Investigation under way
in French Robertson prison violence
By MARY HOPKINS / Staff Writer
Investigations are under way within the Texas prison system
because of an inmate's death Monday and a subsequent violent outbreak
at French Robertson unit Monday.
Several factors could have caused the outbreak, said French
Robertson Warden Ron Drewry.
Some inmates were upset about their disciplinary reports, and
some were still upset about an inmate shot to death in July in
what was ruled an escape attempt, Drewry said. Or they may have
simply been looking for a reason to be rowdy.
But the outbreak also might have been related to the death
of inmate Gary Crenshaw, 31, on Monday.
Drewry said correctional officers have overheard inmates "bragging"
about staging the disturbance in retaliation for what happened
"It's known that we have a handful of inmates who were
instrumental in the disturbance but didn't participate,"
He said the violence was not gang related.
TDCJ spokesman Larry Todd said Crenshaw was allowed to take
a shower Saturday, and when he returned to his cell in the close
custody "8" building, he found a correctional officer
Drewry said all the cells of all "8" building inmates
cells are searched while the occupants are showering.
Crenshaw swung at the officer's head with his arm and missed.
He swung again and made contact.
The officer subdued Crenshaw by "taking him to the ground"
to put cuffs on his hands and feet, Todd said. Use of force was
necessary, he said, because Crenshaw would not follow directions
and had become belligerent.
Within minutes Crenshaw went limp, was unresponsive and had
stopped breathing. Officers took him to the infirmary, where efforts
at CPR were unsuccessful. An ambulance took Crenshaw to Hendrick
On Sunday two doctors performing diagnostic tests said Crenshaw
had no brain activity. He was pronounced dead Monday.
Neither Drewry nor Todd could offer an explanation for Crenshaw's
death, but Todd said it was possible Crenshaw hit his head on
the ground as the officer took him down.
"That's one of the things the autopsy will be looking
for," Todd said.
Crenshaw had been treated for respiratory and cardiovascular
problems, but Drewry does not know whether those problems were
connected to Crenshaw's death.
Crenshaw is the first inmate to die at Robertson in 1997.
Todd said TDCJ statistics show that in 1996 at Robertson five
prisoners died from natural causes, one from a shooting and three
by suicide; in 1995 three prisoners died from natural causes,
and two committed suicide.
Todd said Crenshaw's family has told TDCJ they will claim his
body once it is released from the Texas Tech Medical Center in
Lubbock. An autopsy has been performed, but results of the autopsy
and toxicology tests are not available.
Crenshaw was serving a 40-year sentence for possession with
intent to deliver a controlled substance, cocaine, in Tarrant
County. It was his third felony offense. He had been in close
custody since April.
The violent outbreak came after eight correctional officers
in the "8" building at French Robertson were attacked
by about 30 inmates Monday evening. Close custody inmates are
housed in that unit, and normally they are allowed two hours of
recreation per day.
An inmate outside at 7:20 p.m. overpowered a guard holding
open the door leading to the recreational yard, and 20 or 30 inmates
rushed into the building. Some wielded chairs in assaults on officers,
and one hit officers with a video camera snatched from inside
the front desk.
Other officers came down hallways and threw canisters of CS
gas, a chemical agent that causes tearing, severe sinus drainage
and general inability to move. It does no permanent damage, said
Drewry, but can also cause convulsions, tightness in the chest
and nausea. Both officers and inmates were felled by the agent,
The violence stopped within a minute, Drewry said.
Seven injured officers were treated and released at Hendrick.
Some received stitches for facial lacerations. The officers have
been taken off active duty until they finish reports for the TDCJ
Internal Affairs Team. A post-trauma team will talk to them.
The entire Robertson unit was on "lockdown" Tuesday
morning while officers questioned inmates about the incident.
The "8" building will remain in lockdown until inmates'
behavior improves there, Drewry said.
An Internal Affairs Division of the TDCJ will investigate the
incident and may send the names of inmates involved in the disturbance
to the Jones County grand jury, said Jones County DA Gary Brown.
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