Taiwan prison warden ‘lied about heroic offer to be hostage’ in deadly siege

Chen Shih-chih became a hostage by accident – bumping into armed inmates at Kaohsiung Prison on February 11 as he belatedly ran to the scene 30 minutes after siege began

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 February, 2015, 1:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 February, 2015, 7:48pm

A Taiwanese warden originally hailed a hero for risking his life to become a willing hostage in this month’s deadly prison siege has turned out to be a liar, says an investigation by the Justice Ministry.

Six inmates held staff hostage after seizing weapons at Kaohsiung Prison, on the south of the island, during a 14-hour stand-off on February 11.

After failing to escape, the inmates released the hostages unharmed and then committed suicide.

Chen Shih-chih, head warden at the prison, was hailed a hero by officials and local media after reportedly offering to take the place of junior staff as a hostage during the island’s first-ever prison siege.

However, the truth was very different. The report found he became a hostage only reluctantly – after bumping into the armed inmates by accident as he belatedly ran to the scene.

The report found he had known nothing about the siege for at least 30 minutes after it started.

Lai, his deputy, had also asked other prison officials to conceal the truth about the siege by telling others, including the news media, that the incident was simply a routine practice drill, the report said.

Both Chen and Lai were handed a major demerit and demoted as punishments for their serious negligence over the siege, a senior ministry official said today.

“Chen will be demoted to the role of chief of the planning division of the Agency of Corrections, while Lai will become an agency specialist, effective from March 4,” Deputy Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang said.

Wang Shih-chang, the prison’s head guard, was also given a major demerit and demoted to become director of general affairs at a prison high school.

A further 20 officials, including Wu Hsien-chang, director-general of the Agency of Corrections, were also disciplined over the siege.

When the news of the reported hostage swap was first made public, Justice Minister Lo Ying-shay had praised Chen Shih-chih as a hero. All local media had also commended his actions, praising him as a highly responsible warden.

Both Chen Shih-chih and Lai were not available for comment after the release of the minstry's report into the investigation on Thursday night.

The ministry said the siege could have been prevented were it not for the prison officials’ lack of crisis management skills.

It criticised the security lapse at the prison and mishandling of the incident, which had allowed the inmates to seize six rifles and four handguns from the prison armoury, prompting what could have been a controllable incident into a major crisis.

Chen Ming-tang said Kaohsiung prosecutors were still investigating the siege and would find out who should face possible legal responsibility in the case.

The six inmates – all serving long sentences – had held prison officers hostage after seizing the weapons in an attempt to escape, only to find that all gates were locked.

They shot themselves after hundreds of armed police were stationed outside the prison to prevent their escape.