State: Prison melee leads to 10 injured officers

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

A melee broke out in the mess hall at Coxsackie Correctional Facility. File photo

COXSACKIE — Union officials are renewing calls to curb violence at state correctional facilities after a melee broke out Aug. 1 in the mess hall at Coxsackie Correctional Facility.

State officials confirmed there were at least 10 officer injuries during the incident.

The confrontation began at around 4:35 p.m. when an inmate, who has been in prison four separate terms beginning in 1994, tried to “smuggle” food out of the facility’s mess hall, which is not permitted, according to a statement from the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association.

“The officer gave the inmate direct orders to dispose of the food,” according to a statement from the union. “The inmate initially complied and threw out the food, but then became disruptive and verbally abusive to the officer.”

A second officer responded and ordered the inmate to submit to a pat frisk, but when the inmate ignored the order, the officer placed him in a body hold and pushed him up against the wall with the help of a third officer.

The inmate struggled, attempting to strike the officers with his elbows, and was forced to the floor but fell on top of one of the officers, causing him to hit the back of his head on a steel door, according to the union.

“While on the floor and still combative, the inmate struck the officer in the face and head, causing the back of his head to strike the steel door a second time,” union officials said.

Additional officers responded to assist in subduing the inmate and a sergeant was kicked in the right knee by the inmate.

“After a violent and brief struggle, staff were able to apply handcuffs and the inmate became compliant,” according to the union. “The inmate was brought to his feet by staff.”

After the struggle ended, over a dozen other inmates surrounded the officers and five inmates charged at them, according to the union.

“During one of the group assaults, an inmate struck an officer in the face and head, causing him to fall backwards and hitting his head on a table,” union officials said. “Another inmate jumped on an officer’s back and attacked him before staff were able to put him in body holds and pull him off the officer.”

After order was restored, the inmates who attacked the officers were removed from the mess hall and the facility was locked down.

At least 10 staff members were injured in the melee, according to the state.

The officer who struck his head on the steel door was taken by ambulance to Albany Medical Center for injuries to his head, face, knee and elbow. A second officer was treated at a local urgent care facility for elbow, hand, neck and head injuries.

Both officers did not return to duty that day.

The five other injured officers were treated on site and remained on duty.

In addition to staff that were injured in the attack, a sergeant and officer sustained “significant blood exposure” while they were removing one of the inmates from the mess hall and were taken to Albany Medical Center for treatment.

The state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision confirmed Thursday that at least 10 personnel were injured in the incident and acknowledged there has been an increase in violent incidents in facilities statewide.

“As the department continues to battle a rise in violent conduct within its facilities, an incident Monday involving incarcerated individuals at Coxsackie Correctional Facility assaulting staff resulted in injuries to at least 10 security personnel who responded,” according to a statement from DOCCS. “Four staff members were taken to an outside hospital for further treatment with injuries ranging from head trauma to blood exposure and four staff members with pain and swelling remained on duty.”

As of Thursday morning, all staff had returned to work with the exception of one who has been discharged from the hospital and is recovering from a head injury, according to DOCCS.

After the incident, a “full frisk” was conducted the next morning at the Coxsackie facility. The incident remains under investigation.

“Violence such as this makes the work of the department’s Prison Violence Task Force more crucial than ever to maintain the safety and security of our facilities,” according to DOCCS. “The department has zero tolerance for violence within our facilities and any individuals found responsible for this incident will be disciplined and be referred for outside prosecution.”

Union officials are calling for the state to take steps to tamp down on violence in state correctional facilities.

“With mid-term elections less than four months away, members of the state Senate and Assembly should know their voting records will have consequences with the citizens across the state,” NYSCOPBA Mid-Hudson Region Vice President Chris Moreau said. “Their failure to protect the men and women of NYSCOPBA will resonate in the voting booths this fall. For the staff at Coxsackie Correctional Facility who had to endure this latest violent and vicious attack, and the thousands of officers who work in facilities across the state, those officers know what is on the line when they vote.”

Republican lawmakers have sponsored legislation that would repeal a 2021 law that limits the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities to 15 days.

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