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Utah inmates locked 2 officers in prison cell, lit fire outside it, charges say

A guard tower at the Utah State Prison is pictured on Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)



UTAH STATE PRISON — Two inmates at the Utah State Prison now face new criminal charges accusing them of holding two corrections officers inside a cell for over an hour as they lit a fire in another cell.

The incident on Nov. 22 started when corrections officers detected a "strong alcoholic odor" coming from one of the cells. Officers found "a bag of fruit the smelled strongly of alcohol," according to charging documents. Fruit is a common ingredient used by inmates for illegal homemade alcohol in prisons.

The officers also found several electronic devices with the "names and numbers associated with the devices sanded off." One officer began seizing the devices, at which point inmate Samuela Loma, 29, told the officer "that if he took the TV he would rip his head off," the charges state.

When Lomu's cellmate, Taniela Salakielu, 24, attempted to enter the cell, a third inmate shut the door, locking the two officers inside Loma and Salakielu's cell while the two inmates were on the outside of the cell, the charges state. The two officers were locked in the cell for over an hour.

As a SWAT team was preparing to enter the cell block to free their colleagues, the two inmates went into another cell after being ordered several times to do so, but were then observed on surveillance video "putting a sheet that's on fire outside the cell and continuing to add sheets to the fire," the charges state.

When backup officers entered the cell block, they were able to extinguish the fire and get their two colleagues out.

Investigators later interviewed Salakielu about how the incident started. He said that he "was having a hard time remembering everything that happened because he and his cellmate were drunk at the time." Salakeilu also admitted to starting the fire, but did not know why, only stating that "he and Lomu were feeding off of each other's energy," according to the charges.

The two inmates "went to great lengths to keep the officers detained for over an hour and even started a fire in a separate cell and moved it into the hallway (and) caused further damage to the prison and obstructed the response team's efforts to reach the officers being detained in their cell," prosecutors noted in charging documents.

Salakielu added that "things could have been a lot worse" if one of his "homies" hadn't shut the cell door on the officers, according to the charges.

Salakielu, who was already serving a sentence of one to 15 years for a manslaughter conviction in 2020, was charged Friday in 3rd District Court with aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony; and rioting, a third-degree felony.

Loma also admitted to being drunk and upset at the time, the charges state. He was already serving time on a firearms conviction and fleeing from police and was also charged with aggravated kidnapping and rioting in addition to causing damage to the prison, a third-degree felony, for allegedly throwing metal boxes at the cell the two officers were trapped in.

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