Uprising at Arizona State Prison Complex, Yuma

Uprising at Arizona State Prison Complex, Yuma

Arizona State Prison Complex, Yuma, Arizona
March 1 – 2, 2018

After guards beat an intoxicated prisoner, at least 600 prisoners participated in an uprising in which they attacked guards, set fires, threw rocks, attacked prison infrastructure and broke into the healthcare unit. One prisoner, Adam Coppa, was shot and killed by prison guards during the riot and 26 prisoners were injured.


The Prison Law Office interviewed dozens prisoners following the uprising, nearly all of whom reported that the uprising began when prisoners witnessed guards beating a prisoner and intervened:

“The people we interviewed almost uniformly reported that the disturbance occurred after custody officers engaged in an excessive use of force upon a handcuffed person, including kicking, beating, and smashing his head against a wall. Some prisoners came to this man’s defense, and attacked the officers who were beating him.”
During the uprising, guards armed themselves with shotguns and other weapons. An executive summary of the uprising by the Arizona Department of Corrections stated that “communication failures” led to the “unregulated delivery and issuance of weapons and munitions including 00 Buckshot.” The report continued, stating, “During Assessment Team interviews and review of reports, staff reported going to the Armory with the direction ‘bring all of the ammunition,’ and once the ammunition was on the Cheyenne Unit, it was delivered to the spline and ‘whoever needed it, took it.'”
Adam Copa, who was murdered by guards during the uprising (Photo Source: Arizona Department of Corrections).
Guards then opened fire on the prisoners with live ammunition. Adam Coppa, a prisoner at Yuma who was scheduled to be released in September, 2018, was shot and killed with 00 Buckshot. Prisoner Sean Howland, a friend of Coppa, told KJZZ that Coppa was shot in the back: “And all of a sudden, I hear a shotgun go off, and one of my friends gets shot right in the back and he’s bleedin’ out the mouth.” The ADOC’s report, however, states that guards fired on an “advancing group of inmates.”
The Prison Law office also reported that after the Tactical Support Unit regained control of the yard, prisoners were forced to sit on the yard handcuffed for five continuous days:
“Numerous prisoners reported that after the Tactical Support Unit (TSU) took control of the yard on the evening of March 1, every person housed on Cheyenne spent the next five days forced to sleep on the recreation yard with their hands cuffed in front of them in plastic cable zip-ties. The men we spoke with emphasized that it was not just the people who participated in the attack on officers, but that all prisoners housed in Cheyenne, including those who were in their housing units at the time of the disturbance, were made to stay seated on the yard for five continuous days.”

Following the uprising, six guards were fired after an investigation showed that, shortly before the riot, guards destroyed huge amounts of prisoners’ property, including at least 145 televisions in addition to food, blankets, fans and other personal items. According to KYMA in Yuma, the “ADC has also replaced the damaged personal property (costing $28,275 for the televisions alone).”

According to an attorney for the correctional officers’ union, the riot is the result of forced racial desegregation of the prison and the administration was warned of the potential for violence weeks before. Further, they allege that the prison was understaffed at the time of the riot, with only 28 of the 35 staff positions filled. The prison administration vehemently denies these claims, maintaining that under-staffing played no part in the riot and that prisoners had no problem with the “Integrated Housing Program.”


1 inmate killed, 37 injured in Yuma prison riot,” AZ Central, March 2, 2018.

Yuma officers tried to warn Corrections about riot, but officials ignored tip, attorney says“, AZ Central, March 5, 2018.

Inmate died of gunshot wound during Arizona prison riot,” The Seattle Times, March 5, 2018.

Yuma Disturbance Investigation Update“, Arizona Department of Corrections, News Release, March 5, 2018.

Day 4: Cheyenne Unit remains on lockdown after riot“, KYMA, March 7, 2018.

Prison Law Office, Re: Parsons v. Ryan: ASPC-Yuma Tour, May 1, 2018. Posted by KJZZ, December 3, 2018.

ASPC-Yuma Cheyenne Unit Disturbance Assessment“, Arizona Department of Corrections, May 2, 2018.

Final Report on prison riot; Correctional Officers facing criminal charges“, KYMA, May 2, 2018.

Report: Arizona prison riot began after encounter with drunk inmate,” Tucson.com, May 10, 2018.

Inside the Prison Riot: What guards say really sparked it“, KYMA, November 16, 2018.

Cheyenne Unit Riot At Yuma Prison“, KJZZ Phoenix, YouTube, December 3, 2018. Accessed December 5, 2018.

Inmates Tied Up Following Yuma Prison Riot“, KJZZ Phoenix, YouTube, December 3, 2018.


Executive Summary, Arizona Department of Corrections, nd.


Arizona Inmates Allege Civil Rights Abuses In Aftermath Of Deadly Yuma Prison Riot,KJZZ, December 3, 2018.