Scott Frakes

Scott Frakes, director of Nebraska Department of Corrections

Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes will not be able to testify in front of a legislative committee Tuesday afternoon on a recently released report on the May 2015 Tecumseh prison riot. 

But Friday, before leaving on vacation, Frakes sent a letter to Sen. Laura Ebke, chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, to explain why no one else invited from the department would be at the special hearing, and to offer up his own written testimony.

This second report on causes of the prison riot was not released in the summer of 2015 when it was received, but only came to light recently as part of a former inmate's lawsuit in Lancaster County District Court.

Frakes said in the letter he was solely responsible for requesting a riot investigation by Dan Pacholke, a now-former deputy secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections, and Bert Useem, a sociology professor at Purdue University, who has published multiple articles and books examining the causes of prison riots. 

He said Dawn-Renee Smith, deputy for programming, and Diane Sabatka-Rine, deputy for operations, who were also invited to testify, could not answer questions about the drafting of the report. 

Authors and consultants Pacholke and Useem, who wrote the previously unreleased report, are on the testimony list for the hearing, via telephone. 

The hearing is at 1 p.m. in Room 1524 at the Capitol.

Frakes said he requested the report to give him additional perspective on the factors that contributed to the riot — he described it as a disturbance — and to identify potential issues that needed to be addressed in its aftermath. More than 400 inmates were believed to have been involved in the uprising. The prison housed 1,008 men as of April 30 that year. 

From that report, Frakes and the department went on to create a central intelligence network to identify potential threats and try to thwart problems such as those that grew into the 2015 riot. 

"Their work made clear that there was a complicated and highly organized gang problem within (the prisons)," Frakes said in his letter to Ebke. 

Two inmates — Shon Collins and Donald Peacock — were beaten to death during the riot, presumably by other inmates. Two more inmates were injured during the conflict with staff. Nearly 20 prison workers were stranded and endangered in offices and the prison yard tower.

Millions of dollars in damage at the maximum-security prison was caused by fires, broken windows and destruction of computers and cameras, all that took more than a year to fix. 

Prosecutors haven't yet charged anyone for the deaths of Collins and Peacock, both 46 years old and serving time on sex-assault charges.

Frakes had been on the job only three months at the time of the riot. He had worked with Pacholke for nearly 30 years in Washington, and he trusted and respected him, he said. Pacholke approached him and said he and Useem were interested in assisting, he said. 

Frakes did not share the report directly with other members of the agency, he said, but the information was incorporated into testimony, media interviews and communication with staff about efforts to improve agency operations.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Frakes did not share the report with him, either, but the governor recently defended Frakes' decision not to release the report. 

Frakes characterized the report as identifying many of the same issues as in the Tomas Fithian report, which was made public, and a report authored by Nebraska Ombudsman Marshall Lux.  

Fithian, a security and emergency management administrator at Washington State Department of Corrections, where Frakes worked before coming to Nebraska, and other members of a critical incident team made 83 recommendations.

The 48-page independent ombudsman's report showed the destructive and deadly event was not a result of spontaneous combustion but had a motive and agenda. The report covered the motivation, grievances, how the riot played out, management of the riot and other observations.

Frakes told Ebke state agency directors benefit from being able to solicit data, advice and information from trusted sources to help guide their decisions. It is also essential that certain sensitive information be protected in an environment such as Corrections. 

"Not because it is of a secretive or deceptive nature, but because that information must be weighed against public safety, as well as the security of our staff members and those incarcerated in NDCS," he wrote. 

There was no intent to keep the report from the Legislature, he said. He did not see the report as something that Sen. Les Seiler was asking for on behalf of the special Corrections investigative committee in 2016 when he specified the committee wanted documents on staffing issues. 

"Had there been a request for reports related to the disturbance at TSCI (Tecumseh State Correctional Institution), they would have been produced, including the report in question," Frakes said. 

The previously undisclosed report did address staffing at Tecumseh at the time of the riot. 

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

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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