|Written by Craig W. Floyd|
The first correctional officer to die in the performance of duty was William Bullard, a Missouri officer who was beaten to death with a hammer during an escape attempt on June 14, 1841. The first woman in law enforcement to be killed in the line of duty was also a correctional officer. Her name was Anna Hart and she was a jail matron with the Hamilton County (OH) Sheriff's Department.
On July 24, 1916, Jail Matron Hart was beaten to death by an inmate who was hiding behind a curtain with an iron bedpost in his hand. Eight years later, the second female officer to die in the performance of duty suffered a similar fate. Her name was Mary T. Davis. She served as a matron with the Wilmington (DE) Police Department. On May 11, 1924, Matron Davis was alone with a sole female prisoner on the second floor of the county jail. The prisoner lured Matron Davis into her cell with the pretense of a plumbing problem. As the 67-year-old jail matron entered the jail cell, she was struck repeatedly about the head with a chunk of concrete that the prisoner had dislodged from the wall. Department records reflect that the funeral procession for Matron Davis was the largest ever seen in Wilmington's history. The inscription on her gravestone helps to explain why. It reads, "Mary T. Davis - A Friend to All." All totaled, there have been 19 female correctional officers killed in the line of duty.
John Thomas Hart, Sr.,
New York State Dept. of Corrections
Last year, seven correctional officers were killed in the line of duty. They included: Missouri Corrections Officer Rodney C. Welch, who died after being assaulted while breaking up a fight between two inmates; Georgia Corrections Officer James G. Henderson Jr., who was beaten to death by a prisoner under his supervision; Sergeant John T. Hart Sr., of the New York State Department of Correctional Services, who suffered a heart attack while hiking up a mountain to supervise a group of prisoners fighting a forest fire; Sergeant Eric J. Autobee, a Colorado correctional officer, who was beaten to death by a man serving a life sentence for killing his 11-week-old daughter; Pennsylvania Corrections Officer David H. Bowser Jr., who was struck and killed by a car while training with his department's Response Team; Alaska Correctional Officer James C. Hesterberg, who died in an automobile accident, along with four inmates he was transporting; and Pima County (AZ) Correctional Officer Shannon Russell, who suffered a fatal heart attack during a training exercise.
The deadliest year in correctional history was 1971, when 23 corrections officers died in the line of duty. Seven of them that year were killed in the infamous Attica prison riot in upstate New York. It began on Thursday, September 9, 1971. More than 1,200 Attica inmates gained control of the facility in a well-planned, savage attack. During the initial violence, 50 correctional officers and civilian employees were brutally beaten and taken hostage. Demands were made by the prisoners, but after four days of fruitless negotiation and the death of one of the correctional officers, the command was given to retake the prison and rescue the hostages. With National Guard helicopters flying overhead, administering chemical agents, a rescue force of nearly 200 New York State police officers and two correctional officers stormed the facility. The entire rescue operation lasted just several minutes, but it was filled with terror and bloodshed. When it was over, 10 hostages were dead, along with 32 inmates.
In addition to William Quinn, six other correctional officers were killed during the Attica prison riot. They were: Edward Cun-ningham, John D'Arch-angelo Jr., Richard Lewis, Carl Valone, Ronald Werner and Harrison Whalen. Hugh Johnson began work at the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1950. He rose to the rank of Assistant Superintendent and was highly respected by his peers and the prisoners. Tragically, though, on January 18, 1965, his job and life came to a horrible end. An inmate on drugs, wielding a homemade knife, stabbed Assistant Superintendent Johnson in the chest and he died a short time later during emergency surgery. Another officer was seriously wounded in the incident. The inmate responsible for this brutality was Allen Pruitt, a convicted teenage killer serving a 20-year sentence. Amazingly, Pruitt was found innocent of the jailhouse stabbings by reason of insanity. Later on, Pruitt even got a retrial for his original murder conviction. His attorney was none other than the infamous F. Lee Bailey. Pruitt ultimately gained his freedom, giving him the chance to kill again. Two more men died - his fourth and fifth murder victims - before he was finally sent away for life. Ironically, on the last Christmas before Hugh Johnson was killed, he proudly showed his family a gift he had received form an inmate he had been working with. Hugh figured he was getting through to the man others had termed a "problem" case. The inmate's name was Allen Pruitt.
Craig W. Floyd is chairman of the National law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Visit www.nleomf.com for more information about law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.