Guards face HIV threat from inmate
A Wende Correctional Facility inmate who claims to have the HIV virus and hepatitis bragged to other inmates Friday night that he had infected three corrections officers with his blood in a fight, union representatives said Saturday.
"When the inmate was put back in his cell, he started boasting: "I have HIV. I have hepatitis. You''re going to die," said Tom Butler, spokesman for the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association.
All three corrections officers in the Alden facility were taken to Erie County Medical Center, and two required a special combination of drugs as a precautionary treatment against the deadly diseases, according to Frederick W. Kintzel Jr., the union''s business agent.
"He will face the severest departmental charges, and it is the state correctional commissioner''s hope that an investigation will lead to sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the inmate by the Erie County district attorney," said James B. Flateau, spokesman for the Department of Correctional Services.
The incident happened at 6:20 p.m. during a random search of cells, union officials said. Tutler allegedly flushed something down the toilet before leaving his cell.
Once outside, he refused seven direct orders to assume a frisk position, so the officers tried to place mechanical restraints on his arms and legs, according to Kintzel.
At that point, a physical confrontation occurred, and he grabbed the left hand of one of the officers and bit him, Kintzel said.
"The inmate purposely pulled the officer''s hand into his mouth and locked down on it," Kintzel said. "He was also scratching and spitting blood at the officers, and they had to put (cloth) over his face. In my opinion, this was clearly an act of attempted murder."
Because of state confidentiality laws, the department is prohibited from disclosing whether Tutler is infected, said Flateau, adding that Correctional Services Commissioner Glenn S. Goord favors exploring a change in the law for certain situations.
"The commissioner believes exceptions should be made where an inmate has assaulted someone and there''s been an opportunity for the transfer of bodily fluids," Flateau said.
Union officials say it will take six months before the officers know for certain if they have been infected. The officials are also upset the special "HIV drug cocktail" was not administered within two hours of the attack, which is required under prison policy.
"It''s like you''re a ticking time bomb for six months," said union President Richard Harcrow. "I demand that the commissioner immediately address the multiple health and safety issues corrections officers face."
He and other union officials also called for new policies requiring officers to wear "bite-proof gloves" and handcuffing of all inmates in disciplinary units before they are removed from their cells.
Flateau said that by the end of the year 40,000 sets of leather gloves will be provided to the department''s 22,000 corrections officers.
"They already carry latex gloves, and these new gloves will be cut-resistant. You can require officers to carry the gloves, but you can''t make them wear them," he said.
Department officials, Flateau said, intend to be as supportive as possible to the officers, who he said perform the most difficult job in state government.
But he pointed out that if an inmate does not show signs of violence, it is difficult to automatically require restraints, such as handcuffs.
"We can''t have strong-arm tactics. Our goal is to cut a middle line," Flateau said.
Tutler, who is serving a sentence of six to 12 years, is eligible for parole in September 2003, but Flateau said it is unlikely that he will be released at that time.
Last year there were 687 attacks against corrections officers in state prisons, which house about 68,000 inmates.
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