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Two Utah inmates accused of locking up corrections officers, starting fire while drunk

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Posted at 7:38 AM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 22:38:41-04

DRAPER, Utah — Two inmates have been charged with aggravated kidnapping and rioting in connection with a November 22 incident at the Utah State Prison.

According to a pair of probable cause statements, a corrections officer was roaming the prison's Baker block when he noticed a strong odor of alcohol coming from a cell shared by 29-year-old Samuela Lomu and 24-year-old Taniela Salakielu.

Two officers searched the cell and found a bag of fruit giving off the scent of alcohol and several electronic devices with the names and serial numbers sanded off.

"[One of the officers] began collecting the devices and [Lomu] responded by threatening [the officer] that if he took the TV, he would rip his head off," the statements say.

As Salakielu tried to enter the cell, another inmate closed the door, trapping the two officers inside for more than an hour, the statements say.

"Once the cell door closed, [the two officers] were locked in the cell, and [Lomu] continued to yell at the officers and began throwing a metal box at cell 217 and 216 several times," the statements say.

An investigator who reviewed surveillance footage said six inmates who are gang members were given several orders to "rack in," or get into their cells. Salakielu and Lomu went to another cell.

"While in cell 231, [Salakielu] and [Lomu] are seen putting a sheet that's on fire outside of the cell and the continued to add sheets to the fire," the statements say. "When questioned about the fire, [Salakielu] explained that he lit the fire, and that he did not know why but explained he and Lomu were feeding off each other's energy."

Other officers were able to enter the cellblock, extinguish the fire, free the two officers who were locked in a cell and place Salakielu and Lomu into custody.

“This was a very volatile situation,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said. “Prison officials had to go in there and extract these two individuals locked into the cell, and the other prisoners were not dispersing. They had to forcefully go in there to get these individuals out of there."

Prosecutors say it took nearly six months to file charges because there was no immediate threat to the public and the men were already in prison.

Salakielu was serving a term of 1-15 years in prison. He was arrested in August 2018 on suspicion of murder, and he later pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of manslaughter.

Lomu was sentenced in 2019 to "an indeterminate term of not to exceed five years" in prison for failure to stop at the command of police.

Both men had been convicted of other felonies prior to these incidents.

Their new charges of aggravated kidnapping and rioting are both felonies. Lomu also faces a felony charge of damaging a jail.

Both men will be in court to face these charges later in the month. If found guilty of aggravated kidnapping, they could spend life in prison.

“These are serious charges, and these are allegations of serious felonies,” Gill said.