Arbitrator says Alaska was wrong to fire corrections officer after suicide of serial killer


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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A guard on duty the night a serial killing suspect committed suicide in an Alaska prison should not have been fired, an arbitrator found.

Loren Jacobsen was fired weeks after Israel Keyes was found dead in his cell on Dec. 2, 2012, at the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Keyes had slit his wrist with a razor that another guard mistakenly gave him and also strangled himself with a makeshift noose.

Keyes was being held on federal charges involving the death of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig.

Jacobsen, 54, was fired by the Department of Corrections, even though he had turned over his duties that night to another officer and was on a sanctioned meal break when Keyes committed suicide, the Anchorage Daily News reported (http://is.gd/srq8ed) Tuesday from documents it obtained.

The Alaska Correctional Officers Association had appealed the firing.

Corrections officials declined comment to the newspaper and didn't return messages from The Associated Press.

Authorities said Keyes had confessed to other killings in Vermont, New York and Washington state. The FBI was interviewing him in hopes of identifying other possible victims.

On the night Keyes killed himself, Jacobsen, a five-year department veteran, was assigned to the overnight shift. He was the only guard for 15 prisoners and said he was to do a visual inspection of each cell every 30 minutes and a formal count every four hours.

Keyes was last seen getting into his bed at 10:12 p.m., according to the arbitration report. The arbitrator's report says surveillance video of the unit shows movement in Keyes' cell until a jerk at 10:24 p.m., then stillness.

Jacobsen resumed his duties after his meal and made 16 checks until the end of his shift. Jacobsen said he walked close to the darkened cells but never went inside, and he apparently didn't see the blood that had pooled on the floor of Keyes' cell.

The Department of Corrections, in its version of events to the arbitrator, said Jacobsen read a novel, talked with other guards on the phone, and researched buying an airplane online. The state argued these activities distracted him to the point where his security checks were perfunctory.

Jacobsen later told supervisors the cell was dark, and it appeared Keyes was asleep under his blanks, the way he often slept. Keyes' body was found about 6 a.m. by the dayshift officer who took over for Jacobsen.

In its appeal, the union said management's decision to put Keyes in a dimly lit cell contributed to the death. The union also claimed the perfunctory checks were standard for guards and accepted by supervisors. The union concluded Jacobsen, who has since taken a job in another field, was a scapegoat.

Arbitrator Timothy Williams wrote in his conclusion that a determined inmate with an elaborate plan to conceal his suicide was no match for a complacent workplace culture.

"Keyes was chillingly methodical and clever in completing his suicide," Williams wrote.

He also found that Jacobsen's work that night didn't amount to a fireable offense under DOC standards.

"When (Jacobsen) left for his meal break Inmate Keyes was still up and very much alive and when he returned Inmate Keyes had completed his efforts at suicide," he wrote.

He also said there was an "unacceptable gap" between policy and practice when it comes to security checks and prisoner counts.

"''The state has more than a simple problem of discharging (Jacobsen) but rather has a larger problem with regard to the effectiveness of training and the manner in which COs are supervised," Williams wrote.


Information from: Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News, http://www.adn.com

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