Bristol County Sheriff Heroux Details Dartmouth House of Correction Riot
DARTMOUTH (WBSM) — Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux provided details of the riot that occurred in two housing units of the Bristol County House of Correction earlier today.
“These things can happen at any time, they really can,” Heroux told reporters Friday evening.
“Our No. 1 goal was to de-escalate without a showing of force. We had to do so, but without any injuries to prisoners or corrections officers, so I consider that a win,” he said.
Heroux said things “began to go sideways” at around 9 a.m. this morning, after inmates in the GA and GB housing units indicated they did not want to comply with plans to move them to other housing units as part of a plan to make the facility more suicide-resistant.
“In the process of moving them around, the inmates in one of the housing units, there were 17 ringleaders,” Heroux said. “Seventeen decided to stir the pot, and they decided to have a protest about the move. They didn’t want to be moved.”
Heroux said over the course of the next few hours, the inmates “did a lot of damage,” which he said was “$100-$200,000 worth of damage from early estimates.”
Control was finally regained of both units by around 5 p.m., and all 17 “ringleaders” have been transferred to other jails across the Commonwealth, Heroux said, and separated to avoid any future such incidents. The rest of the inmates in the housing units were dispersed to other units on the Dartmouth site, except for 17 that were moved to the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford.
Why the Inmates Were Being Moved in the Dartmouth House of Correction
Heroux held a press conference on April 13 in which he discussed his plan for suicide prevention at the House of Correction. He also detailed a plan to use $1.6 million in canteen profits to add toilets into individual cells, which would allow them to be locked, and which in turn would allow him to shut down New Bedford’s aging Ash Street Jail and move those inmates to Dartmouth.
He said they had already started moving inmates earlier this week, and had been doing so all week without issue until Friday’s planned move of the two units that rioted.
“There were 75 inmates in the first housing unit, 63 in the second, and they all had to get out anyway,” Heroux said. “It was already part of the plan, to do construction in there. They kind of made that a necessity now.”
Why the Inmates Didn’t Want to Be Moved in the Dartmouth House of Correction
The Bristol County House of Correction houses inmates serving sentences of two and a half years or less, but Heroux said the inmates in these units “are awaiting trial, (and) some are in on murder charges,” he said.
The Bristol County facilities have led the Commonwealth in inmate suicides, and Heroux recently shared his plan to combat those suicides after bringing in an expert to analyze the facilities and procedures. He and his staff had begun instituting some of those changes.
“We explained that part of shuffling units is to prevent suicide, that was the catalyst,” Heroux said. “They just got it in their minds that they don’t want to move.”
Heroux said rumors likely played a part in their agitation.
“There were rumors that going to the next housing unit, we were going to take away a lot of their rec time, so they’d get less rec time, less visiting time, they were going to lose that,” he said. “Rumors can be dangerous, especially in a place like this.”
“They got it in their minds that the conditions were going to be worse, and we explained it to them but it just got to the point of no return,” Heroux said.
What Happened During the Dartmouth House of Correction Riot
Heroux said the inmates were notified at 7 a.m. this morning of the impending move, and that ‘things started going sideways around 9 a.m.”
He said the captain and the major of the unit decided to remove the corrections officers and place it on lockdown.
Heroux said he was notified “within a half hour or so,” and that “by 11:30, I was in the process of responding to their demands.”
The inmates provided Heroux with a written list of demands, and he responded in a letter back to them stating some of them were already in the works, and others were not possible.
“They tore up the letter and threw it out the window,” Heroux said. “Those 17 were not interested in cooperating.”
He also said there were four diabetic inmates that refused their insulin.
Heroux said they continued to attempt to de-escalate the situation, bringing in personnel with varying levels of experience “to no avail.”
Personnel from five other county jails and the Department of Correction arrived, and at 3 p.m. the decision was made to enter the housing units.
Heroux said on WBSM's SouthCoast Tonight Friday night that correctional officers did have to use CS gas and flash bangs to bring the first unit under control.
The Bristol County Sheriff’s Office tweeted that the first unit was under control by 4:11 p.m., and the second by 5:19 p.m.
“The inmates complied, got down on the ground and were handcuffed, brought outside. They did their damage, and they realized it wasn’t going to go their way, and they complied.”
“We showed force, but there was virtually no use of force,” he said. “The inmates got down, complied, nothing that escalated to any excessive force, which is never authorized. Use of force is authorized, and we were successful without it.”
What Damage Was Done During the Dartmouth Jail Riot?
As Heroux said, he estimated there was $100,000-200,000 in damage done to the first unit during the incident, while the damage was “far less” in the second unit.
“They destroyed the central control, windows, fans, they started to destroy beds and break those apart,” Heroux said. “They started setting some fires as well.”
He said security cameras were also ripped down or covered up.
“Mattresses and other furniture were put in front of doors and exits to make it difficult for us to get in,” he said. “They dumped a lot of water on the floor with soap to make it slippery, we countered that by coming in with sand and salt.”
“Anything they could get their hands on and break, they did, including the physical infrastructure,” he said.
Heroux said the inmates were sharpening the blades of the fans, turning broken pieces of the beds into clubs with sharp edges, and even using the cages from around the fan to break into sharp little items to use for stabbing.
“Anything they can get their hands on, they can use as a weapon,” he said. “They can be creative.”
What Were the Inmates’ Demands in the Dartmouth Jail Riot?
According to Heroux, the inmates’ written list of demands, which he held up for the media, included things such as:
- Wanting the phones turned back on immediately (he told them no)
- Lower canteen prices (he said he’s working on that already)
- TVs in cells (Heroux said he told them they’d just destroyed their TVs and they have tablets)
- A better grievance process and a better appeals process (he’s open to that)
- For him to speak to them right then (Heroux said he always responds to inmate letters)
- For 52a convicted inmates to go to state facilities (that’s up to the DOC and DA, he said)
- More programming (he campaigned on that)
- More vocational shops (which he said is his plan)
- More barbers (he said that can be accommodated)
“Some of the other stuff was of a security nature,” Heroux said. “But many of the other things were already part of my plan, stuff I campaigned on. It’s not a surprise, we were already planning on doing that.”
Will the Inmates Face Charges in the Dartmouth Jail Riot?
“They will be addressing that with the (district attorney),” Heroux said. “There was substantial property damage, so where charges can be pressed, they will be pressed.”
Heroux said everything was recorded on video.
“The teams that went inside the housing unit, they recorded everything, and it will eventually be made public,” he said.