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In the Spotlight: Lisa Garrett

Lifesaving actions earn 14-year veteran Officer of the Year honors

Lisa Garrett standing in front of 12 Building
Michael Unit CO V Lisa Garrett stands outside 12 Building where she and another officer were attacked last year.

Photo by David Nunnelee

Michael Unit CO V Lisa Garrett walks toward 12 Building in silence, alone in her thoughts.

When asked how she feels, there’s tension in her voice.

“My heart is pounding a little faster,” she replies before falling silent once more.

It was early July and almost a year had passed since that day in August 2008 when Garrett had fought for her life inside the building and, in doing so, saved a fellow officer from certain death. For her devotion to duty in coming to the aid of her wounded colleague without regard for her own safety, she was named the Correctional Institutions Division’s Outstanding Maximum Security Officer of the Year for 2009.

“I’m not a hero. I just did what I thought I was supposed to do,” she said about her actions that also earned medals of valor from the Correctional Peace Officers Association and the American Correctional Association. “I did what I thought was right.”

To CO V Kevin Watson, though, Garrett is a lifesaver.

“If it wasn’t for her, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said when asked if he would have survived the attack without her aid.

Garrett had not been back to 12 Building since the morning she and Watson were attacked there by an administrative segregation offender armed with a homemade knife. Both officers wore protective thrust vests as they were taking the 84 offenders in B Pod, one by one, to the shower. When removed from his second-tier cell, the assailant somehow escaped from his handcuffs and attacked Watson with the weapon. From the floor below, Garrett heard him scream.

“It startled me pretty bad, so I turned to run up the stairs to see what was going on,” Garrett said. “When I got to the top of the stairs I saw that an offender had Officer Watson backed up to the door next to the shower and was stabbing him.”

Garrett immediately reached for her can of carry-on-person (COP) pepper spray and ran to help Watson. She emptied the can on the offender but he backed her up to the end of the walkway outside the row of cells and stabbed her twice in the chest. Neither thrust penetrated her protective vest.

Meanwhile, Watson, severely injured with 18 puncture wounds to areas of his body not protected by his vest, managed to make it down to the first tier and throw his can of COP to Garrett. She emptied the second can on the offender only to see him continue his attack.

“He turned and ran down the stairs to Officer Watson and started attacking him again,” said Garrett. “All I had were my handcuffs, so I was hitting (the offender) in the back of the head trying to get him off (Watson). But when I (hit the offender), he would come toward me.”

Garrett said she started to run around the tier for what “seemed like an eternity” and swing her handcuffs at the offender whenever he got close.

“I would swing them so he couldn’t get up on me to try to stab me,” she said. “That’s all I could do. All I knew to do was fight. I didn’t think of anything else.”

For the first time in her 14-year career, though, Garrett, a 42-year-old wife and mother of two young girls, thought about dying.

“I’ve been hit, I’ve been thrown on and I’ve been kicked,” said Garrett, who worked the administrative segregation wings at the nearby Coffield Unit for eight years before transferring to Michael. “But I had never been in a situation where I thought an offender was trying to kill me.”

Garrett said the next thing she remembers is hearing Watson yelling for help from the gate to the pod. Then, as quickly as the attack had started, it was over.

“Somebody came, somebody finally came,” she said wiping tears from her eyes. “I know they got Officer Watson out first. And then I ran to the door.”

The two officers were taken to a Palestine hospital, where Garrett was treated for bruises to her chest and released. But she suffered emotional wounds that kept her off the job for six months.

“Everything for me is more emotional than physical,” she said in July. “You know, this is my job, this is my career, and I enjoy my career. And you know when you sign up that your job is to maintain security and control. But, honestly, you never think that somebody will try to kill you for no reason at all. You think about it happening, but you don’t think it will happen to you. I would have never thought that anything like this would happen to me.”

Garrett’s family pleaded with her not to return to work, but she decided she had to.

“I told them I was coming back because I can’t let this dictate the rest of my life,” she said. “This job fits me, it fits my lifestyle, and I can’t let one incident dictate the rest of my life. I can’t do it.”

Watson, 25, was hospitalized for five days and off the job for five months following the incident. He transferred to the nearby Gurney Unit upon his return but Garrett returned to Michael, where she found support in friends and the unit’s crisis intervention team. On her first day back, a unit warden and major walked her in.

“I couldn’t see myself going somewhere else,” she said. “My support group is here. It will never be the same for me working here again, but at least I have people surrounding me who have my best interest at heart and will help me. I never knew before this that TDCJ as a whole could ever be so helpful to me. That’s why I came back to the Michael Unit.”

Garrett hadn’t seen Watson since the incident until the two attended a Correctional Peace Officers Association conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado in June.

“He came up to me and hugged me real tight. He told me, ‘I thank you from the bottom of my heart,’” Garrett said as tears streamed down her face.

“I wanted to let her know that I was thankful for what she did,” Watson said.

Garrett says it will take time for her to fully recover from the incident.

“I don’t think I will be fully healed until I can get back there and go to that pod where it happened,” she said. “I can’t get back there yet, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it for me.”

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