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Originally published Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 9:04 PM

3 fired in death of Monroe corrections officer

Three state prison officers have been fired and four others, including two lieutenants, have been disciplined for mistakes before and after corrections officer Jayme Biendl was killed in January at the Monroe prison.

Seattle Times staff reporter

quotes So the teamsters are appalled that the state has the audacity to fire empoyees who were... Read more
quotes Not surprising that the union finds the firing of employees who lied "appalling.&q... Read more
quotes Why does someone always have to die before there is accountability? Read more

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Three state prison officers have been fired and four others, including two lieutenants, have been disciplined for mistakes made before and after a corrections officer was killed at the Monroe Reformatory in January.

Two of the fired officers lied to police and Department of Corrections (DOC) investigators, and a third was terminated for being away from his post outside the prison chapel, where officer Jayme Biendl worked alone, according to the DOC.

Biendl, 34, the DOC officer of the year in 2008, was not found by fellow officers for nearly two hours after being strangled Jan. 29 with amplifier cord. She was the first DOC officer killed in a state prison in 32 years.

Although Byron Scherf, a lifer at Monroe, was found outside the chapel with blood on his collar, officers did not search the chapel. Scherf later confessed to the slaying and is awaiting trial in Snohomish County on murder charges that could lead to the death penalty.

The discipline, announced Wednesday by Monroe superintendent Scott Frakes, has been in the works since July, when DOC released a report on an internal investigation.

"To operate a safe facility it is absolutely critical that we hold ourselves accountable for our actions, which is why I took the action I did," Frakes said in a statement.

Officials at Monroe did not respond to a request for an interview on Wednesday.

DOC routinely withholds names of employees in news releases about disciplinary matters, but The Seattle Times has filed a public-disclosure request seeking their identities.

According to Frakes' statement, the discipline included:

• Letters of reprimand against two lieutenants, one for failing to keep track of staff. One lieutenant was demoted to sergeant.

• One officer fired for being regularly off his roving patrol post outside the chapel, including on the night Biendl died, as well as giving "conflicting statements" to DOC investigators and police.

• That officer's sergeant demoted for not stopping the officer from regularly being away from his post.

• One officer fired for failing to search the chapel after finding Scherf in an alcove at the chapel entrance — but before Biendl was found — and for lying to police and DOC investigators.

• Another officer fired for faking a logbook notation that the chapel was searched and for lying to investigators.

• A fourth officer reprimanded for cutting short a search of a prison building after Scherf was reported missing from his cell.

Tracey Thompson of the Teamsters Local 117, which represents officers at Monroe, said the firings were "appalling" because other reviews, including one by state labor investigators, found fault with workplace-training and safety procedures. That review resulted in a $26,000 fine against DOC.

"Rather than accept responsibility, which management with integrity would do, they thrust it all onto line staff," she said.

None of the three fired officers had ever been disciplined before, she said, noting that it was Scherf alone who killed Biendl. "For management to blame them for what happened, it's just unconscionable," she said.

Since Biendl's death, the Monroe Reformatory, long considered the most progressive in the state's prison system, has a crisper focus on worker safety. The prison acted on a recommendation by a national review team and began issuing body alarms to officers.

That recommendation appears to follow up on a disturbing detail unearthed in the DOC's internal review of her death, and in police reports:

At about 8:40 on the night of Biendl's death, other officers heard what they believed to a "split-second" scream in a female voice over the radio. One officer later said he was so alarmed he waited for an emergency alert, but, when it did not come, he assumed he'd misheard the sound.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

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