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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 to Crenshaw.

"It's known that we have a handful of inmates who were instrumental in the disturbance but didn't participate," Drewry said.

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 searching it.

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 hospital.

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, he said.

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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