Cops and Courts

Hazelton workers enraged by lack of response to assaults

Staff members at the United States Penitentiary (USP) Hazelton are infuriated, claiming administration is taking no measures to respond to several assaults, two against prison staff, that occurred inside the facility Wednesday and Thursday. 

Justin Tarovisky, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 420 union president, was unable to provide specific details about what occurred, but said at approximately 9 a.m. Wednesday a female staff member was groped by an inmate, which is sexual assault.  

Shortly after that incident, several staff members were physically assaulted by inmates – one of the staff was punched in the face, Tarovisky said. 

Staff at USP Hazelton were “irate” that the facility was not placed on lockdown following the assaults, he said. 

On Thursday morning, several staff members stated an inmate was stabbed by another inmate. The investigation into the stabbing was just beginning, but staff believed the incident to be gang related. 

Despite the back-to-back assaults on employees and the stabbing incident, staff say no measures were taken by Complex Warden Stanley Lovett to lock down the facility following the incidents, leaving them feeling abandoned by prison leadership. 

The specific housing unit where the stabbing occurred was locked down, but not the entire facility. There have been several stabbings and other acts of violence at the prison in recent weeks, including at least one inmate fatality. 

“When inmates are allowed to put their hands on staff,” Tarovisky said, “these types of things will continue to happen. 

“You have to show law and order in a penitentiary, if you let things go by then things continue to mount. So, if you don’t lock everybody down when a major incident happens, it’s just showing the other units and other groups they can continue to do business as usual.” 

The Dominion Post spoke with several staff members who believe Lovett was more concerned about keeping the prison running normally than checking on his staff. 

Several mentioned feeling further slighted after Lovett did not attend a Wednesday staff briefing regarding the assaults. 

“It’s just evident that Warden Lovett has a disregard for staff safety. Many of the inmates at Hazelton have a history of sexually violent charges – Warden Lovett’s not only putting a target on the staff members that work at this complex, but he’s also given a green light to the inmates to sexually assault female staff without any repercussions,” said one staff member who has worked at the facility for over a decade. 

The veteran worker said that previously if a staff assault occurred, the institution would be placed on lockdown status and memos would be sent to the inmate population stating that staff assaults would not be tolerated. 

Tarovisky agreed, stating the previous administration at USP Hazelton under Brian Antonelli did not put up with inmate violence or inmates putting their hands on staff and violence at Hazelton was reduced.  

The Dominion Post reached out to the current administration at USP Hazelton for comment on the alleged assaults and Lovett’s response to them. 

In a brief response, they did not confirm the sexual assault on a staff member (The Dominion Post confirmed this with several staff members, including Tarovisky) or give any reason the decision was made to not lock down the facility on Wednesday. 

In their reply, they stated, “We can confirm on Wednesday, February 7, 2024, at approximately 9:15 a.m., an incarcerated individual physically assaulted two employees at the United States Penitentiary (USP) Hazelton in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia.  

“Responding employees isolated and contained the incident. One employee was taken to a local hospital and treated for minor injuries before being released.” 

Their response concluded that the Assistant United States Attorney’s office was notified and “for privacy, safety, and security reasons, we do not elaborate on ongoing investigations.” 

Tarovisky said it was a “terrible decision” to not put the facility, known to be one of the most violent in the country, on lockdown in order to maintain control. 

“The warden really let this institution down,” he said. 

Local 420 Union Treasurer Kevin Seifert said staff expressed to him on multiple occasions that they are frustrated and on edge. 

“They’re nervous, and I have the same sentiments, that it’s getting worse,” he said, “it’s not getting any better. 

“We’ve had all these incidents in subsequent days and in the last few weeks and here we are just running it like it’s normal.” 

Seifert said that not locking down after violent incidents occur “creates a dangerous environment in an environment that’s already potentially dangerous – their inaction exacerbates the problem. When you don’t hold the inmates accountable, they get this mindset that the rules are not enforced, so they can get away with more and more and more, and that just emboldens them to do what they do. 

“This attitude that it’s an isolated incident every single time when incidents are happening every single day it’s an excuse – they’re not ensuring our safety,” he said. 

One staff member told The Dominion Post that last month an assault against a staff member occurred at the neighboring Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Hazelton, which is a medium security prison, and the facility was put on lockdown for at least a week. USP Hazelton is a high-security facility. 

“The juxtaposition between how these incidents are handled at the medium security prison and the high security institutions is telling,” Seifert said. “It shows the apathy for staff/inmates from the leadership of one and the concern of the other.”