Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner

Office of Public Information
[518] 457-8182

For immediate release:

Monday, October 1, 2001

Staff successfully defuses civilian hostage incident at Elmira prison

A civilian vocational instructor at Elmira Correctional Facility was taken hostage at 12:45 p.m. today and held against his will for 10 minutes by an inmate armed with two screwdrivers and a pen.

Security and civilian staff convinced inmate Amare Selton to release Charles Whitford at 12:55 p.m. after holding the print instructor in an office area of his classroom. Selton surrendered peacefully an hour later after staff talked with him and arranged for him to speak with the facility's Imam.

Whitford was treated at the facility's infirmary for superficial lacerations to the back of his neck and his shoulder. The Division of State Police has been notified of the incident and Selton was transferred to Auburn Correctional Facility pending disciplinary and likely criminal charges.

After Selton released Whitford, the inmate brandished his weapons while refusing to leave the office area. Staff tried to convince the inmate to lay down his weapons and surrender peacefully. It was during those discussions that arrangements were made for the inmate to speak with Elmira's Imam. He later spoke with the Imam for about three minutes, after which he laid down his weapons and surrendered without incident at 1:55 p.m. It is not yet known why Selton took the instructor hostage. There were 10 inmates in the classroom when the incident occurred.

"Our employees at Elmira are to be commended for their professionalism and dedication in helping to peacefully defuse what could have turned into a very volatile incident," said Commissioner Glenn S. Goord. "At the same time, we plan to once again make it very clear through our actions and pending criminal proceedings that we remain firm in our resolve that we will not tolerate any violent actions against any of our employees at any time."

After he was taken hostage, Whitford activated his personal alarm and security staff immediately raced to his second-floor classroom to help ensure his safety. The alarm system is a portable unit which many civilian employees in the Department wear on their person to immediately alert and summon security staff in the event of an incident.

All inmates at Elmira were moved out slowly to the mess hall late this afternoon and then returned to their cells to be locked in for the night. Prison officials decided to cancel all evening programming in order to gauge the mood at the facility and ensure the safety of staff and others.

Selton, 29, is serving a 25-year-to-life sentence for six 1993 convictions out of New York County: first-degree murder, first-degree escape and four counts of first-degree robbery. He was received into the state prison system on May 18, 1993, and has been at Elmira since April 7, 1999. Inmate Selton is not eligible for parole until Dec. 6, 2017.