July 22, 2011 in Region

7 workers could be disciplined in WA prison death

Associated Press
 

OLYMPIA — When a Monroe prison official was killed in the facility’s chapel earlier this year, a co-worker assigned to monitor the area was actually working in a separate part of the complex, according to an internal investigation released today.

The officer, whose name is redacted from documents, typically would have been stationed within 30 yards of the chapel’s entrance. He sometimes moved to another section to help in pat-down searches.

Other workers complained about this lack of coverage, according to the review. Byron Scherf, the 52-year-old convicted rapist now charged in Jayme Biendl’s death, indicated in a letter to officials earlier this year that he saw it as an opportunity to return to the chapel undetected.

Department of Corrections officials said Friday that seven staff members at Monroe Correctional Complex are being investigated for possible disciplinary action. But they still concluded that while some staff members failed to follow policies and procedures, it did not directly contribute to Biendl’s death.

The report provides a detailed timeline of the events surrounding Biendl’s death and why it took so long for officials to find her:

At 8:30 that night, prisoners were called back to their assigned living unit. Scherf exited the chapel but then told another inmate he was returning to the chapel for his hat.

A couple minutes later, Biendl’s radio was briefly triggered twice, once giving off a noise that momentarily caught the attention of others but not enough to lead them to investigate.

At 8:45 p.m., a log book for the section shows the chapel was clear. An official overseeing the log said later he couldn’t remember whether Biendl, 34, had radioed that the chapel was clear or whether she’d waved at him.

Half an hour later, officials realized Scherf was unaccounted for. They quickly discovered him in the chapel.

Scherf told workers that he was hiding in the chapel and planned to escape — even though the chapel’s door was open, the lights were on, and Scherf was not trying to conceal himself in the room. He said the blood on him was from an incident earlier in the day.

An officer documented that he “inspected and secured” the chapel at the time, but a review of video from the facility showed he didn’t do so thoroughly, according to documents.

It wasn’t until 10:18 p.m. that another officer realized Biendl had not returned her equipment at the end of her shift.

At 10:26 p.m., almost two hours after Scherf had returned to the chapel, workers found Biendl on the chapel’s stage, a cord wrapped around her neck.

Superintendent Jeff Uttecht, who led the review team, said staff had quickly responded to what they initially believed was an escape attempt.

“Had they checked inside the chapel they would have found Officer Biendl sooner, but that would not have prevented the murder,” Uttecht said.

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