Documents and video detail deadly gang fight at private Cushing prison; facility responded to riot by destroying records

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In this screenshot from surveillance video taken at Cimarron Correctional Facility on Sept. 12, 2015, Correctional Officer Terrance Lockett can be seen standing at the top of the stairs, while prisoners wounded in a gang fight tend to their wounded. No staff were injured, but four inmates died and four others were injured. THE FRONTIER

There was terror in Terrance Lockett’s voice. The 52-year-old correctional officer had only been on the job for about eight months, and a chaotic and bloody scene was unfolding before him.

The only officer on the unit, Lockett watched as members of the Irish Mob and Universal Aryan Brotherhood prison gangs warred before him.

Lockett quickly yelled out on the radio for help, but incorrectly identified the unit he was stationed in. Interviews with other prison employees show Lockett was at first paralyzed, and only after responding officers and nurses arrived did he finally marshal a panicked inmate back into his cell.

But even that didn’t go smoothly. Prison records show Lockett put one inmate in his cell, but rather than safely lock him in, Lockett pepper-sprayed the compliant man.

Responding correctional officers faced a dangerous situation — many of the prisoners still held weapons, and other prisoners were unable to lock themselves down thanks to a policy at the facility that prevented the dozens of prisoners surrounding the scene from re-entering their cells.

Before it was over four gang members — two from each gang — were dead and four other inmates were injured. It was the deadliest prison riot in Oklahoma history.

And the prison — privately run by Tennessee-based CoreCivic — responded by violating state corrections policy by intentionally destroying audio and video surrounding the event and heightened danger faced by prisoners and responding staff by requiring cell doors be locked at all times, an investigation by The Frontier has found.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections Office of Inspector General’s administrative investigation report on the Sept. 12, 2015, gang fight at the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing that left four prisoners dead also contradicts parts of a separate “After Action Review Team” report ordered by former Corrections Director Robert Patton to investigate and make recommendations to the department after the prisoner deaths.

Half of the After Action Review Team appointed by Patton were officials who worked for the private prison company. Two members of the team conducting that investigation were also media spokespeople — one from DOC and the other from the private prison company that owns the facility, CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the team’s report shows.

The administrative and criminal investigation reports by the department’s Office of Inspector General, as well as surveillance video from inside the prison obtained by The Frontier, also paint a clearer picture of what happened before, during and after the bloody clash between members of the Irish Mob and the Universal Aryan Brotherhood prison gangs assigned to the prison’s Charlie North unit. The riot became the deadliest incident in Oklahoma corrections history.

None of the individuals allegedly involved in the fight were charged with murder, though seven members of the Irish Mob were later charged by the Payne County District Attorney’s Office with participating in a riot, which carries a penalty similar to that of second-degree murder. Records show that DOC’s investigators recommended at least two individuals be charged with first-degree murder in the case.

CoreCivic was not penalized, reprimanded, or sanctioned by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, despite investigators finding evidence that the facility had violated at least two policies required by DOC.

Two lawsuits by the families of prisoners killed in the clash and one lawsuit by a prisoner who was injured have been filed against CoreCivic. However, in one of the suits, CoreCivic has moved to require prisoners allegedly involved in the fight — including the family of one prisoner killed in the clash — to pay it, should the company be required to pay civil damages for the death of one of the prisoners.

The outcomes of those lawsuits are still pending.

Though the Department of Corrections has released an incident report and the After Action Review Team’s report on the fight, it has refused to release the surveillance video, as well as its much more detailed administrative and criminal investigations into what happened and the facility’s response.

The Frontier was able to obtain the video, administrative and criminal investigation documents.

The administrative report, which examined the incident and facility for violations of policy, goes into greater detail than the After Action report, offers information that contradicts part of the After Action report and touches on the prison’s locked-door policy, which is not mentioned in the After Action report.

The After Action Review Team’s report states that “CCTV video footage was preserved and processed for release to an OKDOC Inspector General Officer.”

The department’s administrative investigation found that at least three Cimarron Correctional Facility staff members used handheld audio/video recording devices to document the facility’s response to the situation that was unfolding on Charlie North, a requirement by DOC for all use-of-force incidents.

However, when asked for the videos by DOC’s investigators, the facility’s chief of security Larry Cox said he intentionally deleted video from one of the device’s digital media cards.

In a statement to investigators, Cox wrote that “due to past training of not recording any medical procedure, I deleted the video of staff performing CPR,” the report states.

