How Arizona’s Prison Hostage Crisis Began


The longest prison hostage standoff in U.S. history began Jan. 18 with inmates Ricky Wassenaar and Steven Coy rampaging at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis for more than an hour before any alarm was sounded, say documents obtained by The Arizona Republic. By the time the first alarm was sounded, the convicts had taken five captives, raped a kitchen worker, and gained control of a watchtower with its arsenal. The standoff began with two officers there held hostage.

The newspaper says the documents paint a picture of security breakdowns and of a hostage female officer being sexually assaulted while negotiations with two armed convicts continued. At one point, a corrections officer saw two hostages handcuffed in the watchtower and walked away thinking they were engaged in “horseplay.” The convicts dropped their weapons Feb. 1, releasing the female hostage and walking out of the tower. They had released the male hostage a week earlier.

Gov. Janet Napolitano and Department of Corrections Director Dora Schriro have provided only skeletal information about what went wrong, and they continue to withhold reports explaining who was involved and what happened to them. Schriro disclosed little new information yesterday as a blue-ribbon panel selected by the governor began a series of hearings.

The newly obtained documents fill in many gaps, which the Republic outlines in detail.

In one key encounter, Wassenaar overcame a corrections officer, donned his uniform, and shaved his beard so that he resembled the man. He then went to the watchtower, where his ruse worked on two officers on duty. He overpowered those officers, and the crisis was well under way.


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