ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - A Stillwater prison guard, who knew the corrections officer killed by an inmate Wednesday, is speaking out about issues within the system.
“He was just jolly,” said a co-worker, while describing his long time co-worker, Joseph Gomm. “He was so nice. He was like a dark-haired Santa Claus, very down to earth.”
The fellow correction officer asked Fox 9 to conceal his identity because he’s worried about retaliation from the Department of Corrections, which has ordered employees not to talk to media. He told Fox 9 he wants to talk because he says the horrific death of Officer Gomm highlights problems within the prison system.
He says attacks on guards are happening more often and the inmate, 42-year-old Edward Muhammad Johnson, said to have attacked Gomm may have done it at random.
“The information I’m hearing, it didn’t matter who it was,” said the co-worker. “He was looking to kill somebody that actual day.”
Long before Officer Gomm was killed, many corrections staff have voiced concerns about staffing shortages for years.
State Representative Jack Considine (DFL-Mankato) has served on the Public Safety Committee for four years and visited the correction facility in Oak Park Heights just a few weeks ago.
“I am getting reports custody staff can’t get vacation,” said Rep. Considine. “Custody staff are being forced into overtime. There are situations they are at minimal staffing for extended periods of time and occasionally they have gone below minimum staffing, so it is a concern.”
Representative Considine says the Step Down program reducing punishment for assaults against corrections officers from two years to 90 days plus evaluations is improving, but still needs work. Gomm’s coworker, however, believes the Step Down program needs to disappear completely.
“I’ve even had offenders tell me, ‘this is crazy you realize what you guys have caused? What you have created?’” he said. “It’s a free for all. That assaulting staff is a slap on the hand, so what’s stopping them from assaulting us.”
In addition to more staffing and policy changes, the officer who spoke with Fox 9 is also calling for more training, equipment and stab vests for corrections officers.