Four units at Washington State Penitentiary on lockdown after fight

About 50 inmates were involved in the melee Tuesday evening. The investigation continues.

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WALLA WALLA -- Four units at the Washington State Penitentiary were on lockdown today due to concerns about the causes of a major fight Tuesday.

The lockdown of four close-custody units was ordered by Superintendent Stephen Sinclair about 1 p.m. on Wednesday, said Shari Hall, prison spokeswoman. Prior to that time only one unit, Unit G where the fight occurred, had been on restricted-movement status.

The incident began about 7 p.m. Tuesday in the commons area of Unit G when two inmates began fighting, Hall said. Staff responded and stopped the altercation almost immediately, but within minutes a second fight began "with multiple offenders joining in" until nearly 50 inmates were involved.

Due to the size of the incident, officers used pepper spray to break up the fights. The inmates involved were placed in segregation and no significant injuries to staff members or inmates have been reported.

The investigation into the cause of the fights is continuing, Hall said. The lockdown was ordered to allow staff to continue interviews with offenders and complete searches of cells and other areas.

"We wanted to slow everything down," Hall said today. "When something of this scope happens, we want to get control to determine the 'why' of what occurred."

The lockdown affects the 792 prisoners living in the four units. The remainder of the penitentiary is on normal status today.

The lockdown is expected to last through the weekend, but members of the prison's Incident Command System are meeting daily to review the status, Hall said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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