Cameron prison officers knew riot was coming, but administration did nothing to stop it

CAMERON, Mo. — A riot at the Crossroads Correctional Facility on Saturday has sparked an enormous response from people who work there about what they say really happened inside the prison walls and how much the riot will cost taxpayers.

Several current and former corrections officers at the facility said they knew an uprising was coming and reported it, but the administration did not do enough to stop it.

“So I had been approached on several occasions by inmates with information saying, 'Hey, this might happen,'” said a correctional officer who talked to FOX4 on the condition of anonymity.

The riot began as what inmates call a sit-down, where they ignore officer commands and do not get up.

"We are going to start peaceful and we are going to let you guys know something is wrong,” the officer said about a conversation he had with an inmate. “And he said, 'well, from there we don’t know where it is going to turn.'"

Among other areas, the inmates destroyed the food area, kitchen, and a manufacturing facility after hot-wiring forklifts to break down the gates to get in.

“It shut down a third of our institution and a building the size of two football fields was completely trashed on the inside,” said the corrections officer. “There is no way to bounce back from that.”

Employees on the inside estimate millions of dollars in damage that will come directly out of taxpayers' pockets.

The Department of Corrections downplayed what they were warned was coming as a “disturbance”, which outrages those who said the public deserves to know what really happened.

“Their failure to acknowledge that directly resulted in this major riot incident that put the lives of my friends, my brothers and my sisters at risk,” the officer said. “And it hurts me.”

Kimberly Woodring worked for the Dept. of Corrections for 16 years but quit less than a year ago when under-staffing put her safety at risk. She said she found out about a fight brewing among the inmates and her warning to administrators was not taken seriously.

“It’s not safe,” Woodring said. “I mean what is three girls going to do against 288 inmates? When you can’t get officers to respond because they don’t staff it.”

The Dept. of Corrections acknowledges a staffing crisis in the facility, as evidenced by a memo sent to staff by Warden Ronda Pash on May 10, addressing the staffing issue, procedural changes, and recruitment efforts, among other things.

A spokeswoman for the Dept. of Corrections told FOX4 that last week they had finalized a plan to transfer some offenders elsewhere because of the staffing shortage, but had not had a chance to move on that plan before the riot took place.

That critical shortage has caused inmate recreation time to be slashed and programs to be cut, which is what inmates were upset about when they decided to take a stand.

Employees who were inside the prison during the riot said one of the most alarming things is that four gangs inside the prison -- who usually hate and fight each other -- actually banded together to organize and pull it off.

Officers from the Western Missouri Correctional Facility next door, as well as law enforcement officers from city and county agencies, were called in to help gain control, which took about 6 hours.

Monday, a spokesperson with the Dept. of Corrections acknowledged the damage is more extensive than they first thought and said the incident is still under investigation.

No one was injured, but a prison employee who was there told FOX4 that after the riot, the inmates warned, “it was property this time. It will be staff next time.”