Investigators released findings of their probe into the death of a correctional officer on the job in May.
The employee of the East Moline Correctional Center died while cutting tree branches outside the facility. Local 4 News obtained the report from the Illinois Division of Occupational Safety and Health (IL OSHA) that details the violations surrounding the incident. OSHA categorizes its findings as serious violations, saying the correctional center did not ensure that a properly-trained employee operated the boom aerial lift while cutting down the branches on a downward sloped grassy area, making the employee vulnerable to falling from the elevated position.
OSHA reported a second problem, saying the correctional center did not ensure the employee wore a protective harness to stop a fall or restrain him while working in the basket of the aerial lift.
Former East Moline Correctional Center inmate Alphonso Crawford spoke with Local 4 News about his experiences in May, when he saw an East Moline Correctional Center employee lose his life. “We noticed a supervisor on a lift that wasn’t suitable to be prepared to do that job,” Crawford said. “In one instance, we saw it tipping over, and you could tell on impact that some damage had been done.”
Crawford talked to Local 4 News about the changes he would want to see, since he still has friends that are incarcerated at the correctional center. “They need to send somebody from the outside, an independent auditor to come in and completely view the inside of these prisons, particularly East Moline,” Crawford said. “No one should have to do something like that; that should be something left for a professional to come in and do.”
Illinois Representative Gregg Johnson spoke to Local 4 News about the issue. “I don’t know why they were cutting costs, and why they put Chris James in this position,” Johnson said. “Chris was a friend of mine, and I don’t want the narrative to be Chris was reckless and got up there when he wasn’t provided with the right environment. Whether it was Chris, who I thought the world of, or anyone else in the state of Illinois workforce, they let him down.”
Johnson actively talked about trying to change legislation, so that this accident would never happen again. “I’m going to start looking for legislation that requires anybody in the state of Illinois workforce to be properly trained,” Johnson said. “In any other industry, they would be properly trained. In this case, they weren’t”
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 46 President Cody Dornes spoke with Local 4 News about one of his best friends losing his life in May. Dornes told Local 4 News this didn’t need to happen. “Chris was an incredible man. He was a really good friend,” Dornes said. “He was a really good family man. He was a great union brother. He had been by my side for 12 years. It’s extremely hard to take. I find myself getting excited about telling Chris something, until I realize I can’t.”
Dornes also talked about how he wants more changes to come out of this. “His wife is going to be a widow because of this,” Dornes said. “We need answers. We need to know more than just safety violations. We are months after this incident. We know nothing more now than we knew then. All we’ve seen is a memo come out.”
The OSHA citation requires the prison to make changes to ensure safety. Local 4 News also obtained a Department of Corrections memorandum stopping tree trimming and related services, as well as using lifts by non-vendors.