WAUSAU, WI (WSAU) - More details have been released about last week’s attack inside the Marathon County Jail that hospitalized two officers.
During a press conference Tuesday, Chief Deputy Sheriff Scott Parks and County Administrator Brad Karger read from a prepared statement and took questions.
20-year-old inmate Fredrick Morris now faces more charges after attacking Corrections Officer Julie Christensen and Corrections Officer Denny Woodward. Morris was part of a group of inmates that refused to turn over their food trays after a meal. As inmates were going back to cells, Morris moved away from the group and failed to comply with instructions.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Scott Parks says Morris then became. “Officer Christensen approached Morris, and Morris assumed a combative stance with closed fists. Morris immediately struck officer Christensen to the facial area with his closed fist, which rendered her incapacitated and caused Christensen to collapse unconscious to the cell block floor.”
Parks says there has been discussion about overall Marathon County Jail security. “Members of the community and members of the Sheriff’s Department staff have questioned the security of our Marathon County Jail. Our investigation suggests that staffing levels and whether or not corrections officers were provided tasers were not a contributing factor in this particular incident.”
The Chief Deputy would like some community input as they look to improve future jail security. “I will ask that an independent panel of community leaders be assembled to review jail security concerns and create a report that can be distributed to the new sheriff, and form a basis for any improvements that may be needed to improve security in our jail.”Until a few days ago, corrections officers were totally unarmed in the cell blocks. Chief Deputy Parks says he has checked with other departments to see if they are using tasers in the cellblocks successfully, and as of a few days ago, they’re carrying tasers, too. “In this particular case we are in the process of doing that. We already have made some policy modifications and our corrections staff has been armed with tasers at this point.” Parks added, “All of our staff has been previously trained in the operation, deployment, and use of the taser. It’s just a matter of now they are arming themselves with it on a regular basis instead of having it in a secured location.”
Parks was asked about low staff levels in the jail. He admits they are short staffed, but says the corrections professionals are doing well with the available resources. Parks says they have three officers that are out on special duty or injury, one who is in military leave, and we’re currently in the process of filling two vacant positions, so they are at 31 corrections staff and six corrections supervisors. The department is also short one investigator and three in the communications center. Parks says they will be losing a patrol captain to retirement at the end of the month. Overall, there are 177 positions in the Sheriff’s Department.
Officer Christensen remains hospitalized at Aspirus Wausau Hospital in serious condition. Officer Denny Woodward was treated and released.
Accused inmate Fredrick Morris’ mother Elnora Henderson was also at the press conference. She expressed concern about not being able to visit or speak with her son since the incident. “I don’t know what his health is, because they won’t let me visit him. They won’t even let my pastor go in and visit him.” Morris is now at the Lincoln County Jail. Lincoln County authorities told WSAU that Morris has failed to fill out his paperwork, which includes a visitor list, and that is why he hasn’t been able to see anyone.
Henderson is concerned that Morris may not be getting his required medication. “He has bipolar and schizophrenia and he has a social detachment. he was diagnosed with all of these things from the Volunteers of America in Anoka County Minnesota, where he was first initially locked up for mental disability because he was doing little things around the house that made us try and get help for him.”
Morris was in jail as a juvenile in Illinois and transferred to Wisconsin. He is serving time for cocaine and felon in possession of a firearm charges. He now faces additional charges of felony aggravated battery and two felony counts of battery by a prisoner.
During the incident, help was summoned by radio to cellblock C. Parks acknowledged there has been a problem with the jail intercom system, but says it did not play a factor in this incident.
The investigation of the incident was done by the Wausau Police Department and the Wisconsin Department of Justice. An initial appearance on the new charges will be scheduled after the District Attorney prepares the new complaint.
A benefit fund has been established to help Officer Julie Christensen. It is in her name at Integrity First Bank, 101 Grand Avenue, Wausau, Wisconsin.