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Arizona Prison Director Has Poor Track Record

A federal judge in Missouri has refused to accept sworn testimony from Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) Director Dora Schriro, adding yet another chapter to Schriro's continuing saga of security lapses, deceit, and disappearing evidence.

Before signing on as director of the ADOC in June, 2003, Schriro weathered a troubled stint as head of the St. Louis, Missouri, jail systema post she held for less than two years. In 2002, five prisoners escaped from one of the city's medium security jails. Commonly called the workhouse, the jail was being used to house high-security prisoners while a new jail was being built. The escape earned Schriro a two week suspension.

A subsequent Justice Department investigation uncovered myriad security breaches at the jail. Surveillance cameras were aimed at the ceiling, keys were not inventoried, prisoners were not regularly counted, and visitors were not required to empty their pockets before entering the visitation area.

At least two riots occurred at the workhouse during Schriro's tenure. One resulted in litigation. After sustaining a concussion in one of the uprisings, Jamar Welch sued Schriro and several other jail officials. He sought as evidence a videotape and use-of-force reports detailing the 2002 incident.

Jail officials and guards first admitted under oath that use-of-force reports had been written and reviewed. They later recanted, alleging in subsequent sworn statements that no reports have ever been written. Officials additionally alleged that the videotape has been lost.

In an August, 2003 hearing, U.S. District Court Carol Jackson ordered the City to hand over the evidence. Schriro contended in a deposition that she had given the tape to her secretary. However, the secretary and other jail officials testified in an October evidentiary hearing that Schriro was the last one to have the tape.

Judge Jackson apparently did not appreciate the thinly veiled deceit. In a February 3, 2004 ruling, Jackson refused to admit testimony from Schriro and the other defendantsfiled in support of the city's motion to dismisssaying that "it is beyond dispute that the defendants' affidavits contain false statements' and that `some of the defendants chose to play fast and loose with the truth." Jackson further noted that without the affidavits, the city could not support its motion for summary judgment. Schriro and the other defendants were also ordered to pay Welch's attorney fees and costs incurred from seeking the missing evidence.

Welch's attorney, Kevin Hormuth, wants Schriro and the other defendants barred from testifying at trial. If they are allowed to testify, he said, he'll use the fallacious affidavits to discredit them.

Incredibly, the St. Louis case in not the first time videotape evidence has disappeared on Schriro's watch. During her reign as head of the Missouri Department of Corrections, three videotapes sought as evidence in prisoner lawsuits mysteriously vanished. An edited version of one tape eventually turned up, but the other two were never found.

The pattern of missing evidence did not escape judicial notice. In 2002, while upholding a $10,002 judgment against the state in the case involving the edited videotape, the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals commented: "We are aware that large bureaucracies cannot have a foolproof system for preserving records. However, three missing videotapes in approximately five years of incidents giving rise to litigation within one prison system strikes us as far more than mere coincidence."

Coupled with the current criticism over her handling of the 15-day hostage standoff at the Arizona Prison Complex-Lewis, Schriro's past may be her undoing. Under Arizona state law, agency heads may serve for one year, without senate confirmation. The deadline for confirming Schriro is June 13, 2004. Governor Janet Napolitano stands by her appointment of Schriro, but others aren't convinced she was the right choice.

"I want this investigation to be over before we confirm her," said State Senator Bob Burns, speaking of a legislative investigation into the standoff. "Right now, there are more questions than answers. Her confirmation at this point is not slam dunk by any means."

Sources: Phoenix New Times, The Arizona Republic

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