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Penitentiary Staff Searching For Family, Friends of Fallen Officers For Memorial Ceremony

September 9, 2015

By Andrew Garber

DOC Communications

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WALLA WALLA – Staff at the Washington State Penitentiary are honoring three correctional officers who died in the line of duty at a memorial ceremony this month, and need your help.

Penitentiary employees are searching for family members, friends, former corrections employees or anyone else who might have a connection to the officers, who will be recognized at a Medal of Honor Ceremony next month at the penitentiary on Sept. 18.

“We’re looking for anyone who might have any stories, tidbits or anything to share,” said Shari Hall, Public Information Officer for the penitentiary. She noted they’re also searching for anyone who might have a photo of one of the officers, Herbert Briggs, who died in 1934. “We’ve been trying to find photos of him, but we’ve struck out every time. They didn’t even have a photo with his newspaper obituary.”

Lt. Roger Sanders and Sgt. William Cross are the other two officers who will be honored at the ceremony.

Each year, the Behind the Badge Foundation and Attorney General’s Medal of Honor Committee commemorate law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty in Washington state. The Behind The Badge Foundation also maintains the Law Enforcement Memorial in Olympia. A few years ago, Mike Severance, a retired Seattle police officer, discovered several law enforcement officers in Washington had not been nominated for the Medal of Honor. So he nominated them last year—including the three Department of Corrections officers, according to the department’s chief of emergency operations, Greg Miller. The committee chose to accept many of the nominations, and because there were so many recipients, the committee allowed each agency representing the recipients to hold a ceremony at their sites.

Gayle Frink-Schultz, Program Director for the Behind the Badge Foundation, said allowing each individual agency to host their own ceremonies was a “good way to make their ceremony more personal for officers and families.”

Anyone who may have worked with the officers, has any historical artifacts pertaining to the officers, or is a family member should call Shari Hall at (509) 524-7716.

Sanders, 40, died Sept. 1, 1978 from injuries sustained in a pipe bomb explosion that occurred on Aug. 11, 1978. Prison staff found the bomb inside a bathroom in the education department and the explosion occurred in the control room. Two other officers were injured in the blast. Other bombs were found in the kitchen and the facility’s metal plant. The incident prompted an 18-day shutdown of the facility.

Flags at half-staff – a memorial built for Lt. Sanders.

Cross died June 13, 1979. Inmates stabbed him while assisting another officer who was searching an inmate for weapons. While the officers searched the inmate, other inmates jumped the officers. The 33-year-old Cross was stabbed during the assault. Penitentiary officials believed the inmates were arming themselves following a fight between a group of Native American and Hispanic inmates the week before that resulted in the death of an inmate for failing to pay a drug debt. Two inmates were tried for and one was convicted of the Cross’ murder.

Briggs died Feb. 12, 1934 at the age of 64 after being held hostage and then stabbed several times during an escape attempt by inmates. Inmates had made knives in the license plate shop. Inmates buried the weapons in the yard and dug them out of the ground the day before the attempted escape. After seizing the officers, inmates attempted to rush the walls, prompting other officers to confront them. After the inmates refused to surrender, other officers opened fire. A total of eight inmates died and five others were convicted the same year for Briggs’ murder. Briggs was the facility’s assistant chief turnkey.

A total of 302 law enforcement officers are recognized on the Washington State Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial in Olympia. Of them, six are Department of Corrections officers. The other officers on the memorial are Jayme Biendl, an officer who was strangled at the Monroe Correctional Complex on Snohomish County in 2011; Community Corrections Officer Michael Erdahl who died in a fire at his home in Kitsap County in 1985, and Lt. William S. Warfield, who died of a heart attack after an inmate kicked him in the chest during a fight at Washington State Penitentiary.