A second handheld camera had failed to record, Cox told investigators, and the card on a third camera was either overwritten or the officer failed to turn the camera on, the report states.

The facility also failed to turn over to DOC investigators security camera video showing the full shift of the lone correctional officer on duty the day of the fight, the report states.

The deletion of the video from the handheld camera and failure to turn over the video showing the correctional officer’s full shift were violations of Department of Corrections policy, as was allowing non-security staff members into the unit before it was fully secure, the report states.

According to the After Action Review Team’s report, “the officer assigned to the Charlie North unit, the COS (Chief of Security) and several officers responding to the incident deployed inflammatory agents to gain compliance from combative offenders.”

The department’s administrative investigation report states that the officer assigned to Charlie North did not deploy his pepper spray until after the fight had ceased after being yelled at by a supervisor to “do something,” and only then deployed his spray on an offender who posed no risk to him.

The After Action report also refers to the containment of the incident to Charlie North “swift and effective.” Yet, staff members interviewed by DOC investigators said bringing the inmates under control was anything but swift and effective — even after pepper spray was used by officers, prisoners would not comply with orders, and one shift supervisor said it should not have taken 10 minutes to bring the inmates fully under control.

Later, several staff members and prisoners would blame the prison’s always-locked cell door policy for the chaos and difficulty getting control of the unit.

The After Action report states that the “facility was appropriately staffed on the day of the incident.” However, several staff members told DOC investigators that the facility was “short-staffed” that day.

While all mandatory posts (such as unit officers) were filled, several non-mandatory posts (such as yard or kitchen officer posts) were not, staff members told DOC investigators. The facility was four to eight correctional officers away from being fully staffed on the day of the incident, according to the report.

In addition, the prison’s policy requires that the facility’s Central Control unit be manned by two officers because of the multitude and importance of the duties there. On the day of the incident, one of the officers stationed at Central Control had gone home early, leaving one inexperienced officer alone to man the vital post, the report states.

Shortly after the incident, former Corrections Director Robert Patton ordered a  “Joint After-Action Review” to be conducted by DoC and CCA in order to  “gather information to permit Director Patton and/or other in the office of General Counsel for OKDOC and/or Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to evaluate the available information and render advice.”

Of the eight individuals appointed to the after-action investigative team, four were Corrections Corporation of America/CoreCivic officials or employees and four were Oklahoma Department of Corrections officials, records show. Two members of the investigative team were media and communications spokespeople — Corrections Corporation Communications Director Steve Owen, and former Department of Corrections spokeswoman Terri Watkins.

Questions submitted to DOC on Friday asking what qualified the media spokespeople to be part of the investigative team, whether it was unique for half the investigative team to be made up of private prison officials, and why some of the team’s findings appeared to contradict DOC’s administrative investigation findings were not returned by publishing time Tuesday.

The facility’s warden, Raymond Byrd, did not return a phone message last week from The Frontier. In response to questions about the facility’s Phase Program policy, issues raised in DOC’s investigative reports on the incident, and lawsuits filed by families of some of the prisoners killed, a spokesman for CoreCivic issued a statement saying they could not comment on pending litigation.

The Leadup

Tennessee-based CoreCivic is one of the largest private prison companies in the world and has facilities throughout the country. In 2016, the company changed its name from Corrections Corporation of America and began expanding its portfolio to include prisoner re-entry programs, as well as leasing some of its empty facilities to government entities.

The company owns four prisons in Oklahoma — two of which it staffs and operates through a contract with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (Cimarron in Cushing and Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville), and one of which it leases to DOC (North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre). The fourth, Diamondback Correctional Facility in Watonga is empty, but the company has expressed hopes that DOC will lease that facility as well.

The company also owns the majority of prisoner re-entry halfway house beds in the state.

In fiscal year 2016, during the year the incident at Charlie North occurred, CoreCivic was paid $55.9 million for contract bed space, and was paid $54 million for contract beds the following year, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

Cimarron Correctional Facility has a history of violent incidents that occurred both before and after the Sept. 12, 2015, riot, and some of the facility’s staff have faced criminal charges for separate alleged criminal acts, ranging from bringing in contraband to sex acts with prisoners.

As first reported by KGOU, the Department of Corrections regularly sent letters to CoreCivic detailing contract violations in 2015, including violations that occurred in relation to prisoner-related serious incidents. However, the Department did not penalize the company for those violations by withholding payments, which is allowed under the contract between the state and private prison company.

