By Nikki McKim
A prison riot at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution Sunday afternoon left two inmates dead and two others hospitalized.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 10, staff members of the prison noticed a large gathering in the yard of the prison, in front of a housing unit. As members of the staff reported to the area in hopes of breaking up the gathering, two staff members were assaulted and one inmate was injured. Other incidents followed, resulting in heavy damage to the property, as well as several fires, including a bonfire made of plastic furniture.
As the sun set late Sunday evening, smoke continued to rise from the northwest corner of the prison, creating a hazy dome that covered the grounds. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Department blocked the entrance to the prison, as well as a gravel road running west along the north edge of the prison grounds. It would be another four hours before staff would gain control of the facility, according to State Corrections Director Scott Frakes, who was recently appointed in January.
In a press release, Corrections Spokesman James Foster said the next-of-kin have been notified regarding the deaths of the two 46-year-old inmates, Donald Peacock and Shon Collins. The Nebraska State Patrol is currently investigating the deaths. Official cause of death has not been released, though sources inside the prison said authorities believe they were killed by other inmates.
Both men were serving lengthy sentences for sexual assaults on children. Peacock was one year into a 40- to 50-year term from Dodge County for 1st degree sexual assault on a child and visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct. Collins was nearly five years into a 66- to 80-year term from Box Butte County for 1stdegree sexual assault of a child and visual depiction of sexually explicit content.
During the three and a half minute press conference Franks said a third inmate was shot in the leg by a tower guard, and a rubber projectile injured a forth.
“We wanted to ensure we didn’t have staff injuries, so it was necessary, and there were pockets of inmates in a variety of locations, and so, we needed to move very thoughtfully, methodically and carefully. We didn’t know if the inmates may have acquired weapons during this time. In some cases they had destroyed or covered the cameras, so we didn’t have any good sense on what was on the other side of the door until we opened it, so that it was contributed to the time frames,” Frakes said.
Corrections spokesman James Foster said that two of the prison’s general population housingunites were involved in the riot. He said the death row unit was not involved.
Two to three housing units sustained smoke and water damage, as well as broken cameras and windows. Because of the damage to the housing units, prisoners who were kept outside set plastic chairs on fire as it got cold throughout the night.
The Lincoln Journal Star reported receiving a phone call from inmate Jeffry Frank just before 11 p.m.
“We’ve pretty much taken the whole prison,” Frank said. “The ceilings are fallen. There’s drywall on fire. There’s cameras torn down.”
In his phone call to the Journal Star, Frank said no prison employees were in the housing unit.
“I’m looking out a window; there are maybe 60 or 70 blue suits in riot gear and automatic weapons. Maybe National Guard. Some are wearing camo.”
Tecumseh prison public information officer Jessica Houseman said Sunday that one inmate was shot on the yard early in the altercation and the other in the evening.
Frank said three, not two, inmates were shot from a prison guard tower. “There was a lot of blood,” he said.
As of Monday afternoon, the prison was reportedly under the control of staff, though Frakes described the environment as “tense.”
“It is still in the what-do-we-need-to-take-care-of-next phase,” Frakes said, emphasizing the prison’s response to the riot will be examined, but he is satisfied with the current status.
“I’m very happy that no staff were injured in retaking the facility and restoring order. I’m happy that there was one injury to an offender that was a result of a use of force and that offender charged at staff, so they took appropriate action and the offender is okay. From that perspective, I’m very pleased,” he said.
The riot comes only days after a story was reported by Omaha’s KETV news about Tecumseh Correctional officers and case workers leaving in alarming numbers and the problems it’s causing.
KETV reported the turnover rate at Tecumseh jumped from 22 percent in 2010 to 39 percent last year.
Officials stress there is no risk to the public.