Reasonable Doubt

Federal judge questions DOC chief's credibility

A federal judge in Missouri is refusing to admit sworn testimony from Arizona Department of Corrections Director Dora Schriro in a lawsuit brought by an inmate, saying that Schriro and other jail officials can't be trusted to tell the truth because they had previously given misleading evidence under oath.

In issuing the ruling on February 3, U.S. District Court Judge Carol Jackson threw out affidavits filed by Schriro and others in the case, saying the sworn statements suffered from "demonstrated unreliability."

In the nine-page ruling, Jackson blasted corrections officials, including Schriro, saying "it is beyond dispute that the defendants' affidavits contain false statements" and that "some of the defendants chose to play fast and loose with the truth."

The judge also ordered Schriro and the others to pay the inmate's attorneys' fees and other expenses related to a hearing she held to sort out the truth about evidence that turned up missing after a prison riot.

The ruling comes as Schriro is being scrutinized for her oversight of the recent hostage crisis at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis. The state Senate also has yet to confirm her appointment, a decision that must be made by June.

Schriro did not return several phone calls seeking comment for this story.

Paul Allvin, communications director for Governor Janet Napolitano, says the governor is looking at Schriro's 30 years in the corrections field, not just a ruling in a single case, as evidence she made the right choice in hiring Schriro to run this state's prison system.

"This certainly doesn't shake the governor's faith in what the director is accomplishing," Allvin says.

Napolitano has convened a multipronged review of how the hostage situation was handled and whether deeper troubles within the prison system -- staffing, pay, training and other issues -- may have contributed to the standoff. Her panels include many of her own top-level employees plus a few national corrections experts and a couple of Arizona law enforcement officials.

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley last week took over a criminal investigation into the two inmates who seized control of an observation tower, and has filed numerous charges against them. He also is refusing to acknowledge a deal negotiators made with the inmates to transfer them out of Arizona and into the federal prison system.

Romley, a Republican, is a well-known political rival of the Democrat Napolitano and has indicated he likely will run for governor in 2006.

Also last week, Republican lawmakers asked Romley to conduct a full review of the hostage situation on their behalf. Legislative leaders say Romley will report back to a bipartisan panel of lawmakers. Romley has hired former U.S. attorney Mel McDonald to conduct that review for him. McDonald recently filled a similar "special prosecutor" role in an investigation of Arizona Corporation Commissioner Jim Irvin, also a Republican, who in 1999 interfered in a deal between two utility companies. Irvin resigned after McDonald made it clear his investigation produced evidence that Irvin should be impeached.

Napolitano and Republican leaders have been at odds over how best to bolster the state's burgeoning correctional system at the same time the state is finding itself woefully short of cash. A special legislative session last fall ended with Republicans pushing through a proposal to privatize some prisons, a plan Napolitano and Schriro both opposed.

Napolitano and Schriro have recently been congratulating themselves and state employees for ending without bloodshed what's being called the longest-running prison siege in U.S. history. Others, including tactical experts, are more critical, particularly since a female correctional officer was raped during the standoff.

According to reports released by the state and Romley, the hostage crisis began about 3 a.m. on January 18 when two inmates, Ricky Wassenaar and Steven Coy, using handmade knives, overpowered a guard in the prison's kitchen office. Wassenaar donned the guard's uniform and shaved his beard, then gained access to an observation tower. Correctional officer Jason Auch buzzed Wassenaar through the locked doors, thinking he was another officer.

Wassenaar overpowered Auch and the other tower guard, Lois Fraley. He handcuffed them and took their weapons, and a short time later fired on other correctional officers in the prison yard while Coy ran to join him in the tower. That began a standoff with state prison officials and law enforcement agencies from around the Valley, including four SWAT teams, that stretched on for more than two weeks.

Coy, who was incarcerated for sexual assault, among other crimes, raped a female kitchen worker before going to the tower, DOC now says. The state has acknowledged that Coy also sexually assaulted Fraley in the tower.

Wassenaar and Coy released Auch after a week but held Fraley until they finally surrendered on February 1. A detailed timeline of the hostage situation put together by DOC shows the state delivered food, water, alcohol and cigarettes to the tower for two weeks, while the inmates handed over what appears to be small amounts of ammunition and a weapon or two.

Schriro, according to the DOC timeline, was out of state when the crisis began. She flew back and took charge of the rescue operation even though, the timeline shows, a state Department of Public Safety SWAT team was in place for about four hours before Schriro arrived at the command center.

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