CONNELL -- A Pasco man behind bars for threatening to kill a man in a 2007 attempted robbery is now fighting for his life after his cellmate reportedly beat him with a smudge pot inside a pillow case.
Scott William McDonald, 45, was in critical condition in a Seattle hospital after the Monday morning fight at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. He was found "unconscious and bleeding from a head wound" by prison staff shortly after 7 a.m.
The suspect, Kenneth Smith, has been placed in 23-hour lockdown at the Connell prison pending a disciplinary hearing, the state Department of Corrections said in a statement Tuesday.
Smith, 32, is serving a 26-year term on three counts of assault out of Snohomish County. He was sentenced in 1996.
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This is the "first big incident" at Coyote Ridge since the Department of Corrections spent $190 million to expand the facility, according to DOC spokeswoman Maria Peterson.
The prison used to be only a minimum-security facility, but with the expansion now has about 465 long-term minimum- and medium-custody inmates in two new units. The original camp has 300 minimum-custody inmates, Peterson said.
Opening another section of the new facility has been delayed in part because of a declining state prison population.
Peterson said the department also has been slow in opening the complex to full capacity because it takes time to prepare for a new custody level and ensure adequate staffing.
Incidents like Monday's fight are not expected, but the staff must be ready should they occur, she said.
Connell Police Chief Michael Kessler said his department is looking into the assault since Coyote Ridge is within city limits.
"The criminal investigation is solely ours. I imagine DOC will be doing their own internal investigation," Kessler said Tuesday.
Connell police were called to the prison at 7:45 a.m. Monday.
Kessler said a weapon of some sort was wrapped in a pillow case that was then used to beat McDonald. He couldn't give specifics on McDonald's injuries, saying hedidn't yet have medical reports.
"Right now we don't have a lot of details," Kessler said.
DOC officials reported the fight occurred "on the second tier of a medium-custody unit at the prison. Staff were notified of the fight and responded to the scene," where they found McDonald injured.
Peterson said the weapon was a smudge pot but could not confirm that it was metal. She said McDonald was struck on the head several times in a "pretty violent incident."
Smudge pots are used in some Native American and Wiccan ceremonies to burn incense or sage and create smoke. Peterson said inmates must register their religious belief to have "a sacred item," like a smudge pot or a rosary, in their cell. The items must first pass approval.
McDonald initially was treated at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, then transferred Tuesday morning to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Authorities would not discuss what led up to the fight, including whether McDonald may have provoked Smith.
DOC reports seeing an overall drop in prison violence since introducing a "statewide violence reduction strategy" in spring 2008. Prevention measures include better tracking of violent incidents and their causes and methods to identify problematic offenders so they are separated in prison, DOC said.
"The safety of the offenders in our facilities is a top priority," prisons director Dick Morgan said in the statement. "The thoughts and prayers of the whole department go out to Scott McDonald and his entire family. Also the department will aggressively investigate this incident, (and) will work collaboratively with local law enforcement and prosecutors to assure that those involved are held responsible for this terrible act."
Peterson added that McDonald's loved ones were notified before the department released anything to the public.
McDonald was sentenced in August 2007 to eight years in prison. He pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree robbery on the third day of his Benton County Superior Court trial.
Two months earlier, McDonald and a friend followed a man from the Pasco Wal-Mart to his Richland home after seeing a wad of bills in the customer's wallet.
McDonald and his accomplice approached the victim in front of his house and threatened to slit the man's throat with a knife if he didn't give up his wallet, court documents said.
The man fought back with a stick but was knocked to the ground. The two attackers fled when they couldn't find the man's wallet, which the victim had stashed in his car.
McDonald's criminal history then included nine felony convictions back to 1982. A majority of the crimes occurred in Benton and Franklin counties, with one in Carlsbad, N.M.
While McDonald was awaiting sentencing on the attempted robbery, he was granted a furlough from jail but was required to wear a GPS tracking bracelet. Hedidn't return as ordered, and ultimately was convicted of second-degree escape with an additional four-year, three-month sentence tacked on to his robbery time.
As of Tuesday, McDonald's anticipated release date with credit for good behavior was February 2016, Peterson said.
Smith's earned release date was July 2021, but that could change because this type of infraction requires a disciplinary hearing, she said.
Aside from any potential attempted murder or assault charges from prosecutors, Smith will face sanctions by prison authorities. Sanctions could include the loss of any early release time or the ability to go to recreation, and may require him to stay longer in segregation, Peterson said.