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U.S. Rep. co-sponsors House bill to let federal COs carry pepper spray

Legislation would give ability of correctional officers — and any worker who could respond — to carry pepper spray

By Steve Mocarsky
The Times-Leader

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The same day Pennsylvania’s two U.S. senators introduced legislation in the Senate to better protect federal corrections officers, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright announced companion legislation in the House.

Cartwright, D-Moosic, said the legislation would make permanent the ability of Bureau of Prisons correctional officers — and any correctional worker who could respond to conflicts — to carry pepper spray.

Senators Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill, titled the Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act of 2014, which was introduced Thursday.

Eric Williams, a graduate of King’s College with a criminal justice degree, was serving as a federal corrections officer when he was ambushed and killed by an inmate at the U.S. Penitentiary at Canaan in Wayne County on Feb. 25, 2013.

A federal grand jury handed up an indictment of first-degree murder against Jessie Con-ui, an inmate serving 25 years to life for the murder of a gang rival in Arizona in 2002. The indictment accused Con-ui of repeatedly stabbing and striking Williams with weapons “and repeatedly kicking, stomping and slamming him about the head, face and torso.” Con-ui pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Casey began advocating for pepper spray for correctional officers in 2011. He introduced legislation that would create a pepper spray pilot program that he was able to get the administration to start via executive action after Williams’ death.

Cartwright wrote to the Bureau of Prisons in February 2013 after Williams’ death requesting that the pilot program be extended to include all federal prisons. The program was extended to all 20 federal high-security prisons the following month.

Cartwright said he was the lead Democratic sponsor of the Eric Williams Correctional Officer Protection Act, and that he convened Casey, Toomey and U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., to continue working on proposed legislation to make the pepper spray pilot program law.

The legislation would make the pepper spray program permanent, expand pepper spray availability to medium and higher security facilities, extend availability to all correctional workers, not just certain correctional officers and unit staff, and require workers to complete a BOP-directed training before carrying pepper spray.