Whistleblower alleges DOC lying about fixing broken locks

By: - December 3, 2019 3:47 pm

Arizona State Prison Complex – Lewis. Image from Google Earth

An official at the Lewis prison is alleging that the Arizona Department of Corrections is falsely claiming to have fixed broken cell door locks without actually conducting any repairs and that prison administrators are ignoring complaints about the problem.

Shaun Holland, the associate deputy warden of the Bachman Unit at Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis, made his allegations in a letter to Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday.

Holland, who identified himself as a loyal 14-year veteran of the agency, wrote that the prison’s administration is “closing out” hundreds of repair orders for broken doors without completing the needed repairs. He said his subordinates have reported to him that many cell doors that the prison administration lists as repaired are still broken or damaged, and that he has checked many of the doors personally. 

“I raised these issues in my own chain of command, including the warden, several times with no action being taken to address the issue,” Holland wrote. 

Holland also wrote that he’s personally witnessed work crews “go through the units, toy with broken locks, and then designate them as ‘repaired’” in department records. 

“Again I have reviewed the work and the doors remain broken and present a significant danger to officers and inmates,” he said. 

Holland wrote to the governor that he’s reported the problem not just to Warden Gerald Thompson, but also to new Department of Corrections Director David Shinn, and no action has been taken.

ABC15 revealed in April that cell doors in three units at the Lewis prison didn’t properly lock, resulting in several assaults of inmates and correctional officers. Legislators in June approved a plan for the Department of Corrections to spend nearly $18 million to replace the locks. That request was part of a three-year, $44 million plan to replace locks and make other needed repairs at the Lewis prison.

lewis padlock door
Photo of a cell door in the Lewis prison secured with both a padlock and an eight-inch steel pin. Photo courtesy Dave Biscobing | Twitter

A report by two former Arizona Supreme Court chief justices found that then-Director Charles Ryan was “surprisingly uninformed” about a problem that had festered for years and that staff had long misled him about it. Retired Justices Rebecca Berch and Ruth McGregor also faulted the legislature for staffing and maintenance issues caused by years of underfunding.

Holland did not specify which unit or units he was talking about, but he currently works in the prison’s Bachman Unit, which was not one of the three units that were found to have problems with broken locks. Those locks were in the Buckley, Rast and Morey units, the latter of which has since been closed. 

In his letter, Holland noted that Morey is undergoing a complete repair of its doors while it’s closed, and that he’d hoped the prison’s administrators would repair failing cell doors in the Buckley and Rast units, as well as the Bachman and Stiner units. He said the doors in those units are identical to the ones in Morey and are “failing at an alarming rate.” 

Included with the complaint were two images taken from security cameras in the Buckely unit in November showing that “inmates have control of their own doors.”

Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Lamoreaux said the agency has begun a “full review” of Holland’s allegations.

“Our focus continues to be on the safety and security of our officers and inmate population, as well as on the ongoing efforts to address the door/locking issues that exist. The implementation of a long-term solution is currently underway. If there are other issues that exist, we want to know about them so they can be fixed, and will take appropriate action based on the findings of the review,” Lamoreaux said.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said the Ducey administration is also reviewing the complaint.

“Safety is the top priority. We have a new director and have confidence in him. Additional resources were allocated over the summer to fix doors and this will continue to be a focus in next year’s budget. Our goal is to ensure a safe environment for all officers, inmates and staff,” Ptak said.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”