116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The State Fire Marshal’s Office is analyzing a “household substance” that could be used to make a bomb after an investigation led to its discovery last week in an inmate’s cell at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections.
The troubling seizure comes nearly two months after, authorities say, two inmates attempting to escape March 23 from the same prison used hammers to bludgeon to death nurse Lorena Schulte and Corrections Officer Robert McFarland. The murders have prompted multiple investigations and brought sharp criticism from a public union representing workers in Iowa penitentiaries that the state has allowed staffing levels to dip to dangerous levels.
Authorities with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation on Friday went to the Anamosa prison “to begin interviews of inmates suspected of planning to use an explosive device,” said Corrections Department spokesman Cord Overton. The DCI investigators were acting on “credible intelligence,” he said, without providing more details about how the information came to light.
“In their interviews and subsequent search at the facility with the DOC, a household substance was discovered in an inmate's cell that could potentially have been used in the creation of an explosive substance if additional materials were added,” Overton said.
He did not answer questions about whether anyone has been charged in the incident or whether the inmate involved in the seizure remains at the Anamosa facility.
“The investigation is ongoing, but at this time it is not believed that there is a danger to the public or the prison,” Overton said.
He said inmates at the facility were placed on “restricted movement for several weeks” after the killings, and now are on “modified restricted movement.”
Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, the union that represents state prison workers among others, has been highly critical for years of the staffing levels at Iowa’s prisons and of the state’s response.
“In the aftermath of the murders at Anamosa in March, I called on the Department of Corrections to lock down the prison, shake it down, and put much more rigorous safety protocols in place. They did not take our advice,” Homan said in a statement. “Now, we find out that prisoners at Anamosa were able to secure bombmaking materials. Thank god these didn’t go off, but clearly the Department of Corrections is still not taking the security of our institutions seriously. This has got to end.
“The Department must do a top to bottom sweep of all institutions,” he continued. “With their new appropriation, they must hire the staff, replace the equipment necessary, and put the proper protocols in place to make our institutions safe. Every day they don’t puts the lives of both the staff and inmates at risk.”
Before it adjourned last week, the Iowa Legislature approved about a 5 percent increase — roughly $20 million — to the Correction Department’s fiscal 2022 budget that begins July 1.
Democrats, who unsuccessfully argued for a larger budget increase, laid blame Sunday on Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds for not doing enough.
“At every turn, the Governor has tried to sweep the safety concerns in our prisons under the rug and hide information from lawmakers and the public,” said a statement from House Democratic Whip Jennifer Konfrst of Windsor Heights. “While I’m so thankful no one was hurt this time, the Governor needs to finally take responsibility for her failure of leadership and fix the safety problems in our prisons before another Iowan dies.”
The Corrections Department is seeking a vendor to review all parts of its prison system, from staffing and inmate classification to the safety of buildings, although it has not committed to making findings of the review public.
In addition, there are several other investigations in the wake of the fatal attack:
• The DCI is doing the criminal probe of the killings. Inmates Michael Dutcher and Thomas Woodard face first-degree murder, second-degree kidnapping and attempted murder charges.
• Corrections officials requested counterparts from South Dakota and Minnesota visit April 13-16 to investigate “the incident and circumstances leading up to it.”
• Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the department after complaints about problems with the radio system prison staff use to communicate with each other.