Even in solitary confinement, the Green River Killer is a threat because he has had years to study his surroundings for weaknesses even as prison staff members have grown accustomed to his routines.
That, state Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke told lawmakers Friday, is why serial killer Gary Ridgway was moved to a federal prison in Colorado until an outcry from law enforcement brought him back to Washington.
“We really referred him to (federal prison) as a matter of increasing the security around Gary Ridgway and ... mitigating the possibility he could either escape or potentially harm our staff,” Pacholke said.
Previously, Corrections officials had emphasized the threat to Ridgway, not the threat from him, with former Secretary Bernie Warner, telling the Seattle Times he was “not necessarily a threat to others, but he could be targeted.”
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U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, the former King County sheriff who worked the Green River case as a detective, was at Friday’s legislative hearing. He wasn’t having any of Pacholke’s reasoning.
“That makes no sense to me. Ridgway is a coward. He attacked 15-year-old girls from behind and strangled them from behind,” he said after the hearing.
Reichert also disputed a statement by Pacholke that police haven’t visited Ridgway lately.
Desire by law enforcement to have access to Ridgway when investigating unsolved murders was the reason Corrections had given for bringing him home. He has pleaded guilty to 49 murders but has confessed to killing many more, according to law enforcement.
But Pacholke said law enforcement hasn’t come to see Ridgway, who is serving a life sentence, since June 2013.
“That’s wrong too. We know that people from the sheriff’s office have been in communication with Ridgway,” said Reichert, R-Auburn. “I don’t know the last date but it’s not been that long ago.”
The News Tribune asked the Corrections Department on Sept. 30 how frequently Ridgway has been visited by law enforcement, but the agency has yet to disclose documents. Reichert said he has also requested visitation records.
The King County Sheriff’s Office declined to reveal how often it visits Ridgway, but Sgt. Cindi West said it happens “periodically.”
Pacholke, who took over the department last month after Warner stepped down, said Ridgway was sent to Colorado with a request to house him at the most secure prison in the United States. In the meantime, the agency said, Ridgway was placed in an adjacent prison to be assessed.
Ridgway was placed in solitary confinement similar to what he experiences in Washington, Pacholke said.
Despite Ridgway’s threat, Pacholke said he’s “confident that our staff can manage him” now that he’s back in Washington. Pacholke didn’t identify any changes other than a new cell and disruption in Ridgway’s routine from being away.