At least four such letters regarding contract violations were sent to the Cimarron Correctional Facility in 2015, and most of the letters mentioned previous correspondence about the contract breaches, according to the KGOU report. Still, no money was withheld by the Department of Corrections as a result.

Cimarron Correctional Facility’s Charlie North unit is a two-story medium-security unit with cells along the bottom and top floors surrounding a “dayroom” common area where prisoners can watch TV, play games or socialize.

At the time of the fight, it was monitored by a single automatically rotating camera on the ceiling in the middle of the unit. The video from the camera is captured on a feed to the facility’s Central Control, and the camera could be manually operated by correctional officers stationed in Central Control. Officers on duty at Central Control are required to carry out many different functions, the report states, including unlocking unit entry/exit doors and calling for emergency transport if an injured inmates needs to be taken to a hospital.

Though facility policy stated that Central Control was to be staffed by two officers, on that day it was staffed by only one — the second officer on duty went home sick, DOC’s investigation states. The officer who was left on duty at Central Control was an inexperienced correctional officer with only three months experience in Central Control, according to the report. 

One supervisor told DOC investigators that the officer’s lack of experience “probably affected the response to the incident as well as the camera video obtained,” and the officer who was on duty later told investigators that he was “kind of new in Central and in there by myself,” the report states.

Other areas of the facility were also lacking staff that day, the investigation states.

The facility’s shift supervisor told investigators that while all “mandatory” posts were filled, the facility’s non-mandatory posts were short staffed, and that while full staffing of the facility would probably consist of about 22 to 24 correctional officers, on the day of Sept. 12, there were only 18 security staff on duty, the report states.

In June 2015, about three months before the fight, an incident between two prison gangs that involved 33 prisoners and ended with 11 offenders being hospitalized had erupted at the facility. In response the facility implemented a new “Phase Program” that would reward units of inmates with privileges such as dayroom access, commissary and phone usage, for collective good behavior, DOC’s investigative report states.

However, as part of the program, if an inmate on a unit that earned privileges did choose to leave their cell, the cell had to be unlocked by a correctional officer and the officer was required to search the prisoner for weapons, Unit Manager Tommy Battles told investigators. After the prisoner was searched and cleared and allowed to go about their business outside of the cell, the officer was required to close the cell door and ensure it was locked, the report states.

If the offender then wanted to return to his cell, the correctional officer would be required to unlock it, the report states.

The main concept of the program was to limit and control inmate movement and lessen the threat of a disturbance being caused by prison gangs by preventing offenders from retrieving contraband or weapons from their cell and bringing them into the common areas of a unit, the report states.

Implementation of the program “is necessary to control the STG (Security Threat Group) affiliated inmate population and maintain the safety and continued services and programs to the general population,” Battles wrote in an Aug. 6, 2015, memorandum to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, notifying the department of the revisions to the facility’s operational plan.

However, as prisoners and facility staff would soon learn, it also meant that if there was a gang disturbance in the common area of a unit, prisoners who did not want to be involved would be unable to voluntarily retreat to the safety of their cell.

One correctional officer was assigned to the Charlie North on the day of the fight — Terrance Lockett, a 52-year-old who had worked at the prison for around eight months on the day of the fight, but who said he had developed a rapport with some of the prisoners housed on the unit, DOC records state.

A lieutenant at the facility told investigators that Lockett was a new officer and went through the required training, but had little or no actual experience in an incident like the one that erupted on Charlie North that day.

An assistant shift supervisor later told DOC investigators Lockett had a habit of not properly patting down inmates when letting them out of their cell, and had received disciplinary “coaching letters” for prior related actions, the report states. However, when investigators requested Lockett’s disciplinary records from the facility, they were told there were no prior disciplinary records for Lockett, the report states.

Lockett later told investigators that his searches of inmates were “quick,” and that he might not have conducted pat searches on every inmate or may have inadvertently missed a concealed weapon, the report states.

To determine whether Lockett had properly conducted searches of the prisoners on Charlie North prior to the fight, investigators requested video of his entire shift that day, but were given video showing only the incident, the report states.

The Fight

The fight between members of the Irish Mob and United Aryan Brotherhood at the facility on Sept. 12, 2015, left four dead — two from each gang — and four others wounded, records of the incident show.

