Colorado prison on lockdown, months after deadly riot

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar demanded this week that the federal Bureau of Prisons release details of its investigation into a Florence penitentiary yard riot that left two inmates dead more than five months ago, but the bureau is claiming that investigation is not yet completed.

Meanwhile the bureau this week confirmed that the Florence prison has been in lockdown mode since Aug. 10, after a violent disturbance between two inmates. Lockdown status means that inmates are generally confined to their housing units or cells, according to bureau officials, who would not elaborate further.

Approximately 200 inmates were involved in the incident, and at least one inmate who was charged with being involved in the riot has described the scene as a “lil’ Baghdad.”

Bureau documents obtained by The Colorado Independent from sources inside the prison show that guards indeed lobbed a heavy arsenal of weaponry — lethal and less-than-lethal — at the inmates during the riot. The documents show that in all, guards released more than 200 M-16 rounds, shot more than 300 pepper balls filled with chemical irritants, used multiple sting grenades, and shot nearly a dozen long-range CS tear gas canisters at the inmates.

“That was all that was fired that one day,” said one longtime guard who works close to the prison, who spoke on condition his name not be used. “We usually use pepper balls,” the correctional worker explained, characterizing the incident as possibly being the largest use of force by guards in the prison’s history.

Said another guard who works at the prison, “We don’t usually use CS gas inside because you could oversaturate the area and actually cause death.” The recreational yard where the riot occurred was outdoors.

Prison officials say they do not know when an internal investigation on the riot will be released and would only release the official findings of the investigation via a formal written request, which can take months or even longer to process. Meanwhile, they will not confirm the accuracy of the prison guards’ claims. However, Salazar, a Colorado Democrat, thinks the results of the investigation should already have been made public, according to spokesperson Michael Amodeo.

“The fact of the matter is that people in these communities deserve to know what happened,” Amodeo said. “It makes you wonder, how long does it take for the bureau to investigate what’s going on and how long is it going to take them to release those records? We haven’t even gotten an explanation as to why we haven’t received any details.”

As they have in the past, workers at the prison continue to criticize bureau officials for failing to adequately staff the penitentiary based on the agency’s own safety recommendations, but currently the bureau contends that all prisons are staffed sufficiently.

The penitentiary is in the city of Florence, in southwestern Colorado.

Read The Colorado Independent’s continuing coverage on prison unrest, management trouble and environmental problems at the federal penitentiary.

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

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