Posted on Tue, Mar. 16, 2004
6 CYA guards facing probe
SACRAMENTO - California Youth Authority Director Walter Allen said Tuesday that the Schwarzenegger administration is pursuing a criminal investigation against six employees stemming from a violent altercation in January in a high-security facility in Stockton. Two officers were captured on a dramatic videotape beating and kicking the young wards, at least one of whom was handcuffed.
Although the officers had subdued the inmates, they continued to hit them. One youth was struck approximately 20 times in the face, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
``As far as I'm concerned, based upon the video, I'm very troubled by what I've seen. This is from my point of view a criminal action,'' said Allen, who was named last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to run the Youth Authority.
By aggressively investigating the incident, the administration appears to be sending a signal that prison guards are not free to deliver punishment as they see fit.
The CYA, like the state's prison system, has become a domain of the politically powerful prison guards' union. Schwarzenegger has an opportunity to take a harder line in wresting power from the guards than his predecessors because he is not as dependent on them for political support.
Since Schwarzenegger took office in November, the CYA has been under heightened scrutiny by legislators, especially after the Mercury News reported in January that juveniles sentenced to CYA for serious crimes are regularly locked in cages, over-medicated and denied essential psychiatric treatment, according to a series of reports commissioned by the state Attorney General's Office.
Six on leave
In an interview with the Mercury News, Allen described 99 percent of CYA employees as hardworking and dedicated, and said he doesn't want these allegations to tar the entire staff. But he expressed deep concerns about the six involved in the fight, at least two of whom invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in a court hearing. All six have been placed on administrative leave, but no charges have been filed.
``Those people that violate the integrity, the reputation of the department by committing these alleged criminal acts, it's just not going to be tolerated,'' Allen said.
The CYA director said the case was being examined by the San Joaquin County district attorney and Attorney General Bill Lockyer. A spokesman for the district attorney did not return several calls. A Lockyer spokeswoman said the attorney general was not looking into the case, but indicated that the district attorney may still file charges against the two officers who played a primary role.
Another source said that among the allegations under investigation is whether the official reports of the incident match the videotape that captured the fracas at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton. While only two officers allegedly participated in the fight, it was unclear how the other four officers are implicated.
The Jan. 20 incident involved Vincent Baker, 19, of Stockton and Narcisco Morales, 21, of Madera. Morales was committed to CYA on charges of carjacking and auto theft. Baker was sent to CYA after failing an alternative sentencing program.
According to one source, they were brought into an office at Pajaro Hall, one of Chaderjian's living units. Director Allen, who has seen the tape, said the altercation was started by the youths.
It quickly spilled out of the office, and the video shows one officer grappling with each inmate. The struggle apparently lasted several minutes and ended with both youths on their stomachs.
One officer was on Baker, jumping up and down with his knees on the ward's back and neck. After getting Baker handcuffed, an officer kicked him in the head, one source said. During the fight, officers are seen on the tape employing pepper spray and serving as a lookout.
While Morales was in a prone position, an officer punched him 15 to 20 times in the head, according to a law enforcement source who saw the video. The source said the officer changed hands while punching the youth, apparently because his hand got tired. The officer appeared to be holding Morales' head back by grabbing his hair.
Finally, the doors opened, and other staff members are seen coming to help.
Davey L. Turner, Baker's Stockton attorney, said his client was handcuffed during the scuffle and kicked in the head, ``while he's lying prone with his hands cuffed behind his back.''
The San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office initially filed assault charges against the two young inmates. But when the case was brought to court, the officers invoked their right against self-incrimination and charges against the wards were dropped. Baker's criminal defense attorney succeeded, however, in getting him moved to county jail.
The CYA has launched an internal investigation.
The officers' names were not available. A spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union which represents many CYA employees, said he was not aware of the altercation.
Hallye Jordan, a spokeswoman for Lockyer, said her office only had been asked to determine whether the district attorney improperly used his discretion in not filing charges against the officers.
``We didn't see anything wrong,'' Jordan said, noting that the district attorney indicated he would press unspecified charges against two officers.
Terri Carbaugh, deputy press secretary for Schwarzenegger, said the
case is far from settled. ``It's still under review for possible criminal
charges,'' she said.
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