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Arizona prison whistleblower found dead in Goodyear

(Pexels Photo)

PHOENIX (AP) – An Arizona corrections officer has died after blowing the whistle last year on dangers faced by her colleagues due to the failure of cell door locks at a state prison.

Gabriela Contreras, 31, died Sunday at her home in Goodyear, police said, noting that they were treating the death as a suicide, though the official cause of death has yet to be determined by medical examiners.

“This is a sad day for us all, and tragic loss as she was a valued member of our team,” Corrections Director David Shinn said.

Contreras had said she copied videos showing corrections officers being attacked at Lewis Prison in Buckeye after managers failed to fix the problem. A union for corrections officers later released the videos to ABC15.

In a letter in mid-May to Gov. Doug Ducey, Contreras said she felt corrections leaders and other state officials would take action to fix the locks if the public could see the conditions at Lewis. “I got tired of seeing my fellow officers assaulted day after day because the locks were broken,” Contreras wrote.

After the videos were broadcast on television, Ducey asked two retired state Supreme Court justices to examine the problem of the faulty locks.

The retired justices reported Arizona’s prisons have had problems with cell doors for decades and that inmates leaving their cells without authorization was “an accepted part of prison life at Lewis.”

The retired justices wrote that then-Corrections Director Charles Ryan failed to appreciate the seriousness of the problem until he saw video of an assault broadcast. Ryan announced his retirement the day after he sat for his final interview with the former justices.

Lewis prison is 45 miles (72 kilometers) west of downtown Phoenix.

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