PEACEFUL END TO 14-HOUR SAIPAN PRISON SIEGE

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By Sheila D. Amor

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (March 10, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---A group of inmates assaulted a guard, ransacked a security locker and held police at bay with pistol shots in the first-ever prison standoff to hit Saipan yesterday dawn.

The 14-hour siege at the male detention center of the Division of Corrections ended after the 14 inmates, led by William Sablan, surrendered following a dialogue with their families.

A Smith and Wesson 9-millimeter gun, which the prisoners took after they ransacked the security locker, was thrown out of the detention center to signify that they were giving up the fight.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Charles Ingram said the 14 inmates surrendered at 3:26 p.m. Aside from Sablan, the other prisoners were Vicente Aldan, Jr., Jeffrey Celis, Ryan Babauta, Edwin Blas, Arcel Busto, Roland Kapileo, Sheldon Yano, Saddy Charteron, Chi Chong Wen, Wang Ting Hua, Zhu Zhe We, Wang Jun and Cui Xing Hao.

Sablan and his group gave up after they saw their families through a glass door that separates the DPS office and the detention center.

A total of 21 inmates were inside the detention center, but seven were freed at around 8:00 a.m. in exchange for food.

Immediately transferred to another detention center were John Rasiang, Albert Kaipat, Wang Jun, Chun Yan, Anthony Pangelinan, Luis Camacho and Dutch Dowei.

The prisoners who are held in the male detention center are awaiting trial. Sablan, accused of several counts of battery and robbery, was among the eight inmates who escaped last month.

The incident began when the inmates overpowered the lone security officer, Chris Guerrero, who was doing his regular inspection round at around 1:30 a.m. yesterday.

"He had to fight his way out because they grabbed him and tried to take him," Ingram said. Guerrero managed to secure the doors before he ran out to get help.

However, the inmates broke the security locker and took Guerrero's weapon, loaded with ammunition.

Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio rushed to the police headquarters at around 2:45 a.m. when informed about the siege. Although he left the operation to the police officers, the Governor was given a regular update on the negotiation.

He left the headquarters only when it was over. Other government officials also rushed to the scene and offered their help. Two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived to give assistance.

Offices near the area — the Superior Court, Supreme Court, Public Vehicle Office — were closed as police cordoned the area. Electricity to the entire Susupe area was shut.

In the afternoon, Sablan together with Babauta and Celis pressed their demands for provision of medicine and clean facilities in a radio interview.

"We are treated like animals," was the common sentiment shared by the group who escaped last month and are awaiting for their arraignment at the detention center. "I need help," added Sablan.

One hour after the siege began, Maria Sablan was awakened by an early call made by her husband, William, telling her that there was a problem inside the detention center.

Together with their four children, Maria and mother-in-law Lucy, rushed to DPS, hoping to talk to him. Sablan's two brothers, Henry and Junior, also came. Since early morning Sablan's mother, Lucy, had insisted that she be allowed to talk to her son so that she could convince him to surrender.

"Bill is the type that slows down on things. He doesn't want to be pressured. Right now, he is under pressure. He needs somebody who has the patience to talk to him because he is confused, " said older brother Jose Sablan.

Family members feared that William might kill himself. At around 8:00 a.m., gunshots were heard from the detention center.

After the fourth gunshot, past 11 a.m., Sablan's mother, Lucy, wept and crossed the yellow line. She argued with the police officers to allow her to go near the detention center, but they stopped her. The police officers were able to talk to the inmates through a two-way radio which Sablan used and demanded to talk with the Governor and see his family.

At around 2:00 p.m., the police finally gave in to Sablan's demand to talk to his mother together with his wife, Maria. They were allowed to see Sablan through a glass door separating the DPS and the detention center.

Felipe Celis and Russ de Mula, fathers of Jeffrey Celis and Ryan Babauta respectively, were able to talk to their sons using a two-way radio.

Asked what brought the inmates to surrender, Ingram said: "They got tired." Ingram appeared irritated as he answered questions from reporters after the siege.

Lucy Sablan was all smiles when she left the detention center. "I'm so happy," she said. She was able to kiss her son William, who was handcuffed by police officers.

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