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Arizona officer helps end escalating kitchen melee.

James Witten, a corrections officer at the State Prison Complex in Florence, Ariz., was in the prison yard when he received a call for help from Officer Dave Vaughan in the dining hall.

When Witten asked Vaughan over his radio if he was OK, his answer was, "Not at this time." Alarmed by that response, Witten began to run.

When he reached the dining hall, an inmate was on top of Vaughan. Witten tore the inmate off the officer and tried to force him out the dining hall door.

A second inmate then attacked Vaughan. After Witten managed to get the first inmate out of the dining hall, he called for more back-up.

Witten grabbed the second inmate, but he spun around and punched him in the eye. His sunglasses shattered and tore a gash above his left eye that would later need nine stitches.

Next, a third inmate came at Vaughan with a stainless steel cup. Witten intercepted the inmate, who retreated into the crowd of about 130 inmates.

When about 15 officers arrived at the scene, a group of 50 inmates moved forward to confront Witten and the other officers. One inmate then moved forward, faced the crowd and talked the inmates into backing off from the confrontation.

"This inmate apparently had some kind of authority over the others," Witten said. "If it had not been for him, I'd have been in a world of hurt."

Taking advantage of this unexpected opportunity, Witten pulled Vaughan to his feet and moved him, along with the second assailant, through the dining hall door to safety.

For his courage, Witten received a valor award from the Arizona Department of Corrections. "I felt proud that the department honored me with the award," Witten said, "But at the same time I felt I had done what any officer would have done for me."

While it was not the first time Witten had helped break up a violent incident, he says this one was the most frightening because the violence was directed against a staff member. He knew that by entering the conflict he would become a target of the violence.

"Later, when I thought about the situation, I shook like a leaf," Witten said. "It was the first time I was in a situation where an officer was being assaulted with the odds so overwhelmingly against us."
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Best in the Business; Officer James Witten of the State Prison Complex
Author:Ogburn, Kevin R.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:394
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