Eight hurt in fight at Coleman federal prison

Eight male inmates were injured with at least one suffering a gunshot wound, when a "large-scale fight" broke out at a federal prison northwest of Orlando on Sunday, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

It started in the recreation yard of a high-security unit at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex around 2:20 p.m., said Traci Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Billingsley said no staff workers or guards were seriously injured and no inmate had a firearm at any time. She had no immediate information on the condition of the inmates.

Asked later Sunday about the injuries, she said that "one is gunshot, but I don't know about the others."

A Coleman spokesman, Charles Ratledge, said prison staff fired shots when inmates ignored orders to stop fighting.

Billingsley said she had no further details about how it began or how many inmates were involved. The fight was brought under control and nearby residents were never at risk, she said.

The Orlando Regional Medical Center confirmed that seven people from the prison were hospitalized, six inmates and one "corrections official," said hospital spokesman Joe Brown.

Billingsley insisted Sunday that "none of the staff was seriously hurt."

All of the inmates were under the watch of armed prison guards as the hospital's emergency room was put into lockdown.

"That's pretty much standard procedure. It's protocol for something like that," said Brown.

He said the patients had injuries consistent with either shootings or stabbings.

"My understanding was it was a combination of gunshot wounds and stabbing wounds," said Brown.

An eighth person was taken to Leesburg Regional Medical Center. Officials there confirmed they received one patient from the prison. Nursing supervisor Kayce Walker said she did not know if the patient was an inmate or a corrections staffer.

No names of the injured were released.

The FBI is investigating the incident.

The prison complex has four units that house low-, medium- and high-security male inmates and an adjacent, minimum-security camp of female offenders.

Matthew Cox, the former Tampa mortgage broker accused of masterminding millions of dollars in loan fraud in five states, was sent to Coleman after he was sentenced to more than 26 years in prison in November 2007. It was unclear Sunday which unit Cox was in.

One of Coleman's most prominent inmates, former newspaper baron Conrad Black, is housed in a low-security unit away from where Sunday's fighting broke out. Low-security inmates were not involved in the fight.

Last year, Black reported to Coleman to begin a 6 1/2-year sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice for swindling shareholders of the Hollinger International media empire.

Former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, who was sentenced to 57 months in Tampa federal court for aiding members of a terrorist group in nonviolent ways, was formerly a prisoner at Coleman.

A Federal Bureau of Prisons Web page lists the total number of inmates at the complex as 7,294 as of last week. The unit where the fight broke out houses 1,659 inmates.

Sunday's fight follows a fatal stabbing at the prison in October 2007.

The Sumter County prison also made headlines in 2008 when five guards and several other workers were arrested and charged with bribery-related offenses for accepting up to $20,000 to smuggle drugs, weapons and cell phones into the complex.

The prison is approximately 60 miles northeast of Tampa and 35 miles south of Ocala..

Information from the Associated Press and the Orlando Sentinel was used in this report.

Eight hurt in fight at Coleman federal prison 01/25/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 11:31am]

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