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Texas Prison Rocked by Guard Killing, Riot

A guard at the McConnell Unit prison in Beeville, Texas, was fatally stabbed a week before Christmas, 1999. Three days later 80 convicts escaped from their ad-seg cells and took control of the unit for three and a half hours before riot squads regained control.

Texas prison spokesman Larry Todd said the trouble began Friday December 17 at 3:45 p.m. when 37 year old prison guard Daniel Nagle was discovered laying in a pool of blood by a fellow guard. Nagle was apparently killed by one or more prisoners near the entrance of a crafts area.

A thin metal rod, "like a welding rod," about 6 to 9 inches long with a sharpened tip was found near Nagle's body, Todd said. A rag wrapped around one end of the weapon served as a handle.

The prison was immediately placed on lockdown and investigators began interviewing all prisoners who were in the area. The attack appears to have been planned, said Todd, but he declined to speculate on a motive.

PLN has learned, however, that the killing may have been planned by members of a prison gang and intended as retaliation for the state's policy of entombing suspected gang members in long term control unit segregation cells. Reliable sources tell PLN that younger, more militant members of the gang known as the Mexican Mafia recently wrested control from older gang members, most of whom are already consigned to long term ad-seg units. These younger, more radical gang members intended murdering a guard to send a message, sources tell PLN.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Glen Castlebury told the Houston Chronicle that there is no evidence of a conspiracy to kill Nagle. The Chronicle reported that Nagle was thought to have been a target of prisoners. "Internal affairs is convinced that it's only one person who perpetrated the murder," Castlebury said.

Nagle, who worked at the 2,900 bed prison since June 1, 1996, was president of the Beeville chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents Texas prison guards.

He was an advocate of higher salaries and warned that the current low pay (among the lowest in the nation for prison guards) led to short staffing and dangerous working conditions.

Two days after Nagle was killed in a minimum security area of the prison and while the entire prison remained on lockdown, trouble erupted in the ad-seg unit. According to Castlebury, at around 3:45 a.m. Monday morning ad-seg prisoner William Steed Kelley somehow jimmied the lock of his cell door and got out. Steed then ambushed a guard with a 6 to 8 inch shank, Castlebury said, and forced him into the unit's control booth where another guard was. A struggle ensued, during which one guard was stabbed in the forearm.

After Kelly slashed the guard and started "punching all the buttons" to open the pod's 84 cell doors, the guards fled the control booth, Larry Todd told an Austin newspaper. A third guard fled to an adjacent exercise yard and scaled the fence, leaving the unit in the hands of prisoners.

According to Todd, one of the 84 cells was vacant and three of the prisoners stayed in their cells. The other 80 began causing extensive damage.

"They were breaking all the windows, smashing the equipment in the control room, pulling their mattresses out - trying to destroy everything they could," Todd told the Austin American-Statesman. "Then they tore the rails off their bunks and used them as battering rams."

A general alarm was sounded and steel riot doors were locked across a hallway to contain the uprising within that cellblock. More than 100 guards and riot specialists assembled to retake the cellblock. Guards and prisoners battled for more than two hours before prison authorities regained control at 7:15 a.m.

"The inmates used towels under the doors to keep out the gas, and a number were running around with wet towels across their faces for the same reason," Todd said. "It took some time, but control was re-established."

The prisoners who participated in the uprising were placed in vans and busses and dispersed to other ad-seg units around the state. The cellblock was sealed as a crime scene as prison officials tallied the damage. Gary Johnson, director of the prisons division of the TDCJ said it would be a month before the unit could be repaired and restored to service.

Castlebury said the ad-seg uprising was not related to the killing of Nagle. "We would see no relationship between the two incidents," Castlebury told the Houston Chronicle.

Nagle was the first Texas prison guard killed since 1982 when Minnie Houston was stabbed to death by a prisoner at the Ellis Unit. Nagle is survived by his wife, a former McConnel Unit guard, and three young children, ages 3 months, 3 years and five years.

Castlebury said prison officials have a suspect in the killing, but will not release any information until after more evidence is collected and presented to a Bee County grand jury.

Todd said officials plan to seek charges of attempted capital murder and inciting a riot against Kelley. He is already serving a 99 year term for attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault.

Prison guards and family members complained to state officials that the stabbing and riot stem from a staffing shortage of more than 1,000 guards statewide. "The prisons are a powder keg waiting to explode," Lidia Torres, who said her brother works at the McConnel Unit, told the Austin American-Statesman. "How many more people have to be killed before something is done?

In a related story, on January 16, 2000, Ernest Coleman, 41, a guard at the Byrd unit in Huntsville, was stabbed in the abdomen with a pencil. Surgery was performed to remove the pencil and determine if any serious injury had resulted. Prison officials claim prisoner Mark Encinas, 21, stabbed Coleman in the prison dining hall after finishing his breakfast.

Sources: Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, Tyler Morning Telegraph, Dallas Morning News, Associated Press

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