Inmates charged in June jail riot

Sheriff's office personnel and other law enforcement leave the scene of a riot at the jail June 1.

Six Lawrence County jail inmates accused of causing a jail riot June 1 are now facing charges.

Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office investigators, who filed the charges Wednesday, said more charges are to come against additional individuals who were involved.

The disturbance evolved inside a housing unit of the jail that day when the inmates refused to return to their cells from the general population area to await their lunchtime, according to previous reports from the warden, Brian Covert. He said at the time the inmates were unhappy because kiosks — which allow them to access law library information and their individual commissary fund accounts — were inoperable.

A criminal complaint filed against the individuals says that the inmates refused to go into their cells for a daily count.

District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa had told the prison board at a public meeting “this was not a peaceful protest.”

As the situation escalated that day, multiple law enforcement units were summoned from throughout Lawrence County to assist the jail corrections officers and Lawrence County sheriff’s deputies in corralling the inmates.

Those facing charges so far are: Christian Allen Rozier, 35, of 1003 Beech St.; Marc Allen Taylor, 43, of 509 W. North St.; Benjamin Frank Jones, 41, of 707 Blaine St.; Brendan Shropshire, 25, of 855 Allegheny Ave.; Aaron Lamont Johnson, 25, of 855 Allegheny Ave.; and Kailin Damar Stewart, 24, of 111 S. Milton St.

Jones additionally is charged with institutional vandalism for reportedly damaging a light in the housing unit by connecting an iPhone cord to a charging tube. The phone was connected to live wiring that had been stripped inside the electrical box, and the lighting unit was wedged between two brown toilet paper cardboard tubes. That incident was reported to have occurred on July 9.

Criminal complaints filed against each of the inmates detail how the riot broke out and what was done to diffuse it. The paperwork states the prison officials called 911, advising that several inmates were refusing to lock down. Three of 15 inmates named in the complaint are homicide suspects who have not yet been charged in the riot incident.

District attorney’s investigators reviewed the video surveillance of the incident that showed that a corrections officer had called for the cell block inmates to lock down for the 10:30 a.m. head count, but they refused. He notified a captain from another housing unit that the inmates were refusing to lock down, the report said.

The captain said they needed to return to their cells, and Rozier told him, “We’re not locking down.”

The captain again ordered them into their cells, and Taylor told them, “Captain, you don’t understand, we’re not locking down.”

The captain then alerted the warden and his deputy and they reported to the block with another corrections officer. Covert told the inmates that their refusing to lock down was not the right way to go about expressing their frustrations over the kiosk, the report said. He reported that mattresses had been pulled from the individual cells and were propped against the entrance door of the housing unit, blocking the entrance, the criminal complaints state.

The report states that Rozier and Taylor appeared to have been leading the group, and 13 others were gathered around them. Covert reported that his attempts to de-escalate the situation were ineffective and he radioed for his deputy to enter the housing unit.

The major entered the block with a pepper spray gun and Taylor stepped behind him and the other inmates covered their faces with towels. Taylor then yelled, “Get him, get the gun,” the complaint states.

The major reported that five inmates advanced toward him, but before they could reach him, he threw the pepper spray gun into the officers’ restroom. Although that door typically locks upon closing, it didn’t lock and Shropshire jumped over the top of the correction officers’ command station, entered the bathroom and grabbed the spray gun. He then tried to fire the gun into the cell block at the jail personnel, the complaint states, but he could not disable the safety on it and was unable to fire it.

At the same time, another inmate, who has not yet been charged, was seen breaking a wooden broomstick and lodging it in an entrance door handle, barring access and help from other jail support and emergency staff, according to the report.

That was when the jail management contacted 911, and other law enforcement agencies arrived around 10:45 a.m.

The major and other law enforcement officers deployed “less-than-lethal” munitions including tear gas, and the inmates used their mattresses as shields, and covered their mouths and noses with towels, but eventually they became overwhelmed and scattered toward their cells, the report states. The video surveillance shows Taylor and Rozier running toward the yard door, trying to stop a captain from securing it.

A New Castle police lieutenant entered the cell block and deployed a flash-bang device that sent other inmates running toward their cells, and pepper spray also was deployed on inmates by police and corrections officers, the report states.

The inmates charged so far are each facing counts of riot with intent to commit felony and disarming a law enforcement officer. They had not yet been arraigned as of Wednesday afternoon.

Lawrence County Commissioner Loretta Spielvogel, chairwoman of the county prison board, said the housing units in the jail have remained on lockdown since the incident and those restrictions recently were slightly relaxed to allow fewer inmates in the cell block area at one time in the restricted housing unit. That is where the riot occurred, she said.

The other housing units also are on partial lockdown, she said.

The police departments of New Castle, Hickory, Mahoning, Neshannock, Pulaski, Union and Shenango townships and New Wilmington Borough and the district attorney’s criminal investigation unit were among those units responding when the riot broke out.

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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