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Riot Quelled at Federal Prison; 12 Injured

October 20, 1995

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) _ Inmates, some with baseball bats, battled guards, broke windows and set fire to three prison buildings in a six-hour riot that started as a quarrel in a prison yard. Some inmates were praised for helping save lives.

Eight staffers at the Talladega Federal Correctional Institution were injured, along with four inmates, prison spokeswoman Corliss Moragne said today. She said only the inmates remained hospitalized.

Prison officials said earlier that none of the injuries was life-threatening.

``There was significant damage to several buildings in the facility caused by a combination of fire, water damage and glass breakage,″ Moragne said, reading a brief statement and refusing to answer questions.

The riot began about 6:15 p.m. Thursday and was quelled shortly after midnight. Morange said the prison was quiet overnight.

The disturbance started with a group of inmates arguing in a yard in a maximum-security area, Justice Department spokesman Rich Phillips said. After scuffling with guards who tried to stop the fight, the inmates scattered throughout the prison, breaking windows and setting fires, he said.

Ed Baggett, who spends one evening a week in the prison leading an inmate choir, was at the chapel with Sheila Anderson, who plays the piano, and Efarin Horta, who teaches a Bible class, when the riot began.

When windows began breaking, he said, the inmates in the choir formed a protective ring around the three.

One got cut on his face and arms from the broken glass, he said.

``All the windows had burst out of the front of the chapel. I saw well over 100 inmates rioting with baseball bats in the recreation yard. One even had a pole from a weight bench,″ Baggett said.

He said inmates stood outside the chapel door to protect them and it took three tries before they were able to escape. The first two times they had to retreat as inmates with bats started after them.

``Finally, on the third try, we got out of there. We had to hit the ground once because they (guards) were throwing tear gas over our heads. The inmates told us they had to get us out of there. They again formed a circle around us and we started toward the guards,″ Baggett said.

``I’ll never get over what they did for us. I also praise the Lord because we got out of there OK,″ he said.

Talladega Fire Chief Roy Johnson said it took up to 45 minutes before firefighters could enter the prison to battle flames because inmates had controlled areas of the complex.

Ronald Jemison, a firefighter who entered the prison complex, said 50 to 60 armed guards with flak jackets helped control the riot. Three buildings burned, but sprinkler systems prevented any from burning to the ground, he said.

Fires knocked out power in part of the prison, and buses moved some inmates to the county jail, State Trooper William Brasher said.

The prison houses more than 1,500 federal convicts just outside Talladega, about 40 miles east of Birmingham.

The prison was the site of a 10-day siege by Cuban detainees in 1991, also in the maximum-security unit. Phillips said Cubans were not involved in Thursday’s melee.