Leaked videos show brutal assaults on COs in Ariz. prisons

The videos reveal a range of security issues that are putting officers at risk

By Sarah Sinning

PHOENIX — Prison surveillance videos leaked to a news outlet in Arizona show assaults on corrections officers so brutal it's shocking that both men survived.

They also highlight profound safety issues within the two separate facilities that clearly put staff at risk. 

Assault on November 3, 2020

In the first video, a lone CO in the Cimarron unit of the Tucson prison complex is surrounded by two inmates, who begin viciously beating him while a third inmate walks around the pod. There is a brief reprieve at around 30 seconds into the footage when the officer manages to free himself and runs across the room with his pepper spray canister in hand. A separate assault begins, however, just 30 seconds later, as the inmates seemingly realize that no backup is coming to assist the officer.

Indeed, it takes more than two minutes for any assistance to arrive.  

According to Carlos Garcia, Executive Director of the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association, this critical delay ultimately came down to two distinct failures by management: not enough COs on shift and malfunctioning equipment.

“So here’s the secret why nothing happened," Garcia told ABC15. "According to interviews with the appropriate personnel, there was a person that was watching him who was not from that unit. They called another unit and said hey, come help us (because we’re short staffed).

"They put that individual in that spot," Garcia continued, "and when they tried to call for help, the radio did not work, it was busted. So they tried to call on the phone, no response. This person had to call their own unit that they originated from, saying ‘I’m desperate here, I’m watching an assault, and I can’t reach anyone.’ No radio. No phone. The other unit has to relay to this unit, you’ve got an assault going on.”

While the officer somehow managed to avoid serious injury, this wasn't, as Garcia points out, for the inmates' lack of trying. 

“They were going for a kill,” he said. “So literally, these inmates should have been pursued for attempted murder because they did everything including kick his head like a football and hit him over the head with an OC canister.”

Those charges, however, have yet to be filed.

In fact, when the news outlet reached out to the county attorney's office for a status update almost eight months later, they learned that prison officials had never sent over the case.

It was ultimately ABC15's inquiry that got the ball rolling, prompting prosecutors to reach out to ADCRR directly for more information. A spokesperson for the county attorney's office said that if enough evidence is found, the case will proceed to a grand jury for potential indictment.

Assault on June 21, 2021

The second video shows an assault that occurred just last month in the Florence prison kitchen. As the footage begins, an inmate can be seen walking into the room with a tray, which he angrily throws to the ground after something — presumably the CO off screen — sets him off. 

He then proceeds to punch, kick and stomp on the officer for approximately 30 seconds until responding officers arrive.

The CO was airlifted to the hospital shortly afterward for treatment.

The common denominator

While both assaults happened at different facilities and under differing circumstances, there is, union officials say, a common denominator: custody overrides.

According to Carlos Garcia, the inmates involved in both attacks had previously had their levels of custody lowered, which allowed them to be in less secure areas, and in the case of the kitchen assault, take on roles from which they otherwise would have been excluded.

Internal prison records reviewed by ABC15 show the inmate in the most recent altercation carries a “high” risk classification.

It is unclear how many inmates within the prison system are overrides, but a previous investigation by the news outlet suggested the practice was pervasive.

ADCRR's full statement about the assaults is below.

"Both of these cases remain under investigation, and the department fully intends to seek prosecution of the inmates involved. As is standard procedure, criminal investigations were initiated immediately following the occurrences. Of the many public safety updates that ADCRR has made since March 2020, we have decreased our detention space by 673 beds, allowing for better management of our inmate population. Among additional security enhancements, ADCRR has purchased more than 500 new radios and we are fully funded in the 2022 budget to purchase new radios for all of our officers. Other security enhancements include the purchase of 46 walk-through metal detectors and five Backscatter X-ray machines, using advanced x-ray imaging technology in areas of greatest need. We are also pleased to note that Governor Ducey and legislative leaders have approved a 5% pay increase for our hard working correctional officers and stab proof vests which have also been fully funded in the budget cycle for added officer safety. As COVID-19 restrictions have been eased, we will also better be able to deploy officers department wide through the use of overtime to mitigate any staffing shortages. As is evidenced, the environment that our correctional officers work in on a daily basis is challenging and potentially dangerous. We do everything in our power to control this environment and are extremely proud of our men and women who serve in these vital public safety roles."

Next: More leaked video shows Ariz. inmates trap COs in stairwell

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