Correctional officer Jim Hartford was assigned to the Walla Walla County Courthouse on Tuesday, April 5, 1977 during the trial of two inmates charged with assault. While on break, Hartford picked up a cigarette lighter from under the table in the law library next to the courtroom. When he tested it, it exploded. It had been packed with match heads, waiting for some unsuspecting person to pick it up to see if it worked. Hartford lost most of the fingers on his right hand that day.
Over the next four days there was documented retaliation by correctional officers in the segregation unit. On Sunday, April 10, 1977, inmates set fire to the chapel and ransacked the inmate store. Because it happened on Easter Sunday, it became known at the Easter Riot. The resulting lockdown lasted 46 days and resulted in dramatic changes at the penitentiary.
Hartford was in the hospital for 11 days and off work for three months. When he returned to work at the penitentiary, inmates would hold up their hand in grotesque contortion and catcall him “claw.” The picture below is from a newspaper article from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
On Saturday May 31, 1975, the adult corrections headquarters building in the state capital was bombed. The explosion claimed no casualties, but a hole was blown through the concrete floor two doors from Director Hal Bradley’s office. Glass was scattered over a wide area.
An anonymous caller contacted a Seattle newspaper with instructions to look for a document in a telephone booth. Among other things, the lengthy communique demanded the removal of Associate Superintendent Harvey, and a doctor and nurse at the Washington State Penitentiary.
The group claiming responsibility called themselves the George Jackson Brigade, after the author of the best seller, Soledad Brother, who was killed trying to escape from a California prison in 1971. At the time, hardly anyone had heard of the George Jackson Brigade. The bombing raised the brigade’s profile, as did their subsequent attempts to finance their revolutionary agenda through criminal activity. This was not the only time the Brigade was to come to the attention of Washington corrections, or of the penitentiary.
The article and picture are from the June 1, 1975 edition of the The Daily Olympian.