Tecumseh tour

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (left) and prisons director Scott Frakes look over damage in Housing Unit 2 at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution more than a week after the Mother's Day riot in May 2015.

At least one of the authors of a second 2015 Tecumseh prison riot report that took more than three years to come to light is still doing behind-the-scenes work in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. 

A former warden at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution and the authors of a 10-page, $20,000 report on the 2015 riot offered some intriguing answers to senators at a special hearing Tuesday, but also evoked more questions about the work of the consultants and what is being called the Pacholke report. 

For starters, no one testifying, including the authors, could figure out why the report wasn't released in 2015.

Dan Pacholke, who was the deputy secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections in 2015 and who is now a consultant, said that after the report was completed he was in and out of Nebraska in late 2015 and 2016 with a New York University project at no cost to the state. He is also on retainer by the group Securus Technologies and continues to work inside Nebraska, also at no cost. 

Presently he is working with Corrections Director Scott Frakes on a 90-day trial on cellphone forensics and targeted cellphone monitoring to gather intelligence from inmates' contraband phones. Pacholke said the confiscated phones are taken apart to see who inmates were calling and texting, and to look at photos. 

That raised eyebrows on the committee with senators who had questions about the legality of that intelligence gathering, why the Judiciary Committee had no information on it, and what the Pacholke group is doing with the information. 

Committee Chairwoman Laura Ebke and Sen. Justin Wayne said it raised chain-of-custody issues if illegal information is being found, and due-process questions.

Corrections Chief of Staff Laura Strimple replied Wednesday to a question about the project saying Securus Technologies, the parent company of Guarded Exchange, performs a data extraction on contraband cellphones. The company provides the extracted information to the department in the form of a forensics extraction report. If information is detected that indicates illegal activity, she said, the phone is provided to the Nebraska State Patrol, which does its own data extraction process.

Strimple said inmates are not permitted to have cellphones.

"The Fourth Amendment protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. Inmates do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in contraband," Strimple said. "Prisons have a legitimate and significant security interest in maintaining institutional security and preserving internal order and discipline. Inmate cellphones are searched to protect the public safety and the community inside the prison."

On Tuesday, Pacholke and Bert Useem, Purdue University sociology professor, answered questions posed by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee and members of the Nebraska Justice System Special Oversight Committee. 

Pacholke said Nebraska Corrections has made strides since 2015 in emergency response procedures and getting better intelligence through a centralized intelligence unit.

But the prisons are still highly crowded, hard to manage and have staffing issues, he said. 

The men described Frakes as a bright and thoughtful director, seen as one of the best in the country, and who sees the importance of bringing in outside help to get a national perspective on important issues. Pacholke worked with Frakes when both were at Washington State Corrections. 

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After the committee hung up from its telephone conversation with Pacholke and Useem, a frustrated Sen. Tom Brewer offered his critique of the report. 

Each author got nearly $10,000, but the document didn't have a date on it, no timeline, no table of contents, no names of those interviewed or involved, and no documentation that would support graphics, diagrams or photos — because there were no graphics, diagrams or photos. 

"If you present this to me with a bill for $20,000, I'm going to have a really hard time not doing something ugly to you. Because this is just robbery almost," Brewer said. 

Brewer said the big issue brought forward by this secret report is leadership. He asked former Warden Brian Gage, who now teaches at Southeast Community College and was the last to testify at the hearing, what he thought about department leadership. 

Gage said he had had a lot of hope in Frakes, when he came in February 2015, that he would put in proven programs for inmates to help them qualify for parole and do well after leaving the prisons. Instead, he was told to just wait 90 days and then another 90 days and another. 

"It was always postponed and held up or whatever magically happened at central office," Gage said. "So my answer to you is, if he (Frakes) was a Nebraska football coach he'd be gone already." 

Gage was called into central office on April 1, 2016, thinking he was going to be talking about moving from 12-hour shifts at Tecumseh back to eight-hour shifts, and instead was told Frakes was making a management change. He was out.

When the report finally came to light recently and he was able to read it, Gage said, he agreed with everything in the report, but didn't see anything sensitive in it that would cause it to not be released. 

Nebraska Ombudsman Marshall Lux also told the committee he could see no reason why the report wouldn't have been given to the senators and the public, for that matter. 

The 2015 riot was one of the most important events in the history of Nebraska Corrections, he said, the first full-scale riot in 60 years. In its aftermath, one of the big unanswered questions was the cause and the motivation of the inmates. 

The department left the impression it just happened, no cause, he said. 

"There was this big void in the narrative, in terms of what happened. This Pacholke report, specifically and thoroughly, addresses the issue of cause, so it would have filled that void in the narrative," Lux said. 

It would have been of vital interest that summer of 2015 not only to the public but also to the special investigative committee, he said. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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