Feb. 27, 2007 — An unidentified prisoner opened fire at Golden Grove prison, injuring four inmates Tuesday morning and forcing acting Attorney General Vincent Frazer to order an "immediate and indefinite" lockdown that cancelled all privileges, including visits and work release.
Injured were Hugo Greenidge, Cyril Gillard, Nordell Charles and Gemini Barnes — all inmates serving sentences at the prison.
In a statement released shortly after the incident, which occurred about 11:20 a.m. Tuesday, Frazer said that Greenidge sustained a gunshot wound to the knee, Charles to the left elbow, Gillard to the abdomen and Barnes in the upper buttock, lower back area.
"I thank God that the inmates who got shot – it wasn't fatal," Frazer said Tuesday night.
The weapon, a small-caliber handgun used in the shooting, was recovered, but the shooter has yet to be identified.
Frazer said that a special investigation unit from his office is being assisted by the Police Department and the U.S. Marshal Service in a "complete shakedown" of the prison in search of other weapons and contraband.
"I have called for a total lockdown, and effective immediately and indefinitely, all visits, work release and all other privileges have been suspended," Frazer said.
Frazer said that an investigation is under way as to how the gun got inside the prison and in the hands of a prisoner.
"I am appalled and stunned that something like this could happen," Frazer said when reached Tuesday night following the released statement. "This is an indication of just how bad things are, and we are going to take immediate measures to bring back safety and control over this institution."
The shooting comes a day after Frazer, while testifying at a hearing Monday before the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice, initially learned that there could be a gun inside the prison.
"A question was posed to us by one senator as to whether there was a weapon in the institution – it was asked on the record – and we had not heard that and then this morning, we got confirmation of that, you could say, by what happened," Frazer said.
He acknowledged that "a lot has to be done" to get the prison system safe for inmates, as well as Bureau of Corrections officers, but said that he also recognizes that there is no quick fix.
"It's going to be a long road, but we will get there," he said.
Frazer, on the job for just over a month, was tapped in late January by Gov. John deJongh Jr. as his attorney general. He still must be confirmed by the Senate and has his work cut out for him, as the V.I. prison system has been overwhelmed with problems as far back as the 1980s.
And violence behind bars is not uncommon, especially at Golden Grove, a medium-security prison that has workshops – in efforts to rehabilitate prisoners – that use metal and other material that inmates can pilfer to make weapons, like shanks.
Regular shakedowns of cells, which uncover such crude weapons and result in the loss of privileges, have apparently done little to discourage prisoners from getting involved in acts that could lead to longer prison time.
Past attorneys general Iver Stridiron and Kerry Drue have had to deal with contraband being introduced in the prison after stabbings with shanks, one of which resulted in the death of an inmate. In September 2001, an inmate who had served more than half of a 15-year sentence (and would have soon been eligible for parole) was beaten and stabbed with a shank while in his cell. One of his killers was already serving a life sentence at the prison.
At the time, Stridiron said that those inmates – and others who were found to have been involved in any further criminal acts while imprisoned – would be sent to a maximum security prison, where they would be on lockdown for 23 hours a day.
In the mid-'90s, a mentally ill man was bludgeoned in his cell at the St. Thomas jail and was in a coma for several months before he died. That jail is also under a consent decree after prisoners, in 1984, filed suit against the government alleging violation of their civil rights.
Shakedowns at Golden Grove have yielded cell phones, drugs and small appliances, such as microwaves, as well as homemade weapons.
On Tuesday, Sen. Carmen Wesselhoft, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice, said she had submitted legislation to create an independent Bureau of Corrections (BoC) while acknowledging that it will not automatically resolve the current problems.
She said, however, that changes must be made to how the agency operates. Past attorneys general and senators have long decried the responsibility of the Justice Department to oversee the operation of the BoC because the person charged with prosecuting criminals must also look to their confinement and rehabilitation.
"We need to try something different," Wesselhoft said in a released statement. "I am convinced that the leadership structure is partly to blame. There are too many layers, and we need someone that is directly accountable."
The shooting of inmates is a grim wake-up call, she said.
"Tuesday's shooting should serve to remind us all of how dangerous working in the BoC can be," Wesselhoft said, adding that conditions for both officers and prisoners remain substandard.
Golden Grove has been under a consent decree since 1986, and federal officials charged with ensuring that local officials are in compliance painted a grim picture of the institution during a hearing held last February in District Court.
Eugene Miller, a corrections consultant, involved in the Golden Grove case since 1986, testified then that things had only worsened in the 20 years since the decree. He cited staffing levels, mental health and general medical care as being far below national standards.
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