One of the officers assaulted at a Tennessee prison Sunday has been released from the hospital, and the other two officers involved are in stable condition, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction. The department, with the help of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, continues to investigate the attack, which included one officer being taken hostage at the prison located about 60 miles southwest of Nashville.
Officer Lester Ball was treated and released overnight, while officers Jesse Shockley and Paul Nielsen remain hospitalized in stable condition, the department said in a news release.
"During the course of the disturbance, the three officers were stabbed multiple times. Two of those officers, Ball and Nielsen were removed from the unit immediately," the release states.
"Officer Jesse Shockley was held hostage for approximately three hours. TDOC’s Special Operations Unit responded and regained control of the unit without force at approximately 7:00 pm, allowing Officer Shockley to be removed without further incident. All three officers were taken by helicopter to a local hospital. There were no other injuries."
Sunday at 4 p.m., 16 inmates created a "disturbance" at the Turney Center Industrial Complex, a prison in Only, Tennessee. The release states the inmates' attack was "unprovoked" and the inmates "may have ties to a security threat group." Security threat group is a department euphemism used to describe gangs.
There is no excuse for inmates attacking officers or taking anyone hostage, said Jeannie Alexander, a former prison chaplain who now heads an advocacy organization called No Exceptions Prison Collective. For months, Alexander said there have been numerous complaints by prisoners about conditions in the unit where this incident occurred.
"You cannot continue to crush people and dehumanize people and not expect consequences at some point," Alexander said.
Although the department has refused to confirm the unit number, Alexander said she's confirmed through her own contacts it was the unit where gang members are housed. Alexander said she and others have received numerous reports from insiders about alarming conditions inside the unit. It may not have an official designation as such, but Alexander and others have heard for months this unit has issues with gang violence.
"Nobody listens to prisoners. This is the problem…they’ll tell you if something's coming down the pike. They’ll tell you if something is going to go off, but no one ever believes them," Alexander said.
Alex Friedmann, a former inmate who is now the associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of Prison Legal News, also received reports about incidents at this unit.
He said housing gang members together can contribute to more violence inside prisons, similar to what happened at Turney Center.
"The problem with that approach is that housing gang members together concentrates their numbers and thus their power base; non-gang prisoners in the unit are at greater risk of being victimized, and concentrating gang members in one area makes it more difficult for staff to control them," Friedman said.
"Our contacts at Turney Center have informed us about dangerous conditions and high levels of violence in Unit 3, and certainly prison officials should have been aware of that problem."
Information obtained by The Tennessean shows there are 43 correctional officer vacancies at Turney Center currently. Of the 309 total officer positions available, 266 are filled. Out of 439 positions, including administration, teaching, medical and clerical posts in addition to officers, 376 are filled, according to the data obtained.
The inmates involved were moved to Morgan County Correctional Complex, a maximum security facility. Most of the roughly 1,600 inmates at Turney Center are classified as medium security.
"I had an opportunity to personally visit two of the officers this morning. I have asked our Office of Investigation and Compliance and the TBI to leave no stone unturned and to fully investigate this incident and prosecute those involved to the fullest extent of the law," said department Commissioner Tony Parker in the news release.
A department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to questions about the last time an officer was taken hostage inside a Tennessee prison.
Three Tennessee correctional officers were assaulted Sunday in what state officials are calling a "disturbance" involving 16 inmates at a prison in southwest Tennessee, according to a statement from the Department of Correction.
Department spokeswomen said inmates attacked three officers at Turney Center Industrial Complex, a facility located in Only, Tennessee, about 60 miles southwest of Nashville.
Disturbance at TCIX has ended https://t.co/79WRDMpwb6— Dept of Correction (@TNTDOC1) April 10, 2017
"One of those officers was held hostage for a time. Our special operations unit was deployed, and we have re-gained control of the situation," said spokeswoman Alison Randgaard in a statement posted to Twitter at 7:30 p.m.
In the same tweet, the department said the disturbance at the prison had ended. The department has not said if any inmates were injured. All inmates involved in the incident will be moved to a maximum security facility, according to a department statement.
In a different statement, Randgaard said the department isn't confirming which hospital the officers were taken to, but could confirm all three were taken via helicopter, known as Life Flight.
Matt Batcheldor, a spokesman Vanderbilt University Medical Center, confirmed they are treating three people who came to the Nashville-based hospital from the prison.
"We have three patients that we have received from the prison. Two are in critical condition, one is in stable condition," Batcheldor said.
He didn't immediately know when they arrived at the hospital, and could provide no additional information about their condition. Batcheldor did not said he could not confirm if the three people being treated at VUMC are the officers or if any inmates are also being treated.
The "incident" took place at roughly 4 pm. inside the prison.
"The incident involving 15-20 inmates took place in one housing unit. Three officers were assaulted. Appropriate security procedures have been taken and our emergency operations team has responded. As we receive more information, we will share it on our website and on our Twitter and Facebook pages," Randgaard said.
The housing unit where the disturbance occurred has been locked down, a process where inmates are required to remain in their cells, according to the department's Facebook page. The department said in a separate statement on Twitter that the unit is "under control." No one has confirmed the number of the unit where the disturbance occurred.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with these officers. Any threat to the security of our institution or threat to our staff will be investigated and charged appropriately," said department Commissioner Tony Parker in a statement released shortly after 8:15 p.m.
The department's "Strike Force Team," somewhat similar to SWAT teams used by police, responded to the situation. It's unclear exactly what the team did to regain control of the situation.
"The entire facility is on lockdown and the housing unit the disturbance occurred in is under control. TDOC leadership is onsite and the investigation is ongoing. All inmates involved will be charged appropriately upon the conclusion of the investigation," reads a statement from the department's Facebook page, posted at 7:15 p.m.
Additional details about the disturbance, the extent of the injuries sustained by the officers and whether any inmates were injured was not immediately available.
Turney Center had 1,630 inmates as of March 31, according to the department. It's a large prison, but not one of the state's largest. The majority of the inmates are classified as medium security.
This is a developing story. Check back for more information as it becomes available.
Reach Dave Boucher at email@example.com, 615-259-8892 and on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.
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