A team assigned to investigate a deadly gang fight in 2015 at an Oklahoma private prison that left four inmates dead was the first of its kind formed to investigate an incident at a contract facility, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
The Sept. 12, 2015 fight between members of the Irish Mob and Universal Aryan Brotherhood prison gangs on the Charlie North unit at Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, owned by CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), left four prisoners dead, and is considered the deadliest single incident in Oklahoma corrections history.
Shortly after the incident, former Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton ordered a “Joint After Action Review” by the department and Corrections Corporation be conducted. The purpose of the review was to gather information that would allow the department and Corrections Corporation to “evaluate the available information and render advice,” according to the After Action team’s report.
The eight person team consisted of four individuals from the Department of Corrections and four officials from CoreCivic, including spokespeople from both entities.
Though the team’s report released by the department made recommendations for improvement, such as adopting DOC’s cell integrity policy, replacing light fixtures that had been crafted into weapons by the inmates and installing high definition cameras, it stated that the containment of the incident to the unit was “swift and effective” and that video of the incident was preserved by facility staff for review.
However, the portions of the team’s report appear to not line up with parts of an internal Department of Corrections report on the incident, the findings of which were published by The Frontier earlier this week.
The internal Department of Corrections documents show that workers at Cimarron Correctional Facility told the department’s Office of Inspector General investigators, which was conducting its own inquiry separate from the after action team, that it took too long to bring the unit under control, that video surrounding the incident was intentionally destroyed by staff and that a policy requiring cell doors be locked at all times made the unit more difficult to bring under control and heightened the danger faced both by offenders and responding staff.
“This committee was the only after-action committee ever to investigate an incident at a contract facility,” said Department of Corrections spokesman Matt Elliott. “We have no reason to believe the After Action Review contained inaccuracies.”
The facility’s “Phase Policy” required offenders’ cells to be locked even if the prisoner was not inside the cell. The policy was criticized in the Inspector General’s report by both prisoners and staff members who responded to the incident, who said the locked doors prevented them from immediately locking down prisoners on the unit.
The policy had been enacted only a month before the fight after a different gang fight at the facility in June 2015 involving 30 offenders, and was intended to cut down on gang-related incidents there, according to an Office of Inspector General’s investigation.
In the after action team report, neither the policy or the difficulty caused by the locked cell doors is not mentioned, nor is the destruction of video and audio taken by staff of the incident on hand-held recording devices. Some staff who were recording the video later said they recalled seeing offenders still holding weapons upon entering the unit
The After Action Review Team’s report did not address the phase program because the team collected evidence over a three-day period and its report “was based on available information at the time,” Elliott said.
The Department of Corrections referred questions by The Frontier about why the private prison company’s officials were placed on the After Action team to CoreCivic and former Corrections Director Patton, who is now a warden at an Arizona Department of Corrections facility in Phoenix.
Patton did not return a phone message and a CoreCivic spokesman did not respond to email inquiries.
Though the fight resulted in the death of four offenders, no murder charges were filed in the case. Seven members of the Irish Mob were charged in Payne County District Court with felony participating in a riot in connection with the event, a charge that carries a penalty similar to second-degree murder.
It is unclear whether Cimarron Correctional Facility changed or eliminated the Phase Policy after the incident. The Department of Corrections said CoreCivic would not be required to notify it if the change was made and a spokesman for CoreCivic did not respond to inquiries about whether the policy was ever changed.
Elliott said the lock-in/lock-out practice is not uncommon at correctional facilities, but it is not a policy that has been adopted at facilities managed by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
Elliott said the department “expressed various concerns” to the company after the incident, which “CoreCivic took action to resolve.”
CoreCivic was not required to pay a financial penalty in relation to the incident, according to DOC.