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Lockdowns Follow “Coordinated” Gang Fights at Oklahoma Prisons

The lockdowns began on September 15, 2019, after fights between gangs at prisons in Hominy, Sayre, Fort Supply, Lawton, and Stringtown occurred within 24 hours of altercations at Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita.

“It has to be a coordinated effort,” said Bobby Cleveland, director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals. “They even had fights at the minimum-security prison.” He noted that prisoners use contraband cellphones to coordinate illegal efforts.

Following the lockdowns, guards conducted shakedowns of the prisons and confiscated homemade weapons. “A lot of shanks . . . broken broom handles, broken faucets, faucet heads that have a cord attached to them,” said Matt Elliott, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (OCDC). “The types of weapons inmates typically use and fight with.”

Prisoner Chad Burns, 27, was killed in a fight at the Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy. He was serving a 15-year sentence for 2016 convictions on charges of weapons, assault and battery, robbery, and burglary. Of the 36 injured prisoners, 12 were hospitalized with “non-life threatening injuries.” No prison staff were hospitalized.

The fights were gang- and race-related, Elliott said. He refused to identify the gangs involved.

“No, and I don’t know that we will,” he said. “We don’t want to spread that information and touch off more violence and add notoriety to those gangs. When you do that, you’re building their street cred.”
        OCDC took action to attempt a break-up of the gangs. “DOC staff are transferring inmates identified in the fights to other facilities for their safety,” OCDC said in a statement. “The agency has also added staff to the above facilities to enhance security.”

The number of prisoners involved in the fights was undetermined. “We’re still investigating as far as the numbers involved,” Elliott said. “It’s going to be a lot of people involved.”

Prison officials began lifting the lockdowns on September 24, 2019. The process was graduated with controlled movement in the initial stages before normal operations were resumed.