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MDSP Officer Changes Lives

SPRINGFIELD Jackie Peters applied for a prison job just so someone would quit pestering her about it.

“I was living in Irene, and my stepson had a friend who was working (at Mike Durfee State Prison) in Springfield. He was always hounding me about getting a job there,” she said.

“I said, Are you kidding me? There s no way I was going to work in a prison, and there s no way they re going to hire me. I m 40 years old, a female, and they would have to hire me at first for a job at the Hill (state penitentiary in Sioux Falls). But I told him that I would try so he would get off my case.”

She was wrong about the outcome. She was hired in January 1993, working the cell areas and guard towers at the penitentiary. She had already shown her ability to break new ground when she joined the National Guard

“I believe I was I was the first woman to join the South Dakota National Guard,” she said. “They started accepting women Oct. 1, 1973, and I joined Oct. 13, 1973. I stayed in the Guard until 1987.”

When she was hired for the Sioux Falls prison job, Peters informed officials she would be interested in working at the medium-security facility in Springfield, closer to her hometown of Avon.

“They had an opening at Springfield, and I got a job there shortly after I started in Sioux Falls,” she said. “I m not sure, if I had stayed in Sioux Falls, if I would have remained (in corrections) that long.”

A quarter-century after she was hired, Peters will retire June 8 from a career that has seen her rise through the ranks. She now works as the MDSP tool-and-key control sergeant. A formally trained locksmith, she is entrusted with all the prison s keys, keeps them in good working condition and maintains a regular inventory.

She joined the MDSP staff in the early years after the former college was converted into a prison in 1984. She served there when the facility was co-ed and later converted to an all-male facility.

As part of that conversion, she helped with the start-up of the women s prison in Pierre. During the course of the special assignment, she found herself in the unlikely role of eating crab legs at then-Gov. Bill Janklow s mansion.

“Before the women s prison was built, I took female trustys to Pierre. They stayed at the National Guard Armory while they did community service work to see if they would fit (with the community),” Peters said. “We had them working at the Capitol and the governor s mansion. For one of their assignments, they served a meal at the governor s mansion. Gov. Janklow was hosting a very official dinner with crab legs on the menu.”

Peters remained in the kitchen area, supervising the inmates. A woman on the governor s staff invited Peters to sit down and join her for supper in another room while the dinner was under way.

“Here I was, eating crab legs in the governor s mansion,” Peters said with a laugh. “I wasn t eating with the governor, but he did talk to me later when the dinner was finished and the guests left.”

TACKLING DISASTERS

Peters would talk to Janklow other times in less pleasant surroundings. She transported inmate crews to assist with natural disasters, where the governor was directing operations with his trademark take-charge manner.

“We had inmates working after the tornados at Spencer and Oglala (in the late 1990s),” Peters said.

The two disaster scenes contained different sights and needs. Spencer, a small town located in eastern South Dakota, was nearly wiped off the map. Oglala, located on the reservation in western South Dakota, saw destruction spread over a wide area.

“When we stepped off the bus at Spencer, I just thought, Oh, my gosh! This used to be a town, ” Peters said. “And at Oglala, a number of people there lived in trailer homes, and tornados and trailer houses don t get along.”

The inmates did what they could to help victims recover lost personal items, Peters said. The prisoners picked up debris, sacked up what was salvageable and allowed residents to claim what remained.

In addition, Peters supervised female inmates trained in firefighting.

“I spent an entire summer in the Black Hills because of continuous forest fires. The women learned everything from chainsaw training to wearing protective gear,” she said. “As an incentive, the inmates normally received 25 cents an hour for their work, but if they worked as firefighters they received 38 cents an hour. That was like getting time-and-a-half pay.

“At the end of the year, if they had done firefighting and had no major disciplinary issues on their record, the governor would give them so many days off their sentence for working on disasters.”

OTHER ROLES

In addition, Peters supervised female inmates who worked on the South Dakota State Fairgrounds in Huron. The one-year assignment in the 1990s saw her drive a busload of workers each week to Huron, where they stayed in the National Guard Armory.

