13 on suspension at Mahanoy SCI Action follows inmate’s death
This undated photo from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections shows inmate Tyrone Briggs. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has suspended 13 employees while authorities investigate Briggs' death. A Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, release says Briggs died “following an inmate-on-inmate assault” on Nov. 11 at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy. The release says department secretary John Wetzel on Friday, Nov. 15 suspended the employees without pay during the criminal and administrative investigations. (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections via AP)
Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel suspended 13 employees at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy on Friday, pending the outcome of investigations into the death of inmate Tyrone Briggs.
The Pennsylvania State Police are investigating the matter.
The DOC said it would not release the names of the suspended officers, but confirms that the employees include medical and security staff.
Suspensions are without pay pending the outcome of the criminal and administrative investigations.
“Whatever the outcome of this case, we are going to be as transparent as possible, and the DOC will take whatever remedial measures deemed to be necessary,” Wetzel said.
Briggs, who was 29 years old, died at the state prison on Nov. 11, following an inmate-on-inmate assault that happened earlier that day.
At 3:20 p.m. that day, Briggs was involved in a fight with another inmate on the walkway near their housing unit.
While waiting to be processed into the restricted housing unit, Briggs became unresponsive.
Medical personnel were notified and Briggs was transported to the prison’s medical triage area where CPR was started.
Briggs was pronounced dead by a doctor at 4:56 p.m.
Briggs was serving a 15- to 30-year sentence for rape of a child out of Philadelphia County. He was committed to the department of corrections on Aug. 19, 2008, and had been at Mahanoy since August 2011.
Corrections spokeswoman Sue McNaughton said in an email Sunday morning that the suspension of employees over an inmate death is uncommon, and that the county coroner will determine the cause of Briggs’ death. A message for the coroner was not returned.
Larry Blackwell, president of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association union, issued a statement saying his organization disagreed with the decision to suspend the employees without pay.
“These are people who have rights and families to support,” said Blackwell, declining to comment on the pending investigation. “They should be placed on restricted duty with pay.”
Pennsylvania’s prison system has had 24 deaths from non-natural causes in the past year and 25 in 2018. Those deaths include accidents, assaults and suicides.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.