By Esme Murphy

STILLWATER, Minn. (WCCO) – Corrections officers at the Stillwater prison protested Wednesday during the planned reopening of the work area where officer Joe Gomm was murdered in late July.

An inmate attacked Gomm with a hammer and stabbed him with a home-made knife. Gomm died at the scene.

Officers refused to work Wednesday in what’s called the Industry area, where prisoners work various jobs. That area has been closed since July 18, when Gomm was murdered.

Tim Henderson is a retired corrections officer and the associate director of the corrections officers union.

“They were willing to work in the prison, but they were not going to work in industry until they felt they had enough staff,” he said. “They cited their contract language under state law, the right to refuse work when they feel the conditions of the work environment are unsafe.”

Talks are continuing between the union and the Department of Corrections to meet the officers’ demand for more staffing so they can reopen the work area.

One part of the Industry area that is not scheduled to reopen is the metal shop, where the attack on Gomm took place.

In a statement, the Department of Corrections said it is continuing to work with officers on safety issues.

“We share our officers’ strong desire to increase staffing levels,” the statement said. “Over the last eight years, the department has requested that the Legislature fund additional 150 corrections officers. Unfortunately, those requests were not funded.”

Currently, corrections officers are wearing special bracelets to remember Gomm, and their union leaders say they will keep pushing for safer work conditions in his honor.

Edward Johnson, the inmate who attacked Gomm, has been moved to the prison at Oak Park Heights.

Prosecutors say they will take the case to a grand jury in order to charge Johnson with first-degree murder.

Esme Murphy

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