OLYMPIA — A Washington state correctional officer working at a prison unit where an outbreak of the novel coronavirus occurred has died from COVID-19.

Berisford Anthony Morse, 65, died Sunday from complications due to COVID-19, according to the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC). His death, the first from the illness involving a state correctional officer, is being recognized as a line-of-duty fatality.

Morse, who joined DOC in 2003, worked at the Monroe Correctional Complex’s minimum security unit, where 14 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

“It is a tragedy to lose a member of our public safety community and correctional family,” Secretary of Corrections Stephen Sinclair said in a statement, adding later: “Our hearts go out to Officer Morse’s grieving family and the sacrifice they have made.”

Morse last worked at the prison on April 24, and went home after reporting symptoms to his shift commander, according to the statement. Corrections officials learned on April 27 he tested positive for the virus.

Earlier in April, Morse had been identified in contact tracing as having interacted with an inmate in the minimum security unit who had COVID-19, according to the statement.


Michelle Woodrow, president and executive director of Teamsters Local 117, the union in which Morse had been a member, said she was saddened to hear of his death and called him a hero.

“Through his work in corrections, he put his life on the line to protect the public and keep our communities safe,” Woodrow wrote. “No one deserves to die on the job, but when a workplace death is tied to public service it is especially painful and worthy of recognition.”

During the pandemic, Monroe Correctional Complex has been an epicenter of fear within Washington’s prison system for inmates and families worried about the spread of the virus in confined spaces.

As of Tuesday, nine staffers and 18 inmates at Monroe Correctional Complex had tested positive for COVID-19, according to DOC.