MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Edward Johnson, the Stillwater inmate suspected of killing a corrections officer, has a history of confrontations with officers, according to people who worked in the prison.
Bob Grier, who retired as a Stillwater corrections officer just nine months ago, said Thursday the facility felt dangerous.
He described Joseph Gomm, the corrections officer killed in the line of duty Wednesday, as a diligent worker and good friend.
“He treated inmates with respect,” Grier said. “He treated co-workers with respect.”
Gomm worked as a firefighter out east before taking a job as a corrections officer at Stillwater.
Grier worked alongside Gomm in the prison for more than 15 years.
“I can’t think of anything he would do to provoke a response like that,” Grier said. “That’s just not in Joe’s nature.”
Grier’s former colleagues called him shortly after Wednesday’s attack, telling him that Gomm was making his rounds in the welding shop when the assault happened.
“He was attacked, blindsidedly by Mr. Johnson with a hammer,” Grier said.
He was told the attack went on for at least a minute.
Gomm was struck repeatedly in the head as some inmates cheered and others tried to join in.
“From what I understand the door was blocked by several other inmates,” Grier said.
He says Johnson, the suspect, resented staff for some time.
“He made numerous threats, numerous veiled threats,” he said.
Johnson, a convicted killer, first assaulted a prison guard in 2002.
Two years later, another inmate stabbed Johnson in the eye with a sharpened hairbrush.
He permanently lost sight in his right eye.
Johnson blamed officers for not doing more to protect him.
He sued the Department of Corrections and won $500,000. Most of the money went to the family of his first victim.
“People in the public have no idea how it is in there,” Grier said.
For years, Grier says his former colleagues’ complaints have been ignored.
“We’d been hearing in my last months that someone is going to get killed,” he said.
During his time at the prison, Grier has seen its inmate population grow from 1,000 inmates when he started to 1,600 inmate when he retired.
“We’d bring up the issues, and we were told it’s a calculated risk,” Grier said.
In the welding shop, where the attack happened, inmates are allowed access to all kinds of tools.
“Not only do they outnumber the staff, but they have more dangerous weapons at hand than the staff has to defend themselves,” Grier said.
Corrections officers carry only pepper spray, a radio and handcuffs — not enough to fight back against the hammer Johnson allegedly wielded.
Grier describes the guards’ job as difficult, as they are tasked with watching up to 40 inmates at a time.
“It’s nearly impossible to see what’s going on,” he said.
He believes that Johnson shouldn’t have been allowed workshop duty, considering his past.
Grier says his bosses were well aware of guards’ concerns.
“I was never so happy as the day I walked out of that door for the last time,” he said.