Correctional officer says inmates were taken hostage
Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's. — Telegram file photo
An RNC spokeswoman is calling a situation at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary an “institutional disturbance” but a prison guard described it as a riot and a hostage situation.
From around 10 p.m. Monday night until 4 a.m. Tuesday, police and prison guards had to work to regain control of the situation in one unit.
“There was lots of weapons on the range, like homemade shanks and stuff. They took inmates hostage last night,” said a correctional officer, speaking to The Telegram on the condition of anonymity. “Apparently last night they had a couple of inmates hostage, where they said they were going to slit their throat. And they were told from RNC that were outside the prison and inside that if you slit his throat, we’re coming in shooting.”
Police spokeswoman, Const. Talia Murphy was tight-lipped. She described what happened in the St. John’s prison as an “institutional disturbance,” but offered few details and repeatedly said the situation is under investigation.
Asked by The Telegram what exactly an institutional disturbance is, Murphy said, “It was a disturbance which occurred inside the institution.”
There was a heavy police presence on the scene. Murphy said crisis negotiators from the RNC along with the police tactical response unit and the public order unit were all there. But she couldn’t say how many people had been involved, or offer any specifics of what happened inside the prison.
“The exact number of individuals involved and their roles within the disturbance is part of the ongoing investigation which is being conducted criminally by the RNC,” she said. “The ongoing investigation will determine whether or not there will be any charges laid against the individuals who were involved in the institutional disturbance.”
According to the correctional officer, inmates clogged toilets to flood the unit, and tried to break cameras and tear cell doors off.
Murphy said negotiations took place between the police and people inside the prison, but that is under investigation, too.
Asked whether there were any hostages taken, Murphy seemed to indicate that the police don’t know if any hostages were taken.
“That would be determined through the course of the ongoing investigation whether or not there were, indeed, any hostages taken during this incident,” she said.
When asked how negotiators communicated with whoever it was that they were negotiating with, Murphy said, “The exact techniques used won’t be disclosed at this time.”
At some point during the disturbance, Murphy said some people came out of the prison, but what happened isn’t clear.
“Crisis negotiators from the RNC were able to communicate with the individuals inside and a number of them did come out prior to the resolution of the situation,” she said.
“Members from Her Majesty’s Penitentiary emergency response team did clear the remaining individuals from the facility shortly before 4 a.m. (Tuesday),” she said.
One person was taken to hospital during the situation, but Murphy said that was the result of a pre-existing condition.
The unit where the incident took place was damaged during the night. The prison guard said that he thinks there’s at least $500,000 worth of damage.
“There’s holes in the ceiling. There’s water running everywhere. They’ve got water shut off in the building. They had to shut the electricity off in certain parts of the building because they didn’t want to f***ing fry themselves today,” he said. “There was TVs thrown out the windows last night. The windows were beat out.”
Justice Minister Darin King issued a statement saying he’s deferring to the police on this issue.
“I really can’t add anything right now beyond what the RNC have released about the incident. I can confirm that there was considerable damage done to unit 3B at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary and that we are currently assessing that damage. Fortunately, no inmates or correctional officers were injured,” King said in the statement emailed to reporters by a spokesman.
“I would like to commend the work of the correctional officers and members of the RNC who did a great job of bringing this matter under control. The incident was brought to a peaceful conclusion due to the strong level of co-operation between police and corrections officials.”
The police are looking at whether criminal charges are warranted. The Justice Department is doing an internal investigation as well.