“At first, the female inmates would look around and say, I don t know why they re bringing us up here, we don t know how to do any of this. But they learned it and did it, from repairing buildings, putting up new ones and cutting down trees,” Peters said.

“The guy that was in charge of the fairgrounds tracked day by day what the women accomplished. He also saw their attitude change, how they went from saying We can t do that to I can do that. He said it was probably the best the fairgrounds had ever looked up to that point, maybe because the women would add extra touches when they did things like plant flowers.”

The female inmates also received compliments from fairgoers on the grounds, which further boosted the prisoners confidence, Peters said.

In addition to her special assignments, Peters was one of the first members of the MDSP Disturbance Control Squad. which handles inmate uprisings.

“If there was ever a disturbance at the prison, we had a calling tree for contacting the members. You would suit up in your helmet and grab your shield and baton, if you needed to take any action against inmates who were being unruly and didn t listen,” she said.

“Eventually, I was commander of it. The squad was limited to people who offered to be on it. You applied, they determined if you were physically fit enough, and we had training once a month. I ve been sprayed with pepper spray and tear gas (as part of the training), but I was never tazered.”

The only major disturbance came during the “salad riot,” when MDSP inmates protested over the salad bar and other food service offerings.

“It was over in a day, a day and a half. It didn t take long,” she said. “The facility was surrounded by law enforcement and highway patrol, but they stayed on the outside while we were on the inside.”

In addition to her other duties, Peters maintains MDSP operations policies and has developed a record-keeping system for fire deployments, which lists 1,707 male and female inmates who have gone through firefighter training.

She has worked the entire gamut of corrections, from all men and all women to a co-ed prison to juveniles. The latter came while the State Training School operated in Plankinton.

HISTORIC CHANGES

Peters has seen the Springfield prison change tremendously over the years. Besides changing from a co-ed to all-male facility, the prison has added a barracks unit allowing the former population of 800 inmates to increase to around 1,250.

MDSP has sought to prepare inmates for the outside world and help them prevent a return to prison through vocational, academic, religious and cultural programs; counseling and substance abuse programs; and other innovations.

The prison has seen a major change outside its fences.

During its early history, MDSP had only the Missouri River to the south, cutting off one escape route for inmates. The Chief Standing Bear Memorial Bridge was built in the 1990s between Running Water and Niobrara, Neb., spanning the river and linking the two states.

Rather than think of the bridge as an escape route, MDSP has found it as a valuable link to a large pool of prison employees in northeast Nebraska, Peters said.

“The bridge has helped us immensely in terms of staff,” she said. “We have a lot of staff who come from Nebraska that we didn t have before the bridge, when they had to go around Yankton or Pickstown. Now, we have a lot of those Nebraskans as really good staff members.”

And it s those people both staff members and inmates that she will miss when she retires in just a few days.

“I surprised myself when I applied for that first job and got it. I thought, There was no way on God s green earth I was going to get it, ” she said. “But I got it, and I shocked myself. I enjoyed just about every aspect of it. I m going to really miss the people. The time has gone so fast, and I wouldn t trade it for the world.”

As she prepares to depart the prison, Peters hopes she helped others find a better path along the way.

“Now, I can look back and say, I did make a difference in someone s life,” she said.

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Fired Pittsburgh sergeant on stand in civil rights trial

A federal prosecutor is trying to convince a jury that a Pittsburgh police sergeant fired for pushing and punching a drunken man has since tried to “tailor” his statements about the incident so they’d fit a surveillance video the prosecutor contends doesn’t support the former officer’s version of events. Assistant U.S. Attorney Cindy Chung asked Stephen Matakovich during his federal civil rights trial Thursday if he was familiar with the concept of defendants “tailoring a statement to the known evidence.”

