Inmate Deaths 

05/23/06 5:10 PDT 

San Quentin State Prison officials have identified 28-year-old Harry Delmar Huff as the prisoner who committed suicide yesterday by hanging himself with a bed sheet. 

"There is an active investigation (on Huff's death), and we are going through all of the standard protocols to figure out why he did it," said Lt. Eric Messick. "It is very sad for a man to take his life in prison. We remain vigilant in preventing this from happening in the future." 

A prison guard found Huff in his 45-square-foot single cell with a bed sheet wrapped around his neck, according to Messick. Huff had been living in a single cell for three days because he had requested to be on administrative segregation status, Messick said. 

The Marin County coroner's office has determined that Huff died at 3:45 p.m. on Monday. Messick said that guards typically administer showers and escort inmates in from the yard during the afternoon hours. 

"At San Quentin there is a ratio of one guard to 50 prisoners," said Messick. "The shower routine consists of putting one inmate in the shower at a time, while he is in the shower guards will search his cell and then return him to his cell and retrieve the next prisoner." 

The reason why Huff had requested to be on administrative segregation status has not been released, however prisoners can be segregated due to disciplinary issues, the need for protection from fellow inmates, or other issues. 

Huff, originally from Humboldt County, had listed a friend as a next of kin who was informed of his death by the prison. He had been at San Quentin since March on a parole violation, said Messick. He was originally jailed in January of 2001 after being convicted of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant. 

"Hanging is the more typical method used by prisoners to kill themselves. They also slash their wrists, overdose on drugs, and some inmates have thrown themselves off of the fifth story of the prison," said Messick.

Posted on Wed, Jan. 11, 2006 

Prisons investigating two murders amid media blackout
Herald Salinas Bureau

Two homicides at Monterey County prisons in the past week that went unannounced are prompting questions about department policy not to publicly disclose inmate deaths.

In one case, a full week passed before Salinas Valley State Prison officials publicly acknowledged the homicide of Allen Benti, 37.

In the other case, it was only after being questioned by The Herald about prison policy and public awareness that an official at the Correctional Training Facility at Soledad revealed Monday's death of Heng Bong Kang.

Prison officials said Tuesday it is a matter of policy that the deaths were not made public. They said unless the individual is a high-profile inmate, such as death row inmate Stuart Alexander, also known as the Sausage King, who died recently, it is not policy to announce prison deaths. Prison officials say they must notify only the local investigating agency and the coroner's office, and contact family members by phone within two hours of the death and later by telegram.

Local law enforcement officials said there is no law to force prison officials to do otherwise, but they were nonetheless surprised by the policy.

"That's absurd that they don't think a homicide is of public interest," said Monterey County sheriff's Cmdr. Tracy Brown. "Obviously, if there was a death at our jail, we would make an announcement as soon as possible."

Monterey County Assistant District Attorney Terry Spitz said, "There is absolutely no reason to keep a murder in prison quiet as there is no reason to keep a murder outside prison quiet."

Public information law requires agencies to make arrest information public, to prevent secret detentions. Spitz said he was unsure if California prisons are required by law to make any other announcement.

When anyone dies while in custody in California, agencies must report the death and its circumstances within 10 days to the Attorney General's Office. But "due to limited resources," the office says it does not compile and publish the data, although the public can request it.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton said it is up to the outside law enforcement agency investigating the death to make a community announcement. Such agreements vary from county to county, she said.

"Normally our obligation is to report to the Monterey County District Attorney's Office," said CTF spokesman Lt. Dan Pherigo. "Generally we don't report deaths at the institution. It always goes through the coroner's office."

"We defer everything to them," Thornton said of the coroner's office and the District Attorney's Office. "If they want to put out a press release, that's up to them."

Asked why press releases go out to local media when correctional officers are attacked or state of emergencies declared but not inmate deaths, Thornton said: "We don't put out press releases about a lot of things. We're talking about prison. Things happen every day."

"It's not that we're trying to hide things, but where do you draw the line?" Thornton said, defending her department.

However, the Monterey County Sheriff's Coroner Division said it is the prison's responsibility to notify the community of inmate deaths.

"We would say it's up to them," said Monterey County sheriff's Sgt. Stacy McGrady.

The county Sheriff's Office policy requires an announcement or press release for any violent felony or arrest for a violent felony, said Cmdr. Brown.

Regarding the recent inmate deaths: According to prison records, Kang began serving a life sentence less than three years ago for assault and attempted murder in Los Angeles County.

Benti was killed Jan. 3. Prison employees said Benti was killed by his cellmate. He was serving a 39-year sentence for a 2003 conviction of rape and burglary in Sacramento County.

Officials have not revealed any other details of their deaths.

The District Attorney's Office was notified of Benti's death last week and has since begun a homicide investigation. There are two investigators in the District Attorney's Office assigned to the two prisons, both of which are in Soledad.

Lt. Gary Jordan of Salinas Valley State Prison's investigative services unit would not comment on Benti's death or the subsequent investigation. The prison's spokesman, Lt. Bill Muniz, confirmed that Benti was killed last week but did not provide any more information nor return a phone call for further comment.

