JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A plan to toss footballs packed with cellphones and knives into a prison is to blame for a brawl that injured nine inmates, Mississippi's top prison official said Tuesday.
Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said four guards accused of conspiring with inmates to collect the footballs have been suspended.
Instead, someone called police, who arrested a man just outside the fence of the Walnut Grove prison. Marcus Warnsley was caught with a bagful of 11 footballs packed with knives, razors, cellphones and chargers, marijuana and cigars.
Warnsley told The Associated Press last week that his car had broken down just outside the prison fence and that he had nothing to do with the bagful of footballs.
The commissioner told a federal judge on Tuesday that the smuggling scheme involved guards as well as inmates, including one guard who planned to let an inmate into the yard to collect the balls. Epps also confirmed that the blocked passes were what prompted the brawl between two gangs.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves told the commissioner he's concerned about continuing violence at the privately run, 1,500-bed prison.
Eight other staffers were fired, resigned or placed on leave after another fight in December. In March, five former employees and three others were indicted on charges of smuggling marijuana.
Reeves has ordered the state to improve conditions. He sent in monitors who reported that violence is out of control, drugs are being smuggled in and guards are not adequately trained.
American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Margaret Winter said the latest violence shows that problems remain despite the state's hiring of Utah-based Management and Training Corp. in 2012 to take over the prison from Florida-based GEO Group.