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Prison workers fired in inmate’s heat death

/ Source: The Associated Press

Sixteen Arizona corrections employees have been fired, suspended or otherwise disciplined for their role in the death of an inmate left in an outdoor holding cell for four hours in triple-digit heat and in a "wait-them-out" practice at the prison where she died.

Three of those disciplined were fired, two stepped down in place of being fired, 10 received suspensions ranging from 40 to 80 hours, and one was demoted. Two others will be disciplined after they return from medical leave.

Arizona Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan announced the moves Tuesday, calling the death the "most significant example of abuse" of an inmate that he's aware of within the department.

Marcia Powell, 48, died from heat-related complications hours after she collapsed May 19 in an uncovered outdoor cell at the Perryville prison in Goodyear. She had been in the cell for nearly four hours, despite a policy that set a two-hour limit.

Powell had first- and second-degree burns on her face and body and a core body temperature of 108 degrees, an autopsy report said.

"That is an absolute failure," Ryan said Tuesday. "The inmate should not have been left in the enclosure that length of time."

‘Wait-them-out’ discipline
Ryan declined to provide the names of the corrections employees who were disciplined, saying it would be inappropriate considering they have the right to appeal their punishments. Those disciplined included a deputy warden, a prison psychologist, a chief of security and various officers.

During the administrative investigation of Powell's death, Ryan said investigators with the Office of the Inspector General uncovered a so-called "wait-them-out" practice at the Perryville prison that went on for about a year. Inmates were placed in outdoor and indoor holdings cells for hours at a time as an alternative to using force, he said.

While Powell was not in a holding cell under that practice, Ryan said, an inmate was left in an outdoor cell for 20 hours three days before Powell's death; she did not require medical treatment. He said no one died under the "wait-them-out" practice.

Ryan said the cells are now used as exercise or short-term waiting areas. They are now shaded, and have misters and benches.

The criminal investigation into Powell's death is finished and at the Maricopa County attorney's office, which will decide whether any corrections employees will be charged.

Powell was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution.