Correctional Nurse Killed at Work, New Lawsuit Alleges Years of Violence
Image: Lorena Schulte (left) and Robert McFarland
Lorena Schulte, a registered nurse at Anamosa State Penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa, was killed by two inmates during an escape attempt two years ago. Her family has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Iowa Department of Corrections and new claims have been made regarding a long-standing history of violence against nurses at the prison.
On March 23, 2021, inmates Michael Dutcher, 28, and Thomas Woodard, 39, attempted to escape from Anamosa State Penitentiary. While conducting their escape plan, the inmates killed two staff members: 50-year-old Lorena Schulte, a nurse at the facility, and 46-year-old Robert McFarland, a corrections officer. Investigators say they were both killed by blunt force trauma to the back of the head.
Image: The Des Moines Register
Dutcher and Woodard, who were each serving time for robbery, were attempting to escape by cutting through the metal bars of an infirmary window using a grinding tool. When Schulte and McFarland tried to intervene, the inmates attacked the two staff members with hammers, resulting in their deaths.
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Dutcher and Woodard obtained the tools via a work program they were both involved in at the prison.
Image: Michael Dutcher (left) and Thomas Woodard
Another inmate named McKinley Roby, 57, also suffered severe head injuries during the escape attempt as he tried to help the staff members.
Dutcher and Woodard were both found guilty of first-degree murder and attempted murder. They are now serving life sentences.
New Allegations Allege Years of Nurse Assaults
In their amended lawsuit, Schulte’s family members now claim that Anamosa State Penitentiary has a long-standing history of violent incidents against nurses. Specifically, the lawsuit states that other nurses have been assaulted and held hostage at the facility prior to the 2021 attack that killed nurse Lorena Schulte. It also alleges that at least one other inmate had tried to escape through the infirmary in the past.
Schulte’s family further argue in their lawsuit that the Iowa Department of Corrections and the former warden of Anamosa State Penitentiary put Schulte in a “position of danger” that resulted in her death. They claim that negligence in staffing and security compromised Schulte’s safety as an employee.
Systemic Issues Within Iowa Prison Systems
The murders of Lorena Schulte and Robert McFarland are only the tip of a well-documented iceberg of issues within the Iowa prison system. In fact, the Iowa Department of Corrections reported 10 instances of inmates assaulting staff at Anamosa State Penitentiary between 2019 and 2021, more than any other state prison during that time frame.
Across all nine of Iowa’s state prisons, over a dozen assaults against prison employees were reported in 2021 alone. An investigation also uncovered two decades of budget cuts within Iowa prisons, leaving them severely understaffed.
Following the murders of Schulte and McFarland, the Iowa state legislature approved an additional $21 million to be added to the Department of Corrections budget to assist with hiring. However, a months-long hiring push resulted in zero new employees.
The Iowa Department of Corrections has also been under scrutiny by union leader Danny Homan, who represents Iowa correctional workers. He accuses the department of purposefully downplaying assaults against correctional workers and staffing issues at the prisons.
“The dangerously low staffing levels at all of our correctional facilities mean that incidents like this one will continue to escalate in severity,” Homan said in a statement.
The Iowa Department of Corrections has not yet released a statement regarding the wrongful death lawsuit put forth by Schulte’s family.
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