STILLWATER, Minn. (KMSP) - A corrections officer at the state prison in Stillwater, Minnesota was attacked and killed by an inmate Wednesday afternoon.
At 1:30 p.m., Corrections Officer Joseph Gomm was attacked by an offender in the industry building of Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater, according to a news release. He was taken to Regions Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“The corrections family is reeling from this incident,” said Commissioner Tom Roy of Minnesota Department of Corrections. “We are not accustomed to losing staff. Officer Gomm was a fine man doing honorable work.”
Gomm had been a corrections officer at the prison for 16 years. Roy says he believes this is the first time in history a Minnesota corrections officer has been killed in line of duty.
"I've had some tough days in this career," Roy said. "We have lost staff to suicide, we have lost staff to accidents, it is a tough day to lose people."
Commissioner Roy says the attack happened in an industry building where inmates work to earn extra money.
“Industry building functions as such since the turn of the century,” he said. “We have a welding shop there. Carpentry programs. Those work assignments are considered a bonus to many offenders who are doing time. They like to work and like to have income.”
The offender, identified by authorities as Edward Muhammad Johnson, was serving time for homicide. Commissioner Roy says there are more than 1,600 inmates in the prison and about a third of them are serving sentences for murder. He says many also suffer from mental illness and have histories of chemical dependency and erratic behavior.
“It’s impossible for us to attribute motive to the individual we are looking at right now,” said Commissioner Roy. “Impossible for me to comment on anonymous person.”
Roy says the state prison system is down 150 officers and he couldn't get additional state funding to address it, but he says it’s too soon to tell if Gomm's death can be attributed to a staffing shortage.
“I'm not going to prioritize what's the toughest day of my career, but this is a bad day folks,” he said.
Three weeks ago, a corrections officer was seriously attacked by an offender at the prison in Oak Park Heights, putting the facility into lockdown. According to a release, the officer fought back and was then assisted by several other officers. The officer's injuries were not life-threatening. Johnson was serving a life sentence for aiding and abetting second-degree murder
Governor Mark Dayton released the following statement regarding the death of Joseph Gomm:
“I am appalled at the horrific murder of Officer Joseph Gomm. On behalf of all Minnesotans, I offer my deepest sympathies to Officer Gomm’s family, friends, and fellow Corrections Officers. We pray that they find strength and solace at this very difficult time.
“We are all indebted to the courageous Corrections Officers and other state employees, who risk their safety in Minnesota's prisons to ensure the safety of their colleagues, our communities, and the inmates themselves. Minnesotans are grateful for your selfless service, and we mourn with you the loss of your colleague and friend.”