SPRINGFIELD — Passengers in a helicopter that landed in a parking lot at one of Illinois’ toughest prisons “are lucky to be alive,” say officials representing the state’s prison guards.
The helicopter, filled with top prison brass, was making a visit to the Pontiac Correctional Center on March 20 when it touched down in an area where guards park their cars.
The problem, says the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, is no one told rank-and-file prison guards, who were alarmed by the presence of an unmarked helicopter in close proximity to the maximum-security facility.
AFSCME says one correctional officer in a guard tower drew his weapon, fearing an inmate on outside work detail who was walking toward the helicopter might be involved in an escape attempt.
No shots were fired, but the incident resulted in the union issuing a written complaint to Illinois Department of Corrections Director Roger Walker.
“No notice of approval of any aircraft to breach the perimeter had been shared with any operations staff at Pontiac,” wrote AFSCME Regional Director Buddy Maupin.
Maupin said correctional officers are authorized to shoot to kill in order to prevent an aircraft from assisting in an escape attempt.
“The tower officer would have been fully within his authority to open fire on the incoming unauthorized aircraft,” Maupin noted in his letter.
Department of Corrections spokesman Derek Schnapp said the helicopter was making a routine visit to the prison and it had authorization to land in the parking lot.
“The warden’s office was aware of it,” Schnapp said.
Schnapp would not address whether the warden’s office notified guards on duty.
“I’m not going to get into it as far as the logistics are on it,” Schnapp said.
In addition to stopping in Pontiac, the Springfield-based contingent of top prison officials also flew to prisons in Robinson and Ina that day. Schnapp said the fly-around was part of normal, periodic visits to prisons by top administrators.
No further incidents were reported at those prisons
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