On Sunday, January 18, 2004 I was working as a correctional officer on graveyard shift at ASPC-Lewis Buckley unit. To this point I had been working for the department of corrections for about 3 months. Everything was going as it usually does on graveyard shift, quiet with the inmates sleeping. At approximately 0330 that morning our unit was called by complex to send some officers to Morey unit, which was next to Buckley unit. They said that they needed additional officers at Morey to help with a disturbance in the chow hall. The kitchen workers report to the kitchen at 0230 to start breakfast for morning feeding at 0530. Myself and three other correctional officers responded to our sally port. As I came out of my building I heard three loud bangs coming from Morey. I figured it was the tower deploying CS gas from the 37mm gas gun to try and quell the disturbance. We started walking to Morey yard thinking that there was a fight between some of the kitchen workers. We got about halfway between Buckley and Morey when our unit called us on the radio and told us to come back to Buckley. We weren’t given any information as to why we had to come back. When we arrived back at our unit the officer that checked us back in told us that two inmates had taken the tower and had two officers held hostage. The bangs I had heard were one of the inmates shooting at officers from the tower to get his partner into the tower with him. The rest of the night we had to stay in our buildings and not allowed on the open yard because Morey’s tower can see onto our yard. Everyone tuned one of his or her radios to Morey’s channel to see if we could catch any information. We could hear our Tactical Support Unit setting up snipers on the top of the buildings on Morey unit as they radioed their positions. One officer reported that he was set up and had a good sight of the tower. Suddenly there was a response on the radio that said “And the tower is f*#&ing scared”. There was dead silence on the radio because everyone knew that you never cuss on the radio. DOC had been fined before from the FAA for just that reason. The TSU commander then asked on the radio for the last unit that transmitted to identify themselves. To which the reply was “It’s the f*#&ing tower”. TSU realized as we did that the inmates in the tower were monitoring the radio traffic. TSU then switched to a complex channel that no one else could receive except their team. The rest of the night was spent pretty much in radio silence and on lockdown, trying to keep the inmates at Buckley calm. They had only been off of lockdown for about two weeks when this incident happened. They were pretty upset. For the remainder of the incident, the complex went to two twelve-hour shifts, AM and PM. These made for long days with only two days off per week but the overtime was nice. I’m just glad that no officers were killed during the incident and everyone was able to return to their families.
The official timeline for the events that happened that night is this; what turned into a 15-day standoff began in the early morning hours on Sunday, Jan. 18. Inmates Coy and Wassenaar were kitchen workers who were released from their cells at 0230 to report for work in the kitchen. Both inmates had prison made shanks or knives on their person. When they arrived to the kitchen, inmate Coy blocked the entrance to the kitchen office to prevent a food service canteen worker from leaving the office. At the same time, inmate Wassenaar approached the correctional officer working in the kitchen, forcing him to give up his uniform and equipment at knifepoint.
Inmate Coy tied up the food service worker while inmate Wassenaar locked up the rest of the inmate kitchen workers in a dry storage closet. Inmate Wassenaar prepared for this incident by cutting his hair earlier in the week and shaving his beard, thus falling into compliance with officer grooming standards. Now he put on the correctional officer’s uniform, left the kitchen and buzzed the gate near the tower to be let in. Thinking that he was seeing a correctional officer at the gate, one of the two correctional officers on duty in the tower let Wassenaar through the gate and into the tower. Once inside the tower, inmate Wassenaar overpowered the two correctional officers inside with a cooking paddle he had taken from the kitchen. The paddle looks just like a rowing paddle only made of metal. He subdued both correctional officers before they could realize that he wasn’t a correctional officer himself.
While Wassenaar had gone to the tower and subdued the officers there, inmate Coy responded to a routine safety check of the kitchen on the radio, reporting that everything was fine. He also proceeded to rape the female food service worker while he was there. A second correctional officer walked into the kitchen office where he was confronted by inmate Coy and then handcuffed near the first correctional officer. Thirty minutes later inmate Coy released that second officer from the handcuffs to open the locked kitchen door. After unlocking the door, that officer ran into the dining area where two more correctional officers confronted Coy. Inmate Coy drew his prison made knife and injured one of those officers. Coy then chased the officer who ran away, who was now calling for an emergency response, out to the open yard. The staff that responded to the emergency radio traffic tried to stop Coy by dispensing their pepper spray and ordering him to drop the knife. Inmate Wassenaar had already handcuffed the two unconscious officers in the tower, took the AR-15 rifle and started firing shots onto the yard giving Coy cover to run to the tower.
At 0530 the Lewis complex duty officer was notified of the hostage situation and the governor’s office was notified about an hour later.
After the 15 day standoff, the many hours of negotiations finally paid off with the release of both officers and both inmates taken back into custody. Part of the condition of surrender was that both of these inmates would be removed from Arizona DOC and sent to another state to serve out their time, which after this incident worked out to be life in prison.
This hostage situation lasted 15 days, the longest prison hostage situation in U.S. history. I believe this lasted so long due to the director of the Department of corrections and Governor Janet Napolitano wanting a peaceful end to the situation. The only way they would even consider allowing the snipers on the buildings to shoot Coy and Wassenaar was if they had a shot on both inmates at the same time. Some of my friends that were snipers during the hostage situation told me that they had shots on both inmates about 5 times throughout the 15 days, twice in the first two days. The director and the governor both would not authorize the snipers to shoot. Many things were learned through the events over these 15 days and many changes were brought about. This is not to say that there could be more changes to protect officer safety but the department of corrections is reactionary instead of proactive. We will just have to wait and see.