11/10/2003

One Inmate Suspected of Beating, Strangling Tenn. Prison Guard

Officer Down: Fred Hyatt - [Clarksville, Tennessee]

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- A guard at the Middle Tennessee Correctional Complex was beaten and strangled as part of what investigators say may have been part of a larger escape plot.

Correction Department spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said Monday that the guard, 59-year-old Fred Hyatt of Clarksville, was found just after 11 p.m. Saturday with his head severely beaten.

An autopsy established the cause of death as strangulation, she said. Investigators originally thought he was beaten to death.

Johnson said only one inmate is believed to have been outside his cell during the fatal altercation.

"Our investigation indicates there was never any more than one person out of their cell. We continue to investigate it, but at this stage we have been unable to find that anyone else was out of their cell," Johnson said. "That inmate is considered the prime suspect and is being held in segregation. We haven't released his name because charges haven't been filed."

Johnson said interviews with other inmates have indicated the attack "may have been part of a bigger escape plot by five inmates at the facility, the suspect and four others."

"We're still looking into that. There's a lot of work that needs to be done to determine what was actually going on," she said. "But nobody else was out of their cell."

Johnson said the suspect apparently used a can of food in a sock as a weapon, and also the guard's flashlight. She said authorities believe he may have used a cord of some type to strangle the guard.

Correction Commissioner Quenton White said on Sunday that the guard was unarmed and never pushed his panic button.

Johnson said the inmate should not have been out of his cell at that hour, and that if Hyatt needed to let him out for some reason, such as an alleged medical emergency, that procedure called for Hyatt to summon back-up before letting the inmate out. No back-up was summoned, Johnson said.

Hyatt, a state corrections officer for 18 years, had planned to retire next summer.

It was the first time a prison guard has been killed at the facility and the first anywhere in the state in about two decades, according to Johnson.

"We're very saddened by this," White said in a statement. "Anytime a correctional officer is killed in the line of duty it's cause for great concern about public safety. We continue to investigate this murder in conjunction with the TBI. We will not stop until all questions have been answered."

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