Stabbed in the neck: How 15 pizzas stopped a prison riot
It was the three-day hostage siege that began with a stab wound to the neck and ended with a delivery of 15 hot pizzas.
Such is the bizarre and dangerous life of a prison officer at notorious Risdon Prison.
The neck in question belonged to prison supervisor Tony Burley, and the pizzas arrived as payment for the release of corrections officer, Ken Hannah, who had been held hostage for 41 hours as angry prisoners ran rampage.
Now retired from corrections, Burley is finally able to talk publicly about the dramatic 2005 siege, which remains one of the longest and most dangerous in the troubled prison's history.
In fact, he believes it was a scuffle between him and notorious inmate Adrian Alwyn Pickett that triggered the riot.
Pickett spent 14 years in prison, predominantly in solitary confinement, after first being incarcerated for two aggravated armed robberies in 2002. However, Pickett's sentence was extended by 30 breaches committed while in custody, including both violent and nonviolent offences.
Since his initial release in 2016, he has been in and out of jail regularly.
"It was a chain of events," Burley tells the On Guard podcast.
"I was organising a search in Behaviour Management (unit) for the team to look for weapons and Adrian Pickett came out of his cell armed with two weapons and made a beeline for me. We had a bit of a struggle and I disarmed him of one weapon. As I went to cuff him I realised I was bleeding because he stabbed me in the back of the neck and we had to take him to solitary confinement and that caused a lot of angst with his mates in the rest of the prison."
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As the leader of the Bad Boys prison gang, Pickett was arguably the most powerful inmate. His followers didn't take news of his return to solitary confinement well. (Pickett would later successfully sue the State Government for holding him in solitary confinement for all but five months of his 14-year incarceration.)
"They blamed me," Burley said. "There are paintings on the wall from that period, where it says 'Burley you're a dog and it's all your fault' … they didn't want him back in solitary confinement because he was trying to what they call 'run' the prison.
"He was revered and because of the circumstances of that particular week they had had enough."
Enraged prisoners stormed the prison reception area, taking officer Ken Hannah hostage, and seizing control of the prison. Dangerous prisoners were let out of their cells as staff were overpowered.
As part of the Tactical Response Group (TRG), specially trained to diffuse violent unrest, Burley and the riot team put on protective body wear and assembled in a holding area inside the prison with shields, tear gas and weapons, while prison negotiators talked with inmates.
"We were on standby for three days without sleep. We were burning pallets in the courtyard to keep warm and breaking into the prison store to get food to keep ourselves going. It was a ridiculous weekend and the department didn't feed or keep an eye on us, but we had to go on," Burley, 63, said.
"It was just endless negotiations. And every couple of hours we all had to prepare to storm the Bastille, things would get to a certain point. Then you back off. And then a couple of hours later, you're there again, getting ready to ready to go."
After three harrowing days, Hannah was finally released when negotiators met prisoners' demands for delivery pizzas and agreed to a number of other requests. Hannah did not suffer any significant physical injuries but left the job soon after.
While Burley and his riot team were never called to enter, the veteran officer knew exactly what could await him from previous incidents.
"Doors smashed in, people walking around armed with anything they can get their hands on - pots of boiling water - just anything they can turn into a weapon," he recalls.
"We had quite a few situations where we've had to go in as TRG and fill whole units full of chemical agent using 40mm rocket launchers …
"I remember one area, division four in the old Risdon Prison. It was overcrowded, double the amount of prisoners that should have been in there. And we had to pump a lot of chemical agent into that area and then find the perpetrators.
"I remember moving forward in line and fallen bodies were dragged out, and then taken away by other people while we kept moving forward. I just recall seeing a mound of bodies, just piled on top of each other. But they would obviously just under the effect of the chemical agent and trying not to be in trouble," Burley said.
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Originally published as Stabbed in the neck: How 15 pizzas stopped a prison riot