Chung is trying to convince a jury that Matakovich did just that after he became aware that Heinz Field surveillance cameras recorded his encounter with Gabriel Despres, then 19, during a high school championship football game on Nov. 28, 2015. Matakovich is charged with deprivation of civil rights for twice pushing and once punching Despres, allegedly without provocation, and falsification of a document for filing a police report that, Chung contends, falsely portrayed Despres as the aggressor.

“I’m sure it happens, yes,” the 48-year-old former officer replied Thursday. The jury is expected to hear closing arguments after testimony concludes Friday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, who run the stadium, sent the video to then-police Chief Cameron McLay early last year. McClay then fired Matakovich and ordered the investigation that resulted in related state court criminal charges and, later, an FBI investigation and federal charges. The federal civil rights charge carries up to 10 years in prison upon conviction, and the falsification charge up to 20 years. Matakovich also faces a state court trial next month on charges including simple assault, official oppression that is, the misuse of his official police powers and perjury stemming from his testimony at an earlier court hearing. Stadium security officers summoned police when they tried to kick Despres out of the stadium and he refused to leave. He has since pleaded guilty to citations for public drunkenness and defiant trespass, and was ordered to pay more than $900 in fines and court costs, although more serious charges that he assaulted Matakovich were dropped.

Matakovich has testified in state court and again at this trial that Despres adopted an “aggressive” posture and appeared ready to attack when Matakovich tried to get Despres to leave the stadium. Surveillance video from the stadium shows Despres with his hands at his sides and not advancing when the officer suddenly pushes him down and then strikes Despres in the face as he tries to get to his feet. Another security guard involved in the incident testified Wednesday that Despres didn’t attack or menace Matakovich and that any moves Despres made with his hands toward the officer were in panicked self-defense. That echoes the assessment of Master Police Officer David Wright, Pittsburgh’s in-house expert on the use of force. Wright previously has testified that the force used by Matakovich was “excessive” and that Despres reacted in self-preservation. Wright was in the courtroom Thursday waiting to be called by Chung to rebut the testimony of Clifford Jobe Jr. Matakovich’s defense team is paying $175 an hour to Jobe, a retired state police officer, instructor and use of force expert who testified that Matakovich’s actions were “objectively reasonable.”

If the jury agrees with Matakovich’s expert, they’ll be instructed by U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon to find him not guilty on the civil rights charge.

Guards hurt, inmates shot in Pelican Bay State Prison melee

  • Guards Hurt, Inmates Shot In Pelican Bay State Prison Melee

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

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Pelican Bay State Prison is seen outside of Crescent City, Calif. in this 2001 file photo. On Wednesday, eight law enforcement officers were hurt and five inmates were shot and wounded when a melee broke out in the prison s general population yard.

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At least eight law enforcement officers and seven inmates were injured Wednesday morning in a riot at Pelican Bay State Prison[3] that ended when guards fired live ammunition into the crowd, state corrections officials said. All of those injured were taken to outside hospitals for treatment. Two of the prison staff members remained hospitalized with significant but non-life-threatening injuries, officials said. Five of the seven inmates were being treated for gunshot wounds, but their conditions were not immediately available Wednesday afternoon. The riot at the prison in Crescent City (Del Norte County) started with a fistfight between two inmates in the maximum-security general population yard. About 10:30 a.m., officers responding to the fight used chemical agents and batons to try to break it up. But large groups of inmates ran into the yard and quickly overwhelmed the officers, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation[4].

As the melee grew out of control, officers from three armed posts fired 19 shots into the yard. Officers also fired at least three nonlethal foam rounds to quash the brawl. Two inmate-made weapons were recovered after the fight, although it wasn t clear whether they were used in the riot, officials said. Prison officials have restricted inmate movement throughout the facility while the riot is under investigation, and 97 inmates were placed in isolation units.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sent a team to the prison to investigate the use of deadly force. The department also is sending investigators from its Office of Correctional Safety[5].

Pelican Bay State Prison, near the Oregon border, houses about 2,000 inmates and has a staff of about 1,300. The prison has two maximum-security facilities.

Erin Allday is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:

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