Killed in the incident were:

Anthony Fulwilder. Courtesy OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
  • Anthony Fulwilder, 31, who was serving a 23-year sentence on a 2003 conviction in Oklahoma County for six counts of robbery with a firearm and two counts of shooting with intent to kill. According to Department of Corrections records, Fulwilder was a validated member of the Universal Aryan Brotherhood. He suffered multiple sharp force injuries, according to the medical examiner, and died after being transported to a Tulsa hospital via helicopter.
Michael Mayden Jr. Courtesy OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
  • Michael Mayden, 26, who was serving an eight-year split sentence for felon in possession of a firearm, possession of a stolen vehicle, and possession of a vehicle with removed vehicle identification numbers. Department of Corrections records state that Mayden was a “prospect” for the Universal Aryan Brotherhood. A medical examiner’s report listed the cause of death as being a stab wound to the left shoulder. He died at the scene.
Kyle Tiffee. Courtesy OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
  • Kyle Tiffee, 23, who was serving a five-year sentence from a 2011 conviction in Leflore County of possession of a controlled dangerous substance and a two-year sentence from a 2014 conviction out of Oklahoma County for assault and battery on a law enforcement officer. DOC records state he was a validated member of the Irish Mob. His cause of death was listed as multiple stab wounds, according to the medical examiner.
Christopher Tignor. Courtesy OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
  • Christopher Tignor, 29, who was serving a five-year sentence for a 2010 conviction out of Oklahoma County on three counts of receiving, possessing and concealing a stolen vehicle and one count of unauthorized use of a vehicle. DOC records state that Tignor was a validated member of the Irish Mob. His cause of death was listed as a stab wound to the chest, and an autopsy showed meth in his system at the time of his death.

Most of the prisoners DOC investigators attempted to interview declined to speak with them or provided little to no information.

A few said there had been tension building between the Irish Mob and Universal Aryan Brotherhood for a while, and others said the situation blew up unexpectedly. Others said they sensed little tension between the two groups until a few minutes before the fight when it began to get unusually quiet on the unit, the report states.

Lockett told investigators that a few minutes before the fight, some of the black prisoners on the unit, who he said were affiliated with the Bloods gang, began to ask him to let them into their cells on the top floor of the unit, which he found unusual and caused him to suspect a problem.

After letting some of the prisoners into their cell, Lockett told investigators that he turned to look over the unit and saw that all of the black inmates had moved to the top floor and only white inmates were left on the bottom floor.

Though he did not tell investigators during his first interview with them, in subsequent interviews with DOC investigators and in later statements, Lockett said that a “shot caller,” or high-ranking member, of the Bloods gang approached him and warned him to remain on the top run of the unit.

At that point, Lockett told investigators, he radioed for assistance.

Lockett said he was told to call back “if something happens,” the report states. Lockett could not remember who had responded to him and the report does not state whether other officers recalled hearing Lockett call for assistance before the fight was underway.

As he stood on the top run, Lockett said he saw a group of white inmates he identified as Irish Mob walk along the top run and then down the stairs to the first floor, where a group of Universal Aryan Brotherhood inmates were located.

Later, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation would enhance video from the unit’s surveillance camera, and investigators would identify Steven Ray Thompson, 32; Phillip Wayne Jordan, 34; Jordan James Scott, 25; James Augustine Placker, 31; Gage Broom, 25; and Korey L. Kruta, 28, as the Irish Mob members who walked down the stairs, the report states. Those men were later charged in the case as a result.

Lockett said members of the two groups began walking toward each other, not saying a word, and Lockett said he began shouting for the two groups to stop, the report states.

Several other witnesses reported hearing someone shout “Sinn Fein, Mob Gang” (terms associated with the Irish Mob) and then someone shouted “Wood” (a term associated with the Universal Aryan Brotherhood).

Then, by all accounts, all hell broke loose on Charlie North.

Carnage and Chaos

Weapons used in the deadly Sept. 12, 2015, fight at Cimarron Correctional Facility. Courtesy.

As the fight began, Lockett told investigators he saw an inmate retrieving weapons hidden along the top of a wall upstairs and pass them out to other prisoners, and another inmate retrieve weapons from under a chair in the day area.

Video obtained by The Frontier shows Lockett standing at the top of the stairway overlooking the first floor as the two groups of prisoners fought below.

Lockett sent out a desperate radio call for help. Initially, Lockett called for assistance at the wrong unit, and then corrected himself after another officer asked if he meant “Charlie North,” investigators wrote.

Several other staff members in other parts of the facility said they recall hearing Lockett’s call for help come over the radio, that Lockett sounded “distressed” and that they could hear “screaming and yelling” coming from inside Charlie North.

