Dirk Horne refused to participate in a race riot at the high-security U.S. Penitentiary in Florence in April 2008. As a result, he was beaten severely by fellow white inmates, who had provoked the riot against black inmates during a taunting celebration of Adolf Hitler’s birthday. The four men who turned on Horne after guards broke up the larger riot have now pleaded guilty.
News of the Florence melee was first reported by Colorado Independent reporter Erin Rosa, who had been writing for weeks on the federal prison budget and interviewing Florence staff for her stories. Rosa later won a David S. Barr Award from the Newspaper Guild for her reporting.
Prisoners Jody Stamp, Richard Frey, Christopher Copeland have already submitted their pleas. Clifford Leonard is expected to change his not-guilty plea at a hearing in November.
Horne suffered severe head trauma as a result of the attack. According to witnesses, he was unrecognizable after the assault: his face was ballooned and purple; his eyes swollen shut; his nose broken.
Two prisoners died in the riot, which involved roughly 200 prisoners and saw overwhelmed security staff fire 500 rounds of ammunition into the throng of warring inmates.
In the days after the attack, Rosa reported that understaffed and underfunded conditions at Florence had made the riot all but inevitable.
Correctional workers have been blowing whistles for years over what they claim are dangerously low staffing levels at government lockups in Florence. The recent violence and subsequent quelling of the riot were long-awaited results of a prison guard shortage, according to staff.
Sources now claim that inadequate staffing was one reason why an estimated 500 rounds were fired from towers surrounding the area, and why makeshift weapons and alcohol were on the yard.
“We’re not running the stuff over [at the penitentiary] anymore,” said a Florence correctional officer who wished to remain anonymous. “Why the hell are we firing hundreds of rounds at the inmates? It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”
Correctional workers claim that the low number of guards has made it increasingly difficult to spot contraband like alcohol and weapons, along with gathering information about possible gang activities from inside the prison. Now staff members also fear more violence in the lockup and in other federal facilities.
The penitentiary in Florence also houses a Supermax facility that holds foreign and domestic terrorists. The prison is run by the federal Bureau of Prisons.