A rookie correctional officer at the Anchorage jail was hospitalized after an inmate attacked him Wednesday night, according to the officer's union, which is blaming staffing changes by the state Department of Corrections for endangering the officer.
Representatives of the Alaska Correctional Officer Association also say a corrections department spokesman's comments to news media right after the assault were untrue when he said the officer was doing fine. At the time, the officer was in an emergency room with a broken jaw, a concussion and memory loss, the union says.
The officer, identified by Alaska State Troopers as Sean Winslow, was released from the hospital Friday. Winslow, 26, is the sixth correctional officer to be assaulted at the Anchorage jail so far in 2012 and the only one to require hospitalization, according to the Department of Corrections.
The union said Winslow was locked in with a group of prisoners when the inmate blindsided him with a punch about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. State corrections officials would not comment on details of the assault; nor would they release information about Winslow's condition, citing his medical privacy.
"The officer is believed to have been temporarily knocked unconscious by the inmate but was able to make a call for help once he came to his senses," said Brad Wilson, the union's business manager, in a written statement.
Officers called for an ambulance.
Winslow could lose some teeth and will undergo an operation to repair his jaw, the union said Friday.
Winslow was a recruit who had not yet gone to the state correctional officer academy, according to officials with both the union and the corrections department. The union says Winslow had three months of experience and should not have been working alone with the inmate, who is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds.
"This guy was an extremely dangerous inmate that should probably have been in segregation," Wilson said. "He's a murderer with serious, previous issues while incarcerated and we believe he shouldn't have been in that area."
Troopers have not yet charged or named the inmate. According to the corrections department, he had recently been sentenced and was categorized as "close custody," the highest classification of danger for inmates in general population (those not segregated or locked down for 23 hours a day).
The correctional officers' union has pointed to reduced staffing levels and reorganized shifts -- blending 12-hour and eight-hour work days -- that representatives say do not provide for adequate training of new officers. The changes were implemented this summer even after a 2010 legislative audit said there were not enough officers on shift at the Anchorage jail to keep staff and inmates safe.
A trooper investigation into the incident was continuing Friday, which prevented state officials from discussing details of the assault with reporters, said corrections spokesman Richard Schmitz.
Schmitz said an appropriate number of officers were on shift in other parts of the jail to back up Winslow, and that Winslow had reached a level of training that allowed him to work on his own.
Training includes three weeks of being paired with another officer before recruits like Winslow can work on their own, Schmitz said.
"This has been pretty standard for a long time. It's how people work their way into the position," Schmitz said.
Schmitz disputed claims by the union that a new staffing model, put into place in May, had created a dangerous work environment for correctional officers. The union says the new plan cuts the number of officers on shift by as much as 30 percent on some nights and leaves less time for one-on-one training.
"The staffing level was at the correct level. So, in other words, there was nobody missing, no people off sick. Nothing like that," Schmitz said.
But does the blended schedule leave officers vulnerable, as the union says?
"It's not my position to speculate on that," Schmitz said. "That's always the contention."
Wilson, with the union, said Schmitz' statements to the news media soon after the assault were disturbing and were made only to protect the Department of Corrections. While a report by Anchorage television station KTUU did not directly quote Schmitz, the report paraphrased his comments as saying Winslow was "doing fine" after the attack.
"It is inconceivable that DOC management would so quickly release a press statement, even as the officer was being attended to in the emergency room, in an attempt to downplay the seriousness of the injuries," Wilson said. "DOC management was more concerned about the spin than the injured officer and more concerned about getting out front of the story than dealing with the serious and dangerous issues arising out of their new (staffing) plan."
Schmitz said that wasn't the case.
"I don't believe I told them he was doing OK," he said. "What I said was he had been visited by the commissioner, the division director, and the information I had was he was engaged in a conversation with his visitors."
Wilson said Winslow had trouble remembering the attack itself and anything from conversations the night of the assault or the next day. Many officers visited Winslow that night and the entire shift came to see him when they were off at 6 a.m.
"Certainly, every injury is serious, and the five injuries prior (this year), everybody's concerned about that," Wilson said. "The thing that set the membership off was that the press statement came out that he was doing fine. There was concern this was going to be swept under the rug."
"The situation here that's so dangerous is that we tried to warn them," Wilson said. "It's almost like nobody's going to act until somebody's killed."
Reach Casey Grove at email@example.com or 257-4589.