Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Prison officials assess damages from RCDC III riot
The management company for the Reeves County Detention Center was assessing damage on Monday from a riot that broke out Friday afternoon at the RCDC III facility, which resulted in the burning of a recreation building by inmates, who took two hostages during the 15-hour incident.
Officials with GEO group released a statement on Monday morning about the incident, which also left one block of the 1,450-bed RCDC III unit damaged in the riot, which broke out about 1 p.m. on Friday.
Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper John Burton of Midland, speaking on Friday night, said 1,236 inmates were in the north yard at RCDC III when the disturbance began, about one hour after the body of an inmate at the facility was removed, following his death overnight.
Burton said the two hostages taken were recreation specialists who were civilians employed by Reeves County. In their press release on Monday, GEO officials did not provide the names of the recreation specialists or the name of the inmate who died, but the two specialists were unofficially identified Monday as Freddy Gallegos and Robert Chabarria Sr.
RCDC III Warden Dwight Sims said on Saturday morning that the inmate’s body had been taken for autopsy.
“That’s standard procedure whenever there is the death while in our custody,” he said.
Sims said in the Monday press release that the disturbance involved approximately 1,200 inmates, and that they detained two staff members on the recreation yard.
These two staff members were under constant visual observation by both Reeves County Detention staff and law enforcement personnel, according to Sims.
Sims said that, “At no time, during the unauthorized inmate assembly on the recreation yard did the inmates threaten to harm the two staff members detained. The inmates released the first detained staff member at approximately 8 p.m. and the second staff member was safely released at approximately 11:30 p.m.
“The incident was quickly detained and inmates remained in a contained area throughout the incident,” said Sims.
Burton said an official with the Mexican Consulate was called to the prison, where inmates presented their list of grievances to him, while at the same time talking with hostage negotiators from the prison.
Local law enforcement personnel were called out to assist RCDC III staff with the disturbance about 30 minutes after the riot first broke out. About 1:45 p.m., inmates could be seen running in the yard away from the recreation building on the northeast corner of the RCDC III unit, and smoke could be seen coming out of the building a short time later.
The thick black smoke poured out of the front entrance, roof air conditioners and side vents of the building. The heaviest smoke continued for about 15 minutes, though no flames were seen coming out of the building before the heaviest of the smoke died down.
The darker smoke returned shortly before 3 p.m., when loud sounds could be heard coming from inside one of the main RCDC III buildings. A block inside one of the buildings was reportedly also damaged in the disturbance, though not as heavily as the damage to the recreation area.
Damage was sustained to one housing unit and a small fire was set in the recreation building on the recreation yard, Sims said. No injuries were sustained by either staff or inmates.
The fire in that building died down once more, but smoke continued to come out of the building for the next several hours. However, fire department personnel were not allowed inside the yard until 6:50 a.m. on Saturday, after the disturbance was over and the inmates were placed on lockdown inside the main building.
All inmates were removed from the recreation yard and secured in their housing units without incident. “At no time did any breaches or attempts to breach the facility perimeter occur,” said Sims.
Sims said as noted in previous law enforcement releases, the incident was centered on complaints by inmates regarding medical care and food services.
Burton said the inmates were taken care of during their 15 hours in the yard, as temperatures overnight dipped into the 30s and inmates started several bonfires in the prison yard to stay warm.
“They did give then blankets and did provide them with medical attention, for the ones with diabetes or other medical conditions,” Burton said.
GEO officials did not have a estimate of the damage done to the recreation building or the main RCDC III unit as of Monday, but top officials from the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company were reportedly in Pecos on Monday to look into the incident.
RCDC III houses inmates under a contract secured by Reeves County in 2005 with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which already had contracts with the county for housing inmates in the RCDC I and II units. GEO has served as the operator of the three units since November of 2003, after the county failed to secure a BOP contract to house inmates at the new RCDC III unit.
BOP representative Tracy Billingsley said that the prison is privately operated and a decision on whether to remove any of the inmates has not been made.
“At this time we will not take any action until the investigation is complete,” said Billingsley.
The disturbance was the most serious at the county-owned facility since May of 1993, when inmates at RCDC I rioted and also burned an exercise building in the yard of the detention center.
Pecos Fire Department and EMS crews, along with Reeves County Sheriff’s Deputies and Pecos Police were called out to assist with the incident. Police Capt. Kelly Davis said the department’s portable command center was set up on site, and portable generators and light platforms were set up on the north side of the RCDC II yard.
“We were to secure the perimeter and make sure no one left the facility,” Davis said.
Police and sheriff’s deputies also helped early on with roadblocks on the streets around the prison, and were assisted later that night by officers from other area law enforcement agencies.
Reeves County Sheriff’s Deputies, Pecos Police Department, Texas Rangers, Department of Public Safety Troopers, U.S. Marshal Service, Border Patrol, ICE, U.S. Customs and FBI and FBI Tactical Teams provided additional support on the perimeter of the recreation yard.
