Oregon State Police are investigating a hostage training exercise that happened on November 5th.
In a training exercise, the SWAT team used tear gas to stop their fellow workers who were hostages. The exercise was at Oregon State Penitentiary. On November 5th, an incident happened at the shuttered Mill Creek Prison. It was during training between the Penitentiary’s SWAT and the crisis negotiation team.
The Oregon State Police are investigating the incident. The Department of Corrections put the head of their SWAT team on leave before Thanksgiving. The spokesperson for the Department of Corrections is Jennifer Black. We cooperate with the Oregon State Police. Bosses take misconduct by employees seriously. After the criminal investigation, we will review our training for Special Weapons and Tactics and Crisis Negotiation Team.
Oberfoell declined to comment.
Leaders of the crisis negotiation team sent out an email to staff. They requested that people come to Mill Creek early on the morning of November 5th. The people who came were roleplaying as hostages or hostage-takers for training. CSU spoke to Martinez and 3 other people who were at the training.
Martinez said that the SWAT team’s use of tear gas on volunteers was a mistake. He was worried about the other people there who had asthma or COPD. Before noon, there were volunteers in a room in the basement of Mill Creek. They smelled pepper spray before the exercise began. It made their throats tickle, and then it went away.
The scripted training was supposed to last more than an hour. It is like a game. There is someone on the phone with a negotiator who pretends to be a hostage-taker. The person playing the hostage-taker didn’t follow the script.
Martinez says that the volunteer said they were being held, hostage. “Putting gas in the vent just got a hostage killed.” Kristin Atkinson said, “That’s when the chaos ensued.” Kristin volunteered at the prison because she wants to be a part of the negotiation team in the future.
The first thing, we could see smoke coming in the vents from outside. Shortly after that, you can hear the SWAT team coming down into the basement. Next, there was a loud sound and a bright flash. The whole room was full of smoke. I couldn’t breathe and thought I had to get out of the room.
Another person who does not want to be named said they had a similar experience. The volunteers were given safety glasses and earplugs, but they did not wear them because they expected the negotiation to last at least an hour before SWAT arrived.
“I did not know that they would use live ammunition,” Atkinson said. “No one expected that.”
Martinez was very mad. She said that she had never seen tear gas used during training in the more than 20 years she has been at the Department of Corrections. It is not okay that someone deviated from the script, so it does not matter if they were a volunteer.
The gas that they use for these kinds of simulations is fake. It can’t hurt you if it’s not real. Juan Chavez is an attorney who works for the people in prison. He also helps other lawyers. A person said, “If they are doing this to each other, what are they doing to the people they should take care of?” Violence is a culture. Dehumanizing people is bad.
One volunteer said they breathed in teargas, and it was a bad experience. They were treated badly, and they do not want to be identified because they are worried about getting hurt.
The person said, “We do this for our coworkers. That’s why we volunteer. This way, if there is a real emergency, they can save our lives.” Another person said they would not volunteer in the future. That person also refused to give their name.
After the SWAT team threw tear gas outside, they helped the volunteers. Martinez was there too. She saw all the volunteers. They have snot and tears on their faces, and they are coughing. Once she was outside, one of the SWAT members apologized. They gave her water to wash off the tear gas in her face.
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