New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner
Office of Public Information
For immediate release:
Thursday, October 15, 1998
Correctional Services honors employees; cites their bravery, Governor's assistance
Commissioner Glenn S. Goord today presented the Department's awards for valor to seven employees during an annual ceremony held at the DOCS' Training Academy in Albany. Most of the actions leading to the awards occurred during a riot last year at Mohawk Correctional Facility.
The Department's highest award, the Medal of Honor, is presented to "an employee whose actions, in the line of duty, evidence an extraordinary degree of courage, bravery or heroism." The 1998 Medal of Honor recipients are Mohawk Correction Officer Douglas A. Christman, Clinton Correction Officer Larry L. Collins and Mohawk Correction Sergeant Ernest E. Stevens.
The Medal of Merit is presented to "an employee for extraordinary performance in the line of duty or for an exceptional contribution to the Department." The 1998 Medal of Merit recipients are Mohawk Correction Officers Bradley E. Bliss, Joseph F. Griffith and Stephen T. Kline, and the Rev. Carl Stiglich, a Protestant chaplain at Ulster Correctional Facility.
Commissioner Goord said, "These brave correction employees have earned the gratitude and admiration of all New Yorkers. We honor them today as examples of the professionalism, dedication and bravery of our 32,000 correction employees. They can truly be called heroes."
Governor George E. Pataki last year became the first Governor to ever attend the 15-year-old awards ceremony. Because his schedule did not allow him to attend today's ceremony, Governor Pataki sent the honorees a letter, stating that "It is a pleasure to join with your colleagues, families and friends in commending you for your notable actions" that have earned them the awards. The Governor continued, "I am also proud of our Administration's initiatives that have advanced your efforts, including the largest maximum-security expansion program in 70 years, enactment of the death penalty, criminalizing the vile acts of 'inmate throwers,' increasing security staffing and fill levels and eliminating parole for violent offenders as well as barring these individuals from participating in a work release program."
Governor Pataki noted in his letter that "Several of today's honorees are being recognized for their selflessness and heroism during the July 18-19, 1997, riot at the Mohawk Correctional Facility. The Inmate Prosecution Task Force that our Administration created in 1995 was instrumental in bringing additional charges against inmates who were participants in that unnecessary and senseless display of violence."
At the time of the incident, the prison system had 69,697 inmates but only 20,281 cells. All other inmates were housed in barracks or dormitory-style units. Since then, under the Governor's prison expansion plans, nine 100-cell double-occupancy maximum-security units have been added at existing medium-security prisons. A 750-cell, double-occupancy maximum-security prison is under construction in Malone and opens in July 1999. A second such prison is in the planning stages. That will add 4,800 beds in cells by 2001, a 24 percent increase.
"These additional cells," Commissioner Goord explained, "give us the space to house inmates who attack staff and break other prison rules. It also allows us to transfer to these new cells inmates who are now locked up in general confinement cells in maximum-security prisons. That frees up 'max beds' so we can increase our intake from the counties, who are holding record numbers of felons awaiting transfer to state custody. Thus, the counties are receiving relief by the state opening new cells." The Commissioner noted the five-year average number of felons backed up in county jails is 1,450, but there are 2,400 today.
Commissioner Goord said, "The Governor's commitment to increased cell capacity is especially important in light of his Sentencing Reform Act of 1995 and 1998's Jenna's Law, which together mandate that all violent offenders get longer maximum sentences and then serve at least 6/7ths of them - rather than the old law, which allowed their release after only as little as one-third of their maximum sentences. They will be staying longer. We need more cells to house them and to reduce current pressure on the system."
To help secure the work place even further, Governor Pataki created the Inmate Prosecution Task Force in April 1995 to commit state resources to assisting counties in bringing charges against inmates who commit crimes while in prison. The task force assisted the Oneida County District Attorney's office in gaining convictions against 11 inmates involved in the Mohawk riot, adding 65 years to their prison sentences.
In 1996, Governor Pataki provided employees with further protection when he signed into law a bill that made it a felony for inmates to throw human waste and fluids at prison employees. In the five-year period prior to enactment of this statute, there was an average of 134 such incidents each year. There have been 54 incidents through the first nine months of this year. Among the first 17 inmates convicted under the new law, the average additional sentence handed down was three years. One other inmate received an additional 15 years to life when he was sentenced as a persistent felon. There are 161 additional cases pending.
"Governor Pataki's criminal justice initiatives have contributed to a 23 percent decrease in crime on our streets over the past three years," Commissioner Goord noted. "That makes all New Yorkers safer. At the same time, Governor Pataki remains committed to the safety and security of our employees charged with the custody of the offenders that his initiatives take off of our streets. His construction program and program initiatives are testimony to his commitment to all our employees, whom he also honors by proclaiming this as Correctional Services Employee Week."