In May 2005, inmate Frank Feliz, 53, was murdered at the prison, and according to a report by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, a Salinas Valley inmate identified only by the last name of Villescaz died on Nov. 6, 2005, under suspicious circumstances.

The last in-custody death at the Correctional Training Facility was at least five years ago, said Pherigo.

Approximately 550 deaths in custody are reported in California every year, according to the Criminal Justice Statistics Center at the Attorney General's Office. Roughly 55 percent of those occur in prisons; the rest are in county jails, juvenile and other law enforcement facilities.

Almost 40 percent of the deaths are brought on by non-natural causes, such as homicide, suicides and accidents. Of those, 28.8 percent of the deaths are from strangulation or suicide by hanging, 22.4 percent are caused by firearms and just over 20 percent are from drug overdoses.

Staff writer Julia Reynolds contributed to this article.

George B. Sanchez can be reached at 753-6771 or

Jail incident ruled homicide

Five deputies put on paid leave after death of man in custody

By CHRISTINA VANCE and CHRISTINA SOSA, Californian staff writers

Posted: Tuesday August 23rd, 2005, 11:35 PM
Last Updated: Wednesday August 24th, 2005, 8:26 AM

Five Kern County Sheriff's Department detention deputies were put on paid administrative leave Tuesday after the death of a man in custody was ruled a homicide by the coroner's office.

 James Woodrow Moore, 30, died at Mercy Hospital on Sunday after spending about a week in the intensive care unit, where he was taken directly after an altercation with sheriff's personnel, according to the department.
Moore died from cranio-cerebral trauma due to blunt force trauma, according to the coroner's office.

Jim Malouf, chief deputy coroner, said he did not believe the coroner's office would be requesting toxicology tests on Moore.

"Toxicology will not indicate anything other than what he received in the hospital," Malouf said.

Sheriff Mack Wimbish said people should not read anything into the fact that several detention deputies have been put on leave.

"That doesn't mean they're guilty or anything," he said. "Things are changing as we speak."

Wimbish stopped short of calling an ongoing investigation into the homicide a criminal one.

Instead, he said detectives were trying to figure out if something criminal had occurred to cause the death.

"A lot of legwork" was needed to interview all the people who knew anything about last week's fight between Moore and jail staffers, Wimbish said.

The fight occurred in the garage area outside of the downtown jail's booking room, and Wimbish said there's no videotaping system in that area.

It was unclear Tuesday exactly what prompted the fight.

"We do know that there was resistance of some type," Wimbish said. "That may help us determine what actions we have to take."

Moore had been arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats on Aug. 15, and jail records indicated he was booked on that, along with suspicion of drug use. 

But Moore's family said Friday that they called the Sheriff's Department because Moore was acting strangely and he needed help.

John Tripp, the grandfather of Moore's common-law wife, said Friday that when he saw deputies escort Moore away, he didn't resist at all.

Tripp also said the family was not told that Moore was in the hospital until two days after he was admitted.

On Tuesday, Tripp said the family had been instructed by their attorney not to make any further comments to the media.

Although Tripp previously accused the Sheriff's Department of covering up the jail incident, Wimbish said six detectives investigated it all weekend. In fact, Wimbish said detectives have been looking into the fight since the night it occurred.

"It will be ongoing even this evening," Wimbish said of the investigation Tuesday. "We will know the answers to all these questions."

Wimbish added that an internal investigation of the incident will be conducted separately from the current one.,1413,200%257E20943%257E2916395,00.html?search=filter

Los Angeles Daily News

Prison blamed in death
2 mentally ill inmates in cell ended in slaying
By Greg Botonis
Staff Writer 

Saturday, June 11, 2005 - LANCASTER -- After a Lancaster prison inmate's strangulation in his cell, a government watchdog agency urged state prison officials to modify a policy that allows mentally ill inmates to be placed together in a cell.

Convicted carjacker Frank Perez, 30, is awaiting trial on charges he used a bedsheet to strangle cellmate Eddie Arriaga, 27, in September 2004 while the men were locked in the administrative-segregation unit cell they shared at the California State Prison-Los Angeles County.

"The Office of the Inspector General found that the murder victim and his alleged assailant should not have been celled together because both had long histories of criminal violence and violent behavior toward other inmates," said a California Inspector General's report on the death.

The report urged the state Department of Corrections to modify its double-cell policy to give special consideration for inmates diagnosed with mental illness.

In addition, a special review is being conducted of the department's policy of housing administrative segregation inmates in double cells, the Inspector General's report said.

The Inspector General report said Lancaster prison employees violated department policy by not completing a cell compatibility form before placing the inmates in the same cell. But no policy was violated by assigning Arriaga and Perez to double-cell status, the report said.

The review also found two more cases at the Lancaster prison where the cell compatibility form was not completed.

"From the DOC's standpoint, we are following their (Office of the Inspector General) recommendations," said Department of Corrections spokesman Todd Slosek. "We can't talk about this right now because it's an ongoing investigation. Whether we have to take adverse action or not (against prison staff) will be determined at a later date."

Inmates are put in the administrative-segregation unit because they are disciplinary problems, could be in danger among the general prison population, or for other reasons, prison officials said. Both Arriaga and Perez were undergoing psychological treatment, prison officials said.

