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Warden Among Those Seized; Seven Injured : 22 Freed as Alabama Prison Riot Ends

April 16, 1985|DAVID TREADWELL | Times Staff Writer

ODENVILLE, Ala. — A riot involving 200 inmates at a state prison here ended after about 12 hours Monday night as the rebellious prisoners surrendered their weapons and released 22 hostages, including the warden and deputy warden.

No lives were lost in the uprising; but seven persons were hospitalized, including the deputy warden, who was beaten unconscious, and four other prison employees. Two inmates who broke into the prison pharmacy also were hospitalized after apparently overdosing on drugs.

The rioting, which broke out at 9:20 a.m., was brought to an end after lengthy negotiations involving state Corrections Commissioner Freddie Smith and FBI agents.

Mop-up Operations

"The hostages are all out, the inmates are all back in their cell blocks and the officers are now securing the prison," Corrections Department spokesman John Hale told reporters as mop-up operations got under way.

Smith said that the inmates agreed to surrender after being warned that state troopers and guards would storm the facility if they refused.

"As we started approaching darkness, I decided we would not go all night," Smith said. "I told them my patience was running short and I would not go past dark. We began breaking down the barrier when they knew we were coming in tonight.

"I told them I would remain here and assured them there would be no physical harm or repercussions tonight," Smith said.

Authorities refused to comment on the causes of the outbreak at the 1,075-inmate St. Clair Correctional Facility about 30 miles northeast of Birmingham.

'Barbaric Conditions'

But inmate spokesmen who were permitted to speak to the press complained of "barbaric conditions" inside the facility, which was opened in 1983. Of the 1,075 prisoners, about 200 are held in maximum security and the rest in medium security.

Corrections chief Smith said in a televised interview that the prisoners had presented officials with a list of about 30 demands when the rioting began, including pay for prison work and permission to wear long hair and beards.

"We did not agree to any of those," Smith said. "We said we would meet later on to negotiate through their frustrations."

Smith said also that no amnesty would be granted to the rebellious prisoners. Hearings will be held individually to examine "each and every case," he added.

The uprising began in the morning as a group of inmates firing weapons burst into the office of Deputy Warden Jerry Murdock. Murdock and another prison employee were beaten unconscious but were reported in stable condition later.

10 Women Hostages

The 22 persons taken hostage included 10 women.

At the height of the rebellion, hundreds of state troopers, SWAT teams and off-duty guards rushed inside the barbed-wire-topped walls and ringed the prison.

National Guard troops also were in the area "to let people in the community know that they are being protected," Hale said.

"I was afraid this morning," said Betty Phillips, whose home is less than a block from the prison gate. "Helicopters started flying in and police cars were driving in like crazy."

The last outbreak of violence in the Alabama prison system was in 1974 at the Atmore state farm. A guard was stabbed to death and an inmate killed by officers storming a cellblock in that incident.

Families Permitted Inside

Spouses and families of prison employees were permitted inside the gates during the uprising, but relatives of inmates were kept outside.

"This riot has been brewing for at least a year," said a Birmingham woman whose son is serving a 10-year sentence for burglary. "My son told me they were planning a riot. He said he was scared he would be hurt."

St. Clair County Sheriff Lewis Brown said law enforcement and correction officials had not suspected an uprising.

"It was a surprise to us," he said.

Hearing Inmate's Complaint

U.S. Magistrate Edwin Nelson of Birmingham was at the prison hearing a complaint about living conditions when a guard informed him that inmates were rioting. Nelson was asked to leave immediately.

"We didn't know exactly what was happening and didn't have time to be frightened until we got out of the gate," Nelson said.

Among the weapons the inmates brandished were a .38-caliber revolver, a .32-caliber revolver and a shotgun, as well as knives from the prison kitchen, a spokesman for Gov. George C. Wallace said.

It was not clear how the inmates had obtained the weapons.

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