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Will West Union Shooting of Deputy, Inmate Prompt Security Changes?

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ANAMOSA, Iowa- The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) is looking at what went wrong at a West Union Hospital over the weekend. And part of the report might include new ideas for handling prisoners who need to go outside the jail for medical treatment.

An inmate shot a deputy then himself at the Palmer Lutheran Health Center in West Union on Saturday morning. It happened as the Fayette County deputy freed one of the prisoner’s hands as part of the medical exam process. The deputy was wearing a bullet proof vest and survived the gunshot without serious injury. The prisoner died of his wounds.

One DCI investigator said it would be Tuesday or Wednesday before the deputy and the prisoner who died are identified.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said hospitals do make requests of law enforcement when it comes to treating those in custody. Often, the hospitals might ask law enforcement use a particular entrance and wait in an area away from the general patient population. Most also will ask officers to stay with the prisoner during all tests and treatment. But the most vulnerable time is when medical professionals request the removal of some restraints in order to complete a procedure.

Jones County Sheriff Greg Graver said most officers will use handcuffs, leg shackles and what’s called a “belly belt” when transporting prisoners. The handcuffs, when hooked to the belt, limit arm movement.

But Graver said when it’s time to free one of the prisoner’s arms, a request that happens often for treatment, the officer has to move in close.

“And once the ‘click’ is made to open one of the cuffs and the arm goes loose, in close quarters they have one free arm. You’re vulnerable at that stage,” Graver said.

Sheriff Graver said it’s too soon in the investigation process to determine if what happened in West Union will prompt him to consider tweaking security precautions when taking Jones County prisoners to the doctor or dentist.

While hospitals can make requests, it’s ultimately up to law enforcement to determine what’s needed to keep the public and prisoners safe.

Linn County Sheriff Gardner said officers may make a half dozen trips for medical care each weekday. Sometimes one deputy escorts the inmate, sometimes two.

“A lot of times the seriousness of the charge and the person’s past behavior will determine how many people escort the person to the medical facility,” Gardner said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8611;

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