Corrections staff save Missourians from a major disturbance, a hostage taker and an oncoming truck
Toddler on the Highway
Lloyd McCurdy prefers to fly under the radar. “I always try to stand back and analyze the situation before I jump into anything,” says McCurdy, a stationary engineer at Women’s Eastern Reception & Diagnostic Center. "I like staying out of the limelight."
The morning of May 24, 2018, might have pushed him out of his comfort zone.
McCurdy, who favors the quiet of the midnight shift, was leaving the Vandalia women’s prison in his truck just before 7 a.m. He saw colleagues Michael Redington and Casey Hatton driving to work. Then he spotted a toddler, clad in only a diaper, running in the direction of Highway 54.
Protective instincts overrode McCurdy’s usual laid-back mode. He zipped around the block to intercept the youngster, arriving on the scene as the boy was stepping out onto the highway in the path of an oncoming semitrailer. Amid shouts of coworkers too far away to intervene, McCurdy leapt out of his truck, also shouting, prompting the semi driver to slam on the brakes and the tiny child to jump back — just before McCurdy swooped in and rushed him to safety.
McCurdy and the five other corrections staff honored with the 2019 Director’s Award of Valor have a word for a day like that: Thursday.
Every day corrections staff risk their own safety to help fellow Missourians inside and outside correctional facilities. This month Missouri Department of Corrections Director Anne Precythe recognized six of these superheroes for their exceptional acts of courage, presenting them with the Award of Valor during a July 10 ceremony in Jefferson City.
Coworker Taken Hostage
In July 2018, an offender with a history of violence escaped from an outdoor recreation cage in administrative segregation at Jefferson City Correctional Center and attacked a member of the support staff, pulling her to the ground and holding an improvised weapon to her throat.
A dozen officers responded. Two of them, Jerry Wadley and Levi “Oz” Ozanich, were instrumental in diffusing the situation. Because they knew the offender and had established a rapport, they were able to keep him calm while also ensuring their colleagues kept a safe distance.
"I said, 'I know that you have stuff that you need to get off your chest, but this is not the way to do it,'" Ozanich recalls.
They talked. They listened. Then, after three harrowing minutes, the offender relinquished the weapon, released the staff member and submitted to restraints.
No one was injured.
“It's all about reading people," Wadley says. “We did what we had to do, and everyone got out of there unharmed.”
Staff skilled at reading an uneasy situation also saved Missourians at Crossroads Correctional Center last year. In May 2018, a group of 209 offenders in the Cameron prison staged a protest, refusing to return to their housing units after the evening meal. Tensions escalated quickly, evolving into a major disturbance that involved 78 offenders, lasted six hours, and caused approximately $1.3 million in structural and property damage to the facility’s central services building.
It was in the vital early moments, before violence erupted, that Cade Thompson, Jason Huff and David Baker took a leadership role and ensured the safety of staff and offenders in harm’s way. Sensing that the tide was turning, Thompson, Huff and Baker swiftly and safely evacuated staff and offenders from the building, containing the rioters inside. Their foresight prevented serious injury. Aside from scrapes and bruises a few offenders sustained while damaging the building, no one was hurt during the course of that long night.
The staff say it’s all about teamwork.
“The person to your left and right,” Huff says, “those are the people who are going to make sure you go home safe.”
2019 Director’s Award of Valor Recipients
Lloyd McCurdy, Stationary Engineer, Women’s Eastern Reception & Diagnostic Center, Vandalia
Cade Thompson, Corrections Supervisor II, Western Reception, Diagnostic & Correctional Center, St. Joseph
Jason Huff, Corrections Officer III, Crossroads Correctional Center, Cameron
David Baker, Corrections Officer I, Crossroads Correctional Center, Cameron
Jerry Wadley, Corrections Officer I, Jefferson City Correctional Center, Jefferson City
Levi Ozanich, Corrections Officer III, Jefferson City Correctional Center, Jefferson City