Seven Minnesota prison guards hurt this week in separate incidents

A prison guard conducts a routine check
A corrections officer conducts a routine check of the cells at Oak Park Heights prison in 2022. Seven corrections officers suffered injuries in separate incidents at two Minnesota prisons this week.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Updated March 9, 5:35 p.m | Posted March 8, 6:54 p.m.

Seven corrections officers suffered injuries in separate incidents at two Minnesota prisons this week, leading authorities to keep the prisons in lockdown at least through the weekend.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections said in a statement Wednesday that a sergeant and two officers were assaulted at the Stillwater prison late Monday morning with one suffering a broken nose while trying to break up a fight among several inmates. All three staff members were evaluated at a hospital and released.

On Tuesday evening, a sergeant and two officers at the Oak Park Heights facility were hurt after two inmates allegedly attacked them. The Corrections Department said the Oak Park Heights guards also received hospital evaluations and released. One suffered a broken nose.

On Thursday morning, another sergeant was struck in the face by an inmate at the Stillwater prison, the Corrections Department said, adding the guard was taken to the hospital for treatment.

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"The incarcerated man just walked up to the sergeant and began to punch on him. And there was no exchange between the two of them whatsoever,” Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell told MPR News.

Late Thursday afternoon, Schnell confirmed the facilities would remain in lockdown at least through this weekend. He said no inmates were hurt but that at least eight incarcerated men who were alleged to have been involved in the attacks during the week have been moved to the Oak Park Heights restricted housing unit.

The DOC said results of an internal investigation will be forwarded to the Washington County Attorney’s Office for consideration of felony charges.

The state has struggled to attract and retain corrections officers, AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Julie Bleyhl said in an interview Wednesday. She said adequate staffing levels are key to ensuring safety.

“Members that go to work should expect that when they go in in the morning, that they're able to come home to their families and their loved ones in the same shape that they went into work, not be in the situation that the officers with the two assaults have found themselves in,” Bleyhl said.

On July 18, 2018, an inmate assaulted and killed corrections officer Joseph Gomm, 45, in Stillwater’s metal shop. Gomm was the first guard killed in the line of duty in the state prison system's history.

Edward Muhammad Johnson, 46, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty in 2020 to premeditated murder.

Two months after the attack on Gomm, corrections officer Joseph Parise collapsed and later died after rushing to help a fellow officer who was being assaulted.

The Ramsey County Medical Examiner determined that Parise, 37, died from coronary artery syndrome and heart disease and ruled his death a homicide.