October 26, 2011

Three fired following prison guard’s slaying

Associated Press

MONROE, Wash. — The superintendent of the state prison complex in Monroe said Wednesday he has fired three corrections officers for how they acted the night their colleague Jayme Biendl was strangled in the reformatory’s chapel.

One officer was fired for being outside his assigned zone near the chapel’s entrance, another for falsifying a logbook entry indicating the chapel had been cleared of prisoners, and the third for failing to properly inspect and secure the chapel when the prisoner accused in the killing was located, Superintendent Scott Frakes said. All three also were accused of giving inconsistent statements or lying to investigators.

In addition to the three firings, a lieutenant and a sergeant were each demoted, and two other officers received reprimands.

“We carefully reviewed every action that occurred on that night and found that nearly every staff member followed procedures and policies,” Frakes said in a written statement. “However, we did find some staff members who did not take appropriate actions or intentionally misled investigators. To operate a safe facility it is absolutely critical that we hold ourselves accountable for our actions, which is why I took the action I did.”

Biendl was killed Jan. 29. Inmate Byron Scherf, a convicted rapist serving a life term, has been charged with aggravated first-degree murder and could face the death penalty if convicted. Scherf told investigators he had been in the chapel and started to leave when the prisoners were ordered back to their cells. But then he stopped, told another inmate he had forgotten his hat, and went back inside, where Biendl was alone.

One of the fired officers should have been stationed within 30 yards of the chapel’s entrance to monitor the flow of inmates and react if something went wrong. Instead, he was standing in another area — something he had done on previous occasions. Scherf indicated in a letter to officials earlier this year that he saw it as an opportunity to return to the chapel undetected.

The sergeant who was demoted was punished for failing to take action after he became aware that a correctional officer was regularly outside his assigned zone.

Other missteps prevented officers from finding Biendl’s body for about two hours after the attack. Biendl’s radio sent out two brief signals about 15 seconds apart, including one that sounded like a screech and was unusual enough to catch the attention of several staff members, but officers didn’t investigate.

Coyote Corrections Center Superintendent Jeff Uttecht, who led an internal DOC review of the incident, said earlier this year that it was impossible to know whether Biendl would have survived if officers had been more attentive.

The identities of the disciplined officers have not been released.

The state Department of Labor and Industries found in a review last summer that Department of Corrections managers failed to enforce their own policies or provide proper training for subordinates, exacerbating problems surrounding Biendl’s murder. Regulators proposed fining the DOC $26,000.

Monroe Correctional Complex is the state’s second largest prison. It houses more than 2,500 offenders.

© Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

There are five comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email