Commissioner Goord said, "Each day of the year, correctional employees go inside of prisons to perform the most difficult tasks that the state asks of any of its employees. And every day, they are equal to that challenge. It is only appropriate that we take time each year to recognize and encourage the commitment, esprit de corps and selflessness of our work force, which are typified by this year's honorees."
Since the Department's awards program was instituted in 1984 and including today's ceremony, a total of 100 awards have been presented. The Medal of Honor has been presented to 32 employees, including 25 Correction Officers, three Sergeants and four civilian employees. The Medal of Merit has now been presented to 68 employees, including 48 Correction Officers, four Sergeants, three Lieutenants and 13 civilians.
Attached are copies of the citations listing the action for which each recipient is being honored as well as a sheet listing biographical material on each recipient. Also attached are a copy of the Governor's proclamation and his letter.
Citations for Awards Ceremony
Medal of Honor
The Medal of Honor is presented "to an employee whose actions, in the line of duty, evidence an extraordinary degree of courage, bravery or heroism." The medal is gold-colored metal, circular, approximately 1_" in diameter and is suspended from a gold ribbon with two vertical blue stripes. The obverse side displays a raised state seal and "New York State Correctional Services," while the reverse is engraved with the recipient's name and the date the medal was presented. In addition, uniformed employees receive a service ribbon, for wear with Class A uniforms, that is approximately 1_" by _" having a gold field with two vertical blue stripes. Civilian employees receive, in addition to the medal, a lapel pin approximately ¼" by ¾" having a gold field with two vertical blue stripes.
Mohawk Correction Officer Douglas A. Christman:
On July 18, 1997, rioting inmates at the Mohawk Correctional Facility broke out of the west yard. They began to converge on the east yard. You were on post in the east yard. You were fully aware that staff had been injured, and that 150-200 inmates were heading toward your area. You could have sought personal safety near the fence. Instead, you located the part-time civilian Recreation Worker, and advised him to stay with you for his protection.
As the rioting inmates came into the yard, you were punched in the face and knocked to the ground. In spite of a bloody broken nose, you got up and again told the Recreation Worker to stay behind you for protection. Perimeter staff then deployed chemical agents that allowed you to escort the Recreation Worker to safety. Throughout this crisis, and despite personal injury, you exhibited valor and courage in the performance of your duties.
Commissioner Goord, I am proud to present Officer Douglas Christman to receive the Medal of Honor.
Clinton Correction Officer Larry L. Collins:
On September 17, 1997, you were the first Officer responding to an incident in H-Block, where an inmate was assaulting an Officer. Upon your arrival, the inmate was repeatedly stabbing Officer Luke Fessette with a homemade weapon. You immediately confronted the inmate, backing him away from the injured Officer. The inmate was still brandishing the weapon when you pushed Officer Fessette in the direction of additional responding Officers. You continued to confront the inmate while the injured Officer was removed from the area for medical treatment.
You exhibited extraordinary courage in the performance of your duties. Your immediate actions before the arrival of additional staff were instrumental in saving the life of Officer Fessette.
Commissioner Goord, I am proud to present Officer Larry Collins to receive the Medal of Honor.
Mohawk Correction Sergeant Ernest Stevens:
You assumed a critical leadership role in responding to the inmate disturbance of July 18-19, 1997. You came to the assistance of Officer Torres and Officer Rounds who had been injured during the first stages of the disturbance. You were one of the first to come to the aid of Lieutenant Prusko after he was assaulted by inmates wielding baseball bats. Along with others, you helped the injured Lieutenant to escape from the mob of inmates surrounding him, and removed him to the relative safety of 73 F Dorm. You were struck with a bat and punched in the face while helping rescue Lieutenant Prusko. Despite these injuries, you continued on with your tireless efforts to control the situation.
You then directed the defense of Building 54, where staff were under assault from rioting inmates. You and other employees were able to force the inmates to retreat back into the East Yard.
You then went on to remove some 64 inmates - who did not want to participate in the riot - from the scene, by securing them in the Counseling Unit of Building 54.
Your efforts on this evening are nothing short of heroic. In the face of overwhelming odds, you persevered, and contributed greatly to regaining control of the facility.
Commissioner Goord, I am proud to present Sergeant Ernest Stevens to receive the Medal of Honor.
Medal of Merit
The Department's Medal of Merit is presented "to an employee for extraordinary performance in the line of duty or for an exceptional contribution to the Department." The medal is gold-colored metal, circular, approximately 1_" in diameter, and is suspended from a blue ribbon with two vertical gold stripes. The obverse side displays a raised state seal and "New York State Correctional Services," while the reverse is engraved with the recipient's name and the date the medal was presented. In addition, uniformed employees receive a service ribbon approximately 1_" by _" having a blue field with two vertical gold stripes for wear with Class A uniforms. Civilian employees receive, in addition to the medal, a lapel pin approximately ¼" by ¾" having a blue field with two vertical gold stripes.
