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URGENT Rioting Inmates Take Guards Hostage

May 14, 1988

STRINGTOWN, Okla. (AP) _ Inmates rioted at an overcrowded state prison today, holding four guards hostage and setting three dormitories on fire, authorities said. One officer was hit with a rock and a prisoner was stabbed.

The inmates, believed to be armed with crude knives, threatened to kill their hostages if authorities attempted a rescue, said Jerry Massie, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections.

The prisoners grabbed eight guards when the uprising began late Friday night at the medium-security Mack Alford Correctional Center. Officials negotiated with the inmates, and four hostages had been released by mid- morning.

″Their demands are unclear,″ said Anita Trammell, an Alford spokeswoman.

White smoke was still rising from the burned roof of the torched dormitory this morning as Oklahoma Highway Patrol tactical teams in camouflage clothing gathered outside the prison fence along with fire trucks and emergency response teams from the corrections department.

Authorities sealed off a section of the prison that held about 90 inmates, but believed that only a handful were involved in the uprising, according to Trammell. She said officials were negotiating by telephone and through a fence.

The uprising began late Friday night when officials were trying to move inmates who believed other inmates were stealing from them, officials said.

Trammell said one guard who was not held hostage was treated after apparently being hit on the hand with a rock. One prisoner suffered a minor stab wound to the shoulder, she said.

The inmates started a fire that destroyed the east dormitory at the prison, then moved to another dormitory with their hostages, Massie said.

Capt. Jim Farris, a veteran officer at the prison, was meeting with inmates. ″They apparently agreed to release a (fourth) hostage when he talked to them,″ Massie said.

One of the hostages had been allowed to make telephone calls, Trammell said.

″We’re fine. They’re feeding us. They’re taking care of us,″ she quoted the hostage as saying.

Family members of some of the hostages gathered at a secluded area outside the red brick prison in rural southeastern Oklahoma near the Texas border, 130 miles southeast of Oklahoma City.

Firefighters from Stringtown and the towns of Atoka and Coalgate worked through the night battling fires at the prison.

″We lost a building on the east side,″ said Richard Abbott, public relations officer for the Coalgate Fire Department. ″The entire building suffered fire ... there was another building that did suffer damage, too.″

Small fires were reported out at two other dormitories, officials said.

The uprising began around 10:30 p.m. Friday when officers were trying to move five inmates to another facility because they had been involved in ″some type of misconduct,″ Massie said.

There had been reports that the inmates being moved believed that other inmates were stealing from them and had threatened to harm them, Massie said.

″Apparently, during that period of time, an officer was taken hostage,″ he said. The other officers were subsequently taken hostage.

″We advised the inmates he (one of the released hostages) had a heart condition. I don’t know if that’s why they released that guy,″ Massie said. He was unharmed.

Massie said it was unclear whether the five inmates who had threatened the other prisoners were among those holding hostages.

More than 500 inmates were evacuated from the prison and were held in a yard behind a fence topped with razor wire. Correctional officers, some carrying rifles, patrolled the area near the main gate.

Authorities bused prisoners to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester about 40 miles away, and plans were being made to move prisoners to other facilities.

Alford holds 652 inmates, but has an operational capacity of 492, Massie said. It opened in 1955 and is one of the state’s oldest facilities.

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