Review: Lapses left slain Wash. guard vulnerable

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Posted: Jul 22, 2011 5:51 PM
Review: Lapses left slain Wash. guard vulnerable

Seven staff members at a Monroe prison face possible disciplinary action after a review of a guard's January death found that workers stumbled through a series of lapses that left her vulnerable and prevented officers from discovering her sooner.

Jayme Biendl's body was found in the prison's chapel Jan. 29; an inmate is accused of strangling her.

An internal review released Friday found that an employee who was supposed to be observing the area near the chapel that night was in a different section of the Monroe Correctional Complex.

Workers who found inmate Byron Scherf in the chapel with blood on his clothing didn't recognize signals that something was seriously amiss. Another officer who subsequently searched the chapel failed to do it thoroughly, so it took another hour before Biendl was discovered with cord wrapped around her neck, the review found.

The employees' names were not released.

Coyote Corrections Center Superintendent Jeff Uttecht, who led the review team, said it's impossible to say whether Biendl would have survived if officers had been more attentive.

"We found some instances of staff complacency and an absence of accountability, a lack of training in critical incidents, a lack of compliance with policy," Uttecht said. Scherf, a convicted rapist, is now charged with killing Biendl.

Here's a chronological recap of lapses that occurred during the two hours that surrounded Biendl's death, compiled from documents released Friday:

_ At 5:50 p.m., Scherf arrives at a chapel, where Biendl is providing security for religious activities.

_ At 8:30 p.m., prisoners are called back to their cells, and Scherf exits the chapel but tells another inmate he is returning to the chapel for his hat.

Another officer, whose name is redacted from documents, typically would have been stationed within 30 yards of the chapel's entrance to monitor the flow of inmates and react if something went wrong. Instead, he is standing in another area _ something he had done on previous occasions.

Other workers complained about this lack of coverage, according to the review. Scherf indicated in a letter to officials earlier this year that he saw it as an opportunity to return to the chapel undetected.

_ At 8:32 p.m., Biendl's radio sends out two brief signals about 15 seconds apart, including one that sounds like a screech and is unusual enough to catch the attention of several staff members. Officers don't investigate.

_ At 8:45 p.m., an official logs that the chapel as clear. The official said later he does not remember if Biendl radioed that the site was clear or if she waved.

Uttecht said it's possible the log was falsified but that there's no way to know for sure. He said officials sometimes collect several "all clears" and document them later, but he suggested they document them immediately.

_ At 9:10 p.m., workers realize Scherf is missing and start searching.

_ At 9:19 p.m., an officer goes to the chapel and finds the door open and lights on. Scherf is sitting in a chair. The 52-year-old initially tells officers that he fell asleep, then changes his story to say he was planning to escape _ even though he wasn't trying to conceal himself in the chapel. Officers also see blood on Scherf's clothing, and he first says it was from racquetball but later says he was assaulted earlier in the day.

The report concluded that Scherf's suspicious, inconsistent and implausible explanations should have given workers reason to thoroughly inspect the chapel.

An officer also reports around this time that he inspected and secured the chapel, although video shows he didn't do so extensively.

"It is obvious that the building was not immediately searched," Uttecht said. "That is a breakdown."

_ At 10:18 p.m., workers realize Biendl didn't turn in her keys and radio, even though her shift ended more than an hour earlier. They try calling her at home and get no answer, so they initiate a search.

_ At 10:26 p.m., officers find Biendl on the chapel's stage, a cord wrapped around her throat. Workers immediately begin emergency life-saving measures and get help from medical personnel. They're too late.

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Mike Baker can be reached at http://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP