Criminal Justice

Jail guard is shot and killed at courthouse after officer fires on inmate who grabbed a weapon

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A jail guard was shot and killed in an Altoona, Pennsylvania, courthouse Wednesday when a police officer fired on an inmate who had grabbed the guard’s weapon.

According to a police affidavit, inmate Christopher Jame Aikens aimed the gun at the responding Altoona officer, who fired one round, the Altoona Mirror reports. The inmate lifted the guard into the line of fire, and she was struck by the bullet.

The Associated Press and the Tribune-Democrat also have coverage; press releases are here and here.

The guard who died is Rhonda Jean Russell, 47, who worked at the Blair County Prison, the Altoona Mirror reports in a separate story. She had worked at the prison for nearly 15 years.

Aikens was at the courthouse for a preliminary hearing on firearm and drug charges related to a parole violation. He was charged with homicide, attempted homicide, kidnapping, aggravated assault and related crimes in Russell’s death.

The altercation happened when Aikens returned to a holding pen after using the restroom. Russell was the only guard in the area, and she had uncuffed one of Aikens’ hands to allow him to use the facility, according to the affidavit cited by the Altoona Mirror.

When Russell tried to open the door to the holding cell on Aikens’ return, he physically assaulted the guard and grabbed her gun, police say.

The officer who responded and fired his gun has not been identified.

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