TECUMSEH, Neb. (AP) — A weekend revolt at a Nebraska maximum security prison that saw inmates temporarily take control of half the housing units left two prisoners dead, authorities said on Monday, probably killed by other inmates during the chaos.
Four other prisoners were injured and two staff assaulted at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution about 60 miles southwest of Lincoln, which houses serious offenders including Nebraska's 11 Death Row inmates.
Corrections Director Scott Frakes said the disturbance began at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday when about 40 inmates gathered in front of a housing unit. The two prison staffers were attacked when they tried to break up the gathering.
"As the group of inmates became more volatile, staff members were unable to control them," Frakes said at a press conference Monday morning.
Frakes described a harrowing, 11-hour ordeal, during which 100 to 200 of the roughly 1,000 inmates at the prison participated in the revolt. They took control of two of the four housing units, broke windows, tore down a wall dividing the housing units and removed security cameras, he said. Some prison staff barricaded themselves in offices. Smoke rose from the two housing units on Sunday, and driveways to the prison were blocked.
"We didn't know if the inmates had acquired weapons during this time, in some cases they had destroyed or covered the cameras, so we didn't have a good sense of what was on the other side of the door until we opened it," Frakes said.
The housing units sustained fire, smoke and water damage.
The Lincoln Journal Star reported it received a call from inmate Jeffry Frank just before 11 p.m. Sunday via a case manager's office phone.
"We've pretty much taken the whole prison," Frank told the newspaper.
He said that no prison employees were inside the housing unit and described the scene. "The ceilings are fallen. There's drywall on fire. There's cameras torn down," he said, according to the Journal Star.
Frakes said the prison was finally secured by 1 a.m. Monday. All members of prison staff have been accounted for and no inmates escaped, he said.
Once they regained control, authorities discovered the bodies of Donald Peacock and Shon Collins, both 46, who were serving sentences for child sexual assault. Peacock began serving a 40 to 50-year sentence in March, last year. Collins had been in prison since May, 2010 and was serving 66 to 80 years.
Frakes said it appeared that they had been killed by other inmates but he would not give details. Tecumseh facility spokesman Rick Sanne declined to comment on whether their crimes were a factor in the deaths.
Four other inmates were injured. One was shot in the leg by a tower guard, another was injured by a rubber projectile, and two sustained unspecified injuries from other inmates.
The prison will remain locked down while officials decide how to proceed. The state Fire Marshall was evaluating one of the damaged housing units to determine if inmates could be safely held there.
The disturbance came after Nebraska's Department of Correctional Services was rocked by scandal over the last year, including the release of some prisoners early because their sentences were miscalculated. Like many states, the prison system is overcrowded at 160 percent of design capacity, although Frakes said Tecumseh is one of the least crowded Nebraska prisons at 106 percent of design capacity.
Several corrections officials left the department after the early release scandal and Frakes, a former prisons administrator in Washington state, was brought in just three months ago.
Outside experts would be brought in to investigate the revolt and the prison staff's response, Frakes said.
Frakes said he did not believe the prison was understaffed Sunday, but he wasn't sure how many people were on duty initially. At least 76 additional individuals were called in to help with security.
Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who appointed Frakes after taking office in January, said he trusts his leadership of the Corrections Department. He issued a brief statement Monday saying the focus now is on the safety of staff and well-being of the inmates.
Associated Press writers Josh Funk and Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed to this report.