MONROE, Wash. — Police, state troopers, and corrections officers spent more than an hour bringing a large prison revolt under control Wednesday at the Monroe Correctional Complex, after more than 100 inmates started a COVID-19-related demonstration, when they learned six fellow inmates and five prison staff members all tested positive for the disease.
Families of inmates told KIRO 7 the demonstration was based on fears inmates have of becoming infected, because they said inmates with symptoms were not being properly isolated -- a complaint the DOC said was untrue.
According to officials with the Department of Corrections, “Measures to bring individuals into compliance were ignored including verbal directives, pepper (OC) spray and sting balls, which release light, noise, and rubber pellets.”
“Fire extinguishers were set off within two housing units within the Minimum Security Unit, providing an appearance of smoke from the exterior,” DOC officials said in a release.
From a hillside overlooking the prison, KIRO 7 cameras could clearly see dozens of inmates outside, handcuffed, on the ground, while rifle-toting prison guards surrounded them.
Families of inmates stood outside the prison, hoping for news.
“My fiancé' emailed me about an hour ago saying, ‘it’s very crazy here,’” Nana Chuyeshkova said. “He doesn’t know what’s going happen, and I haven’t heard from him since then.”
Chuyeshkova said her fiancé’ feels exposed to coronavirus inside, and the demonstration was fueled by panic.
“My husband is asthmatic and he has COPD, and he’s been five days without an inhaler,” said April Franklin, whose husband is housed in the minimum security unit where the demonstration began.
Franklin was one of several inmates’ wives who said their husbands were not safe from coronavirus.
“He doesn’t even eat in the chow hall, because the last time he was in there they were sitting two men at a table less than three feet apart,” she said. “There’s no social distancing in there.”
Corrections officials say the six men who tested positive were transferred away from the minimum security unit on Sunday to the facility’s isolation unit.
“The facility health care team is providing clinical monitoring and supportive care for the individuals in the isolation unit,” the DOC said in a release.
“The Department of Corrections continues to work at protecting medically vulnerable incarcerated individuals. All individuals in the housing unit where the first positive individuals were previously housed continue to have no symptoms of illness or disease (asymptomatic) and are wearing surgical masks for further protection.
The Department of Corrections takes the safety and security of its correctional facilities, staff, and incarcerated individuals very seriously. An internal investigation will be completed," the DOC release said.
“Not everybody in there are murderers and rapists,” Chuyeshkova said. “There are good men inside, fathers, sons, husbands, and we want them safe.”