Pepper spray and "sting balls" were used to quell a disturbance involving hundreds of inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Washington state Wednesday night. The state Department of Corrections says the disturbance in a recreation yard, in which inmates allegedly set off fire extinguishers and threatened to take guards hostage, was apparently sparked by the positive COVID-19 test results of six inmates in the minimum-security unit, who have now been moved to isolation, NBC reports. Five staff members have also reported coronavirus infections. Inmates and their families have complained that the dorm-like setting in the unit makes it impossible to practice social distancing, reports the Seattle Times. Monroe is the first prison in the state to report coronavirus infections.
Authorities confirmed the first infection in the unit Monday, followed by two on Tuesday and three on Wednesday. State Trooper Heather Axtman says police set up a perimeter around the prison while the disturbance was ongoing. The DOC says inmates "came into compliance" after officers fired "sting balls, which release light, noise, and rubber pellets." KIRO-7 reports that from a nearby hillside, dozens of handcuffed inmates could be seen on the ground in the rec yard. Nick Straley, an attorney for Columbia Legal Services, which is seeking the release of thousands of inmates, says the group plans to ask the state Supreme Court to address the "inadequate COVID-19 response" at the prison. (Read more coronavirus stories.)