On Friday, July 22, the Department of Corrections released its review of the death of Correctional Officer Jayme Biendl who was murdered Jan. 29 at Monroe Correctional Complex.
The review team, led by the Superintendent of Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Eastern Washington, found that while some staff members did not follow policies and procedures it did not directly contribute to Biendl’s death.
Offender Byron Scherf, who is now at Snohomish County Jail, was charged with first-degree murder.
“What we found was a staff that quickly responded to what they initially believed was an escape attempt,” Uttecht said. “Had they checked inside the chapel they would have found Officer Biendl sooner, but that would not have prevented the murder.”
Seven staff members at Monroe Correctional Complex are being investigated for possible disciplinary action. Superintendent Scott Frakes also made changes at the associate superintendent, correctional program manager and captain levels.
The Legislature this past session unanimously approved a bill introduced by Gov. Chris Gregoire to increase staff safety in prisons. The law provides the Department of Corrections with about $6 million to implement recommendations made in March by the National Institute of Corrections. The agency has already taken on action on all 15 recommendations which include new radio equipment, additional staff training, additional surveillance equipment and pepper spray for custody staff. It also creates staff positions designed to check on the safety of officers and non-custody staff.
“The cumulative effect of all these changes will be safer prisons across the state,” Secretary Bernie Warner said. “Washington has a national reputation for operating safe, progressive prisons, but the tragic loss of Officer Biendl reminds us that we must always do more.”
Warner also announced that Monroe will have two new lower-level superintendent positions that will report directly to Superintendent Scott Frakes. Monroe Correctional Complex, which houses more than 2,500 offenders, is the state’s largest prison.
“Monroe is a unique complex in the state’s prison system,” Warner said. “It has a large offender population, five perimeters and multiple security levels. These additional positions will help ensure staff accountability.”
Warner said that while the public is more aware of prison operations since Biendl’s death there has always been an inherent risk with incarcerating and supervising offenders in the community.
“I think this has given the public a better appreciation for the difficult job our staff has,” Warner said.
“The fact that our staff members knowingly put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of public safety is a testament to their character.”