Michelle Bass, a nurse at the facility told investigators that when Lockett’s call for help came over the radio, there was “terror” in his voice. Bass said she rushed toward Charlie North when she heard the call, the report states.

Not all members of the Irish Mob gang who became involved in the fight were among the group who walked down the stairs, according to the report. Some Irish Mob members told investigators they were already downstairs when the attack began, and were not expecting a fight when it erupted.

One Irish Mob gang member who was not with the group who walked down the stairs said the attack occurred without warning — that he was suddenly hit in the back of the head and then he began fighting people he believed were associated with the Universal Aryan Brotherhood

One witness reported seeing Thompson stab Mayden in the neck as Mayden ran by him. Mayden then ran up the stairs to the second floor and then back down the stairs before collapsing near the unit’s exit door, the report states.

A witness also identified a member of the Universal Aryan Brotherhood who was not charged in the case approach Tignor from behind, reach around and stab him in the chest with a 9-inch long homemade knife. That Universal Aryan Brotherhood member, who had himself been stabbed multiple times in the melee, then allegedly began to chase after Tiffee, who fell backwards over some chairs onto the floor, where he was then stabbed by his pursuer, a witness told investigators.

A witness told investigators that Fulwilder was fighting with several other inmates, but it was not clear who stabbed him.

Finally, witnesses told investigators, the fight broke up and the two gangs separated to opposing sides of the unit, with some inmates still holding weapons and standing guard over or tending to their injured brethren.

The fight had lasted a little less than two minutes, the report states, as other staff members began to enter the unit to assist Lockett, who remained standing on the top floor.

Bass, a male and female correctional officer and a shift supervisor were the first staff members besides Lockett to enter the unit, the report states.

They were met by a scene of chaos.

One officer who responded told investigators that when he entered, he observed “a lot of blood, several inmates down, inmates screaming at staff and one another, and weapons being held by inmates.” Another told investigators there were “people bleeding everywhere,”

Bass later told DOC investigators that medical staff is generally supposed to wait until a scene is secure before entering, but she saw numerous prisoners lying injured on the floor and decided to enter the room to attempt to save the wounded and dying, the report states.

“My focus was to try and save a life and I think we did pretty stinking good to have only lost four,” Bass told investigators. “If I would’ve waited there would have been more (deaths).”

The air became thick with pepper spray as correctional officers began spraying prisoners who would not comply with their orders to drop their weapons and lay on the ground, the report states.

One of the first responding nurses to the scene said she entered the unit and saw Mayden laying by the door, “cold and blue.” After seeing Tiffee, Tignor and Fulwilder, the nurse began working on Fulwilder because “she recalled feeling as though Fulwilder had the best chance at survival so she attended to him,” the report states. The nurse said she also utilized nearby inmates to help her provide aid to the victims.

A shift supervisor who responded to Lockett’s call said he saw Tiffee and Tignor lying on the floor unresponsive but being attended to by other inmates, and he began applying pressure to Tignor’s chest wounds, the report states, while simultaneously giving verbal directives to the other prisoners to step away and lay on the floor.

A correctional officer who was among the first on the scene said that after telling an inmate holding a knife to drop the weapon, the prisoner replied that he would not until the unit was cleared.

But the responding officers were having difficulty. Unable to return to their cells, a group of about 30 prisoners had fled to the the top floor and were standing in a group near the back of the unit, while some of the prisoners on the main floor did not want to leave their wounded brethren, the report states.

Some correctional officers who responded reported attempting to get the inmates to lock down, but were unable to because they did not have the keys to the locked cells, and could only order the inmates to lay on the ground.

Prior to the new phase program being implemented, offenders would usually lock themselves down when a disturbance occurred, but they were unable to that day on Charlie North, a correctional officer told investigators, adding that “with numerous inmates out of control, the situation is too unsafe for staff to respond appropriately.”

One prisoner on the unit who was not part of the fight would not talk to investigators about the incident, but said the “new lock in/lock out procedure was a ‘big mistake’ because people had nowhere to run,” the report states.

The facility’s Chief of Security Cox was working outside the perimeter fence when he was summoned by the warden to respond to what was happening on Charlie North, the report states. On his way to the unit, Cox stopped by central control to pick up chemical agents — spray, a bag of chemical agent grenades and a “MK 46 High Volume delivery system,” sometimes referred to as a pepper ball gun. Once on the unit, he began instructing inmates to lay on the ground and if they refused, he would spray them with the chemical agent.

