MOUNT Martha man Sebastian “Sabe” Saitta has been recognised for his selfless act of bravery 27 years ago when he stepped in to protect two female prison officers taken hostage by two offenders at Townsville Correctional Centre.
On the day in question, Saitta – a former member of the Defence force and known as Sammy to his corrections’ colleagues – was a 34-year-old officer in charge of the maximum division, with experience in negotiation and de-escalation.
Taking on the role of main hostage negotiator, Saitta disarmed one of the offenders who was holding a makeshift knife to a female prison officer’s neck.
Saitta then took charge of the dog squad whose members assisted him to end the hostage situation. Saitta instructed one of the dog handlers to help the second hostage, who broke free as he lunged in to disarm the other offender.
The situation was made worse because of a problem with the communications system, with Saitta having to rely on a human “runner” to tell security to lock in all inmates until the ordeal was over.
Not long after the incident, Saitta was nominated for a bravery medal, but it was not taken any further at the time.
Mornington MP Chris Crewther, who is also opposition parliamentary secretary for justice and corrections spokesperson, spearheaded Saitta’s recognition after assisting him over the years with Department of Veterans’ Affairs matters including PTSD, recognition of Rifle Company Butterworth’s service in Malaysia, equal access for assistance dogs.
Once he became aware of Saitta’s involvement in the hostage incident, which resulted in two other corrections officers being awarded medals, Crewther wrote to the Commissioner of Queensland Corrective Services, Paul Stewart APM, and nominated Saitta for the award.
After investigating, Stewart told Saitta the incident reports and testimonials painted “a vivid picture of your extraordinary courage and exceptional leadership as the main negotiator, ultimately disarming the assailant and safely resolving the situation”.
Another officer noted that during the hostage situation Saitta “took charge of the incident, supervised staff including armed dog handlers, kept talking to the offenders and at the moment that only [he] could judge, jumped the armed prisoner, and brought the incident to an end”.
Saitta said he took the commissioner’s words “with extreme appreciation” and appreciated the efforts of all involved in the presentation.
“It has been a very long 27 years. Although I feel closure is not yet reached, I do not hold those of today responsible,” he said.
Queensland Correctional Services chief of staff superintendent Steven Scougall flew to Victoria to present the medal to Saitta at Parliament House in Melbourne, in a ceremony organised by Crewther.
In his acceptance speech, Saitta said the harrowing incident had not been his first, or last.
Now semi-retired after spending more 15 years as a corrections officer in maximum security, in the Defence forces, and more recently running Sabe’s Hobby House, he remains humble about his actions, which included offering himself in exchange for the most affected hostage and personally disarming one of the hostages.
“It all came to play with success,” he said.