Administrative-segregation inmates are allowed out of their cells only to shower, for 10 hours a week of closely guarded recreation and, in the two inmates' situation, therapy, officials said.

Arriaga had been imprisoned in August 2000 on a five-year sentence for an attempted robbery in West Covina. He had been at the Lancaster prison since September 2003 and was scheduled to get out in July 2005. Arriaga was put in administrative segregation after he destroyed another inmate's television set, prison officials said.

Perez is awaiting trial in Antelope Valley Superior Court on a murder charge. Prison officials have not said why he was in administrative segregation.

Authorities say Perez has admitted killing Arriaga, but has given differing explanations. He has said he was ordered to kill Arriaga for the Mexican Mafia and, alternately, that the victim had poor hygiene, officials said.

Arriaga's death was one of five at the Lancaster prison since September, two of which were investigated for the possibility of drug use being involved. Another inmate died of natural causes, and one died of cardiac arrest after struggling with corrections officers and being pepper-sprayed.

Greg Botonis, (661) 267-7802

Posted on Sun, Apr. 17, 2005 

The stories of 6 inmates who died in county jail


After admitting to a San Jose police detective at his Dec. 30 arrest that he fondled a young girl he knew, Fox swore he would kill himself. The officer noted the comments in his report, and Fox was marked on a jail booking sheet as a suicide risk.

Fox spent no more than a week in the jail's closely watched medical and psychiatric ward. On April 4, Fox's 48th birthday, jailers found him hanging from a bedsheet tied to a bunk in his solitary cell where he was checked hourly.


A 42-year-old epileptic from Mexico who lived in his van and sold goods at flea markets, Gracia suffered a seizure while driving on Easter, according to friend Trini Haro. He got in an auto accident that afternoon and was treated at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center for a head injury. Later that night, he was taken to the jail to be booked on charges related to the traffic accident and outstanding warrants for drunken driving, battery and driving with a suspended license.

Handcuffed to a chair as he awaited booking, Gracia fell to the floor around 1 a.m., March 28. Jail officials said he fought their efforts to help him, and he died. Jail officials say staff followed proper procedures, but a former inmate claimed guards ``dog-piled'' Gracia.

Gracia had a history of resisting arrest. In April 2003, he was charged with misdemeanor battery. He also resisted arrest by a police officer working hospital security. The officer said Gracia was combative, and court records said he had to be subdued at the jail. Gracia accused the officer of brutality.


Benavidez, 49, who suffered liver disease, was jailed for a probation violation. She pleaded in a Dec. 30 inmate grievance form that she was denied a doctor and needed to see a liver specialist ``before I die here.'' On Jan. 21, Benavidez died of septic shock after developing an acute abdominal infection.


On Halloween 2004, Velasquez, a 41-year-old booked a day earlier on child-molestation charges, hanged himself with a bedsheet tied to an overhead smoke detector, just 14 minutes after jailers had checked on him. Velasquez had left a five-page handwritten note saying he had suffered stress from being sexually assaulted at knifepoint when he was 9.


Ramirez, a 44-year-old transient drug addict, was found dead in her solitary cell Oct. 24, three days after she had been booked for public intoxication. Ramirez had complained to jail medics a day earlier that she was suffering withdrawal from heroin and methamphetamine addiction and was hearing voices.

Jail officials at the time said Ramirez was being checked every half-hour, but a coroner's report indicated she was not seen for more than two hours before a medic who came to administer medications at 3:45 a.m. found her unresponsive. The coroner ruled her death an accident, concluding that the small amount of methamphetamine that remained in her body most likely caused her heart to fail.


Marino, 33, was booked Aug. 20 on drug charges and ended up in a coma two days later after jailers subdued and pepper-sprayed him for being unruly in an isolation cell. A small vial of methamphetamine was found in Marino's cell.

Jail officials have said they used very little force to subdue him, but notes from hospital officials say several guards ``dog-piled'' him. Marino died Oct. 1 at the hospital after his family concluded his condition was hopeless and removed life support. They have since filed a wrongful-death claim.

Posted on Tue, Nov. 09, 2004

ELK GROVE, Calif. (AP) - An Elk Grove man with a history of mental illness died after Sacramento County sheriff's deputies used pepper spray and a Taser stun gun to subdue him.

Deputies were called by Ricardo Zaragoza's family early Monday because Zaragoza was acting erratically. Zaragoza, 40, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 20. His family said he had been taking his medicine but had not eaten for five days.

The family wanted officers to take him in for a mental health examination.

Family members said officers talked with Zaragoza about going to a mental hospital. Zaragoza left the room to enter his bedroom, saying, "I am not a criminal."

Officers followed, and one tried to prevent Zaragoza from shutting the bedroom door. Family members said that's when the struggle between Zaragoza and the officers.

Sheriff's officials and family members said officers shot him twice in the chest with Taser guns. Family members, however, said officers used excessive force to control him.

The four officers involved were placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation, sheriff's officials said.

"It's extremely tragic, and it's going to be difficult for the officers and the family," said sheriff spokesman R.L. Davis.

