State prisons chief to announce changes soon

  • By Rikki King, Eric Stevick and Jerry Cornfield Herald Writers
  • Friday, February 4, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

For the first time since corrections officer Jayme Biendl was killed at her post at the Monroe Correctional Complex, officials today could lay out plans for changes at state prisons.

Corrections Secretary Eldon Vail told state lawmakers Thursday in Olympia that he hoped to announce “a few changes” on Friday.

“I’m looking at some security improvements, not just at Monroe but statewide,” he said after appearing in front of the House General Government Appropriations Committee.

Vail didn’t elaborate on what he’s considering.

Huge efforts are under way for a law enforcement funeral for Biendl next week in Everett. Her family on Thursday released a statement, saying they are devastated with grief. As the investigation continues, many questions remained unanswered.

John Lane, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s adviser on criminal justice issues, said he’s spoken with Vail about possible changes for the prison system but didn’t know what’s been decided.

“We’re working with Eldon on his idea,” Lane said Thursday. “He’s finalizing the details and will be ready to announce them tomorrow.”

Vail appeared at the committee hearing to outline his department’s budget.

Following his testimony, members of the union representing prison workers urged lawmakers not to cut any further from the department.

“The mood up there is very dark. It is very angry,” said Susan Plouff, an administrative assistant at the prison in Monroe. “We’re angry that we’ve been asked to do more with less … in a very dangerous place. I ask that you fund us so we don’t have this happen again.”

Biendl, 34, was strangled Saturday night in the chapel at the Monroe Correctional Complex. The prime suspect, Byron Scherf, has been transferred to the Snohomish County Jail.

Biendl’s family has asked for privacy since her death. They released a statement Thursday describing their loss.

They remembered her as a little girl in Granite Falls who loved softball and summer fishing trips. She was caring, loving and a great friend, they wrote. They also thanked law enforcement and the community for their support during a terrible time.

“She was in every sense of the word a real sweetheart,” they wrote. “We all loved Jayme so very much and will miss her every day of our lives. There is an enormous void in our lives that will never be filled.”

Volunteers are working around the clock preparing for the public memorial.

“We have many, many people here planning the memorial service,” Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said Thursday.

The planning team includes police officers, firefighters, paramedics and corrections officers from around the state, he said. Civilian volunteers have poured in as well.

The memorial will follow protocols seen at every law enforcement funeral, he said. The ceremonies don’t differ for line-of-duty deaths among corrections officers.

“Corrections officers are part of the law enforcement family,” Goetz said. “They’re no different than cops on the street or sheriff’s deputies. Those folks place themselves in harm’s way every day just like we do.”

The memorial is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday at Comcast Arena in Everett. A large gathering is expected.

Most, if not all, of local law enforcement will wear mourning bands, as is tradition, Goetz said.

The planning team also includes the Behind the Badge Foundation and the city of Monroe. The team is made up of lots of “good people, good volunteers and good folks,” Goetz said.

Officials have not determined how parking and transportation will work for the memorial, but some street closures are expected. Additional information is expected before the week is out.

The slayings of officers in Lakewood and Seattle in recent years have prepared them all too well for law enforcement funerals, Goetz said.

“Unfortunately, law enforcement in Washington state have had way too much practice with this over the last 18 months,” he said. “We understand what we need to get done.”

It was still unclear Thursday why Scherf was cleared to work in the chapel. Inmates who work there are considered trusted and usually serve as chapel clerks doing paperwork and organizing distribution of items such as donated Bibles and holiday cards.

Although he has a history of violent attacks on women, Scherf was considered usually well-behaved as an inmate and hasn’t had a violent infraction in about a decade. He’s been on medium-custody status since 2002, according to Department of Corrections records.

Close custody is the most restrictive classification for inmates. It includes tighter security and greater staffing.

Many medium-security inmates, including Scherf, were housed in a close-custody area at the reformatory in 2009, state corrections director Bernie Warner said. That’s when the reformatory was changed from a close- to medium-security prison. Roughly 250 Monroe inmates were reassigned at that time to close-custody prisons at Clallam Bay and Walla Walla.

Scherf had not spoken with investigators as of Thursday afternoon, Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; estevick@heraldnet.com

Donations

The planning team and Teamsters Local 117, which represents corrections workers, have established accounts to help pay for the memorial service for slain officer Jayme Biendl.

Donations can be made in her memory at any Union Bank, formerly known as Frontier Bank.

Donations also may be made at any Bank of America branch.

They also can be sent to the Jayme Biendl Benevolent Fund, 14675 Interurban Ave. S., Suite 307, Tukwila, WA 98168.

Flowers in Biendl’s honor can be sent to Comcast Arena, 2000 Hewitt Ave. in Everett, either on Monday from noon to 5 p.m. or Tuesday from 7 to 10 a.m.

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