Inmate stabs two Conn. COs

Both officers were treated and released from a local hospital


Journal Inquirer

MANCHESTER, Conn. — The attack is one in a series that have escalated in recent years, union officials said Tuesday.

"He got lucky," McGoldrick said of the correction officer who was stabbed in the neck. "A quarter-inch either way and it could have been a different story."

As one officer was being stabbed by an inmate identified as Joe Baltas, who is serving a life sentence for murder, a second correction officer jumped in to help and was also stabbed but not injured, McGoldrick said. A photo indicates that the weapon did penetrate the second correction officer's shirt near the ribs.

Both correction officers were taken to the hospital, treated and released, officials with the state Department of Correction said in a news release issued hours after the assault occurred.

Baltas committed the attack just as the door to his cell was being opened so he could be taken to recreation time, McGoldrick said. After the assault, he ran back into his cell and barricaded the door with a mattress, he said.

Baltas was taken out of his cell and transferred to another facility after the incident occurred, McGoldrick said.

The attack happened at about 8:30 a.m. as Baltas was being escorted from one part of Garner to another, according to the DOC.

The 35-year-old Baltas has been in the prison system since 2006, DOC officials said. While serving time on a murder and two first-degree assault convictions for crimes that occurred in Meriden, he was also convicted of second-degree assault and possessing a weapon in a correction institution while incarcerated, according to Judicial Branch and DOC records.

Agency officials, including Commissioner Angel Quiros, were at Garner after the stabbing to talk with staff, McGoldrick said.

"As commissioner, this is my worst fear — that our brave staff members are attacked and injured," Quiros said in the release. "I rushed to the hospital as soon as I learned of the assault, and thank God, they are all right."

The incident is another example of unsafe working conditions that administrators are refusing to address, said Mike Vargo, president of AFSCME Local 1565, in a news release.

"Assaults on staff have become more and more frequent and violent in nature, almost doubling in the past three years," Vargo said. "These assaults will continue down this path and the result could be deadly unless swift and concrete steps are taken."

Vargo contends that assaults on staff have nearly doubled in the past three years with 100 assaults in fiscal year 2020 compared with 196 assaults on staff in fiscal year 2023, which ended on June 30.

He and other union officials are attributing the increase in attacks on correction officers to a 2022 law called the Protect Act, which requires inmates to have more time out of cells and restricts the use of administrative segregation commonly referred to as "solitary confinement."

DOC figures indicate that the number of assaults took the biggest leap — from 100 to 163 — during the start of the pandemic. During those two fiscal years, inmate assaults on staff rose 62 percent between July 2019 and June 2021, DOC data shows. During that period, tensions were high as inmates were contained to their cells for longer periods to maintain social distancing, union officials said.

Data shows a 9 percent increase in assaults on staff between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022. For the fiscal year when the Protect Act was signed into law and implemented on a gradual basis, there were 196 assaults on correction officers between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, according to data supplied by the unions.

The problem is not with the general population of inmates who just want to do their time, Vargo said Tuesday afternoon. The issue lies with people who are specialized units such as gang units or on administrative segregation because of their continued behavior, he said. "They still have to have the same out of cell time as everyone else," Vargo said. "There are no consequences."

The attacks also endanger inmates who are just trying to complete their sentence, McGoldrick said.

"We need politicians to understand what it's like to work in these units," Vargo said. "They need to work a few shifts with us and see what we are dealing with."

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