Chesterton Tribune



First death of state correctional officer; Westville inmate describes misery

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The Indiana Department of Correction (DOC) was reporting today the first death of a correctional officer from COVID-19.

He was identified as Gary Weinke, 67, who was employed at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility.

“He was a one-of-a-kind officer who touched the lives of many of those that he worked closest with,” Acting Warden Frank Littlejohn said. “He will be truly missed.”

Meanwhile, the Westville Indicator reported on Friday that the Westville Correctional Facility appears to be under-reporting the number of infected inmates and may not be testing them in any comprehensive way, while anecdotal reports from inmates themselves indicate rapidly deteriorating conditions at the prison.

A transcript of a phone call from a Westville inmate provided to the Chesterton Tribune by Indiana Prison Advocates would seem to confirm the Indicator’s report: “The inmates here, including myself, man, are very sick. . . I believe I recovered once already and I believe I’ve caught COVID-19 for a second time. A lot of inmates have notated their self, a lot of people have tried to get medical attention but are refused. Things are getting worse, there was a riot. I know this for a fact, that if my 56-year-old roommate doesn’t get medical attention, then he’s probably not going to live. All of this information is common throughout the whole prison, staff coming in sick and other inmates including myself have been asked to keep an eye on these guys the minute they quit breathing to let somebody know. I don’t know how to describe the misery that has taken place in here. People are moaning in pain and some are hoping to die to relieve the suffering. Holcomb should try and help us. He claims there’s a strike team here at Westville but I haven’t seen anyone offering to help anyone do anything. Commissary’s been taken away and I’ll have to call you back after count. All right, I gotta go.”

Just before deadline today Westville Correctional Facility Warden John Galipeau released a statement to the effect that the facility “is working to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for all offenders and staff.”

Over the last two weeks, Galipeau said, two work units at the prison have focused on making face masks from donated materials. “The masks are to be worn at all times by staff as well as offenders. The nearly 2,500 masks produced are just one way the facility is doing its part to flatten the curve. Medical services screen staff and offenders daily for fevers. Staff are having temperatures taken every day prior to entering the facility, and anyone who has a fever of 100 degrees or higher is sent home. Those sent home cannot return to work until they meet the (CDC) requirements to return to work.”

“Offenders who are screened and have a fever of 100 degrees are quarantined for up to 14 days for monitoring,” Galipeau said. “Positive cases are isolated in a different area, pending recovery from the virus. Each unit is being staffed by the same custody officers to reduce exposure risk.”

“The facility proactively took steps to social-distance by offering no cross programming, temporarily canceling face-to-face visits, and all volunteer programs,” Galipeau said. “Offenders and staff have been tapped to clean continuously and practice social-distancing during any movement. Sanitizer has been deployed in all areas and is available to all offenders and staff.”

“Staff and offenders have shown to be resilient during these times,” Galipeau said. “The safety of our staff, offenders, and the community is our top priority. We are in this together, and we will get through this. I am proud of how well our staff as well as the offenders are handling this pandemic.”

One thing which Galipeau did not do in this morning’s statement was report the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at the facility, nor address allegations of under-reporting those cases.


Posted 4/27/2020




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