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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 25, 2018

Correctional officer honored for saving co-worker’s life

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Sep 11, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Darlene Fox, left, receives the Correctional Officer of the Year — Valor Award from Carrie Folkerts, executive director of the South Iowa Area Crime Commission. Fox received the award Aug. 28 in the Fairfield Public Library. The South Iowa Area Crime Commission covers 13 counties in southeast Iowa and is headquartered in Fairfield.

The Fairfield Public Library hosted an event Aug. 28 where the South Iowa Area Crime Commission announced the Correctional Officer of the Year — Valor Award.

The award went to Darlene Fox, a Des Moines County correctional officer who saved a co-worker from possibly fatal injuries by shielding him from inmates who were beating him.

 

The incident

The date was Dec. 10, 2017. The location was the Des Moines County Correctional Center in Burlington, where Fox and fellow correctional officer Dakota Day were on duty. They had been told that a group of inmates in the male maximum security section of the jail had been acting strangely that day.

Day quickly learned the cause of their odd behavior. From the control room, he saw video of the men retrieving glasses from one of the cells. The correctional officers surmised the inmates were making hooch, homemade alcohol, from fermented fruit and bread the inmates had taken from the cafeteria. Day planned to confront the inmates, and Fox jumped up to say she would go, too. It was too dangerous for an officer to go alone, she thought.

The officers checked the cells and, sure enough, they discovered hooch. Fox removed the hooch from the cell, and put the inmate in that cell on lockdown. That means the inmate is confined to his cell and cannot visit the open area with a T.V.

Fox and Day told the inmates they were going to search all six of the cells in the unit for hooch, but the prisoners were in no mood to cooperate. While they were being escorted from their cells to the gymnasium, one of the inmates punched Day. Another inmate grabbed Day and tried to choke him. A third inmate grabbed Fox’s arms, leaving them black and blue. By then, Day and Fox knew they were in the midst of a coordinated attack.

“The inmates had something against the [correctional officers] because we had enforced the rules, and they were all three headed to prison,” Fox said.

Two of the inmates were facing life sentences for murder and the third was facing 25 years for armed robbery. The Des Moines County Correctional Center holds inmates temporarily, less than a year, before they are sent to a prison to serve out their sentence. The three inmates attacked Day and Fox on their last day at the correctional center.

“This was their last hurrah,” Fox said.

 

Saving Day

As two of the inmates beat Day, another correctional officer rushed to the door, but an inmate grabbed the handle and wouldn’t let the officer in. A fourth officer arrived armed with a TASER.

“While this was going on, the [inmates] were kicking and stomping on Dakota, and I couldn’t tell if he was alive or not,” Fox said.

Fox tried to intervene, but an inmate shoved her to the floor, giving her a concussion and a laceration on the back of her head. Nevertheless, she rose to her feet once more. She ran to Day and lay on top of him, shielding him from the inmates. At that point, the inmates stopped. The inmates said later that they beat up Day because they wanted to assault a correctional officer, but that they didn’t want to hurt a woman.

Day was able to get up off the floor under his own power but was hospitalized for a few days because of severe injuries to his face.

“Both eye sockets were broken and his nose was broken,” Fox said. “He was unrecognizable.”

Day has not returned to work at the Des Moines County Correctional Center, and Fox said he still is suffering from the lingering effects of the injuries. His eye sockets have not healed well, and he might need surgery to fix them. He might also need surgery on his nose since it healed off-center.

Despite the harrowing ordeal, Fox decided to return to her role as a correctional officer.

“It was hard to go back to the unit, but I couldn’t let them win,” she said. “God protected me somehow and protected Day. It could have gone terribly wrong.”

The South Iowa Area Crime Commission that issued Fox the award for valor covers 13 counties and is headquartered in Fairfield. During the awards ceremony Aug. 28 at the Fairfield Public Library, Des Moines County Sheriff Mike Johnstone remarked, “I’m totally convinced that, had it not been for Darlene’s actions, Dakota Day would have been a fatality that day.”

“These individuals she was dealing with were extremely aggressive, and she had already been assaulted,” Johnstone said. “Even with her own injuries, she got in between these two guys, who were bent on seriously hurting or killing Dakota. You don’t appreciate it until you see the video. It was an act of valor in every way.”

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