Zaragoza was taken to Methodist Hospital while paramedics tried to revive him. He was pronounced dead shortly before 1 a.m.

After being handcuffed, according to the preliminary coroner's report, Zaragoza collapsed forward and struck his head on concrete as he was being taken out of the house. But he continued to struggle before becoming motionless.

Posted on Tue, Aug. 31, 2004 

CMC probing inmate's death
Anthony Brown died Friday less than two hours after he reportedly hit an officer; no CMC staff members are suspected of wrongdoing
Adam Jarman
The Tribune

California Men's Colony officials and the Sheriff's Department are investigating the Friday death of an inmate.

Anthony Brown, 46, was pronounced dead in the prison's hospital less than two hours after he reportedly assaulted an officer.

No CMC staff members are suspected to have caused Brown's death, said prison spokeswoman Lt. Shelly Thompson, and none have been placed on administrative leave.

According to Thompson, Brown "became agitated with staff" around 6 p.m. Friday while in his living unit. He hit an officer on the forehead with either his elbow or fist, Thompson said, causing bruising and swelling above the officer's right eye.

When Brown then moved toward another officer, Thompson said, staff used pepper spray to subdue him.

The inmate then complied with orders and was taken to the prison hospital, which Thompson said is standard procedure after an altercation.

However, at the hospital, "he became agitated again," Thompson said. "He was thrashing about."

Brown was restrained in a hospital bed, and prison staff held him on his side to avoid positional asphyxia, Thompson said. That is a condition in which a body is placed in a position that interferes with breathing.

Jay Vestal of California Valley died in August 2003 of positional asphyxia while being arrested by sheriff's deputies. The FBI, Sheriff's Department and District Attorney's Office have all separately cleared deputies of wrongdoing in that case.

In the CMC hospital, Brown was trying to move around but eventually settled down, Thompson said. Around 7 p.m., prison staff noticed he had stopped breathing. Medical staff tried to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead at 7:40 p.m.

An autopsy, which will indicate the likely cause of death, is not expected for a week or two, Thompson said.

The Sheriff's Department is investigating Brown's death. Department officials could not be reached late Monday for comment.

CMC and the state Department of Corrections are also investigating.

"There's no indication that there was any excessive use of force or that there was anything done that's outside the law," Thompson said. "It's an unfortunate incident. As with anything like this, we want it fully investigated in order to clear any cloud of doubt."

No other inmates were involved, Thompson said. Three officers handled the initial assault. In all, 19 prison employees -- including medical and correctional staff -- were involved with Brown's restraint and attempted resuscitation.

Brown had been at CMC since February 2003 on a Tulare County conviction of theft and assault with a deadly weapon, Thompson said.

She said she did not have any more information about his criminal or prison history. She could also not say if he had been involved in similar altercations at CMC.

Brown's family was notified of his death Saturday.,1,1231486.story?coll==la-headlines-california

Corcoran Guards Mute in Probe of Inmate Death
By Mark Arax
Times Staff Writer

March 5, 2004

FRESNO — An investigation into the Feb. 2 bleeding death of an inmate at Corcoran State Prison has been hindered by correctional officers who have refused to give details about the incident, authorities said.

Guards who initially seemed willing to cooperate in the probe have decided to keep quiet after meeting with union representatives and union attorneys, authorities said. Nearly every officer working in the section where inmate Ronald Herrera bled to death in his cell last month has refused to talk to the Kings County district attorney's office.

Herrera, a 58-year-old dialysis patient, died from an opening in his medical shunt after he screamed and kicked for hours in his cell without any intervention from the staff, according to corrections officials. Many of the 40 or so guards keeping silent are not suspects but witnesses, said the chief prosecutor leading the probe.

He said the silence had effectively blocked the monthlong investigation into possible criminal neglect.

"We need to interview a lot of people and, so far, we've had an awful lot of people refuse to talk to us," said Patrick Hart, the chief deputy district attorney. "They've all retained union attorneys who've advised them not to talk."

Union leaders did not respond to four requests for interviews over a weeklong period.

Hart said only a dozen officers out of the potential pool of 40 to 50 had made statements to county investigators. But because these officers are all peripheral witnesses at best, he said, their statements have little evidentiary value. Hart said he was miffed by the union.

"Someone from the union in Sacramento was supposed to call me and discuss the cooperation of witnesses," Hart said. "But I haven't heard from them yet. I'm assuming from all the refusals to talk that no one is going to be coming forward with voluntary statements."

In the face of silence, he said, the district attorney's office may take the matter to a special grand jury. "We're going to put the timelines and records together and figure out where we're going next. I wouldn't rule anything out."

The investigation follows by weeks criticism in Sacramento that the union has fostered a "code of silence" as a way to protect rogue guards and cover up wrongdoing. 

Last month, Mike Jimenez, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn., dismissed the criticism. He told a state Senate hearing on prison reform that guards who keep silent in the face of misconduct are cowards. In a written statement, he said the organization called for "an end to the 'code of silence' or, as we prefer to call it, the 'code of cowardice.' " 

The state senator who shared leadership at the hearing said union leaders had pretended to play along with talk of reform but pursued an entirely different tactic when the code of silence was practiced in the field. 

