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Guard Released after Inmates Broadcast Their Complaints

By Judy Pasternak
Los Angeles Times

LUCASVILLE, Ohio

A few hours after the body of a hostage guard was found in the prison exercise yard, mutinous inmates at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility released another guard in a deal that allowed them to broadcast their complaints on a local radio station.

The released guard, 23-year-old Darrold R. Clark, walked out of the prison without assistance after the 15-minute broadcast, apparently leaving six hostages still in the hands of the rebellious inmates. Clark later was reported in stable condition at a hospital in Portsmouth, about 10 miles south of here.

During the broadcast, an inmate -- identified only as "George" -- apologized for the death of the guard, Robert R. Vallandingham, whose body was found at 12:20 p.m. Thursday, a day after the inmates had warned they would kill a hostage if their demands were not met.

"I'm sorry," George told a radio station WPAY audience that apparently included some of the mutinous inmates. George said Vallandingham's death was something that "a lot of us didn't want ... (but it was also) something that had to happen."

The broadcast over the country-and-Western station apparently was set up during negotiations between prison officials and the inmates, who have been in sporadic contact since the uprising began last Sunday.

According to a station announcer, George led Clark, whose head was covered by a sheet, from a barricaded cellblock to a table set up in the middle of the prison yard. The announcer said George set down a bullhorn he was carrying and removed his shirt, shoes and socks, apparently to show prison officials that he was not armed.

Then, speaking into a microphone in a raspy voice, George began to enumerate the inmates' demands, which include removal of the warden, Arthur Tate, whom he referred to as "King Arthur," and restoration of the water and electrical service that have been shut off since Sunday.

"I know there's a lot on my shoulders right now ... I can't possibly remember all the demands," George said. "We want to get away from this administration. They are oppressing us."

George insisted that the rebellion is "not a racial issue. ... Black and white alike have joined hands," he said.

"We have endured pure hell in there that they have put us through. We are still standing strong, and we will remain strong until we either negotiate this to our likings or they will kill us. We are prepared to die if need to be, and we hope it doesn't come to that."

In addition to Clark, George was accompanied by at least one hostage negotiator who at the end of the broadcast said: "George, you've been an honest man and we appreciate it. ... Thank you for working with us, George."

Earlier Thursday -- after Vallandingham's body was found in the exercise yard, bringing the count of known dead in the uprising to eight -- military trucks carrying troops rolled up to the prison.

Hopes for a major breakthrough in ending the five-day siege seesawed late Thursday. They seemed to fizzle when a television reporter and engineer were abruptly ordered to leave the prison perimeter after spending 45 minutes there at the request of authorities. Then the inmate was given permission to speak over the radio station, which appeared to be a concession to the 450 rebelling prisoners.

Authorities would not discuss when Vallandingham, a 40-year-old corrections officer, died, or whether he was killed.

He became the first prison employee to die in the five-day uprising, said state corrections spokeswoman Sharron Kornegay. Flags at the compound were lowered to half-staff.

Six bodies of inmates were found on Monday, the day after a possibly staged fight in the yard led to a riot, when the hostages were captured. Neighbors said scanners picked up someone yelling, "They've got the keys! They've got the keys! Officer down!"

Another prisoner's body was found on Tuesday in a cellblock linked to the barricaded building by a corridor.

Authorities have refused to comment on rumors in the community and reports in a local newspaper that the death toll may be much higher inside Block L, occupied by the rebelling inmates. They have been given food once -- on Wednesday -- since their mid-day meal on Easter. Some may have snacks from the prison store squirreled away in their footlockers.