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Prison Officials Search For Ringleaders

January 7, 1986

FORT MADISON, Iowa (AP) _ Officials have identified some participants of a brief uprising at the state prison here in which three convicts were hurt and seven guards held hostage, and said last week’s prison riot in West Virginia may have contributed to the disorder.

What exactly sparked the 90-minute siege at the Iowa State Penitentiary, however, remained under investigation.

″We don’t have a solid clue at this point as to what the motive was,″ said Hal Farrier, Department of Corrections director.

Farrier said there were indications the uprising had been planned, but added that there’s been no evidence to show it was staged to cover up attacks on three suspected informers.

The three bloodied inmates were found locked in their cells Monday morning when five four-man assault teams stormed Cellhouse 19, freeing the hostages and regaining control without firing a shot.

″I happen to know one of them pretty well, and it’s probably more him being a person they just didn’t like very well,″ Farrier said. ″He probably tended to be a little mouthy with them.″

Up to 15 prisoners were actively involved in the uprising, but Farrier estimated that 60 of the 90 inmates in the cellblock were outside their cells when the assault teams burst in.

Nine inmates were being investigated for taking part and ″that list will grow,″ said Paul Grossheim, a corrections department spokesman.

Penitentiary officials met today with Attorney General’s prosecutors and state investigators to begin considering charges against ringleaders the uprising.

Prison spokesman Ron Welder said agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation began collecting fingerprints, which along with a videotape of assault teams regaining control of the cellhouse will be used in legal action. The tape was made by a prison cameraman accompanying the assault teams.

Prison officials said part of the motive behind a 1981 riot at the 152- year-old maximum-security prison was to cover up the slaying of a convict other prisoners believed was talking to authorities investigating the death of an inmate.

Farrier said he ordered the assault teams into the prison without consulting Gov. Terry Branstad because ″time is of the essence. In riot situations, the longer inmates have to become organized, the more difficult it is for hostages.″

The squads converged on the cellblock segregation unit from all directions, yelling at inmates who were roaming the building, to get back into their cells.

The teams then went into a control center, where the inmates were holding the hostages.

Some of the inmates were armed with table legs and broken broom handles, Warden Crispus Nix said.

″Some inmates gave minor resistance, but we were lucky enough that we did not have to use our weapons,″ said Lt. Randy Martin, leader of the Correctional Emergency Response Team, which launched the assault.

Prison officials said there were 536 inmates in the 550-capacity prison when the uprising began. Hours after the siege ended, inmates outside the cellhouse were allowed to move about the prison.

The three injured inmates - a robber, a burglar, and an arsonist - were treated at University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City; two were released and one remained for observation of possible internal injuries. Two hostages were taken to a Fort Madison hospital, where they also were treated and released.

Farrier said last week’s three-day prison riot in Moundsville, W.Va., in which three inmates were slain and 16 hostages were taken, may have contributed to the uprising.

″Those kinds of things have a way of spreading across the country,″ he said.

The West Virginia riot also prompted Nix to meet with his staff to discuss what they would do if a similar uprising occurred at the penitentiary.

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