When told of investigators' problems at Corcoran, Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) said, "I cannot reconcile Mr. Jimenez's rhetoric with his actions. On one hand, he calls the code of silence a 'code of cowardice.' And yet the union's message to its members, at least sub rosa, is 'don't talk, don't cooperate.' "

Guards suspected of wrongdoing are entitled to invoke their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, authorities said. But corrections officers who merely witness wrongdoing and keep quiet out of a sense of loyalty have a much higher legal burden in asserting such rights.

One Fresno attorney hired by the union to represent 12 officers disputed the district attorney's portrayal of the guards' conduct. He said his clients were willing to cooperate if certain ground rules could be established. If prosecutors decide to tape the statements, he said, his clients want to use their own recorders to tape the statements too.

"If they agree to this, then my clients will talk," said attorney Eric Fogderude, who said he believes the death was a suicide and that staff efforts to save Herrera had been "valiant."

But Hart called the dispute over tape recorders a red herring. "It's a lot more than that. And they know our concern. If we tape and they tape and then they tamper with their tape, you'll never figure out whose tape is accurate."

The Kings County coroner has not ruled the death a suicide. According to corrections officials, guards failed to respond to Herrera's repeated shouts as he bled to death in his cell over an eight-hour period that began Super Bowl Sunday and ended the next morning. Nearly all the blood had drained from his body through an opening in a shunt attached to his chest. What caused the shunt's cap to come off may never be known.

Top prison officials, responding to legislative concern over the code of silence, have in recent weeks underscored a guard's duty to report wrongdoing. In a memo last month to all correctional staff members, Roderick Q. Hickman, secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, called for "zero tolerance regarding the code of silence."

"We will not tolerate any form of silence as it pertains to misconduct, unethical or illegal behavior," Hickman wrote in a Feb. 17 memo. "Any employee … who acts in a manner that fosters the code of silence shall be subject to discipline up to and including termination."

On Wednesday, Hickman took the unusual step of visiting Corcoran State Prison to discuss recent problems there. Hickman spokesman Tip Kindel said the secretary would not comment on the district attorney's probe except to repeat his general call for officers to cooperate.

The Corcoran case is the latest example of accusations that the powerful guards union has blocked criminal and administrative investigations at state prisons over the past decade.

In the past, union officials have defended the practice of providing guards with legal counsel in the early stages of an alleged crime or alleged coverup. They have described such tactics as a tough but lawful defense of their members.

Where due process ends and obstruction of justice begins is not always easy to determine, prosecutors say. As a general rule, the line would be crossed if officer witnesses are willing to cooperate with authorities but are then intimidated into silence by union representatives and union-hired attorneys.

For the first time, the district attorney's office provided a timeline of Herrera's death. But it remains incomplete because of a lack of details from correctional employees.

Herrera, a career criminal who had spent much of the last 40 years behind bars on a variety of convictions, including rape, refused to leave the shower sometime in the early evening of Feb. 1.

Guards on the third watch were about to remove him from the shower when he finally relented and was placed in his cell. Hart said he was unsure whether guards had been watching the Super Bowl game at the time or whether the game had been a distraction. 

Herrera, who suffered from hepatitis, began to howl inside his cell sometime between 9 and 10 p.m., Hart said. His distress continued through the night as he kicked at his cell door. Some staff members were concerned, but superior officers told them not to bother looking in on Herrera, corrections officials said.

At one point, Herrera smeared his cell window with blood, but it wasn't until the next morning, about eight hours after he began howling, that a guard opened the cell. He found Herrera slumped over on the ground, dead. Blood filled the toilet bowl and washed over the cement floor. The shunt's cap was off and was found on a top bunk.

A few days later, after a Times story highlighted questions surrounding the death, attorneys in Fresno began getting calls from union officials and lawyers in Sacramento. They were told that numerous guards needed to be represented because prosecutors 50 miles away in Kings County, where the prison is located, were pursuing a probe into possible criminal neglect. 

One by one, prosecutors said, important witnesses approached by county investigators refused to talk, citing the advice of the union-hired lawyers.

One attorney said her client, a peripheral witness, had agreed to cooperate because he had been influenced, in part, by Hickman's "zero tolerance" memo.

"Did we get marching orders from the union not to talk? I haven't been instructed by the CCPOA not to cooperate, but they wanted him to have legal representation," said the attorney, who requested anonymity to protect her client's identity. 

If witnesses refuse to cooperate with prosecutors, a warden can call them individually into his office and remind them of their legal and ethical duty to report misconduct. In the Herrera case, officials said, Corcoran Warden Al Scribner has so far chosen not to do this.

Herrera's mother said she hoped guards would do the right thing and come forward. "He cried and screamed, but they pretended not to hear him," said Francis Goena, 82. "They didn't even bother to check on him. They let him die like an animal.",1,5758056.story?coll=la-headlines-california

Inmate's Open Shunt Led to Bleeding Death
The device was not fully closed, letting blood flow out of the prisoner's jugular vein at Corcoran State Prison, coroner says.
By Mark Arax
Times Staff Writer

February 7, 2004

FRESNO — An autopsy of a Corcoran State Prison inmate who bled to death in his cell overnight on Super Bowl Sunday showed that his medical shunt was not fully closed, allowing blood to flow out of his jugular vein, authorities said.

