Prison staff, union call for warden's removal after 'abundance of serious incidents'

The warden has placed the staff, inmates and community at risk, said union leader Jonathan Zumkehr


By Sarah Hayden
Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, Ill.

THOMASON, Ill. — Thomson Prison staff and union leaders are calling for the immediate removal of Warden Thomas Bergami.

In a letter Wednesday to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, AFGE Local 4070 President Jonathan Zumkehr called for the immediate removal of Bergami, citing "an abundance of serious incidents" and the mass departure of 60 correctional officers under Bergami, who was appointed warden in March.

"Warden Bergami has failed within his position of trust and has placed the staff, inmates and communities at risk," Zumkehr wrote.

"Attempts to address these issues directly have gone unheeded and even to the extent of being covered up and or distracted from the facts. Thomas Bergami has failed to uphold the ethical rules governing his position and to conduct himself in a manner that fosters respect for the Bureau of Prisons."

Zumkehr said whistle-blower protection and rights had gone ignored and alleged that Bergami "allowed and encouraged subordinate leaders under his command to commit whistle-blower retaliation and commit safety infractions."

"Managers are blatantly violating laws and refusing to adhere to local agreements, placing the hard-working staff in limbo with ever-changing policies and procedures that have done nothing but set USP Thomson ablaze, and over 60 staff have left under his tenure.

"The Union believes that the immediate removal of Warden Thomas Bergami would initiate the change in leadership needed to ensure USP Thomson moves in a path progressively for all interested," Zumkehr wrote.

The federal prison in Thomson, Ill., houses 916 inmates: 785 in the maximum security facility and 131 at the adjacent minimum security camp.

In June, the U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General's Office opened an investigation into Thomson Federal Prison amid ongoing allegations of abuse, the overuse of solitary confinement and the deaths of seven inmates over a two-year period.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin,D-Ill; U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D- Ill., and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D- Moline, requested the investigation following publication of a report May 31 by The Marshall Project and NPR that describes serious abuse of inmates by correctional officers.

Zumkehr also sent a series of letters June 30 to Durbin, Duckworth, Bustos, Attorney General Merrick Garland and other lawmakers, asking for support in creating a federal law protecting prison employees against sexual assault by inmates.

Zumkehr said in 2020, there were 971 inmates that had committed sexual acts against staff. In 2021, there were 535 inmates that committed sexual acts against staff.

(c)2022 Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, Ill.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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