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Washington Prison Guard’s Murder Results in Demotions, Firings and $26,000 Fine

An outside investigation has determined that the murder of a Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) guard was the result of poor staff management and training by prison officials.

On January 29, 2011, prisoner Byron Scherf, 52, strangled WDOC guard Jayme Biendl, 34, to death in the chapel of the Monroe Correctional Complex, sparking both internal and external investigations into factors that contributed to Biendl’s murder.

In July 2011 the WDOC released the results of its internal investigation, which faulted line staff who were slow in discovering that Biendl was missing and in locating her body. Biendl’s body was not found for almost two hours; she had been strangled with an amplifier cord.

“We carefully reviewed every action that occurred on that night and found that nearly every staff member followed procedures and policies,” said Superintendent Scott Frankes. “However, we did find some staff members who did not take appropriate actions or intentionally misled investigators.”

Seven WDOC employees were disciplined as a result of the internal report’s findings: Lt. Jose Briones, Lt. Rodney Shimogawa, Sgt. Christopher Johnson, and guards Brenda Fredricks, George Lyons, Charles Maynard and David Young. Briones and Shimogawa were reprimanded for failing to properly account for Biendle and failing to notify perimeter staff when Scherf was reported missing. Johnson was demoted. Fredricks was reprimanded for failing to conduct a complete search of the chapel area before declaring it clear. Lyons, Young and Maynard were fired. Lyons had “falsely logged that the Chapel cleared at 2045 hours (8:45p.m.),” while Maynard “failed to properly inspect and secure the Chapel” and Young was not in his assigned area.

Subsequently, the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) issued an investigative report that placed the blame a bit higher up the WDOC’s supervisory chain.

The L&I investigation found that prison managers had failed to enforce rules, including one that directed Biendl to assist staff in a nearby building once her chapel duties were complete. The order was not consistently followed or enforced by prison supervisors, so no one was alarmed by Biendl’s absence, according to the report.

Outside investigators also determined the WDOC had failed to ensure that guards had reviewed orders, as required by policy. Other policies, such as how to respond to emergency radio transmissions, were found to be lacking as well. The L&I investigation resulted in a $26,000 fine against the WDOC due to those deficiencies.

Teamsters Local 117 noted that the L&I investigation exposed a culture of complacency and neglect among WDOC management. “The organization must be held accountable,” said Local 117 Secretary-Treasurer Tracy Thompson. “Safety measures must be put into place immediately to protect all correctional employees.”

Washington Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner said the WDOC is addressing the deficiencies cited in the L&I investigation through additional staff training and a review of safety procedures.

Scherf, charged with murdering Biendl, faces the death penalty. He had been serving a life sentence for multiple rapes under Washington’s three strikes law, and allegedly told investigators that he targeted Biendl because he had a grudge against her.

As a result of Biendl’s death, improved security measures were instituted at WDOC facilities – including panic alarms and tracking devices for guards. Also, a number of programs for prisoners, including volunteer and religious programs, were curtailed.
Biendl was the first Washington DOC employee allegedly killed by a prisoner since 1979. Two other Washington DOC guards were murdered by their co-workers during that time period.

Sources: Associated Press, www.seattlepi.com, www.komonews.com, www.kuow.org, Seattle Times, Washington DOC employee discipline letters

 

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