The autopsy Thursday could not determine whether inmate Ronald Herrera, a 58-year-old dialysis patient, had opened the shunt's clamp in a fit of anger, or if the medical staff responding to his screams administered a sedative through the shunt and had failed to close the device.

"That is one of the questions investigators will look at," said Rene Hanavan, chief deputy coroner for Kings County. "The bleeding from the open dialysis shunt caused him to go into shock, and that shock caused his heart to beat in an irregular rhythm."

On Friday, state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), who recently co-chaired a series of legislative hearings critical of the prison system, called on Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer to take over the investigation into what she called a "gruesome and completely avoidable" death. 

Guards could be found criminally negligent if they were too busy watching the Super Bowl game to respond to Herrera's repeated screams. 

Romero questioned whether Kings County Dist. Atty. Ron Calhoun, who was elected in 1998 on the strength of financial backing from the state prison guards' union, could conduct an independent probe of the local prison.

"A matter this serious demands an aggressive, independent investigation that will rise above political concerns or other factors that might compromise probes conducted at the local level," Romero wrote to Lockyer.

A press spokesman for the attorney general said Romero's letter had not crossed Lockyer's desk, but "when it does, we'll review it."

Patrick Hart, Kings County's chief deputy prosecutor, said a story on Herrera's death in The Times on Thursday has complicated the investigation. He said correctional officers at Corcoran might use the story to claim facts about the incident that they did not observe. Hart would not give further details of the investigation.

The story appeared on the fourth day of the probe, after written reports and logs had been examined by county investigators and word had spread throughout the prison.

Two corrections officials provided The Times with an account of Herrera's death on the condition that they not be named for fear of retaliation by superiors.

They said Herrera, a mentally ill burglar and rapist from Ventura County, began "ranting and raving" about midday Sunday. Prison medical staff members examined Herrera near halftime of the Super Bowl and may have given him medication to calm him, they said. But Herrera kept howling and kicking at the door throughout the evening. 

At one point, they said, he began to cover the window in his cell with toilet paper soaked in his blood. More than one guard thought something was terribly wrong, the officials said, but Herrera was not checked again that night. Prison policy, they said, required that the cell door be opened as soon as Herrera blocked the view with the toilet paper.

"There are several notations from staff indicating concern for Herrera," one official said. "But the superior officers never let them check on him."

A female sergeant did check from outside the cell, but she told subordinates not to bother doing anything more, they said. "He's not dead," the sergeant was quoted by the officials as saying. "Just keep an eye on him."

From one watch to the next, over a 10-hour period, Herrera continued to bleed from an opening in his shunt. It wasn't until shortly after 6 a.m. that a guard who knew Herrera decided to check on him. A large pool that looked to the guard like "raspberry Kool-Aid" was streaming out of the cell. Inside, he found Herrera slumped over on the floor, the blood drained from his body.

At least one guard reported that the cap of the shunt was sitting on Herrera's bunk, an official said. The chief deputy coroner said the rest of the shunt was attached to Herrera's upper chest at the time of the autopsy.

"Nothing appeared to be malfunctioning with the shunt itself," said Hanavan, the chief deputy coroner. 

"But for whatever reason, the cap had been taken off one of the tubes and the clamp wasn't squeezed shut. The opening allowed him to bleed. Right now, there's not enough information to say whether it's suicide or not."

Judy Greenspan of California Prison Focus, a watchdog group based in San Francisco, said she has visited dozens of Corcoran inmates who were receiving dialysis treatment in recent years. Often, she said, the shunts put in by outside dialysis centers that contract with the state are defective. 

"Most of the men I visited complained of having shunts that didn't work. They had multiple operations to install new shunts, many of which still failed," Greenspan said. "To me, it represented the continuing abysmal medical care at Corcoran."

DA says inmate death case is 'ruined'

By Kara D. Machado
Sentinel Reporter

HANFORD - Kings County District Attorney's officials are angry, saying a Los Angeles Times article printed in a Fresno paper has damaged the investigation into a California State Prison, Corcoran (CSP) inmate's death.

Since CSP inmate Ronald Herrera, 60, was found dead in his cell Monday, DA's officials have been investigating the circumstances surrounding his death. When asked about Herrera Tuesday morning, Chief Deputy District Attorney Patrick Hart could say nothing except, "We don't want to say anything that will ruin the investigation."

An article from a Los Angeles Times reporter has "ruined" what could have been a potentially fair and impartial investigation, Hart said this morning.

"Obviously, (Los Angeles Times reporter Mark) Arax has someone in the prison" as a source, Hart said. "As a consequence, we now can't release any information until the investigation is complete."

In any investigation, Hart said, authorities need to interview witnesses separately from one another to ensure the information they're receiving is that of the witness' own personal observation.

"By exposing the witness to other witnesses' observations, you can't ensure that the information you're receiving is personal to the witness you're interviewing," Hart said. "It may be part of things a witness has heard from somebody else ... and Arax knows this."

