Nine-hour Natchez prison riot claims life of one guard; several employees and prisoners injured

Monday, May 21, 2012 - 4:25pm

After nine intense hours at the Adams County Corrections Center outside Natchez on Sunday, one prison guard is dead.

Catlin Carithers, 24, of Meadville, Miss., a senior correctional officer at the facility, employed since 2009, was killed due to injuries from an assualt by inmates.  "Our deepest thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Carithers' family, the extended family at the Adams County facility and the supportive members of the community in Natchez, said Damon Hininger, president and CEO of the private company who manages the federal prison, in a press release statement. 

Additional employees and one inmate was transported to area hospitals with injuries, resulting from a inmate riot in the facility, approximately 12 miles from downtown Natchez.  A few employees, and three prisoners were treated on-site, according to Chuck Mayfield, sheriff of Adams County.  Prisoner injuries included a stabbing wound, a concussion, and a rib injury.

A press release was sent out to the media just after 8:00 p.m. Sunday, by the Tennessee-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the privately-owned operator of the prison for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  The Adams County Corrections Center is a 2,500 bed facility holding mostly male illegal aliens who commit crimes across the United States, stay in the prison for the sentencing and return to the country of origin after sentencing is complete.

According to another press release issued this morning by CCA, the entire facility has been placed on lockdown status and all inmates have been accounted. Investigation of the incident continues with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and law enforcement officials.

Approximately at 2:40 p.m. on Sunday, the riot began as inmates where fighting back against staff over alleged abuse inside the facility, according to several reports given to the media.  The reports of abuse are unconfirmed at this moment, pending an investigation by CCA.

As the riot escalated, law enforcement from Adams County and the Mississippi Highway Patrol quarantined the outer perimeter of the prison shortly after 3:00 p.m. to prevent any potential escape.  Special operations teams were inside the prison, attempting to free employees who were held as hostages by inmates and get the situation under control.  A voluntary order was given to the inmates to return back to their cells.

A party-like atmosphere of families awaiting word of loved ones who are employed, those who live in proximity to the prison and curious bystanders awaited a distance from the prison to hear of any word.  These witnesses heard gunshots and noticed white smoke appearing from the prison around 7:30 p.m., near the inner compound, possibly reported to be tear gas.

As the press release took place shortly thereafter, Mayfield said the riot was attributed to inner hierarchies of prison gangs battling over power among the prisoner population.   A campfire by the inmates was created inside the perimeter of the prison, witnessed by the onlookers outside.  Ambulances and medical helicopters arrived throughout the meleé to transport those injured to hospitals for treatment.  Mayfield said the situation was getting under control, but there were some inmates who continued to fight.

Mayfield said that some prisoners were armed with non-traditional weapons, such as wood and trash can lids.  Prisoners did not have access to weapons due to prison policy of security guards not being armed inside the prison.  Warden Vance Laughlin and the special operations teams attempted to communicate with the rioters to end the situation.  Operation teams used pepper spray to get the remaining inmates displaying violent acts under control.

Around 9:00 p.m., the operation teams inside had secured the interior perimeter but were still working to take full control of the prison.  As many as eight employees were still inside the prison attempting to communicate with the teams.  Earlier, fifteen others were evacuated by the operations teams through creating an opening in the fence and protecting the perimeter of the opening with guns.

By 10:00 p.m., SWAT members were on scene armed with guns, and the fire lit outside in the interior perimeter seemed to be extinguished.  Approximately 11:45 p.m., the Adams County Sheriff's Office and the facility reported the riot was completely under control. 

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