LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ governor said Friday he expects disciplinary action will be taken against employees at a maximum security prison after two recent disturbances, including an incident this week where several inmates held three officers after snatching their keys and a Taser.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he received a preliminary review of the incidents at the Maximum Security Unit in Tucker during a meeting with the head of the state’s Correction Department, Wendy Kelley. Several inmates held three officers in an area of the prison for three hours before releasing them and surrendering on Monday. On July 22, a guard at the same prison fired three warning shots into the air after two guards and an inmate were attacked.
“It appears that the policies in place were adequate but not followed,” Hutchinson said in a statement released by his office. “Based upon my conversation with Director Kelley, I expect disciplinary action to be taken; however, we will wait on a final decision until the review has been completed.”
Hutchinson said the public was never in danger in either incident at the prison, located 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of Little Rock. He said both were resolved without any loss of life.
“The event demonstrates the dangerous and serious work of our correctional officers, and their safety was certainly at risk,” Hutchinson said.
The department has not said how the prisoners were able to overpower the officers and take the keys and Taser. Text messages among prison officials released this week showed that, after the inmates in Monday’s disturbance were moved to the Varner Supermax Unit, a prison handcuff key was found on the bus that transported them. The department has not said where on the bus the key was found.
The department has said the prisoners were searched before they left for Varner and when they arrived, and there was no indication they brought keys or other prohibited items into the facility.
Monday’s disturbance is the subject of investigations by the department, the Board of Corrections and Arkansas State Police. The department and State Police are also investigating the July 22 incident, as well as the death of an inmate from a July assault at another prison. The prisoner in that assault died Thursday morning.
Hutchinson said earlier Friday that he had full confidence in Kelley as the state’s top prison official, and a spokesman said that opinion had not changed after the meeting. Hutchinson tapped Kelly to be the department’s director shortly before the Republican governor took office in January 2015.
“She’s doing a great job. She’s good, she’s devoted, she follows my initiatives, she’s tough, she’s the right prison director for us, absolutely,” Hutchinson told reporters Friday morning.