"At this point Arax has given any one of them a script," Hart said, "and we will never know if what we are hearing from them in interviews is actually what they saw or what they read in The Bee."

Sabrina Johnson, CSP public information officer, said Herrera's death is an ongoing investigation and that no prison official at CSP has made any comment as was quoted in the Los Angeles Times article.

"The LA Times article is based on rumor and suppositions (unfounded facts)," Johnson said. "Herrera's medical condition cannot be disclosed because of HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) laws, that's why we believe the LA Times article is based on rumor and supposition."

"Upon the completion of the investigation, of course, the details (surrounding Herrera's death) will be disclosed," Johnson said. "Basically (at this point), we're cooperating with the DA's Office, in regards to the death, for the investigation."

Up until this morning, the bulk of the investigation into Herrera's death had been based on collecting reports from prison medical officials and waiting for Herrera's autopsy, which is scheduled for today at 2 p.m., in order to have "something concrete to ask people," Hart said.

What then could have been a fairly quick investigation will now, most likely, drag on for a lengthy amount of time, Hart said.

"That article lengthened this thing up considerably because now we'll have to interview three times the amount of witnesses in order to make sure what they are saying is actually what they saw," Hart said. "We could have interviewed all the (potential) witnesses quickly because there are only a small number of people in the unit where the inmate was housed.

"But now we'll have to talk to people who were not even there in order to verify statements from the people who were," Hart said.

Chief Deputy Coroner Rene Hanavan would not confirm Herrera's identity as he was unsure if Herrera's next of kin had been notified. Hanavan also could not go into specific details into the death of Herrera.

All I can say is that "at 10:40 a.m. on the 2nd (of February), I was advised of an inmate death at CSP," Hanavan said. "I arrived at 11:30 a.m. and saw the decedent at the (prison's) acute care hospital emergency room."

"Death was pronounced at 6:50 a.m. on the 2nd," Hanavan said. I wasn't called until 10:40 a.m. because "an investigation was being conducted by (a) state prison physician."

Hanavan said the cause of death is pending an autopsy that he confirmed would be this afternoon.

Herrera had served two years of a life sentence for second-degree burglary with more than "two strike priors," Hart said.

(The reporter may be reached at .)

(Feb. 5, 2004)
Grand Jury Meets Over Inmate Death 
Inmate Died While Being Restrained At San Joaquin County Jail 
POSTED: 5:13 PM PST January 12, 2004
UPDATED: 7:54 AM PST January 13, 2004

STOCKTON, Calif. -- Did four jailers go too far and kill an inmate in a Central Valley jail? That's a question a grand jury opened to the public Monday.

Mondez Denmon, 34, died from asphyxiation last September while being restrained in the San Joaquin County Jail. Denmon broke his leather restraints, fought with jailers and then stopped breathing.

Usually, when a grand jury meets, all the proceedings are in secret. But not this time. San Joaquin County's criminal grand jury is meeting in public.

"There are those times when grand juries should be open to the public. This is one of those times," said Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau.

Denmon's family wanted an open grand jury to answer questions about his death.

"I want everything out in the open. I don't want anything hidden. I want everything to be in open court on what happened and why it happened," said Denmon's mother, Rosemary Denmon.

Denmon was brought to jail on a charge of beating up his girlfriend. According to authorities, he fought with jailers, who used force, pepper spray and a mat that restrained his hands, legs and waist.

"I think it's terrible because they're wearing the badge. I think that's the worst crime when you have a badge to protect everybody, and yet, it's misused," said NAACP spokesman Bob Haley.

Denmon was given Bendadryl to calm him down, then Haldol -- a powerful sedative. And later, he was also injected with another sedative. In spite of that, the powerful 270-pound Denmon was able to break three of five leather restraints. One officer punched him in the face, and another stood on his back. Denmon died of compression on his chest, suffocating to death.

"You'll understand force is a proper means of discipline at the jail; the question is in this case that you will constantly go over and step by step is at what point, if any, did the force used become excessive," Himelblau said.

In December, another grand jury found no cause for indictments for three police officers who faced possible charges of perjury and excessive force.

Rosemary Denmon said she is hoping for a different result this time.

Posted on Tue, Dec. 30, 2003 

Death of inmate at Santa Cruz County jail probed
By the Mercury News

A probe to determine the cause of death of a 50-year-old inmate in Santa Cruz County jail over the weekend is under way today.Officials from the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department said Carolyn Patricia Jewell was arrested on drug charges and booked into jail Friday night. Jewell reportedly told medical staff at the jail that she would experience drug withdrawal symptoms.About 7 p.m. Saturday Jewell suffered a seizure, according to authorities. 

She was transferred to the jail's medical unit for observation and was found lying in her bed non-responsive at about 11 p.m. Paramedics were unable to revive her.The Santa Cruz County Coroner's Office will perform an autopsy to officially determine the cause of death, but coroner's officials believe foul play was not involved.Mercury News wire services contributed to this report.

Inmate's letter can't be used in case against him


Wednesday, December 10, 2003 4:38 PM PST

The prosecution was dealt a blow in the capital murder trial of Calipatria State Prison inmate Joseph A. Barrett when a letter allegedly containing a motive for the homicide was not entered into evidence Thursday.

