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New York State officers quell dorm disturbance.

Early on Jan. 30, 1992, trouble erupted in Dorm Block E2 of the medium security Washington Correctional Facility in Comstock, N.Y. A gang member attacked a rival, sparking a small incident. Several inmates were injured, but because the prison's infirmary was crowded and the injuries minor, the participants--including the inmate who provoked the fight--were returned to the dorm.

When Corrections Officers Gary Roberts and Michael Downey came on duty at 11 p.m., the dorm still had not totally quieted down. Roberts was posted in E2 and Downey was working as the "rover" who checks the various dorms throughout the shift. Downey recalled later that because he sensed tension, he paid special attention to the dorm.

Shortly after 1 a.m., with the dorm dark and seemingly quiet, another inmate slashed the instigator of the earlier incident as he slept, striking him over and over again with a razor.

Downey followed Roberts into the darkened dorm and grabbed the attacking inmate, preventing him from continuing the assault. Other inmates, meanwhile, were throwing chairs and lockers, adding to the disturbance by starting diversionary fights and trying to rouse the other dorms.

Roberts, who attempted to shield the slashed inmate in a corner opposite the dorm exit, was surrounded by a group of hostile inmates. Meanwhile, other brawling inmates prevented Downey from rescuing either Roberts or the wounded inmate. "You don't know until it's over how bad it is," Downey said later.

At this point, Downey had lost sight of Roberts and worried that he might be injured. Downey was able to reach a telephone to call for assistance, unaware that Roberts already had pushed his personal alarm. Next Downey attempted to turn on the dorm lights. Although he didn't have the appropriate key, he succeeded in activating the lights by inserting his pocket knife into the slot.

With the lights on, the fighting abated, allowing the two officers to gain enough control to get the inmate to safety. Other officers arriving on the scene helped resolve the incident.

Surprisingly, no one received serious injuries. "We all walked away from the incident--even the inmate," Roberts said. Downey and Roberts were out for about two weeks recovering from bruises and cuts.

Both officers received New York State Department of Corrections Medals of Merit for their actions. At the awards ceremony on June 15, Commissioner Thomas A. Coughlin III cited their "extraordinary courage against overwhelming odds" and said their performance "prevented further serious injury and damage."

Despite the violence he has encountered during his eight years as an officer, Downey is glad he chose corrections as a career. "I'm really proud to be a corrections officer," he said. "I work with a great bunch of men and women."

Roberts, an 11-year veteran, sums up his experience that January night very simply. "Sometimes you earn all your money in five minutes," he says.
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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; Corrections Officers Gary Roberts and Michael Downey of the Washington Correctional Facility
Author:Spertzel, Jody K.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:Defining the role of community corrections.
Next Article:Corrections Professionals focus on today's hot topics.

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