Cox’s actions were cited in the After Action report as one of the main factors in getting the prisoners on Charlie North under control that day.

One of the correctional officers told investigators that, after hearing Lockett’s call, she obtained a handheld video camera because she was assigned to be a video camera operator as part of her emergency response duties.

After entering the unit the officer said she was recording and recalled seeing prisoners lying on the ground, a prisoner holding what she described as a blue metal “knife” possibly fashioned from a door frame at the facility, and staff members rendering medical aid.

The officer told investigators that she began recording the facility chaplain, a nurse and an inmate performing medical aid on Tiffee when she was told to stop recording by Cox, the report states.

The investigation states that she was one of three officers who used an audio/video recorder to document staff response, but that facility officials later told them there were technical issues with two of the devices and video was not recorded or accidentally recorded over, while Cox said that he intentionally deleted the video showing a prisoner receiving CPR.

Tignor was carried to the facility’s bus barn, and two other wounded prisoners were taken to the bus barn as well — one of whom was the Universal Aryan Brotherhood member who had allegedly stabbed Tignor.

According to witnesses, correctional officers were initially unable to identify Tignor as he lay in the bus barn, but the prisoner who had allegedly stabbed him identified him and said he had known him before their time in prison.

One of the witnesses said they then overhead the prisoner say how he felt “it wasn’t right that he had to kill his best friend just because they were from different gangs,” the report states.

Assistant Shift Supervisor Lt. Scott Hunsucker later told investigators that he remembered seeing Lockett still standing on the top run of the unit, and that Lockett “had become fixated with the events unfolding on the floor and was not focused on anything else.”

Hunsucker said he directed Lockett to “do something,” and that he then saw Lockett direct an inmate to get inside a cell, and the inmate complied, but instead of securing the cell door Lockett sprayed the inmate with pepper spray and then secured the door, the report states.

“Then I knew this guy (Lockett) was way stressed out,” Hunsucker told investigators. Hunsucker said he told a captain about what happened and the captain ordered Lockett off the unit.

Hunsucker told investigators that if Lockett had “unloaded his OC spray” onto the dayroom floor when the fight first occurred, it may have helped deter the inmates.

Eventually, the non-injured inmates on the unit were restrained, those who were in their cells at the time were removed, and the prisoners were moved to recreation yards, the report states.

During interviews with DOC investigators, some of the staff who responded to the scene that day became visibly upset at the recollection of the event, the report notes. Others said they sought mental health treatment or tried to block out what had happened.

One of the first responding correctional officers said she was apprehensive at first about entering the unit, but saw the injured inmates and knew they needed help, the report states. She began keying open cells and locking in inmates, before assisting medical staff and helping to wheel away some of the injured prisoners on gurneys, the report states.

The officer said that she thought medical staff was saving all the wounded, but then heard over the EMS radio that there were fatalities. During her interview, as she recounted hearing about the fatalities, she began to become visibly upset, investigators wrote.

“The sadness of it all is overwhelming,” she said.

That officer resigned from the facility shortly after the incident, the report notes.

The Aftermath

Nearly 23 ounces of chemical inflammatory agents were deployed by staff during the aftermath, DOC’s investigative report states. A total of 20 prisoners received misconduct citations as a result of the fight, 21 homemade weapons made from cell light fixtures plexiglass from the cell lights and metal from cooling racks in the kitchen were recovered by staff, in addition to one cell phone, according to the investigation.

No staff were injured, but four inmates died and four others were injured.

Universal Aryan Brotherhood members were relocated to a different unit at the facility in an effort to separate the groups and prevent further violence, the report states.

Investigators recovered a cellphone that had been in Tignor’s possession, and conducted a forensic examination of the phone on Oct. 29, 2015, the report states.

The exam showed that Tignor had received two text messages from two separate phone numbers within about 20 minutes of the fight. Investigators believed one phone belonged to a prisoner at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester and the other belonged to another inmate at a different facility.

According to the report, the first message stated “Call ph asap its war time again green light on arian” and the second states “Its official green light for all jrihar to stab uab on sight from ph let all mob know,” the report states. “Jrihar” is a term Irish Mob members often use to refer to themselves, while “green light” is prison slang for the go ahead being given to attack or kill.

Interviews with the two prisoners who investigators believed texted Tignor before the fight yielded little information, the report states. Investigators said the prisoners denied knowing what or who “ph” in the text messages were related to.

