Assault by death-row inmate prompts call from legislator for investigation

A state legislator says she wants to know why prison officials refused an officer’s request to shackle a death-row inmate shortly before the inmate assaulted him and at least four others.

Rep. Karen Jarmoc, D-Enfield, said Wednesday that Daniel Webb assaulted a prison captain Monday after officials refused the officer’s request to shackle Webb prior to moving him to a cell.

The captain and a prison psychologist had warned officials that Webb was fixated on the officer since a previous disciplinary incident, Jarmoc said.

“If they are not listening to their captain, never mind the psychologist, I can’t fathom that,” said correction office Kevin Brace, who said he and four others were injured subduing Webb. “To me, it’s gross negligence.”

Jarmoc said she has asked the legislature’s Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing into the incident, because she has no confidence it otherwise will be addressed by corrections officials.

“I believe they would try to sweep this under the rug,” Jarmoc said.

Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he would consult with his co-chairman and the ranking Republicans before scheduling a hearing.

Brian Garnett, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said he could not answer questions about the incident.

“The assault is under investigation,” he said. “An investigation such as this will look into what led up to the incident, the circumstances surrounding it, as well as whether policy and procedures were followed and whether they need to be changed.”

Death row is housed at Northern Correctional Institution in Somers, a high-security prison that also houses an administrative segregation unit for inmates with chronic disciplinary problems. Those inmates are routinely shackled when moved.

But death row inmates are not shackled when moved from their cells to the exercise yard, death-row library or an area where they have access to a telephone, Brace said.

Jarmoc said the injured captain, whom she declined to identify for security reasons, had angered Webb by removing pornography from his cell in keeping with prison policy.

“This captain had been expressing concern to DOC administrators that Webb was threatening him,” Jarmoc said. “Webb had a fixation on harming this captain.”

Jarmoc said a prison psychologist had expressed concern that Webb might attack the captain.

Brace, who is 6-feet-4, said Webb is taller than him and weighs about 300 pounds.

On Monday, Webb suddenly attacked the captain, punching him at least twice in the face while being returned to death row after using the telephone, Jarmoc said.

Brace said he responded from another unit after someone sounded an alarm.

“He was fighting with the captain and some other staff. I kind of jumped in the pile,” Brace said. “We were trying to get handcuffs placed on him. He kept trying to assault the staff. He was swinging, kicking, doing everything he could to try to overpower us.”

Brace said he was unsure how many guards subdued him.

“I know it was more than five. There were five of us that got hurt,” Brace said. “Thank god, nobody got seriously hurt. I got a bum shoulder. Another officer sprained a thumb. The captain was struck twice.”

Webb was sentenced to death after his conviction in the murder of bank executive Diane Gellenbeck, who was kidnapped from a Hartford parking garage in 1989.

“I just think it’s horrible if the administration knew there was a potential for this to happen and they ignored it,” Brace said.

The incident took place as the Department of Corrections and a union representing lieutenants and captains are at odds over the department’s failure to fill vacant supervisory positions, said Matt O’Connor, a union spokesman.

There is definitely a bigger picture here,” he said.

O’Connor said the department has had a temporary, acting commissioner since the retirement of Theresa C. Lantz.

Brian Murphy, a deputy commissioner who also retired, is temporarily filling the position as a part-time commissioner,  O’Connor said.

Rich Harris, a spokesman for the Rell administration, said Murphy is working full-time as the acting commissioner.