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Assaults by prisoners leave Minnesota corrections officers injured

The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) says criminal charges are pending against a handful of inmates accused in three separate attacks.

STILLWATER, Minn. — Multiple correctional officers suffered injuries in three separate incidents that unfolded in state prisons this week. 

The Department of Corrections (DOC) confirms the attacks occurred Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at the Stillwater and Oak Park Heights prisons. In the first incident in Stillwater, a fight reportedly broke out between inmates just after 11:30 a.m. Monday. When corrections officers intervened, they were assaulted. It resulted in injuries to a sergeant and two officers. All three men were taken to Lakeview Hospital, where they were evaluated and released. 

DOC officials say the second incident happened Tuesday in the facility at Oak Park Heights. Just before 5:30 p.m. a pair of inmates allegedly attacked a staff sergeant and two corrections officers. Two of the officers were treated at a local hospital and released, while the other suffered more serious injuries and was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul for treatment. 

That officer has since been released. 

The final assault took place around 8:15 Thursday morning at the Stillwater facility. A release from the DOC said a sergeant was injured during a "routine facility movement" when an inmate ran up unprovoked and began striking the officer in the face. Fellow corrections officers intervened, and the sergeant was transported to the hospital to be treated. 

DOC's Office of Special Investigations is looking into all three incidents, while Commissioner Paul Schnell promises the inmates involved will be held responsible. 

“Our highest priority is the safety of our staff and all individuals in our facilities,” said DOC Commissioner Paul Schnell. “These assaults are a troubling reminder of the very real risks correctional staff take in service to the public safety of all Minnesotans.”

"Sadly, even though it is a small number of inmates who engage in these acts of violence, these incidents also affect the far greater majority of incarcerated people who are committed to rehabilitation and transformation,” Schnell added.

Inmates accused in the attacks have been moved to a special unit at Oak Park Heights while the incidents are investigated and criminal charges considered. 

Schnell said both prisons will largely be locked down likely through the weekend and into early next week. They have also temporarily increased staffing. 

AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Julie Bleyhl responded to the attacks in a statement, saying, "Increased Safe Staffing levels in every facility and investments in all staff must be prioritized in order to properly staff and secure these often-dangerous workplaces across our state to maintain public safety."

According to Schnell, DOC currently has just over 100 correctional officer vacancies. 

"We do want to increase our staffing and make sure we're staffed to the fullest level possible because the more staff, the more stability, the more security, the more presence," Schnell said. "We know that those things are important. But would more staffing have necessarily stopped these actions? Right now there isn't a clear indication of that. But that said, we do want to make sure our prisons are fully staffed for the safety and the well-being of our staff first and the people we serve."

In recent years it has been made clear the risks involved in serving as a corrections officer. Joseph Gomm was beaten and stabbed to death by an inmate while serving at MCF-Stillwater in July 2018. 

Two months later corrections officer Joseph Parise collapsed and died of cardiac arrest after jumping in to help a colleague who was being attacked by an inmate. 


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