On June 15, 2016, investigators interviewed prisoner Richard Potts  — who also went by the nickname “Pothead” — at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. A month later, Potts would be named in a federal indictment along with several other high-ranking Irish Mob gang members for allegedly running a heroin and drug distribution ring in Oklahoma from their prison cells. According to the FBI affidavit in the case, Potts largely ran the Tulsa branch of the organization.

Potts acknowledged there was tension between the Irish Mob and Universal Aryan Brotherhood, but told investigators that he had no prior knowledge of the fight and denied he made the call to initiate the fight, only learning of it through the news, the report states.

“I just don’t remember making that call, like that, or whatever it was,” Potts is quoted by investigators as saying.

Potts then asked for an attorney, saying he did not want to “self-incriminate,” and the interview was ended, the report states.

Investigators recommended filing first- and second-degree murder charges against Thompson, as well as possession of contraband in a prison.

The report also recommends charges of first-degree murder and possession of contraband in prison be filed against the Universal Aryan Brotherhood member who allegedly stabbed Tignor and Tiffee.

The report recommended second-degree murder charges against Kruta, Whittington, Broom, Jordan and Scott, as well as possession of contraband charges against several other prisoners who were not charged later but were linked to weapons possession through witness accounts, surveillance video or DNA analysis.

However, no murder charges were filed in the case. Instead, charges against seven Irish Mob members involved in the fight were filed in April in Payne County District Court. Those cases are still pending.

Though two members of the Irish Mob were killed in the melee, no members of the Universal Aryan Brotherhood involved in the fight were charged since the fight was instigated by members of the Irish Mob and the members of the Universal Aryan Brotherhood who were attacked had no place to flee and were defending themselves, said Payne County District Attorney Laura Austin Thomas.

“They had a right to self-defense,” Thomas said. “There is no place to retreat. You can’t retreat in a prison.”

No murder charges were brought in the case because of a lack of evidence showing exactly which prisoners struck the killing blows, Thomas told The Frontier.

In addition to a lack of cooperation and lack of credibility by some of the witnesses, the video showing the fight was low-quality and the rotating camera made it difficult to see the incident as it unfolded, Thomas said.

“You can’t do identification based on watching the video,” Thomas said.  “We knew we were going to have to have a difficult time putting this together.”

The weapons used in the fight, which according to the report had been analyzed by the OSBI and found to have DNA evidence of some of the individuals alleged to have taken part in the fight, had been contaminated when prison staff gathered them up, along with other weapons found afterward, Thomas said.

In the After-Action team’s report, the quality of the video produced by the camera as well as the contamination of evidence by staff were cited as concerns. The report states that the cameras in the institution were to be replaced in June 2016 with high-definition cameras, and though the weapons may have been contaminated by collection procedures, the overriding concern at the time was safety.

“While there is significant crime scene preservation concerns with the collection of weapons on the floor throughout the housing unit during the incident by the officer, the team appreciated the officer’s rationale for gathering and securing the weapons in his office,” the report states. “An interview with the officer revealed that the officer’s sole immediate concern in collecting the weapons was preventing further violence and further injuries to inmates and/or staff.”

The Fallout

In February 2016, Lockett was arrested after the facility’s chief of security, Cox, found him attempting to smuggle drugs into the facility, according to an affidavit filed in Lockett’s criminal case. Cox called the Cushing Police Department, and Lockett was placed under arrest.

Lockett told investigators he had been threatened by possible gang members outside of the facility and told to smuggle the drugs into the facility, DOC’s investigation states.

Lockett was charged in Payne County District Court with two felonies — attempting to bring marijuana into a correctional facility and possession of marijuana, according to court records. He was also fired by CoreCivic.

Court records show that for months, Lockett was making appearances in court without an attorney, and even unsuccessfully petitioned for a public defender, court records show.

Meanwhile, court records in a civil case that had been filed against CoreCivic by a family member of one of the prisoners killed in the Sept. 12, 2015, fight show that Lockett had spoken with attorneys representing the family and told them that he had noticed signs that a fight was about to occur and radioed his supervisors, but was told to call back when something happened.

“I called for help,” Lockett said, “and they told me to call back when it was over.”

A few days after the first civil lawsuit was filed against CoreCivic in September 2016 by the family of a prisoner killed during the fight, Lockett said he was making a scheduled court appearance for his criminal case when a man in a suit walked up to him in the courthouse.

“He walked up behind me and said, ‘I’m here to represent you,’” Lockett told The Frontier. “I asked, ‘Who are you?’ He told me his name and said he had been retained by Corrections Corporation of America.”

