irish stated (and yes I do work with, and very proud to work with), when we (at SBCC) first opened back in '98, we would shake down blocks every other night from 9 to 11 PM.

The amount of weapons found was unbelievable. From hidden in tooth paste to baby powder!

And yes, a shake down @ Walpole wouldn't have hurt and that Sgt might be better off if it happened.

Now a shake down takes an Act of Congress.
 
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