Federal Prison Melee Was About Race, Sources Say

UPDATE 3: The Bureau of Prisons has denied that a third inmate was killed in the riot, and says two inmates remaining in the hospital are not in critical condition. 9:58 a.m.

UPDATE 2: Sources now say that a third inmate has died from wounds inflicted by other inmates during the riot. The Bureau of Prisons has not returned a request for comment at this time regarding the information. 4:52 p.m. MST

UPDATE: The federal Bureau of Prisons has released another press statement regarding the incident, saying that preliminary results indicate the cause of death for both inmates was due to gunshot wounds. Full release below the fold. 2:25pm MST

A Sunday riot in the recreation yard at the high-security U.S. Penitentiary in Florence was racially motivated, according to correctional sources close to the prison who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sources also said that two inmates were killed by prison staff during the fighting, with approximately 500 rounds of ammo fired.Staff in at least two security towers were said to have emptied all of their rounds. Correctional staff declined to say how many rounds were in place or what weapons were being used, due to security considerations. According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, no staff were injured.

The bureau is expected to release a statement later today with more information but could not confirm whether the two inmates were shot by prison staff.

The incident occurred around 12:30 p.m., according to the bureau, which operates the facility.

Correctional staff close to the prison say white supremacist inmates were “celebrating” Adolf Hitler’s April 20 birthday when a fight broke out between black and white inmates. It is also a possibility that inmates were consuming home-brewed alcoholic beverages, according to sources.

“Everybody out there has a weapon. It’s just the nature of prison,” said one Florence correctional worker who declined to be identified fearing repercussions from the bureau.

Five inmates were taken to area hospitals for treatment, according to the bureau, but sources have said that up to seven may have been seriously injured.

“It’s probably the first of what’s going to happen now,” says a source close to the prison who fears more violence.

The penitentiary is part of the Florence Federal Correctional Complex, which also includes a “Supermax” facility that holds inmates deemed to be the nation’s most dangerous by the bureau, along with the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution.

Sources say the staff from the the entire complex were called in to assist operations during the riot, while other correctional workers were called back to work after leaving.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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