Investigations into the suicides of two Arizona prison inmates have led to the firing of four corrections sergeants and nine officers for failing to conduct security checks and other instances of “neglect of duty,” officials said on Friday.
Suicides at Arizona’s prisons have been called into question in recent years, but officials say they are within national averages. Since July 2015, there have been five suicides.
“All inmate deaths in the department are investigated,” said Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections. “Only in the events surrounding these two incidents were some employees found to not be doing their job or some sort of misconduct.”
Six other employees were disciplined, including a deputy warden, stemming from the suicides at two separate prisons.
The disciplined workers received punishments ranging from 80 hours suspension without pay to letters of reprimand, the department said. Two more employees received corrective action with a letter of instruction.
“Our investigations uncovered troubling instances of neglect of duty and other serious misconduct by some employees which, as a public safety agency, we cannot and will not tolerate,” department director Charles Ryan said in a statement.
The department said its recently concluded probe into the suicides of inmates Cynthia Apkaw in August 2015 and Scott Saba in February found numerous violations of job duties, departmental policy and procedures, and its ethics code.
Included in the findings were instances where employees failed to conduct required inmate checks, falsified records and were dishonest during follow-up investigations, the department stated.
Also cited was a failure to report or investigate misconduct, unauthorized leaving of an assigned area and turning in keys and radios before a shift had been completed.
Wilder said that criminal investigations into the workers’ actions remain open.
A representative from the Arizona Correctional Peace Officers Association could not immediately be reached for comment.
Apkaw, 25, was found hanging from a sheet in her cell at the state prison in Perryville and was pronounced dead at a local hospital, according to prison records. She had been sentenced to 11.5 years for multiple aggravated assault convictions.
Saba, 45, was discovered unresponsive and hanging from an electrical cord inside his cell at the Florence, Arizona, prison, records show. He died at the facility.
He was serving sentences for trafficking in stolen property, identity theft, shoplifting, fraudulent schemes and a drug violation.
(Reporting by David Schwartz; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Sara Catania and James Dalgleish)