Inside Spring Creek Correctional Center's H Mod, the site of the largest riot in the facility's history
The air inside the 32-cell block known as "Hotel Mod" still burns the eyes, nose and throat — it's lingering gas used to quell the largest riot in Spring Creek Correctional Center's history.
Dozens of people incarcerated at the maximum security prison used furniture to barricade themselves in the H Mod Tuesday evening. They smeared baby powder across the windows then began destroying state property.
The surveillance system, electric wiring, interior glass, appliances and even toilet bowls and sinks are casualties of the commotion. A skylight window above the common area is shattered where Department of Corrections officers positioned on the roof deployed non-lethal chemical agents.
At the height of the chaos during the nine-hour disturbance, visibility inside the mod was less than 10 feet, according to superintendent William Lapinskas.
Friday, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy traveled from Juneau to tour the site of the riot and thank corrections officers.
"I just want to assure the people of Alaska that we’re in pretty good hands with these folks," he said. "And this was taken care of, I think, by the book, without injury, so I’m pretty happy about that."
H Mod is a general population area that houses people whose crimes range from car theft to murder. Five gangs were represented in the group that rioted, but the event is not believed to have been gang-related.
Lapinskas believes the riot was carefully planned and deliberately executed. Participants convinced the guard inside the mod to leave and retrieve some trash bags, just before closing off the entrance. Additionally, while much damage was done, the prisoners were not hurting each other or attempting to escape.
"We knew immediately that their intent was to cause harm to the facility, not to each other," he said, later adding, "at no point did we feel we were losing control of the building or the perimeter."
The ordeal came to an end by 6 a.m. Wednesday morning, after Special Operation Response Teams made a tactical entrance. They chose to wait, Lapinskas said, to ensure everyone's safety.
"I will not put an officer's life in jeopardy to save property," he said. "And at no point did I feel we needed to storm this unit to save life. At no point were we ever led to believe that offenders in here were harming each other, and so it’s definitely directed at management and decisions made by management."
Wednesday, a DOC spokesperson said the riot was used "as a means of protesting waking up at 8 a.m. for cell inspection."
However, when asked about the motive Friday, Lapinskas said he couldn't comment due to likelihood of resulting criminal cases.
When pushed to clarify whether the initial statement was still accurate, he said, "There was a protest regarding how we do business. It was an unreasonable protest."
Changes to current policies could come as a result of the riot, Lapinskas said, but not the kind of change the rioters were hoping for.
"I think there’ll be some adjustments in the way we do business, but we are not going to make adjustments to any of the things their complaints revolve around," he said. "We still need to manage clean and safe facilities and we’re going to continue to do that."
The 62 people involved have been relocated, some to other DOC facilities, and are now serving time in segregation.
Repairs are expected to cost roughly $100,000 and should be completed in 30 days.
"We’ll rebuild," said DOC Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom. "We’ll be up and going. Those folks will be back here. As in life choice and consequences, they’re going to then be dealing with the choices that they made."
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