ATTICA — An Attica Correctional Facility corrections officer was hospitalized Friday after a man serving a life sentence for murder repeatedly stabbed him in the chest, union officials said Monday.
The 45-year-old incarcerated man, originally from the Long Island area, grabbed the officer’s arm and attempted to stab him in the left upper chest three times with a 5-1/2-inch brass or copper tube sharpened to a point when he was let out of his D Block cell to receive medication, according to a statement from the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association Inc. on Monday.
Officials could not comment on, or confirm, if the man suffers from mental health issues.
Two pens in the officer’s breast pocket saved his life, NYSCOPBA director of special public affairs Timothy Ruffinen said Monday.
“Literally, the shank hit the two pens,” Ruffinen said, adding they were standing vertically in the officer’s pocket. “The guy tried to stab him three times and kept hitting the pens. He basically was unsuccessful in killing him because the pens were blocking his heart.”
The officer sustained a quarter-inch abrasion to his upper left chest, and his shirt had a gash about an eighth of an inch.
The incarcerated man is being held, pending charges.
He is serving a life sentence on a conviction for second-degree murder and second-degree assault during an attempted robbery in Suffolk County in 1998, according to the union.
Friday’s attack was unprovoked, Ruffinen said.
“As far as we know, there were no previous negative interactions,” he added.
Officials did not have records of a history of previous altercations between the incarcerated man and the officer, who has worked as a corrections officer in the state for a few years.
Union representatives spoke with the injured officer Monday. He was first evaluated by prison medical staff and was taken to Erie County Medical Center for further treatment. He was released from the hospital as of Monday, but has not been medically cleared to return to work.
State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision does not release the personal information of corrections officers involved in an attack and does not release the name or hometown of an incarcerated person with pending charges.
The officer fell backward after the attempted stabbing and two officers ran to his aid. They confronted the incarcerated man responsible for the attack, who held a sharpened metal weapon in both hands, according to NYSCOPBA.
He surrendered the 5-1/2-inch metal tube and a second, 14-1/2-inch rusted piece of jagged metal out of his cell onto the floor and was immediately restrained, according to NYSCOPBA.
“He was ready for battle until those two other officers arrived for backup,” Ruffinen said.
DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey confirmed Friday’s assault at Attica Correctional in a statement Monday.
“The department has zero tolerance for violence within our facilities and anyone engaged in misconduct will be disciplined,” Mailey said. “If warranted, an incident will be referred for outside prosecution.”
Of the attack, he added, “The individual was disarmed and the weapon recovered. The CO was taken to a local hospital for medical evaluation and later released.”
The department is working to combat increasing rates of violent attacks and assaults between incarcerated people and corrections officers.
DOCCS reports 838 attacks from incarcerated people on prison staff in 2021 as of Oct. 3 — on pace to meet or surpass 1,047 attacks in 2020, an all-time high.
“In an ongoing effort to keep DOCCS correctional facilities safe for staff and the incarcerated population, the department implemented a number of policies and additional equipment,” Mailey said. “For example, DOCCS has invested millions of dollars in the installation of fixed camera systems and microphones, as well as body-worn cameras in selected facilities.
“The department has implemented several initiatives which include de-escalation tactics training for security staff and a pepper-spray program,” Mailey said. “The Office of Special Investigations was created to investigate allegations of abuse, inappropriate relationships and introduction of contraband and drugs.”
Violent attacks between incarcerated people are also on the rise, with 1,204 reported incidents in 2020.
“Over the past decade, violent attacks against our officers have skyrocketed to the point where we are on pace to set a new record year after year, despite an inmate population that is at its lowest in decades,” NYSCOPBA Western Region Vice President Mark DeBurgomaster said in a statement Monday. “How many more of my members must be hurt before our elected leaders take notice? Because of Albany’s progressive agenda, the all but elimination of the discipline system in New York State correctional facilities has created a consequence-free environment inside our prisons and allows these predators to roam free to attack anyone they choose. My thoughts and prayers go out to this officer and his family and thankfully for all of us, if it wasn’t for a couple random pens in this officer’s pocket, his injuries would have been much more severe. There’s no sugarcoating it, this murderer has clearly no regard for human life and he should be prosecuted for attempted murder, but it’s time for our elected leaders to back common-sense policies that protect law-abiding citizens who are just trying to work to support their families.”
In May, NYSCOPBA filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Albany against the state DOCCS, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci over the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, commonly known as the HALT Act, on behalf of the state’s 18,000 correction officers.
The HALT Act prohibits incarcerated people in special populations from being sentenced to solitary confinement and limits their keep-lock placement to 48 hours.
A decision is expected on the lawsuit sometime this fall.