Public Safety

AFSCME says prison assaults at Iowa State Penitentiary linked to white supremacists

Fort Madison correctional officer hospitalized after being attacked

The Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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The Iowa State Penitentiary was locked down Wednesday after an offender assaulted a correctional officer with homemade weapons — the second assault of the Fort Madison prison staff in less than a week.

Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, which represents correctional officers, issued a statement Wednesday asserting both attacks were committed by offenders associated with white supremacist gangs. He blamed Iowa’s Department of Corrections for ignoring warnings of these types of assaults.

“This morning, a correctional officer at the Iowa State Penitentiary was stabbed five times by an inmate wielding two 10-inch shanks,” he said in the statement.

“This incident comes on the heels of another assault against a correctional officer that took place on Saturday. In that incident, the inmate involved was escorted by the correctional officer who was stabbed this morning. Both assaults were carried out by inmates associated with white supremacist gangs. Inmate informants have been notifying staff for months that incidents like this were being planned, yet ISP administration refused to act on the warnings.”

Homan said later Wednesday he’d been told a state database shows the offenders involved are “confirmed Peckerwoods,” which the Southern Poverty Law Center identified in a 2014 report as affiliates of the Aryan Brotherhood.

The Corrections Department’s report of Wednesday’s assault said the staff member was beginning to escort Keith Piper, 33, serving time as a habitual offender, when Piper “struck the staff multiple times” with “two homemade weapons.” With help from other staff, the correctional officer was able to subdue Piper, according to a news release.

“The staff member was initially sent via ambulance to Fort Madison Community Hospital, but was then transported via ambulance to the University of Iowa Hospitals, in Iowa City,” the release stated. An update Wednesday afternoon said the staff member was considered stable.

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The Gazette asked the DOC about Homan’s assertions about white supremacy gangs being linked to the assault and whether the department had received warnings about these sort of attacks. Beth Skinner, risk reduction officer for the Corrections Department, said the department would make no additional comment while investigating.

Penitentiary leaders placed Housing Unit 2 on restrictive movement Sunday after what the Corrections Department described as an “incident involving a staff member” who was later treated and released for an apparent injury. Visiting for the housing unit was suspended.

AFSCME long has complained Iowa’s prisons are understaffed and unsafe for correctional officers.

“We have been sounding the alarm on the increased frequency of brutal assaults within our correctional facilities with absolutely zero change taking place,” Homan said in the statement. “We are demanding that the Department of Corrections meet with us to discuss this health and safety crisis before someone gets killed.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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