At Least 12 Face Arrest In Jail Riot Probe Zeroes In At Holmesburg

Posted: November 06, 1989

At least 12 inmates will be charged with assault and riot in the Oct. 28 Holmesburg Prison uprising that injured 114 inmates and 47 corrections officers, a police source said yesterday.

In addition, the source said, corrections officers have identified four other inmates who took part in a fight earlier the same day in which five officers were injured.

Detectives have interviewed 15 corrections officers and plan to interview 30 more, according to the source. They expect additional inmates to be identified as participants in the rioting.

The charges will be filed after the investigation is complete and the results are reviewed by the District Attorney's Office, the source said.

The uprising occurred near the end of a tense day at the overcrowded prison on Torresdale Avenue. During the rioting, inmates barricaded themselves inside I-block and attacked officers with metal pipes and other homemade weapons. Order was restored after officers armed with plastic shields and nightsticks stormed the block and battled the inmates.

The source gave these new details yesterday of the corrections officers' accounts of the uprising and the earlier fight at the prison:

At 4:15 p.m., G-block inmate Gary Fields, 24, was returning from dinner when he asked to visit some friends on E-block. Corrections Lt. Arthur Martin told him he could not go, prompting Fields to push Martin.

The lieutenant then punched Fields, while they stood in the center control area, in view of the inmates on I-block, who were about to be taken to dinner, police said. The prison's cellblocks radiate outward from the center control area.

The captain of G-block then ordered a lockdown on the block, prompting the I-block inmates to start screaming and then barricading themselves. Police said they apparently were concerned that they would be locked down as well.

Two corrections officers - Walter Williams and Patricia Patete - were trapped inside the block when the inmates began constructing barricades, police said.

For about 15 minutes, the prisoners blocked the exits, grabbing at the two officers and shouting threats at them, police said.

One inmate, Damien Williams, managed to escort the two officers into his cell on the block, telling them, "Don't worry, I will protect you," according to the police source.

He then stood at the door to his cell, preventing other inmates from reaching the two, until other officers were able to rescue them. Both officers were treated for smoke inhalation from fires set by the inmates.

The incident left both officers shaken, especially Patete, who was threatened with sexual assault, according to union and prison officials. They have been offered counseling.

Patete, 32, who has been a corrections officers just since May, said in a brief interview yesterday that she would soon go back to full-time duties as a corrections officer. "I'm returning; sure I am," she said. She declined to talk further about the incident.

The earlier incident occurred at 11:45 a.m., police said. Five officers were injured when a fight broke out involving officers and four F-block inmates who were being taken to get medication, the source said.

One of the inmates was being taken to the hospital room and the three others were being taken to a medication room, police said. The three inmates became upset when they were told they could not also be taken to the hospital room, because they needed special passes.

A fight broke out then on the center control area. Five officers were treated at Nazareth Hospital for injuries suffered from the inmates' kicking and pushing them.

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