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Experts on counselor attack at state prison: ‘She could have been killed’

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8News has uncovered new details surrounding the frightening moments when a counselor was attacked at a state prison.

8News was first to report on the attempted sexual assault at Augusta Correctional Center last month.

It’s a prison 8News exposed to have a severe staffing shortage so critical, that corrections officers are being pulled from other already short-staffed prisons around the state to cover shifts.  

8News wanted to know if the staffing shortage played a role in that counselor’s close call. We got our hands on the incident report and shared it with experts.  

“She could have been raped, she could have been killed,” Sandra Walker’s said, reacting to the report.

Walker is a retired senior corrections officer who put in 20 years at Brunswick Women’s Work Center. Walker, along with Hazel Drumgoole, who retired two years ago after working as a corrections officer for 25 years at Greensville Correctional Center, and Prince Thomas Junior, who put in 31-and-half years at Mecklenburg Correctional Center plus two more at Greensville, all agreed review the incident report.

8News redacted all names in the report to protect those involved.

The three retired corrections officers with a combined 75 years of experience working inside Virginia’s state prisons told us the close call at Augusta Correctional Center in August should serve as a wake-up call.

“The offender took both of his hands and grabbed her,” Drumgoole reads from the report.

In the document, the counselor recounts the terrifying moments when an offender attempted to sexually assault her. This was an inmate who she notes “having several interactions” with that had “raised her awareness” and had been “inappropriate in the past.” 

“Why was she there by herself?” Drumgoole questioned.

“If she had prior incidents with this inmate, it should have been documented,” Thomas said.

The report goes on to state the counselor was making copies of some documents for the offender when he suddenly exposed himself and walked toward her. When she tells him to “get out,” he doesn’t.

She reaches for the phone to call for help, but he “jerks the phone away from her hand.”  

She tries again and realizes the phone is disconnected. By now, he’s pushing himself against her.

“Yeah, he forced himself on her and I am pretty sure at that time she must be panicking,” Walker said.

The counselor manages to grab her radio and call “1033.” The corrections officers say that means an officer needs help ‘right now.’

Yet, no one comes and the prisoner gets closer. He then starts to push his hand into her shoulder, pressing firmly against her collarbone and holding her against the wall.

“There should have been a floor officer or entry officer someone there,” comments Drumgoole.

“One at the door, one at the floor, one or two at the control booth,” adds Walker.

Fortunately, another inmate spots what’s happening. He steps in and pulls the other inmate away.

“I think she got lucky,” Walker said.

The two prisoners start to fight. The counselor states they struggle for about a minute and still, there’s no sign of any officers to her rescue.

The counselor is then able to exit and yells to the control room to for help. Still, no one shows up.

She returns to the office where the prisoners are continuing to brawl. From the report, we can see the fight goes on for a bit before finally help arrives.

“It was entirely too long,” says Walker.

Drumgoole agrees, “It took entirely too long for someone to respond.”

“A shortage of help is a key factor,” says Thomas.

Walker and Drumgoole agreed, telling 8News they believe the staffing shortage at Augusta contributed to this close call. They also tell us there have been other close calls like this at some of the other state prisons.

They fear unless lawmakers address the low pay and high turnover for corrections officers, something terrible will happen.

When asked what would have happened if that inmate hadn’t stepped in to help Thomas replied, “Oh she would have been brutally assaulted.”

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