CBS Detroit – A housing unit in an Upper Peninsula Prison is now destroyed after an uprising of prisoners after a fight Sunday Night. According to a report by the Detroit News, a fight broke out in a housing unit at Chippewa Correctional Facility on Sunday. Around 10:30 pm, three prisoners were fighting each other. Guards were dispatched to stop the fight, but according to Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz, an officer had to use a taser on one of the inmates who was fighting and was rendered unconscious. The unconscious inmate was placed on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital and has since been treated and released.
Byron Osborn, president of the Michigan Corrections Organization, told the Detroit Free Press that the taser was only used after inmates were given orders to stop fighting. Later on that evening, 40 inmates approached the guard station thinking the inmate who was removed was deceased from the taser incident and were looking for “payback”. The housing unit at the Chippewa Correctional Facility where this occurred holds 235 prisoners, while the prison holds about 2,000 prisoners total and is considered a level two facility. Which is the second-lowest grade of security levels of prison in Michigan.
The guard station that was then overcome by the 40 inmates was staffed by only two officers on duty. Which Gautz told the Free Press is normal for the midnight shift, but that staffing level is “dangerously low”. While the two officers on duty were able to get away to safety, Gautz said Prisoners “made a mess of the unit, destroyed equipment, threw papers everywhere, broke glass, flooded areas,”
An emergency response team made up of officers from multiple prisons, state police, and U.S. Border Patrol, responded to the scene shortly before 4 a.m. and swiftly moved into the unit and secured all prisoners in their cells,” according to Gautz. While he did not call what happened a riot, Osborn says the Michigan Department of Corrections is downplaying the incident. According to Osborn, the brick housing unit was completely destroyed with six windows broken, computers and cameras were destroyed along with two sinks, as well as door mechanisms no longer working.
In the meantime, all the prisoners have been relocated to the gym, and those deemed responsible will be moved to maximum security prisons. There is a review ongoing if the taser was necessary to break up the fight that sparked this incident.
Past Incidents at Chippewa Correctional Facility
This is not the first time the Chippewa Correctional Facility has been in the news. The Detroit Free Press also wrote in February of this year about a prisoner being placed in solitary confinement for what the prisoners and family members say was for speaking out against unhealthy conditions and abusive treatment at the Upper Peninsula prison.
Edward Terrell Walton, Edward Roland Combs, and Eric Tobias Woods signed an open letter to Governor Whitmer and Michigan Corrections Department Director Heidi Washington about the allegations, which included the treatment of visitors who travel many hours to see inmates there. The prison is located off of I-75 about midway between St. Ignace and Sault Ste. Marie.
Edward Terell Walton was accused of inciting a riot at the time and was moved into “the hole” or solitary confinement. He is in prison for multiple counts of murder, assault to commit murder, assault, home invasion, and using a firearm during a felony for concurrent life terms. At the time Gautz told the Free Press, “Walton … admitted to writing a letter encouraging people on the outside to call the warden and tell her if she doesn’t make the changes the prisoners want that there will ‘be a protest scheduled to take place at this prison to make national attention out of the situation,’ quoting a letter from a prison email system know as JPay. Gautz added, “In no way is he being punished for the letter listing the complaints. Prisoners are free to tell prison officials and anyone else on the outside of complaints they have.”
While prison officials took Walton’s comments of planning a demonstration inside the prison, family and inmates say he wanted people to hold peaceful demonstrations. Gautz added at the time there is no such thing as a peaceful demonstration at a prison, and prisoners are not allowed to do so.
The letter the inmates wrote described allegations of forced labor with severe repercussions for refusing to work, overcrowding, unhealthy conditions that included black mold in the bathroom and shower areas, overcrowded visiting areas, and a lack of diversity in officers on staff which contributed to discriminatory treatment against “prisoners of color”. Gautz said an inspector came in from a different facility to examine the allegations and all were found to be without merit.
The president of Michigan Corrections Organization Byron Osborn called for the removal of the Michigan Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington over her handling of COVID-19 in the prisons and staffing issues in Michigan’s prisons. The MDOC has said steps are being taken for the staffing issues which are arising from a large number of officers retiring.
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