The attorney, William Lunn of Tulsa, did not return phone messages left by The Frontier seeking comment.

The day after meeting the attorney, Lockett said he was told by prison officials that he should not talk to attorneys for the plaintiffs in the civil suit or to the media.

“They said, ‘We’re representing you with the lawyer,” Lockett said, “we don’t want you to say anything that’s going to hurt your (criminal) case.’”

In a lawsuit brought against Corrections Corporation by a prisoner who was injured in the fight, Lockett, who was also added as a defendant in the case, attorneys for the plaintiff submitted handwritten statement by Lockett attesting that the prison company had hired an attorney to represent him in the criminal case and that he had tried to warn other correctional officers that the fight was about to occur, but was told to call back later.

Lockett pleaded guilty in April to the two charges in exchange for a two-year deferred sentence, court records show.

Cimarron Correctional Facility’s warden, Byrd, was asked by investigators about Lockett, his training, and other issues that arose during the investigation, according to the report.

“In reference to unsafe practices, Byrd stated the incident was ‘not about Lockett’ or other staff; it was about IM (Irish Mob) and UAB (Universal Aryan Brotherhood),” the report states.

Byrd told investigators that the prison’s Phase Program had been “beneficial,” the report states, though some inmates complained about being locked in or out of their cell.

However, multiple staff members and some prisoners interviewed by DOC investigators were critical of the program, and said that the locked cells made an already dangerous situation even worse for both “because essentially when the incident started the inmates were locked out of their respective cells and could not retreat to a safe place,” the report states.

Neither CoreCivic nor the Department of Corrections answered questions by the Frontier about whether the facility ended the program or cell door policy after the incident, though DOC did say that the facility’s security plans were reviewed and updated and additional training for CCA staff was offered and required.

The incident resulted in three lawsuits against CoreCivic — two wrongful death suits by family members represented the estates of Mayden and Tiffee, and a negligence lawsuit by a prisoner injured in the melee, Cordell Johnson.

The lawsuits allege that prior to the fight there were a high number of serious incidents at the facility, a high rate of contraband and drugs being brought into the facility, and that “issues with staff violating the standards of conduct all demonstrated the absence of control at the facility and the reckless disregard exercised in its operation.”

Mayden’s lawsuit also alleges that the Charlie North unit  was “controlled by gangs,” and this should have been known by the company given the high number of non-routine uses of force on the unit.

The suit also alleges that there were numerous violent incidents between gang members on the unit both before and after the Sept. 12, 2015, fight, the facility was understaffed or staff by unqualified individuals in an effort by CoreCivic to keep its costs down, and that incidents of contraband and drug trafficking by prisoners were unreported or underreported by staff prior to the incident.

“The incidents of contraband at CCF, compared to state-run (non-private) facilities, demonstrates an acceptance of criminal activity,” the suit states “which is further demonstrated by poor training, poor staffing and unprofessional conduct by staff.”

In its court filings, CoreCivic denies the allegations against it, and states that Mayden was part of the fight “and received fatal injuries because of his participation.”

Earlier this year, attorneys for the Tiffee and Mayden family requested that the cases be consolidated. However, CCA opposed this, though it not entirely clear on what grounds since many of its filings in response were placed under seal by the court.

In one of its motions, CCA states that an opposing gang member did come into contact with Mayden, but does not say who.

Tiffee is listed by DOC as a member of the Irish Mob, and Mayden is listed by DOC as a “prospect” of the Universal Aryan Brotherhood.

Later, CoreCivic would be added a “third party plaintiff” in Mayden’s lawsuit, and the seven individuals criminally charged in the matter added as “third party defendants,” along with the estate of Tiffee.

In cases where a company or individual are held liable for some sort of damage in a lawsuit, that company or individual can be named as a “third party plaintiff” and add “third party defendants” who might share in the liability, and request compensation from the third party defendants for any damages it has to pay out if there is a judgement against it.

Essentially, it means CoreCivic is suing its former prisoners and the estate of one of its former prisoners and asking that they be required to pay the company compensation if it is required to pay damages in the Mayden case, said Spencer Bryan, a Tulsa attorney who is representing the Tiffee estate in its suit against Core Civic.

Bryan or Jason Messenger, attorney for the Mayden family, both said the move is common in civil lawsuits, but said they had not seen it done by a private prison company before against prisoners.

A spokesman for CoreCivic declined to comment on the move, and a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections declined to comment on whether any similar legal actions by a private prison company has occurred before.

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze
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