Mohawk Correction Officer Bradley Bliss:
On July 18, 1997, rioting inmates at Mohawk Correctional Facility rounded Building 73 and came upon and assaulted Correction Officer Richard Torres. You immediately came to the aid of Officer Torres, and fought off the inmate attackers. Despite suffering injuries yourself, you assisted Officer Torres to safety, preventing any further injury to him.
You then responded to the east yard, where rioting inmates had barricaded themselves. You made effective use of chemical agents to separate rioting inmates from three Mohawk staff members who were trapped in the east yard. Your fast action allowed these employees to escape safely from this potentially life-threatening situation.
Despite being injured, and being exposed to chemical agents, you remained on duty, demonstrating courage and professionalism under adverse conditions.
Commissioner Goord, I am proud to present Officer Bradley Bliss to receive the Medal of Merit.
Mohawk Correction Officer Joseph Griffith:
On July 18, 1997 at 7:09 PM, you and Correction Officer Stephen Kline took decisive action at great risk to yourselves. You came to the aid of your fallen comrade, Lieutenant Prusko, after he had been viciously attacked from behind and struck in the head with a baseball bat. He lay bleeding and helpless, in the midst of a crowd of rioting inmates, who continued to taunt, kick and strike him. Along with Sergeant Stevens, the three of you managed to move the injured Lieutenant to a safer location, inside of Building 73 F Dorm. You administered basic first aid until the Lieutenant could be removed and receive appropriate medical attention.
You remained on duty on the outside perimeter of east yard. You used your shotgun to fire warning shots which helped contain rioting inmates who were trying to get to staff trapped in the east yard area.
You demonstrated valor and dedication to your fellow Officers throughout the entire incident.
Commissioner Goord, I am proud to present Officer Joseph Griffith to receive the Medal of Merit.
Mohawk Correction Officer Stephen Kline:
On July 18, 1997 at 7:09 PM, you and Correction Officer Joseph Griffith took decisive action at great risk to yourselves. You came to the aid of your fallen comrade, Lieutenant Prusko, after he had been viciously attacked from behind and struck in the head with a baseball bat. He lay bleeding and helpless, in the midst of a crowd of rioting inmates, who continued to taunt, kick and strike him. Along with Sergeant Stevens, the three of you managed to move the injured Lieutenant to a safer location, inside of Building 73 F Dorm. You administered basic first aid until the Lieutenant could be removed and receive appropriate medical attention.
Your courage in the face of rioting inmates is testimony to your commitment to your fellow Officers.
Commissioner Goord, I am proud to present Officer Stephen Kline to receive the Medal of Merit.
Ulster Chaplain Rev. Carl Stiglich:
On October 1, 1997, you left a Chaplains' meeting at the Thornfield Conference Center in Cazenovia to meet a friend for dinner. As you walked to your car, you heard cries for help from nearby Cazenovia Lake. A boater had apparently fallen overboard without a life jacket, and was dangerously close to drowning in the frigid waters.
You ran to the lake and quickly shed your shoes, jacket and tie. You located a 6-foot board and jumped into the lake. You swam approximately 100 yards before reaching the victim who immediately grabbed the board. You then started swimming back toward shore, dragging the board with the victim hanging on to it, encouraging the victim to keep kicking.
By this time, the Center's cook, who also happens to be the chief of the local fire department, managed to drag a canoe to the water. He paddled out to you and the boater. You and the boater hung onto the outside of the canoe as the chief paddled back to shore. The boater was taken to a nearby hospital where he was treated for hypothermia and released.
Due to your quick actions and courage, a life was saved.
Commissioner Goord, I am proud to present the Rev. Carl Stiglich to receive the medal of merit.
Biographies of Award Recipients
MEDAL OF HONOR
Douglas A. Christman, Correction Officer - Mohawk
Date of Birth: July 4, 1960
DOCS Work History: September 18, 1989 to present
Current Salary: $36,754
Larry L. Collins, Correction Officer - Clinton
Date of Birth: January 26, 1948
DOCS Work History: September 8, 1981 to present
Current Salary: $40,288
Ernest E. Stevens, Sergeant - Mohawk
Date of Birth: October 29, 1961
DOCS Work History: September 13, 1982 to present
Current Salary: $47,315
MEDAL OF MERIT
Bradley E. Bliss, Correction Officer - Mohawk
Date of Birth: June 27, 1960
DOCS Work History: March 19, 1990 to present
Current Salary: $36,754
Joseph F. Griffith, Correction Officer - Mohawk
Date of Birth: January 24, 1953
DOCS Work History: August 22, 1988 to present
Current Salary: $36,754
Stephen T. Kline, Correction Officer - Mohawk
Date of Birth: July 31, 1967
DOCS Work History: August 21, 1989 to present
Current Salary: $36,754
Reverend Carl Stiglich, Protestant Chaplain - Ulster
Date of Birth: January 3, 1952
DOCS Work History: September 21, 1989 to present
Current Salary: $48,225