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Anatomy of a Hostage Negotiation: An Interview with a Primary Negotiator
This article is based upon an interview with Kip Rustenburg, a member of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. Sergeant Rustenburg is in Internal Affairs and a Crisis Negotiator.
Editor’s note: Ricky Wassenaar is awaiting trial on charges resulting from the Lewis hostage incident. All statements concerning Mr. Wassenaar’s participation in this event are therefore allegations and not established facts.
At three in the morning on January 18, 2004, two prison inmates, Ricky Wassenaar and Steven Coy, his cell mate, took over the kitchen at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis and set in motion the longest prison hostage stand-off in United States history. It was to last for fifteen days until February 1, 2004.
The prisoners saw themselves as men who had nothing to lose. Ricky Wassenaar, “Rooster” as he was called, was forty years old and serving a 28 year sentence for assault and armed robbery with a release date of February 23, 2022. Steven Coy, aged 39 and known as “Pony,” was serving seven consecutive life sentences for crimes ranging from sexual assault through armed robbery. His earliest release date was 2076.
Armed with “shanks” (home-made knives), the two men entered the kitchen where the “Rooster” was a cook. Wassenaar grabbed a long iron stirring ladle to confront the one guard on duty who immediately surrendered and was hand-cuffed to a pole. Wassenaar shaved his beard, donned the guard’s uniform and set out to walk 50 yards to the fortified guard tower in the prison yard. Meanwhile, Coy left in the kitchen, raped a woman kitchen worker.
At the tower, Wassenaar was “buzzed-in” by a rookie guard despite the concern of the more experienced woman guard on duty with him. Once in the tower, Wassenaar swung the iron paddle at the Officer Jason Auch, smashing his face, and hit the charging female officer in the eye. With a shank to her throat, the female officer revealed the location of an AK-15 rifle, 37mm weapons, a shotgun and tear gas canisters as well the operation of the control panel.
Wassenaar then handcuffed Jason Auch and shoved him down the stairs. Through a window, Officer Coy Kelley saw the two men as he passed by without recognizing there was a problem and proceeded to the kitchen with Officer Elizabeth DeBaugh. Suddenly, Steven Coy slashed Kelley in the face and ran into the prison yard. Officer DeBaugh sounded the alarm over her radio and officers ran into the yard, subdued Coy with pepper spray and had him spread-eagle on the ground. Wassenaar appeared from the tower and shot two burst totaling fourteen bullets from the AR-15 automatic rifle, scattering the guards and allowing Coy to run into the tower. True to form, Coy soon after entering the tower raped the handcuffed female officer.
Two hours has passed before the alarm had sounded, but now the prison staff was in action, locking down the prisoners and calling for police and sheriff’s office reinforcements. A security briefing was in progress at 7:00 am when the “Rooster” called the main control room.
First contact …
Wassenaar talked with the Unit Chief of Security and offered to trade the wounded guard for a lieutenant, then for a sergeant and was refused. Next, he demanded a pizza and a helicopter and warned that if either of the inmates was killed, the other would kill the hostages.
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Copyright © 2004, John D. Baker
Copyright © 2004, The Negotiator Magazine