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Murderer kills guard in Minnesota prison, officials say

Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy speaks about the killing of Corrections Officer Joseph Gomm during a news conference at DOC headquarters in St. Paul on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater Corrections Officer Joseph Gomm was attacked by an offender at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and rushed to Regions Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The offender is serving time for homicide. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)1 / 2
Edward Muhammad Johnson2 / 2

STILLWATER, Minn. -- An inmate serving time for murder killed a corrections officer at the Minnesota Department of Corrections-Stillwater in Bayport on Wednesday, July 18, officials say.

Officer Joseph Gomm was attacked by the lone inmate with a weapon at 1:30 p.m., according to a statement released by the Department of Corrections. Gomm was rushed to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he was pronounced dead.

“The corrections family is reeling from this incident,” Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy said at a news conference. “We are not accustomed to losing staff. … This is a bad day.”

Roy said he believes Gomm is the first corrections officer killed in the line of duty in Minnesota.

Gomm, who celebrated his 16th anniversary at the department on Tuesday, was working in the prison’s industry building when he was attacked. This building houses areas for carpentry, welding and other work assignments for the inmates, Roy said. He did not specify where in the building the attack on Gomm took place.

Corrections officers are not armed with guns, but they do carry pepper spray and radios to call for assistance, Roy said.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was on scene investigating the incident Wednesday evening. As a precaution, all prisons in the Minnesota Department of Corrections system were placed on lockdown after the attack, Roy said.

Inmate identified

Officials did not release the name of the inmate suspected in the attack, but  KSTP-TV and WCCO-TV identified him as Edward Muhammad Johnson. Johnson attacked Gomm with a hammer, according to the KSTP report.

Johnson, 42, is serving a 29-year sentence for the 2002 murder of his girlfriend, Brooke Elizabeth Thompson. The son of two Chicago police officers, Johnson was 12 when he witnessed his father shoot his mother six times before turning the gun on himself. Fourteen years after their murder-suicide, Johnson stabbed Thompson to death in his Bloomington apartment.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he was “appalled” by Gomm’s “horrific murder.”

“On behalf of all Minnesotans, I offer my deepest sympathies to Officer Gomm’s family, friends, and fellow corrections officers,” he said in a statement. “We are all indebted to the courageous corrections officers and other state employees, who risk their safety in Minnesota’s prisons to ensure the safety of their colleagues, our communities and the inmates themselves. Minnesotans are grateful for your selfless service, and we mourn with you the loss of your colleague and friend.”

Minnesota prison understaffed

The Stillwater prison houses 1,616 male inmates; 527 of them are incarcerated for homicide, Roy said.

A recent analysis found the Department of Corrections was understaffed and needed to add about 150 officers systemwide, Roy said. He noted that a request to the Minnesota Legislature for a staffing increase went unfulfilled last session, but he added that it was not clear whether Gomm’s death could be attributed to staffing levels.

Roy said “erratic behavior is not uncommon” among inmates, and that assaults on prison staff and on other inmates occur regularly.

A corrections officer at the prison was  assaulted earlier this year.

The nearby Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights  was placed on lockdown in June after an inmate attacked a corrections officer, causing serious injuries, officials said then. In March, assaults by inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights  sent 10 employees to the hospital — more injuries than in the previous five years combined.

“Day in and day out, our staff are doing very incredible work,” Roy said.

The Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association has found no record of another corrections officer killed in the state, said Jeff Beahen, the group’s president. Corrections officers are considered public safety officers under state law, but Beahen said he doesn’t know how long that has been case, and that may have affected record-keeping about line-of-duty deaths.

“Our hearts are very heavy today to know that an offender took advantage of an unarmed correctional officer while they’re in there protecting other offenders and the prison itself,” said Beahen, who is also the Rogers police chief.

The last line-of-duty death in Minnesota was in September. Wayzata Officer Bill Mathews was killed when he was removing debris from a highway and he was struck by a motorist who was on drugs and texting behind the wheel.

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