Support was also provided by the sheriff departments from the following counties: Pecos, Culberson, Ward, Presidio and Hudspeth.
Additional support was provided by the Odessa Police Department and their Hostage Negotiation Team, FBI Hostage Negotiators and Mexican Consulate.
EMS and Fire Departments on-site included the Pecos EMS and Fire Department. Also providing support to the institution was the Iraan Police Department.
“The cooperative effort of all law enforcement agencies, Reeves County officials and facility staff allowed for a peaceful resolution of the incident,” said Sims.
PEDC asked to help with Supercenter effort
A new Walmart and updates to infrastructure on the south side of town were two items members of the Pecos Economic Development Corp. were updated on Monday, during their noontime meeting at City Hall.
Members were told a new Supercenter is possible within the next year by Walmart store manager Richard Russell, while city public works director Edgardo Madrid said his crews were working with the Swiss Clock Inn to upgrade the overtaxed wastewater lines on the south side of town.
Russell was asking for local support in lobbying Walmart to build a mini-Supercenter in Pecos, and said it appeared the company was considering the project.
“The good news is they cancelled the remodeling scheduled for February,” Russell said. He said the fact that the company wouldn’t put about $1 million into fixing up the current 22-year-old building means its possible they would give the go-ahead on the new building within the next 12 months.
“If I could get help with that response and get it sent out before the end of the quarter (Jan. 1), I think there’s a good chance to get this done,” he told PEDC members and others at City Hall for Monday’s meeting.
Madrid said city officials had talked with Swiss Clock Inn manager Jean Winget earlier this year about solving a sewer line back-up at the hotel and had come up with a plan to fix the problem. He also updated PEDC board members on plans to divert wastewater coming from the Reeves County Detention Center onto a new line that would bypass most of the Interstate 20 corridor through Pecos.
Madrid said boosting the line’s elevation by .5 percent would prevent backups caused by heavy use periods. “This will solve the problem the hotel is having,” he said, and will prevent similar problems with the new Best Western hotel opening next to the Swiss Clock Inn.
He said the cost of fixing the line would by $8,000, while work to remove and replace asphalt above the line would cost aan estimated $6,000.
“The hotel is paying half if the city will pay half. That’s where we had a little problem,” city attorney Scott Johnson said. City manager Joseph Torres said the spilt would cost both sides about $7,000.
Winget asked Madrid about future use of the I-20 line when the new Hampton Inn opens on I-20 at the Highway 17 exit, but was told by Madrid that hotel and the RCDC would be diverted onto a new wastewater line to run north on Texas Street to Seventh, and from there east to the city’s wastewater treatment plant
Council retaining counsel to decipher venue tax
Town of Pecos City Council members authorized use of Reeves County’s bond counsel to look into the requirements for the city/county venue tax board to designate a project, during a special meeting held by the council on Thursday evening.
The Buck Jackson Rodeo Arena Venue Tax Authority began collecting a 2 percent hotel/motel tax in January for renovations and improvements to the arena and the adjacent Reeves County Civic Center. Several ideas have been put forward on the first project the venue tax board should designate, and at a meeting last month, members said they believed the state venue tax law would require them to designate a project for the tax funds within the next few months.
The board approved the hiring of Dallas attorney David Petruska as bond counsel for the board. Petruska already serves in a similar role for Reeves County, and will advise the board on how to proceed in designating a project to be paid for through the venue tax.
“We’re getting different signals from the comptroller’s office and the AG’s office,” city attorney Scott Johnson said. He added that under the law, the venue tax board will have to issue debt for a project within a certain time, with the debt to be backed by the 2 percent tax.
“We’re very short on time,” said Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood, who is a member of the venue tax board.
“This will be the first step,” Johnson said. “We want to get somebody who knows something who will be able to speak on the city’s behalf.”
The meeting, which lasted under 10 minutes, was originally scheduled as an closed session, but was opened to the public when city officials were informed the subject did not fall under the guidelines for executive sessions, under the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Meals to be delivered for Christmas
Volunteers for the Christian Home will be delivering meals to the elderly for the holy holiday.
The group will deliver meals on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, to those who are homebound.
If anybody would like to donate anything they can contact the Christian Home at 445-2409 or take items to 1201 S. Elm.
Women’s group sponsors lighting contest
The Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce Women’s Division will be sponsoring their City-Wide Annual Christmas Lighting Contest from 7-9 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 16.
Seven runner-ups will be chosen with one Grand Prize Winner.
There will be prizes for “Best Decorated Block” and “Best Decorated Business.”
No nominations are required, everyone is eligible.
For more information contact the chamber office at 445-2406 or Mary Ann Gomez at 448-7389.
Volunteers to deliver gifts on Wednesday
Christmas for Kids volunteers will be delivering gifts, to the children on their list, after 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 17.
This year the group will be delivering gifts to a total of 327 children, which includes 104 families.
The volunteer group provides the essentials for children in the community that qualify for the program, during the holidays.
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321
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