How 2 inmates took hostages, captured tower
A drawn-out siege
HOW DID THEY DO IT?
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 12, 2004 12:00 AM
The longest prison hostage standoff in U.S. history began Jan. 18 with inmates Ricky Wassenaar and Steven Coy carrying on a rampage at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis for more than an hour before any alarm was sounded, according to documents obtained by The Arizona Republic.
By the time the first alarm was sounded, the convicts had taken five captives, raped a kitchen worker and gained control of a watchtower with its arsenal. The standoff began with two officers in the tower held hostage.
The documents paint a picture of security breakdowns that opened the door to an escape plot, and of a hostage female officer being sexually assaulted while negotiations with two armed convicts continued.
At one point, a corrections officer saw two hostages handcuffed in the watchtower and walked away thinking they were engaged in "horseplay."
Later, as Wassenaar, dressed in a corrections officer's uniform, blasted away at officers with a rifle, a prison lieutenant called out to ask who he was firing at. "You," came the answer.
Coy, a convicted rapist, and Wassenaar, a convicted armed robber, finally dropped their weapons Feb. 1, releasing the female hostage and walking out of the fortresslike tower at the prison southwest of Buckeye. They had released the male hostage a week earlier.
Gov. Janet Napolitano and Department of Corrections Director Dora Schriro have provided only skeletal information about what went wrong at the Lewis prison. And they continue to withhold reports explaining who was involved and what happened to them.
Schriro disclosed little new information Wednesday as a blue-ribbon panel selected by the governor began a series of hearings aimed at determining what procedural and other reforms are needed in the prison system to prevent another inmate takeover.
The newly obtained documents fill in many gaps:
• The incident began sometime after 2:45 a.m. when Wassenaar and Coy, secretly armed with shanks, were brought to the kitchen for work assignments. Wassenaar confronted corrections officer Kenneth L. Martin in the kitchen office while Coy watched the door, preventing a civilian kitchen worker from escaping. Martin was handcuffed to a tool cage. The civilian, whose name is being withheld by The Republic because she is a rape victim, was bound with electrical cord.
• Once in control of the kitchen, Wassenaar and Coy asked other inmate kitchen workers to join them. The inmates refused and were locked in a storage room.
• Wassenaar donned Martin's uniform and shaved his beard so that he resembled the officer. He then went to the watchtower, where officer Jason Auch and a female officer were stationed. Auch, 21, an officer since August 2003, mistook Wassenaar for an officer and buzzed open an electronic gate and then the tower door. Once inside, Wassenaar hit Auch in the temple with a 30-inch steel stirring paddle from the kitchen. He then overcame the female officer in a fight. Auch and that officer, whose name is being withheld by The Republic because she also was raped during the standoff, became the two inmates' hostages for the 15-day ordeal.
• Wassenaar held his shank to Auch's neck and threatened to kill him, forcing Auch and the woman to tell him where tower weapons (an AR-15 rifle, shotgun, 37mm weapon, tear gas) were concealed and how to operate them. He also forced them to explain how to work the control panel. The two officers were handcuffed to a pipe in the tower's bottom floor.
• Two corrections officers, Coy C. Kelley and Elizabeth DeBaugh, were leading inmates by the tower at 4:50 a.m. when Kelley saw Auch and the female victim on the floor. Kelley believed the two were "horseplaying and wrestling around," according to the documents. After knocking on the window, he walked away. Minutes later, he felt something was wrong and tried to call the tower. He got no answer.
• While Wassenaar was in the tower, inmate Coy remained in the kitchen area. He covered Martin's head with a shirt, then sexually assaulted the civilian kitchen worker.
• Coy then took officer Robert Cornett captive in the kitchen. Cornett managed to get free, and Coy chased him. Coy then began fighting with him and other officers in the yard between the kitchen and the tower. Finally, an emergency radio call went out around 5 a.m.
• Kelley was cut with the shank. Officers sprayed inmate Coy with chemicals and were about to capture him when Wassenaar, still wearing an officer's uniform, opened fire from the tower area with the rifle. Lt. William Jones asked the gunman who he was firing at, and the inmate replied, "You." Jones then ordered the officers to leave the yard. Meanwhile, Coy got to the tower and was buzzed in.
• The female hostage was sexually assaulted during the first hours in the presence of a semiconscious Auch. The documents describe a later incident where she apparently was in pain following a sexual attack. Auch told investigators the two inmates had administered "unknown medications (to the officer) to keep her quiet."
The two hostages and the kitchen worker have declined to be interviewed. Other officers could not be reached for comment.
The Governor's Office and the Department of Corrections have withheld or redacted all investigative reports about the 15-day saga. DOC is reviewing those records for possible release.
While hostage negotiations were under way, DOC Director Schriro asserted that public disclosures would jeopardize negotiations and endanger the hostages. Afterward, she said revelations would compromise the investigation. She also expressed concern about the two hostages' privacy rights and the rights of other officers involved in the events that led to the standoff.
Both of the inmates have long criminal records. Coy is a violent rapist serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole. Wassenaar, serving 28 years, committed armed robbery and aggravated assault, firing shots at Tucson police. They had extensive disciplinary records in prison.
As conditions of surrender, Coy and Wassenaar demanded assignments to out-of-state prisons. They are temporarily at the Federal Correctional Institute in Phoenix pending new charges in the hostage saga.
After the standoff ended Feb. 1, state officials said the criminal case would be pursued by Arizona Department of Public Safety officers, rather than DOC's Criminal Investigations Unit. That plan has changed. The felony probe, as well as the administrative reviews, are being overseen by Schriro's employees.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 444-8874.