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Briggs, Officer Herbert L.
End of Watch:
Monday, February 12, 1934
Department of Corrections
On Monday, February 12, 1934, Corrections Officer Herbert Briggs was stabbed to death during an escape attempt by several inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.
Two corrections officers, Officer Floyd Jackson and H. M. Williams were in an office at the administration building when two inmates entered. One of the inmates, James DeLong, pulled a knife on Officer Williams. Turnkey Tom Hubbard walked into the office and fought with DeLong and was able to get the knife away from him. Several other inmates entered the office and stabbed Hubbard several times. Other inmates then wound wire around Officer Jackson’s neck before taking him to a nearby cell and locking him inside.
Warden J. M. McCauley called the office, so the inmates returned Officer Jackson there to answer the phone but warned him not to say anything. While speaking to Officer Jackson over the phone, Warden McCauley sensed that something wasn’t right based on the inflection of Officer Jackson’s voice.
Soon after the phone call was made, inmates lined up Officer Jackson, Officer Williams, Turnkey Hubbard, Officer Briggs, Officer A. W. Ballou, Officer William Truman and Chief Engineer S. B. Bowen and bound their wrists with wire. Officers Bowen and Truman were forced to lead the inmates into the yard where the other officers were used as shields.
Warden McCauley assembled a team of officers led by Captain J. F. Gemmell. The team of officers gathered along the top of the wall to meet the group of inmates who were walking across the yard towards the southwest gate. While headed towards the gate, an inmate fatally stabbed Officer Briggs and wounded Officer Williams in the leg. During the fight, inmates also attempted to strangle Officer Ballou.
Upon seeing the fight in the yard, the officers positioned along the top of the wall ordered the inmates to the ground. The inmates refused and the officers opened fire. During the first series of shots, seven inmates were killed and several others were wounded. The noise of the shots caused other inmates from the shops to run towards the gate to escape. Guards fired submachine guns over their heads and the inmates retreated back inside the shop.
The guards attempted to gain control of the situation and the warden placed the entire prison in lock down. Walla Walla County deputies and Walla Walla city officers were dispatched to the prison along with Company F of the Washington National Guard.
Along with the death of Officer Briggs, a total of six officers were injured and eventually eight inmates were dead.
After an investigation, it was determined that the riot was not preplanned. Several men decided that they had too much time to serve and they wanted to escape. They made knives used in the escape attempt at the license plate shop, made a leather sap loaded with nails and a marlin spike. The weapons were buried in the yard and were dug up the day before the escape.