The Arizona Department of Corrections has disciplined 16 employees in the wake of a prisoner's death from heat exposure, with five people fired or forced to resign, the director announced Tuesday.
The announcement of the shake-up at Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville in Goodyear comes four months after the heat-related death of inmate Marcia Powell, who had been left in an outdoor cage for several hours in 107-degree heat.
Perryville's deputy warden and a psychologist who worked with Powell resigned in lieu of being fired. A lieutenant and two corrections officers were fired. Corrections officials also demoted the prison's chief of security to corrections officer.
Three employees received two-week suspensions, including a shift lieutenant and two corrections officers. Seven employees received weeklong suspensions, including Perryville's warden, a shift lieutenant, a shift sergeant and four other corrections officers. Two other employees may still be disciplined after they return from medical leave, said Charles Ryan, director of the Corrections Department.
"This is the most significant example of abuse that I'm aware of that an inmate had to endure," Ryan said. "Frankly, that's just unconscionable. That is an absolute failure on the part of the department and its employees."
Powell, 48, died May 20 after suffering injuries related to heat exposure on her chest, arms and on one cheek, along with blistering on her body. She had a core body temperature of 108 degrees, according to the Maricopa County medical examiner.
The employees' discipline was made public Tuesday following the completion of an internal investigation of Powell's death. A criminal investigation was submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which has yet to take action.
Ryan declined to release the disciplined employees' names, saying they still had the right to appeal the disciplinary action.
Details of what happened to Powell while she was in the outdoor cell remain unclear. Ryan would not elaborate, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.
Even basic facts, such as whether Powell was provided with water, remain in dispute, Ryan said.
Corrections officers at Perryville found Powell unresponsive in an outdoor cell on May 19 after she had been held in an outdoor cage for nearly 4 hours. She died the following day.
The Department of Corrections altered its use of outdoor holding cells following Powell's death, limiting inmates' outdoor exposure to two hours. Powell was serving a 27-month sentence for prostitution.