BEHIND PRISON WALLS: FF12 finds what's really happening in prisons

Published: Nov. 1, 2017 at 12:56 PM CDT
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"On Thursday morning, a group of offenders at El Dorado Correctional Facility refused to return to their assigned cell houses. No incidents of violence have occurred, and there have been no injuries to offenders or staff. The facility is secure, and the measures to return the offenders to the cell houses are ongoing. KDOC will then conduct a review of the incidents. Again, there have been no injuries and no acts of violence, and the facility is secure."

On Thursday, June 29, 2017, the Kansas Department of Corrections sent that statement to news organizations regarding an incident that happened inside El Dorado Correctional Facility. As of 3:40 p.m., a KDOC spokesman reported, "measures to return to normal are underway." By 5:30 p.m., the spokesman said the situation was resolved and again said, "at no time during the incident were any weapons accessed by offenders."

However, according to prison security logs of that day obtained by FactFinder 12, a KDOC officer wrote, "1 I/m [inmate] w/weapon" at 12:07 p.m.

The same officer wrote, "I/M [inmate] in SST office again, trying to rip open cabinets per control traffic".

At 12:51 p.m., the employee logged, "multiple fights in east w/multiple offenders".

Those logs don't support the department's reports of no violence or weapons. New documents also show the incident started five days prior.

"I'm not sure why they would say the things that they said knowing that all of the employees there that day would contradict what was being said. I think downplaying that or trying to cover up what happened is a mistake."

FactFinder 12 spoke with several KDOC officers regarding what happened at both El Dorado and Norton Correctional Facilities this year. They say the truth is far from what KDOC has told the public.

"I think characterizing that as a small disturbance is absolutely just a lie," one employee said.

"We had a few cuts and bruises on inmates. Property damage we had quite a bit," another officer said. "They tore a couple of offices apart, broke the computers, broke all of the electronics in there, which is what they got to use. So they hurt themselves. But yet Topeka says there's no damage. There's no injuries. Everything is under control, and it wasn't."

When asked what the disturbance at El Dorado Correctional Facility was like, an officer replied, "Uneasy. I'm on one of the special teams and yes it's uneasy."

FactFinder 12 requested information regarding the disturbance at EDCF back in June. The information included a serious incident report which is required to be completed after each incident like the one that happened in June. We were initially denied saying the report wasn't done. Then, months later, KDOC said we would get that report once an audit was released. That audit was requested by a Kansas senator regarding KDOC. Then, a day after the promotion for this story started airing, we got that report.

The report said the issues at El Dorado began five days prior to the June 29 news release. The report said officers failed to lock and secure doors properly which led to groups of inmates gathering together in the yard who normally aren't around each other.

That led to gang meetings, a gang fight and inmates creating weapons out of broom and mop handles. The report said inmates started a fire and smoke inhalation sent one officer to the hospital.

These details further prove KDOC's lack of transparency when the incidents initially happened. Again, KDOC said there was no violence.

"The media reports came out saying that the Department of Corrections saying there was minimal damage, there was no inmate injuries, there was no staff injuries whatsoever," said Robert Choromanski, the Kansas Organization of State Employees Union Executive Director. "I had more union stewards reach out to me and other state employees, corrections employees reach out to me and say this is not true."

"In all honesty I was a little bit nervous, a little bit uncomfortable but I had to hold myself like an officer. I had to show confidence, show that I wasn't scared," one officer said.

After things at El Dorado calmed down, in early September, there was another issue. This time, at the Norton Correctional Facility. That was on September 5, 2017.

As of 10:30 p.m. on September 5, a KDOC spokesman confirmed there was a "situation" but said information was limited and spotty.

By 10:56 p.m., the spokesman said he was not aware of any escapes and was piecing together further information.

Then at 11:55 p.m., a news release went out.

It read, "An inmate disturbance occurred at Norton Correctional Facility at approximately 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday evening. Local law enforcement agencies are on the scene and are responding to the situation, including the Norton Fire Department. No injuries have been reported at this time. More information will be provided once it becomes available."

As of 12:39 p.m., KDOC said the situation was under control and there were two minor injuries, though neither needed medical attention. Security logs from Norton say a lieutenant, "has cut on left wrist that needs looked out, will send to gatehouse." Logs also say, "I/M [inmate] attempted to run over Capt."

That captain tells us he was seriously injured in this event despite what KDOC said.

As of 12:43 a.m., KDOC said there was one fire at one point and an investigation was beginning. By 2:30 a.m. a news release said there was one mattress "somehow set on fire."

As of 10:45 a.m., KDOC still said there was only one mattress fire. Throughout the Norton logs FactFinder 12 obtained, we found evidence of eight fires.

In a statement, KDOC said, "the Norton Fire Department was called in, but staff was able to put the fire out before they arrived."

The logs show a different story. The logs say, "Fire truck going in with armed escort." That was an hour before logs say, "Fire in C3023."

"I truthfully am not surprised at the things going on. It's been boiling and boiling and now it's just like overflowed now," one officer said.

The security logs from Norton also talk about several other issues during the disturbance that KDOC never mentioned including attempts to hurt officers, inmates taking items from evidence, using glass as weapons, tipping and taking vehicles and taking control over entire areas.

Officers say these discrepancies aren't okay.

"My biggest concern is that they are covering up everything that goes on that there is no way that anybody can access that information. They're keeping everything out of the hands of the public and even the people in the legislature. There is no oversight. There is no requirement to report anything to anybody and that shouldn't be the case for any government agency," one officer said.

Officers say you should care because you're paying for this with your tax dollars and they're paying with their safety.

"We put our lives on the line every day for that and people should really know what's going on. Know where their money is being spent. If there's hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage at a facility, that's their money that was damaged."

When FactFinder 12 asked these officers who is to blame.

"It's the leadership. It's always the leader," one officer said.

"I think the Department of Corrections," another said. "Not so much EDCF but Topeka. They don't want the public to know what's going on."

Officers tell FactFinder 12 they've had other problems too and they think they've all combined to form this problem.

"From my perspective, I think this has been a problem that's been around for years. It's just now reached the boiling point where we're at the point of no return and things are getting worse," one officer said.

One officer tells FactFinder 12 the forced overtime has been detrimental to his health. He said he asked a supervisor what he could do and his supervisor told him the prison needed a doctor's note.

"I went and got my doctors documentation. I turned it in to our HR. They said, oh no this doesn't work. We can't honor this. We won't honor this. You have to have FMLA," he said.

He went and got the paperwork, he said, and turned it in.

"They said, oh no, we don't honor those doctor's FMLA. We will give you the FMLA but we will not honor the stipulations," he said.

Another officer said his superiors didn't respect him.

"I made the mistake of catching contraband being passed through a fishing wire and I was going to punish the inmates. I was going to turn it in to the officer.. They asked for it back. I said no. I turned it into the officer, the officer didn't do anything. He was a veteran officer. The officer didn't do anything at all," he said.

Another officer said she didn't feel safe as inmates would harass her and when she reported it, nothing happened.

"The higher upper management would just slap them on the hand and say don't do that again," the officer said. "They knew if you turned them in, they wouldn't get in trouble. They don't care."

These officers said they're out of options and need someone to pay attention.

"I don't know what else to do," the officer said. "This is where the media comes in."