Anna Gronewold / AP

Two inmates dead after disturbance at overcrowded Nebraska prison

Prisoners at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution had gathered to call for more yard time and jobs, local media said

Two inmates were found dead at a maximum security prison in southeastern Nebraska on Monday, a day after prisoners clashed with guards over grievances at the overcrowded center.

The state Department of Correctional Services said the bodies were found after officials regained control at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution. All staff were accounted for and the prison was declared as secure Monday morning, officials told local media.

Prisoners told local media the disturbance began after inmates drafted a petition highlighting grievances, including limited access to the prison yard and jobs.

Officials said the takeover began Sunday afternoon after staff members tried to break up a gathering of prisoners. Two or three inmates were shot and at least two guards were assaulted, Lincoln's Journal Star reported.

Inmate Jeffry Frank told local media that dozens of officers in full riot gear stood outside a housing unit at the maximum security prison late Sunday night.

“They’re standing out in front of our unit with automatic weapons and riot gear,” Frank told nearby city Lincoln’s Journal Star in a phone call from a case manager’s officer that inmates had taken over in one of the prison’s three housing units.

He added that the Nebraska State Patrol troopers were on the prison’s perimeter, and described the destruction around him.

“The ceilings are fallen. There’s drywall on fire. There’s cameras torn down,” Frank told the Journal Star.

The incident started around 2:30 p.m. local time Sunday when prison guards attempted to disperse inmates gathering in front of a housing unit, James Foster, a department spokesman, said in a statement.

There was no indication early Monday that authorities had resumed full control at the facility that houses 11 death row inmates, and there were no reports of any escapes.

Two staff members were assaulted and one inmate was shot during disturbances at “multiple housing units” Sunday. Small fires and property damage were also reported.

At some point during the incident, a second inmate was injured by a rubber projectile, according to Foster's statement. The injured officers and inmates have received medical treatment, he said.

Foster told The Associated Press that he did not have details about what was going on inside. Early Monday, no more smoke could be seen and employees were being allowed into the facility.

Inmate Daryl Eskridge told the Journal Star over the phone that the disturbance came after repeated attempts to get officials to address grievances at the prison.

“This is not a white thing, a black thing. This is a people thing,” Eskridge said. “We understand this is a prison, but we have been subjected to a lot of things the department doesn’t want people to see.”

He said prisoners intended to give a petition to Corrections Director Scott Frakes when things went wrong.

“They came with the force. Nobody (among inmates) had any weapons,” Eskridge told the Journal Star.

Grievances included overpopulation in the prison that opened in late 2011 to house 960 men. As of April 30 it was at 105 percent capacity, the Journal Star reported.

Other inmates said they wanted the yard open, job opportunities for life-sentence prisoners, and exercise time, the Journal Star reported.

Representatives for Gov. Pete Ricketts did not respond to a request for comment Sunday. A dispatcher with the Johnson County Sheriff's office said she could not release any information. Deb Collins, public information officer with the Nebraska State Highway Patrol, directed all questions to the corrections department.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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