Family says corrections officer killed at Stillwater prison feared for his safety before attack

Joseph Gomm's family
Angela and David Wood (left), and Audrey and Chris Cone stand with their attorney, Mike Padden, outside a Washington County courtroom on Friday, Aug. 18, 2018, in Stillwater, Minn. Angela and Audrey are the sisters of Joseph Gomm, the corrections officer who was killed while on duty at the Stillwater prison in July.
Nina Moini | MPR News

An attorney hired by the family of Joseph Gomm, the corrections officer killed while on duty inside the Stillwater prison in July, says Gomm expressed concern about workplace safety before his death — including the inmate accused in the fatal attack.

Edward Johnson, 42, is charged with first-degree murder in the July 18 death of Gomm inside an industry building at the Stillwater Correctional Facility. Johnson was serving time for murder when he allegedly attacked Gomm.

Joseph Gomm
Corrections Officer Joseph Gomm, who was killed in an attack by an inmate at the Stillwater state prison on July 18, 2018.
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Corrections

Johnson was in court in Washington County on Friday for a hearing; the courtroom was packed with Gomm's family and friends. After the hearing, Mike Padden — an attorney for the Gomm family — said that once the criminal process is over, the family may file a civil lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections for not doing enough to protect officers such as Gomm.

"He was extremely worried about workplace safety at Stillwater prison and said this to his family and friends, and I quote: 'It's going to take one of us to die before any changes become reality,'" Padden said. "In essence, Joe was a sitting duck and he knew it. Edward Johnson was an angry ticking time bomb who could explode at any minute. Why something substantive was not done about that before July 18, 2018 is difficult to comprehend."

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Edward Muhammad Johnson.
Edward Johnson. Johnson is accused of using a weapon to attack Officer Joseph Gomm on at the Stillwater state prison.
Minnesota Department of Corrections via AP

Gomm's family said Friday that their biggest hope is that the Department of Corrections will hire more staff to maximize safety and help make sure no other corrections officers lose their lives. Gomm, 45, was the first Minnesota corrections officer to lose his life in the line of duty.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 5 has also raised concerns about insufficient staffing in state correctional facilities. The union says it has lobbied the Legislature for increased staffing and funding — to no avail.

Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy has echoed that stance, saying he and other leaders of the department have tried to secure funding from the Legislature for more corrections officers for years. He previously said the most recent analysis by the National Institute of Corrections shows the state's prisons need 150 more corrections officers.

Gomm T-shirt
Many family members and friends of Joseph Gomm wore T-shirts with his name and the date he died as they attended a hearing in a Washington County courtroom on Friday, Aug. 18, 2018, in Stillwater, Minn.
Nina Moini | MPR News

Johnson didn't enter a plea during his court appearance on Friday, but the judge said it is likely the case could go to trial next spring. Johnson is due back in court on Nov. 2.

Many of Gomm's family and friends in the courtroom wore T-shirts with the date Gomm died, along with the letters E-O-W, for end of watch.

Gomm's sisters, Audrey Cone and Angela Wood, wept as Padden, their attorney, addressed reporters outside the courtroom after the hearing. The women and their husbands spoke publicly for the first time, describing a man who was growing increasingly afraid for his life every day that he went to work.

Gomm's brother-in-law Chris Cone explained why Gomm stayed in his role for 16 years.

Stillwater prison
Throughout the main hallway there are a series of locked doors and metal detectors at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater. The historic prison, which is home to 1617 adult offenders, is 100 years old. Members of the media were invited to tour the facility Friday, May 2, 2014.
Jennifer Simonson/MPR News

"I think he was proud of his position, proud of his responsibility, proud to do his job. He wanted to help people; he was a very large-hearted man and he would give the shirt off his back to anyone. So he felt like he was needed and that's why he stayed."

Gomm's sister Audrey Cone says her brother worried about his safety in the months leading up to the attack.

"He was scared. He was nervous," she recalled. "He told me every day that he goes to work there's a chance that he will never come home."