Riot at Supermax Leaves Two Inmates Dead

Rep. Buffie McFadyen says federal officials say ‘upwards of 500 rounds’ may have been fired.

April 22, 2008
By Tracy Harmon
The Pueblo Chieftain

FLORENCE - Two inmates who died Sunday in a riot at the high security U.S. Penitentiary were shot by guards who were attempting to subdue as many as 200 out-of-control federal prison inmates.

Photo: There are 31 of them around the country. They are home to the worst criminals. They are practically impossible to get out of, even harder than getting off a casino floor. They are called supermax prisons.

There is only one federal supermax prison, which is in picturesque Florence, Colorado. Ted Kaczynski, Richard Reid, John Walker Lindh, Ramzi Yousef, and Eric Rudolph (unabomber, shoe bomber, American taliban, 1993 WTC attack planner, and Olympic Park bomber, respectively) call it home. But these celebrity inmates are just a small fraction of the approximately 500 men housed within miles of walls. Most came here from other prisons because they were deemed a lethal threat, a high-escape risk, or both.

According to Fremont County Coroner Dorothy Twellman, the victims were identified as Brian Scott Kubik, 40, a white male; and Phillip Lee Hooker, 41, a black male. Each died on the scene of a single gunshot wound inflicted by officers shooting from guard towers.

Twellman said the firearms used by officers probably were .223-caliber rifles. Only guard tower officers are allowed to have guns at the federal prisons.

According to information released by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Hooker was serving a 25-year state sentence for armed robbery; Kubik was serving a 15-year sentence as an ex-felon in possession of a firearm and career criminal charges.

Authorities confirmed the altercation escalated about 12:30 p.m. Sunday between Aryan Brotherhood white supremacists and African Americans. The altercation began in the prison yard as a result of some inmates taking note of Adolf Hitler's birthday.

"Inmates were armed with various homemade weapons including rocks, sharpened metal, plastic and wood," said Leann LaRiva, a Florence Federal Correctional Complex spokeswoman. "Groups of inmates engaged one another and correctional officers activated a verbal warning system and discharged multiple tactical distraction rounds."

The distraction rounds did not stop the riot.

"In response to continued escalating violence, the tower officers discharged lethal ammunitions," LaRiva said.

"Staff responded quickly and effectively to the disturbance and did an excellent job of bringing the situation under control," LaRiva said. "The quick and effective response by staff prevented further loss of life."

"The staff continues to rise to the occasion and step up," said Chris Jaquez, American Federation of Government Employees union vice president for Local 1301. "(Response to the riot) was picture perfect and the employees need to be commended."

Jaquez characterized the riot as a significant event.

"At no time was the safety of the community in jeopardy. There are no staff injuries reported and the institution remains on lock-down status while an investigation into the incident continues," LaRiva said.

Graphic: SOURCE: Federal court documents, Bureau of Prisons (Laura Stanton, Seth Hamblin and M.K. Cannistra, The Washington Post)

Twellman said five inmates who were injured during the riot either were stabbed by other inmates or shot in the lower extremities by officers who were firing from the towers. Two injured inmates were treated at Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo, and the remaining inmates, including the two who died, were taken to St. Thomas More Hospital in Canon City.

Autopsy results for Hooker and Kubik are pending, LaRiva said.

State Rep. Liane "Buffie" McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said new information she received Monday indicated between 360-400 rounds of ammunition and "what may have been upwards of 500 rounds" were fired by officers stationed in three guard towers around the prison yard Sunday afternoon.

"That tells me that it was bad. I believe that facility is staffed, but they had to call in employees from other institutions and USP employees who were not at work Sunday and I've never heard of that happening before," McFadyen said.

Jaquez said the riot was not an understaffing issue.

"We can always use more people and we as a union would love to have more people, but in this instance it would not have made a difference," Jaquez said. "It was inmates with a history of not complying with the rules - bad people doing bad things.

"It would have occurred with three times more people on staff," Jaquez said.

However, Democratic U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting an immediate response to the incident.

"I believe your evaluation of this violent incident should take into account the security concerns I and others have pointed out over the last several years. I am also asking for an independent report by the Government Accountability Office to assess security at the facilities on the Florence campus," Salazar wrote.

"The Government Accountability Office report I am requesting will objectively examine the critical staffing and security needs of the Florence campus, which I believe is necessary given the failure by the Department of Justice to address these security concerns in a meaningful way," Salazar wrote.

"The incident this weekend demonstrates a continued pattern of violence that has been escalating over several years on the Florence campus."

The practice of transferring officers between prisons when security needs arise prompted Salazar to mention that he is "concerned that this may leave other facilities dangerously understaffed."

"They called in everybody who works at USP, even those who live as far away as Colorado Springs," McFadyen said.

McFadyen said it was her understanding that the dispatch of employees came out of the central office in Washington, D.C. Employees received a return number that started with 1-800 to call for their assignments.

"Some may have thought the 1-800 number was a telemarketer. I am not that confident that there are not some improvements that need to be made with the central calling system.

"Do staff know that that return number of 1-800 is the Bureau of Prisons? Did the phone system work properly?" McFadyen questioned.

LaRiva's statement did not address this issue, however, Jaquez said he believes the emergency call-back system functions fine and is adequate.

"Staff who were available did respond," Jaquez said.

McFadyen said the USP is a "dangerous institution."

"Some of the inmates in USP should be in more like an (administrative-segregation or Supermax) setting but they don't have room anymore," McFadyen said.

"One reason why USP is so difficult to mange is because it has multi-jurisdictional inmates from all over the country," McFadyen said.

She said the inmates tend to create gangs based on their state affiliation.

"It takes a lot of training and is very tough. It makes me even more scared when they talk of bringing in inmates from other states to the (Colorado) private prisons," McFadyen said.

The U.S. Penitentiary is home to 933 high-security federal inmates. The bulk of their crimes include robbery, drugs, arms, explosives or arson offenses and other violent crimes.

The high-security prison is one of four prisons at the Federal Correctional Complex, located two miles south of here. The complex also includes the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, or Supermax; the medium security Federal Correctional Institution; and the minimum security prison camp.