Log Shows ‘Intense’ Struggle For Control Of Norton Prison Yard During Riot

Sep 7, 2017

A log reveals details of a disturbance at Norton Correctional Facility Tuesday night.
Credit Kansas Department of Corrections

Inmates turned over a tactical response vehicle, made weapons out of broken pieces of glass and tried to run over a corrections officer with a commandeered cart during a riot Tuesday night at the Norton Correctional Facility in north-central Kansas, according to a copy of the prison's log obtained by KCUR. 

The threat posed by inmates was serious enough that, at one point, responding officers were told to use lethal force if necessary. 

KCUR obtained the log from the Kansas Organization for State Employees, the union that represents state corrections officers. It gives a partial account of that night, painting a harrowing picture of a chaotic scene in the prison's yard. 

Samir Arif, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Corrections, declined to comment on the accuracy of the log, citing an ongoing investigation into the incident. 

"We're assessing the amount of damage and trying to figure out culpability in a sort of chain of events," Arif said.

Robert Choromanski, the union's executive director, said the log indicates that state officials attempted to downplay the severity of the incident. 

"Unfortunately they did not learn their lesson after the June 29 incident at El Dorado," Choromanski said, referring to an earlier incident at another Kansas prison. "They are repeating the same mistakes, not being transparent with the public and with legislators."

Arif disputed the notion that the department wasn't totally forthcoming about the intensity of violence in a statement released early Wednesday that described the incident as an "inmate disturbance" during which two corrections officers suffered minor injuries. 

"Corrections officers are trained to deal with incidents like the one that happened at Norton the other day," Arif said. 

Despite that training, the log indicates that guards struggled to regain control of the facility. 

The riot began around 9:30 p.m. when two inmates lit a mattress on fire, prompting prison officials to herd some 250 inmates into an outdoor area.

By 10:07 p.m. inmates were throwing rocks at guards. By 10:15 p.m. some inmates had gained entry to the prison clinic and smashed windows, raided a tool shed and had attempted to "run over" a guard with a commandeered "cart," according to the log. A short time later, they overturned a "medical response" vehicle. 

By 11 p.m. guards were returning some inmates to their cells, but others continued to threaten guards by wrapping towels around pieces of glass "to use as weapons." It was at that point, according to the log, that prison officials directed officers to "use lethal force" if inmates refused to obey orders to lay on the ground until they could be returned to their cells. 

Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster and reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle.

Jim McLean, Managing Director of KCUR's Kansas News Service, contributed to this report.