Two inmates were killed by fellow inmates during a disturbance at the Tecumseh state prison after about 40 inmates refused to return to their cells Thursday afternoon.
State Corrections Director Scott Frakes said during a news conference called at the prison that the disturbance began when inmates set a fire on the prison yard near Housing Unit 2. When staff couldn’t control the inmates, half of the unit was locked down with the inmates inside.
“Inmates did set some fires inside the Housing Unit,” Frakes told reporters Thursday evening. “A full search of the housing unit is still underway. At this time, there are numerous non-life-threatening injuries to inmates and two are confirmed dead.”
No identities have been released. No cause of death has been given.
No prison staff suffered injuries in the disturbance. Frakes said the public was never at risk.
An investigation of the incident is underway by the Nebraska State Patrol.
Frakes said all prison staff were recalled to the prison. Emergency response teams arrived and took control of the housing unit at around 4:30pm, able to quell the disturbance without having to fire any weapons. Team members discovered the two deaths. Several other inmates suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Though fires were set in the unit during the disturbance, no significant property damage was done, according to prison officials.
Tecumseh remains in lock down indefinitely.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, who attended the news conference, called the loss of life tragic.
“This is a dangerous place. You have people here who made bad choices and are violent,” Ricketts said. “That’s why they’re in prison. And so, if they continue to make bad choices we’re going to have to respond to them.”
Prison warden Brad Hansen says the incident is a setback for improvements made at Tecumseh since the Mother’s Day riot in 2015 which left two inmates dead as well.
“I do believe we’ve made many improvements and it is devastating to me any kind of loss of life that has happened and it’s important that we take again a very hard look at what happened and how it happened and try to make improvements from that point on,” Hansen said.
Housing Unit 2 can hold as many as 128 inmates. It is a maximum security unit. All of the inmates are in the general population of the prison, but are being held in the highest security.