SCI-Somerset on lockdown again after 'inmate-on-employee assault'

2019-03-12 | The Tribune-Democrat

March 12-- Mar. 12--SCI-Somerset went on lockdown for at least the second time this year on Sunday night after what a prison spokeswoman described as "an inmate-on-employee assault."

Christie Schenck, public information officer for SCI-Somerset, wrote in an email to The Tribune-Democrat on Monday afternoon that the lockdown began at approximately 8:30 p.m. Sunday and was expected to continue throughout the day Monday. Despite the lockdown, visits were still permitted Monday, she said.

Jason Bloom, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, said Monday evening that a corrections officer sustained a broken nose during the assault, which he said occurred at around 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

The reported assault is the most recent of a number of violent incidents and alleged incidents involving inmates and corrections officers at SCI-Somerset since 2017.

"I don't think my members are safe there," Bloom told The Tribune-Democrat during a phone interview Monday evening. "I've been doing corrections for a while, and every institution has a culture, and right now the culture at SCI-Somerset is -- there are no deterrents for staff assaults. There's just absolutely no deterrents."

The prison was previously placed on lockdown on Feb. 10 after an inmate allegedly assaulted three corrections officers, sending all three to the hospital with "non-life-threatening injuries," according to prison officials. That lockdown, which was lifted on Feb. 12, led Bloom to argue at the time that SCI-Somerset's policies on inmate recreation put prison employees at risk.

Bloom claimed in a Feb. 11 statement that SCI-Somerset officials had recently doubled the number of male inmates permitted outside their cells for recreation at any one time. He called the move a violation of a "commonsense" agreement between prison officials and staff.

In response to Bloom's assertions, Schenck said on Feb. 12 that SCI-Somerset "strives to provide a safe and secure environment for both staff and inmates" and that a "prison setting has many challenges and presents inherent dangers that we strive to overcome each and every day."

Schenck said that, within each unit, inmates are split between two tiers and that inmates in each tier are released from their cells for recreation at different times. She also said that an ongoing incentive designed to encourage positive behavior permits "compliant," misconduct-free inmates to participate in both tiers' recreation periods, giving them an additional hour of recreation.

She said that the number of inmates permitted to leave their cells for recreation at SCI-Somerset "is consistently less than that of other prototypical prisons" in Pennsylvania and that staffing patterns at SCI-Somerset are "consistent with staffing patterns at all prototypical prisons" in Pennsylvania.

Previously at SCI-Somerset, inmate Paul Jawon Kendrick allegedly punched and kicked Sgt. Mark J. Baserman, 60, in the head on Feb. 15, 2018. Baserman died of blunt-force trauma less than two weeks later. Kendrick, 23, who is currently incarcerated at SCI-Huntingdon, has been charged with murder and faces the death penalty.

Inmate William Amos Cramer, 27, who allegedly tried to slash an SCI-Somerset corrections officer with a razor at the former Somerset Hospital on Dec. 3, 2017, is awaiting trial on charges including attempted homicide and aggravated assault.

Cramer, an avowed white supremacist and convicted murderer who Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser has described as "the most dangerous person" in the custody of Department of Corrections, had previously seriously injured two corrections officers at other state prisons in racially motivated attacks. He also has been charged in Forest County with slashing a nurse at SCI-Forest on Sept. 29.

Inmate Khayree Murray, 29, who was accused of throwing a cupful of urine and feces at a corrections officer at SCI-Somerset on Feb. 10, 2018, pleaded guilty to simple assault in October and is awaiting sentencing, court documents indicate.

Inmate Canie Griffith, 31, was sentenced in December to 35 months to 10 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to hitting an SCI-Somerset corrections officer in the head with a padlock on May 22, sending him to a hospital with a brain bleed. Griffith is currently incarcerated at SCI-Smithfield, near Huntingdon, online records show.

And in an alleged violent incident that did not involve corrections officers, inmate Dale Michael Wakefield, 26, is facing murder charges in connection with the death of his cellmate, Joshua Perry, on Jan. 9, 2018. He is awaiting trial, court documents indicate.

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.