At least nine Lorton Reformatory inmates were wounded Monday night when corrections officers fired shotgun blasts into a crowd of rioting prisoners armed with bricks, bottles and homemade knives, D.C. Department of Corrections sources said last night.
Guards opened fire on a large group of inmates at Lorton's Central facility about 6:30 p.m. Monday, after the prisoners charged several riot-equipped officers and chased them into an open space where other armed guards had assembled, sources said.
Five inmates, including one with multiple gunshot wounds and two with stab wounds, were listed in stable condition last night at D.C. General Hospital, officials there said. Corrections Department spokesman LeRoy Anderson said a total of 15 inmates were wounded.
A Corrections Department official, who did not want to be identified, said the shootings came after a six-hour standoff between inmates and guards that began when corrections official tried to transfer five inmates believed to be the leaders of a three-week work stoppage at the facility.
The incident drew swift and angry responses from Fairfax County and D.C. police officials, who said they were not notified of the shootings until yesterday.
Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity quickly called for an investigation of the District's handling of the incident. Although the prison is located in southern Fairfax, the county has no jurisdiction inside the facility and has repeatedly criticized District officials for not keeping the county informed about disturbances and escapes.
County officials said Fairfax was notified at midafternoon Monday only that there was a peaceful demonstration at the facility.
A helicopter was sent, but it was unclear how long it was in the air at the scene.
D.C. City Administrator Thomas M. Downs confirmed last night that prisoners had been wounded Monday at the Central facility but characterized the incident as "a minor disturbance." He said Fairfax County officials were notified immediately and that Fairfax County deputies were at the prison at the time of the shootings.
A county police dispatcher said last night that only one officer was in the area when the shootings occurred and that he was on routine patrol.
Robert Foreman, an aide to Herrity, said last night, "Apparently there has been a breach of the agreement" signed by the District of Columbia and Fairfax County in June that called for the Corrections Department to notify Fairfax County police of riots and disturbances immediately after notifying Corrections Director James Palmer.
Corrections spokesman Anderson said, "We fulfilled our obligation in the agreement with Fairfax County, and if we haven't we'll discuss that with Fairfax County."
Foreman said that though county police were told of a "peaceful demonstration" at Central about 3 p.m., the Corrections Department "did not renotify us after a major riot broke out." At 7:30 p.m. Fairfax was told that the situation had returned to normal, but were not told of any shootings, Foreman said. He said Herrity learned of the shootings when a corrections officer called his office yesterday.
D.C. police officials said that the District's police department was not told of the incident until a meeting with corrections officials yesterday.
Anderson said that the police department's special operations division was notified Monday.
Downs said tear gas canisters were fired into the crowd to disperse the prisoners and they were finally returned to their dormitories about 8:30 p.m. No disturbances were reported at the facility yesterday.
Anderson said the last time shotguns were fired inside a D.C. prison was to put down a riot at the Central Facility in 1968. The facility houses 1,200 medium-security inmates in dormitories.
Inmates who work at the prison laundry and at the license plate, furniture repair and print shops went on strike Sept. 9 complaining of low pay and poor medical and food services.
The inmate demonstration began about noon Monday when Corrections head Palmer instructed officials to transfer to federal institutions inmate strike leaders in an attempt to end the three-week work stoppage, sources said.
When several corrections officers arrived to remove the inmates, a source said, the prisoners ran to a group of dormitories known as the hollow and told other striking inmates "that they were being singled out and it was time to unite."
The five were joined in the dormitory area by 250 to 300 other striking inmates who prevented the removal of the strike leaders, sources said. They said that the rebellious inmates moved to the facility's quadrangle -- formed by the dining hall, the administration building and 12 dormitories -- and refused to disperse.
When a new shift of officers arrived at the facility about 3:30 p.m., the previous shift was held over and the inmates were told to return to their dormitories for the 4 p.m. head count, sources said.
After negotiations with the inmates failed, the riot squads from the other institutions were called and as they started to arrive at Central, the inmates moved back to the hollow, sources said. The sources estimated that 225 riot-equipped officers were at the scene, but Anderson put the number at no more than 60.
In the meantime the inmates had armed themselves with a variety of makeshift weapons, including homemade shanks, large pieces of steel torn from beds, chairs, sticks, pipes, bottles and stones, sources said.
About 5 p.m., approximately 80 officers armed with chemical handguns that fire tear gas and batons confronted the inmates in the hollow but were beaten back.
Another group of officers gathered in the quadrangle, sources said. They said that about 6:30 p.m. the inmates in the hollow spotted about five officers nearby and about 50 of the prisoners started to chase them.
The officers ran into the quadrangle, and "at that point the inmates had almost caught up," a source said. "An order was given for the officers to hit the ground and the officers opened up fire . . . . They fired into the crowd indiscriminately," he said.
One corrections officer suffered a minor shoulder injury, apparently when he was hit by a brick, sources said. Another officer and a prison employe were overcome by tear gas.
About 30 weapons were confiscated during the search, a source said. He said 17 inmates were transferred to the maximum security institution's holding facility, and that inmates at Central have been given "an ultimatum" to end the work strike today or lose their jobs.