By Matt Clarke
Lance Lowry, a Texas prison guard and the head of the Huntsville local of the union representing the most prison guards in Texas, said a prison supervisor who fired a gas gun at a crowd of prisoners indoors was definitely out of line. However, he blames lack of training wit:lin the prison system for the improper and dangerous use of the gas gun.
"The Texas Department of Criminal Justice did not properly train him," said Lowry. "It's imperative with the lack of staffing in these units that officers receive the highest level of training. When you under-train and over-work people, they make mistakes and don't know how to properly respond to incidents."
A whistleblower provided a video recording of the Nay 19, 2015, incident to Teb Olberg Investigates of Houston ABC television affiliate KTRK which aired it in an August 27, 2015 newscast. It shows prisoners in a dormitory at the Lynchner State Jail divided into two racial groups, blacks and Latinos, in separate groups apparently preparing to fight.
"I'll warn them twice, then use a chemical agent," the supervisor says.
He is then seen walking into the clear space between the groups of prisoners. Within two minutes, he shoulders a 37 mm gas gun and fires. One prisoner is hit by the canister which explodes in a shower of sparks. He suffered burns and an injury to his shoulder.
"A properly trained officer would have never entered that disturbance," said Lowry. "The disturbance was contained inside the dorm. At any given time, the members of that team can be taken hostage."
"I was horrified," said longtime prisoner rights advocate Ray Hill. "It's one of the most shocking things I've seen on local television in a while."
"To walk into an indoor setting, raise a tear gas cannon to shoulder level and fire into a crowd is absolute madness," said Hill, noting that a prisoner could have been killed. "The film caught the guy burning. It's pretty sick stuff."
TDCJ officials said that their level of training complies with all legislative mandates, but conceded that the supervisor did not use the tear gas gun correctly. They said that they have retrained some staffers as a result of the news story and have placed the supervisor on desk duty.
Lowry noted that Texas Governor Greg Abbott vetoed a bill passed by the 2015 legislature that would have required additional annual firearms testing, training and mental health crisis awareness training. Abbot said he wanted to avoid micro-managing the prison system.
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