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January 24, 2007 - Arizona Republic (AZ)

Human Errors Added To Inmate Death At Florence Prison

12 People, Including Warden, Disciplined For Mix-Ups, Wrong Paperwork

By Michael Clancy, The Arizona Republic

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

A series of blunders were committed by personnel at a state prison in Florence that resulted in the killing of an inmate, an Arizona Corrections Department investigation has revealed.

Twelve employees, including John Ontiveros, the warden of the Eyman Complex in Florence, were disciplined in the case, according to the report released Tuesday.

William Harris was killed Sept. 7, just hours after he was transferred from another facility and placed in the same cell as Michael Gaston, who was charged in the case. Gaston was serving a life sentence for murder, while Harris was in prison serving time for drug and sex offenses. advertisement

"Proper procedures were in place. What we ran into was human error," said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katie Decker.

The errors included a variety of mix-ups, from not filing proper forms on inmate classifications in a timely manner to simple mistakes on the forms.

In one instance, a guard announced to other inmates that Harris was a sex offender. Sex offenders typically are segregated from the rest of the prison population to protect their safety.

Decker said cells were not searched properly and medical records were not transferred on time.

The report said Gaston may have been improperly allowed on a work detail, which might have enabled him to have access to materials he could use to fashion a weapon.

Of the 12 employees who were disciplined, Decker said:

  • One was fired.
  • One was demoted.
  • Four were suspended.
  • Three received written reprimands.
  • One resigned.
  • Two retired.

She declined to provide the employees' names.

Ontiveros was one of those who left the department.

Copyright © 2007 The Arizona Republic

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