Stillwater prison guard's killing comes after spate of assaults on correctional officers

Joseph Gomm was killed in an attack by an inmate on Wednesday.
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The death of Joseph Gomm at the hands of a Stillwater prison inmate comes in a year where more than a dozen Minnesota correctional officers have been injured in attacks.

Details emerging from the Wednesday attack state that Gomm, 45, of Blaine, was attacked in an industrial building that contains a welding shop, a paint shop and an assembly area, where inmates have access to tools and pipes.

KSTP reports Gomm was hit by a hammer, though prison authorities couldn't confirm this at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Suspect's identity confirmed

The alleged attacker has been identified as Edward Muhammad Johnson, 42, formerly of Bloomington, who according to Minnesota court records was sentenced to 29 years in prison for stabbing his roommate Brooke Thompson to death in 2002.

Court records also show that while he was held in Hennepin County Jail on murder charges, Johnson assaulted a deputy, receiving a 10-month sentence in March 2003. 

The revelations about his past prompted questions as to how Johnson, who was due to partial release in 2022, had obtained the privileges to access the industrial building where the attack occurred.

"We have an individual who demonstrated for a length of time relatively good behavior," Minnesota DOC commissioner Tom Roy said at the press conference, which afforded him access to the workshops.

Roy said Johnson has had numerous disciplinary issues during his time in prison, spending more than 1,500 days in segregation during his 15-year prison stay, but adds that "he has recently come around" and hadn't had any disciplinary issues for two years.

Roy said there are a "large number" of prisoners who turn their back on gang affiliations and violence after a certain time as they settle into the prison life.

He says that the DOC will weigh changes to the way it operates in the wake of Gomm's death.

Johnson has been moved to Minnesota's maximum security facility at nearby MCF-Oak Park Heights since the attack on Wednesday afternoon, which prompted all of Minnesota's prisons to go on lockdown.

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These lockdowns are still in place as of Thursday afternoon, Roy said.

Counseling services are being offered to Gomm's colleagues at Stillwater, who Roy says are struggling with the events of Wednesday afternoon.

Roy said it's impossible to guarantee the safety of prison officers, saying: "In every prison and every county jail, the acceptance that that is the sad reality we have to face. The only way we guarantee safety is if every offender is locked down in a single cell every day."

Several attacks reported in Stillwater, Oak Park Heights

The attack on Gomm is one of several that have been reported at prisons in Stillwater and nearby Oak Park Heights in recent months.

Washington County attorney Pete Orput told the press conference that his office takes on about 30 cases a year concerning attacks by inmates on officers at Stillwater and Oak Park Heights, which range from physical assaults to inmates throwing feces and urine at guards.

Just last month, Oak Park Heights prison was put on lockdown after an inmate seriously injured a corrections guard.

And in late March, 11 prison officers were injured in three separate attacks at Stillwater and Oak Park Heights.

A lieutenant sustained non-life-threatening injuries in the attack at Stillwater prison, while 10 officers were injured in two separate brawls on Mar. 23 and 25.

Tributes have been paid to Gomm by Gov. Mark Dayton, law enforcement agencies and the AFSCME Council 5 union.

"We also offer our deepest sympathy to all who were touched by this wonderful man," the union said. "We ask that everyone cherish their lives every day."

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