Correctional officer charged with bringing drugs into Seward prison

The Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Corrections)

A state correctional officer in Seward is facing charges of distributing drugs at Spring Creek Correctional facility, allegedly to smooth over a dispute between himself and other inmates, according to charging documents filed Tuesday against Correctional Officer Steven Manuel.

Manuel allegedly brought methamphetamine and buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid addiction, to inmate Aric Tolen at the Seward facility. According to the charges, Alaska State Troopers saw security footage from the prison that showed Manuel secretly delivering what appeared to be contraband to Tolen’s prison cell through a food port.

The charges said that, in a Tuesday interview with troopers, Manuel denied bringing drugs into the prison. He said he gave Tolen coffee, a pair of socks and a towel, and that he has to hide when he delivers items “due to other inmates in the area getting mad or jealous.”

But the charges said, in a search of Tolen’s cell, a security guard found 48.7 grams of what is suspected to be methamphetamine, as well as 87 buprenorphine strips, in a balled-up shirt.

In an interview, Tolen told investigators he approached Manuel because he heard he had “gotten in a bind” with inmates, which he told Manuel he could help with if he did something for him in return. The charges said Tolen had his family pay Manuel for two separate drug drops at the facility. Troopers later found Tolen’s mom’s phone number written on a piece of paper in Manuel’s backpack, according to the charges.

Manuel was arrested and transported to Seward Community Jail, which is located at a different facility than the prison.

A spokesperson from the Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday about how long Manuel has been with the department or whether he is still employed as a correctional officer.

Corrections officials also did not say whether Tolen would be subject to punishment while in prison. Tolen continues to serve a 70-year sentence after he was convicted of a sexual assault that occurred in 2007.

Betsy Holley, a spokesperson from the Department of Corrections, said Manuel started with the department in August 2020.

When asked about whether Manuel was still an employee at the department, she said in an email matters of this type “are immediately referred to our Human Resources division to make their way through an administrative process.”

She said an investigation is pending in the case of Tolen. He continues to serve a 70-year sentence after he was convicted of a sexual assault that occurred in 2007.

This story has been updated with more information from the Department of Corrections.

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