Analysis: Addressing tactical challenges during jail hostage response

A powerful way to increase learning based on real incidents is to not only study what you do see but to envision what you might have seen


This article is reprinted with permission from Calibre Press

Footage from a terrifying incident in the Oklahoma County Detention Center on March 27, 2021, shows the brutality corrections officers face when one or more inmates decide they’re going to assault or kill an officer and they are presented with an opportunity to do so.

While distributing meds to inmates on the 10th-floor pod of the jail, Officer Daniel Misquez was taken hostage by an inmate who took his radio and keys and released numerous other inmates.

In this Saturday, March 27, 2021, image taken from video released Friday, April 2, 2021, by the Oklahoma City Police Department from the Oklahoma County Detention Center, an officer is attacked by an inmate, upper right, before being shot and killed by police while holding a homemade knife to the officer's neck.
In this Saturday, March 27, 2021, image taken from video released Friday, April 2, 2021, by the Oklahoma City Police Department from the Oklahoma County Detention Center, an officer is attacked by an inmate, upper right, before being shot and killed by police while holding a homemade knife to the officer's neck. (Oklahoma City Police Department/Oklahoma County Detention Center via AP)

In surveillance footage of the incident, Officer Misquez is seen being led down a stairwell to a common area below a tier of cells with his hands bound behind his back. The inmate guiding him first leans Officer Misquez against one of the metal tables in a standing position in the common area, then leans him forward to another table, pushes him onto the table face first, then drags him to the center of the table with his legs off the ground.

At this point, another inmate who has been pacing ominously pumps his arms over his head several times then walks by the officer who is prone on top of the metal table and hits him in the back of the head several times with what appears to be the handle of a knife he is holding. Moments later the armed inmate approaches the officer again from the side, stabs him once in the buttocks and walks away. Several seconds later the inmate approaches again and stabs him two more times in the same location.

At this point, the footage cuts away to video that shows the officer and the hostage-taker at the top of the stairs again as a police response team enters the common area of the pod below the tier. The inmate, who is holding a knife, quickly orders Officer Misquez to his knees in front of him and puts the knife to the officer’s neck.

At least two officers have guns pointed at the inmate, who stands above the kneeling guard with his chest and head completely exposed. Within seconds of seeing that a knife is being held to Officer Misquez’s neck, two rounds are fired from the tactical team below that immediately drop the inmate. Officer Misquez, who survived the incident, then tumbles forward down the stairs into the arms of the tactical team members.

Watch the video here and then let's discuss in more detail. 

For insights into learning points that can be gleaned from this incident, we turned to Calibre Press Instructor and Correctional Administrator Spencer Turley, who has an admirable and long career in corrections. Here are some of his thoughts:

“What if?”

A powerful way to increase learning based on real incidents is to not only study what you do see but to envision what you might have seen.

“Put yourself in the responding officers’ shoes and play the 'what if' game,” Turley recommends. “What if this situation was in a cell? The shot at the top of the stairs may have been an ideal situation for the response team to address and in this case, potentially provided the easiest or best possible shot, but what if the inmates were holding the officer hostage inside a cell? What does that shot look like? Are you practicing to take that shot? What if the cell door is closed and your line of sight is through a small window? Is your ammo sufficient to shoot through Lexan? What if there are multiple people in a cell?”

As Turley points out, the list of “what ifs” goes on and on. It’s worth spending the time fleshing out the possible scenarios and the challenges they might pose and prepare yourself and your team to deal with them.

[Read: Use the 'What If' game to reduce complacency]

Backdrop

What’s behind your target is a major consideration.

“When shooting lethal rounds inside a prison or jail section, the fourth firearm rule of focusing on your backstop and beyond becomes extremely important,” said Turley. “In this case, your backstop is likely another cell with another inmate in it. If you miss your shot, the likelihood of hitting another person is potentially high.”

What are your options in a situation like this? 

Who’s responding?

According to the media and what seems apparent from the uniforms in the video, the tactical response team from the OKC Police Department responded to this hostage-taking.

“If a city/county tactical team, not a jail/prison tactical team, is handling a situation like this in a correctional facility, there are multiple other training issues for those teams to consider,” said Turley. “If you are part of a police department tactical response team and responsible for responding to incidents in the jail, are you specifically training for those unique scenarios? A hostage situation in a jail versus a home versus a bank versus a parked car…all pose their unique challenges and should be trained for.

“Too often jails become an afterthought until something like this happens,” Turley continued. “Train now to respond. Don’t wait until after something happens to start focusing on unique tactical challenges you may face.”  

[Read: The case for jail-based tactical teams]

Equipment

Equipment is another consideration Turley recommends evaluating: “If the responding unit is a jail/prison tactical response team, is the team equipped with proper weapons to respond? There are obvious concerns about having lethal weapons inside a jail or prison, but the tactical team should still have them available on site to respond to situations like this.” 

Obstructed windows?

Turley also noted cell windows as a safety concern. “Keeping cell windows clean and unobstructed is a big deal, especially in cases like this,” he said. “You need to be able to see what is happening in those cells.”

Personal cell phones

Live-stream video of this incident was taken by involved inmates using the officer’s cell phone, which brings up the issue of personal cell phones and safety in correctional facilities.

“Although policies related to allowing personal cell phones inside a correctional institution vary, it’s not generally considered a good idea,” Turley said. “Many facilities have policies that prohibit officers from bringing personal phones into the jail/prison with them, primarily due to safety concerns should that phone be taken from the officer or otherwise acquired by an inmate.” 

Again, hats off to our brothers and sisters in corrections! We’re well aware that citizens in communities across the country sleep well at night because of your courage and dedication.

Next: Immediate steps corrections officers should take during a jail hostage situation

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