Ex-justice says hostage negotiations were appropriate - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Ex-justice says hostage negotiations were appropriate

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Posted: Friday, October 29, 2004 10:34 am | Updated: 4:45 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

A former Arizona Supreme Court chief justice said promising out-of-state incarceration to two inmates who took guards hostage in January was the right thing to do.

Thomas Zlaket, in a report to Gov. Janet Napolitano, said it was important for officials at the state prison in Buckeye to keep their word to Steven Coy and Ricky Wassenaar who holed up in a guard tower for 15 days after a botched escape attempt.

"Anything less would have spelled trouble with the entire prison population,’’ he said.

Zlaket, asked by the governor to review the negotiations during the standoff with the armed inmates, also said it would not have been a good idea to keep the pair in the state prison population "for their own safety as well as for the general good and order of the institution.’’

However, Barnett Lotstein, special assistant to Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley, said the former chief justice is off base.

"That was a bad deal and should not have been done,’’ he said.

Lotstein said the inmates understood they were not going to escape and they were goi ng to face future punishment.

But one of the things they wanted was to be in prisons closer to their families.

"They got rewarded for doing what they did,’’ he said. "It sets a horrible precedent.’’

Lotstein disagreed with Zlaket’s conclusion that it is necessary for negotiators to keep their word, not so much to resolve a current situation but to ensure that future incidents do not end badly.

Zlaket pointed out the incident ended "with a peaceful surrender and no loss of life.’’ But Lotstein said the guards were harmed, with one of them raped.

Lotstein also said Zlaket interviewed neither Romley nor Melvin McDonald, hired by Romley as a special deputy county attorney to conduct a grand jury probe of the hostage situation.

But the court sealed McDonald’s report on the probe and barred him from talking about it.

Coy pleaded guilty and was sent to a prison in Maine; Wassenaar is scheduled to go on trial in January.

A commission created by Napolitano after the hostage standoff reached a series of conclusions about what led to the ability of the inmates to take hostages.

But Napolitano asked Zlaket to conduct a separate inquiry about what occurred during those 15 days.

Zlaket said those involved in the talks "were thoroughly competent and professional.’’

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