jayme biendl01.jpg
In the last two days, a story published by the Associated Press under the headline " Inmates had filed grievances against slain Monroe Correctional guard

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AP Story on Slain Prison Guard Jayme Biendl Implies Inmate "Grievances" Contributed to Her Death; Facts Say Otherwise

jayme biendl01.jpg
In the last two days, a story published by the Associated Press under the headline "Inmates had filed grievances against slain Monroe Correctional guard" has been picked up by numerous media outlets like KOMO News, The Seattle Times, and The Spokesman Review.

The story references complaints filed by inmates at the Monroe Correctional Facility against Jayme Biendl, the corrections officer who was strangled to death by inmate Byron Scherf in January. The implication of the story seems to be that Ofc. Biendl was an unpopular guard and it's therefore no surprise that she got strangled.

The problem with this premise--besides the fact it has nothing to do with the real reason Scherf attacked Biendl (hint: She was alone and he is a psycho)--is that it's simply not true.

According to Monroe Correctional Complex Superintendent Scott Frakes, Biendl had a "lower than average" number of complaints for someone in her position. And according to Scherf's own statements, his reason for murder was frustration with the entire prison staff, not just Biendl.

Responding to a public records request by Seattle Weekly, the DOC provided all the grievances that were filed by inmates against Ofc. Biendl.

Most stemmed from inmates who were angry that she had barred them from attending certain worship services because they had either not signed up properly to attend, had already recently attended other services, or otherwise didn't have all their proper documentation to attend certain events at the prison chapel.

Inmates filed a total of 14 grievances against Biendl from July 2005 to January 2011. All were eventually dismissed, and Biendl was found to have not acted improperly.

By all appearances Biendl was a stickler for the rules, but hardly unfair.

That didn't stop the Times, Spokesman, KING 5, and others from running the piece nearly verbatim on their websites, leading with a breathless report about how inmate Anthony Snow had once said Biendl should be "re-educated in the sensitivity of the area she oversees" for covering a Wiccan symbol with a blanket before a Christian service.

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Byron Scherf killed Ofc. Jayme Biendl because she was alone and he had "nothing to lose," not because of the number of grievances other inmates had filed.
The story ticks off one grievance after another, only once acknowledging that Scherf never filed a grievance of his own against his future victim, and never mentioning that he told investigators that the reason he strangled her was because he had "nothing to lose" and he felt that "the staff would change their attitudes if a body showed up."

To be sure, asking for the grievance records through a public-records request is certainly understandable and worth doing.

And what might have made it a story worth telling would have been if the number of complaints Biendl received were somehow out of the ordinary; or if Scherf had filed a complaint before he killed her; or if any of the complaints had been upheld and Biendl had been disciplined.

In actuality, however, Biendl's number of complaints are "far less than expected," according to DOC Spokesperson Belinda Stewart, speaking on behalf of Superintendent Frakes. Also, Scherf never filed a grievance against Biendl, and all the grievances were eventually dismissed.

"The number of grievances was far less than expected given the sensitive nature of her post," says Stewart, referring to the multipurpose chapel where Biendl was stationed and where she was eventually killed. "An officer who worked in the chapel would have a lot of reasons to tell inmates things they don't want to hear. It's a popular place to want to be, but there are still rules."

We asked the AP why they ran a piece about grievances filed against a dead corrections officer when those grievances were nether remarkable or related to her death in any way.

A spokesman for the wire service wasn't immediately available for comment.

UPDATE: Traci Carl, West Editor for the AP just sent us this response:

Our AP story says very clearly in the third paragraph what we reported, based on documents released to The Associated Press under a public disclosure request, and why we reported it: "The grievances were universally determined to be unfounded, but they help shed light on the pressures of working inside the walls of the state's prisons, even in a place as relatively serene as the chapel."

Your interpretation of our story was: "The implication of the story seems to be that Ofc. Biendl was an unpopular guard and it's therefore no surprise that she got strangled."

Just to be clear, that is your interpretation, not ours.

True. But shedding light on working conditions seems a strange reason to tick off every complaint that inmates ever filed on a dead corrections officer. Especially when those complaints played no role in the officer's death.

The headline of the AP story, after all, is "Inmates had filed grievances against slain Monroe Correctional guard" not "Grievances shed light on pressures of prison work."

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