Officer Jayme Biendl, 34, was killed Saturday night in a chapel at the reformatory unit for medium-security inmates at the Monroe Correctional Complex, about 30 miles northeast of Seattle.
Union officials have questioned why she was alone after complaining to supervisors about being the only guard working in the chapel without anyone checking on her. Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday called for an outside investigation focusing on whether prisons are adequately staffed.
Prison Superintendent Scott Frakes told The Daily Herald of Everett that he has to wait for the criminal investigation before he can change how Washington's largest prison is run. There are about 2,500 prisoners at the Monroe complex. Frakes said he can't even question some of his own officers to determine what went wrong.
All security practices will be reviewed and many activities for inmates will likely be scaled back, he said.
Investigators said their prime suspect is inmate Byron Scherf, serving a life sentence after convictions for two violent rapes, including one in which the victim was bound and set on fire. He had served as a chapel volunteer after a decade of good behavior behind bars.
Scherf, 52, was found by guards outside the chapel after he missed a head count, and he told them he had tried to escape but changed his mind. Biendl's body was found about an hour later when she failed to check in at the end of her shift.
Police said there is no evidence Biendl was raped; she was fully clothed and wearing a coat when found.
Frakes said that on Sept. 24, an inmate put his hands on the neck of a counselor.
"He somehow inappropriately grabbed her," Frakes told The Daily Herald.
The case was investigated as a possible fourth-degree assault, a gross misdemeanor.
On Aug. 24, a female custodian reported being grabbed by an inmate in a maintenance department office.
Frakes said she was able to pull away from the inmate and run out of the room. She took a medical leave and recently returned to a different job, he said.
That case remains under investigation. No charges have been filed in either case.
Monroe police said they also investigated two reported assaults on male workers at the complex last year, including one in which a guard broke his wrist after being tackled by an inmate in a unit for mentally ill offenders.
Frakes said the greatly outnumbered officers and prison staff also routinely endure such things as having feces thrown at them, being spit on and bumped into.
He said he would like the state Legislature to make such incidents crimes.
Information from The Daily Herald and KOMO-TV is included in this report.