Self-described white supremacists accused of attacking guards demand to be jailed away from minorities.
Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik warns that a group of white supremacist inmates wants to take over the county jail.
The warning, in a Jan. 20 memo to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, came after attacks this month on two corrections officers.
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The attacks by a pair of self-described white supremacists were met with heavy security that only now is being relaxed.
“The involved inmates are part of a loose-knit, self-described white supremacist group of inmates demanding to be segregated from minority inmates and officers,” the memo read.
In one incident, a corrections officer suffered a broken nose and several front teeth, requiring surgery. In the other, the officer suffered a broken cheekbone and cuts to the forehead and chest.
Besides the assaults, the inmates vandalized property, created disturbances and made threats, the Pima County sheriff said.
Dupnik said “intelligence” showed that “their eventual intent is to essentially take control of the jail.”
That didn’t happen. But the situation was tense: Other inmates shaved their heads in “solidarity” with the white supremacists. In response, minority inmates told staff that “It’s war now,” according to the memo.
Privileges were taken away from all prisoners in the two pods where the attacks were committed. Things quieted down as privileges are slowly returned.
In his memo, Dupnik said security measures included handcuffing all prisoners from those pods behind their backs; taking away all personal items, except those legally mandated; covering cell windows to prevent communication among prisoners; suspending visitation; prohibiting prisoners from sending U.S. mail to other prisoners; buying additional protective gear for corrections officers in the two affected pods and assigning additional Taser-trained officers to those pods.
The Pima County Jail is east of Mission Road and south of Silverlake Road on the South Side.
The county supervisor representing the area yesterday credited the sheriff for his handling of the incidents.
“It looks like he’s got it settling down,” said Richard Elías.
But the nature of the incidents, not uncommon in prison systems around the nation, was worrisome, Elías conceded.
“I am concerned about it because of the ugly racial implications to it,” he said.
Dupnik said no more white supremacist attacks on officers have been committed since the two earlier this month.
Huckelberry yesterday said he told the Pima County Board of Supervisors about the incidents to illustrate the danger and volatility implicit in operating a jail system.
The two incidents involving white supremacists were extreme and unusual, he said.
“We usually don’t have such major incidents in the jail,” Huckelberry said. “The sheriff has taken a pretty tough stance, and it looks like he has it under control.”
The county has a new, 500-bed jail under construction that will alleviate overcrowding, a key cause of inmate unrest in any overcrowded prison, Huckelberry said.
The first phase of the $27.4 million project for the 147,000-square-foot jail, paid by 1997 bond funds, should be completed in April or May, Huckelberry said.
The existing main jail was built in 1987 to house 476 prisoners. An annex was later built, bringing capacity to about 1,500. The current jail now operates around capacity.
Dupnik said he was reticent to detail the problem at his jail in light of the hostage situation at the state prison in Buckeye.
“From our point of view, caution would be prudent,” Dupnik said, adding of the jail situation, “as a matter of fact, it’s quiet now.”
Apparently, the two inmates involved in the jail attacks have some affiliation with a gang. Sheriff’s Assistant Chief Martha Cramer, who is in charge of the jail operations, said the two prisoners used a gang name. But she would not disclose it, explaining that to publicize the name “gives them more status.”
One of them boasted that he was rejected by the notorious Aryan Brotherhood because he is too violent, she said.
Both prisoners involved in the assaults have been charged with aggravated assault on a corrections officer, Cramer said. They are isolated from other prisoners.
In an attack Jan. 8, Cramer said, a prisoner hid behind a pillar in a day room, lured a corrections officer over and hit him in the face with a sock full of batteries, breaking several teeth and his nose.
Five days later, a prisoner being returned from a court appearance, with his hands cuffed in front of him, sneaked up behind a corrections officer at a desk and hit him repeatedly on the head with his cuffed hands, pushing his face into the desk and breaking a cheekbone, said corrections Capt. Greg Gearhart.