MONROE, Wash. -- A prison guard was assaulted at the Monroe Correctional Complex on Thursday morning, the state Department of Corrections said.

Spokesperson Debbie Willis said the attack happened after words were exchanged between the officer and an inmate. The inmate walked away, then turned and attacked the officer.

The assault happened around 10 a.m. in the F living pod of The Special Offender Unit, the DOC said. Offender Jimi Hamilton, referred to by DOC as mentally ill, tackled and repeatedly punched a correctional officer while he was standing at his post. Officers immediately secured Hamilton and the guard was transported to Colby Campus.

The incident lasted a total of 7 seconds, Superintendent Robert Herzog said. The first DOC employee to render assistance to the guard arrived within 3 seconds. No force was used to restrain Hamilton, as he complied with responding officers' commands.

The guard was in serious condition with non-life-threatening inuries, a union representative said. The guard was reportedly alert and talking on Thursday afternoon.

Hamilton, 33, is serving a 14-year sentence for two counts of robbery in Pierce County. Hamilton has a history of prison infractions, including assaulting custodial staff, DOC said. He is not eligible for release until May 2018, though he may face additional charges after Thursday's incident.

We manage a difficult population and sometimes bad things happen, Herzog said. Our staff come and do this job 24-7 ... and they are to be commended for the courage and work effort they put forth on a daily basis managing this population, he added.

The assault is being investigated by the Monroe Police Department.

A spokesperson for the Teamsters Union, which represents guards at the facility, said the union is not convinced that the [DOC] is doing as much as they can to assure staff safety.

According to the DOC, the Special Offenders Unit is being operated on restricted movement; it houses mentally ill offenders and has a current population of 346 male offenders. F-Unit, where the assault occurred, has an offender population of 152. It is staffed with 3 Correctional Officers, and 1 Correctional Sergeant, and nine non-custody staff.

In January 2011, Monroe Correctional Officer Jamie Biendl was strangled to death at the facility.

Inmate Byron Scherf, serving a life sentence for rape and assault, admitted to strangling Biendl in the chapel of the correctional complex.

Three correctional officers were fired and a sergeant was demoted in connection with Biendl's murder.

Reporting by KING5's Gary Chittim.

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