The letter allegedly contains orders written in code ordering Barrett to kill his cellmate, Thomas Kent Richmond, who was found dead during the pre-dawn hours of April 9, 1996. Richmond suffered 13 stab wounds, six of which were fatal, piercing his heart, both lungs and liver.

Barrett is a convicted murderer serving a 26-years-to-life sentence. Richmond was a convicted robber who would have been eligible for parole in 2000.

Correctional Sgt. Robert Swetich continued his testimony Tuesday, saying the letter was discovered in an evidence room at the prison at an unspecified time after the murder.

Eric Beaudikofer of El Centro, one of Barrett's attorneys, attacked the authenticity of the letter, of which only a photocopy was provided to the court.

Videotape shot of the evidence-collection procedures at the crime scene does not show the original letter being found and removed from the cell, said Beaudikofer. Additionally, an internal memo from the prison demonstrates the prison administration's own doubts concerning the authenticity of the letter, added Beaudikofer.

"Our contention is that there is some serious misconduct surrounding this letter. ... It's an outright fabrication," said Beaudikofer.

"Got any proof of that?" asked Deputy District Attorney Wayne Robinson.

A series of accusatory exchanges ensued between Beaudikofer and Robinson, forcing Superior Court Judge Joseph Zimmerman to admonish both men about speaking to one another.

"Wait a minute, guys! When you're going to get like this I'm going to insist you don't talk to each other," said Zimmerman.

"That's fine with me," said Robinson.

Said Zimmerman: "The handwritten letter dated Saturday, March 16, 1996, consisting of two long pages. ... I don't have anything to tie that with Mr. Barrett. Just that it was found in a room with some of his other stuff, but not his cell. There's not just enough there. ... I can't allow it." .

Swetich was asked by Robinson if he had heard the theory concerning the belief Richmond was murdered in his sleep by Barrett. Swetich replied he had not heard the theory but added he had his own theory concerning the reason behind the murder.

Beaudikofer objected to Swetich sharing his theory with the jury. Zimmerman upheld the objection, saying Swetich was there to describe what he saw and not provide his opinion on what happened.

Zimmerman then upheld many more objections raised by Robinson concerning the argumentative line of questioning Beaudikofer pursued against Swetich. Beaudikofer repeatedly attacked the evidence-collection procedures used by correctional personnel and characterized their work as being an "amateurish investigation."

Sam Tozer, a plumber at Calipatria State Prison at the time of the murder, gave testimony Tuesday. Tozer described finding an inmate-manufactured knife, or shank, in the cell's toilet plumbing the morning of the crime.

The shank found by Tozer is a triangle-shaped piece of flat-stock metal with a total straightened length of about 8 and a half inches. The shank's tip of about 2 inches is folded over giving the weapon a folded length of about 6 inches.

Tozer explained the shank was folded over itself to allow it to flush down the toilet. Tozer said the shank flushed past the toilet's trap, but become stuck on some "kite string" built up in the pipe, allowing it to be retrieved using a plumber's auger.

Inmates tear small strips of linen from their bedding and fashion string from the material for use in sending messages, called "kites," to each other, said Tozer. The inmates then attach small weights, such as fingernail clippers, to the end of the string and hurl the kites underneath their cell doors to link with other hurled kites, allowing them to be pulled into the cells, added Tozer.

The inmates will flush the string down their toilets to keep correctional officers from finding it, added Tozer.

Correctional Officer Raymond Leon testified Thursday, describing how the shank found in the toilet plumbing matched a portion of metal cut from the desk in the cell shared by Barrett and Richmond.

"Did the inmate-manufactured weapon that Mr. Tozer gave you match the type of metal found on that desk?" asked Robinson.

"Yes," replied Leon.

Barrett had injuries to his right and left index fingers, said Leon, who indicated he had seen such injuries on other inmates. Leon was not allowed to answer because of a sustained objection concerning how inmates typically receive those types of injuries.

Prosecution testimony is scheduled to resume Thursday in the Imperial County Courthouse in El Centro.

>> Staff Writer Michael A. Salorio can be reached at 337-3441 or

Inmates charged with killing fellow prisoner 

01:16 AM PST on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 
By STEFANIE FRITH / The Press-Enterprise

CHINO - Murder charges have been filed against three inmates accused of stabbing to death another prisoner at the California Institution for Men in Chino because he was viewed as a "race traitor," officials said Tuesday. 

Gary Ellis, Justin Luick and Nathaniel Padgett plotted to kill Karl Laurion, 28, on June 27 because he had fathered a child with a black woman before being sentenced to CIM, said Jeremy Carrasco, San Bernardino County lead deputy district attorney for the Chino office. 

Laurion was a known member of a gang with white supremacist views who had been in and out of prison for several years, he said.

"His white supremacist brothers learned about it and weren't too happy," said Carrasco. "In our report, they refer to it as being a 'race traitor.' Word travels fast in prison." 

Officials said Laurion became involved in a "physical altercation with a weapon" at the prison, said California Department of Corrections spokeswoman Margot Bach. 

He died of a single stab wound a day later, she said. 

Padgett, 23, has been in and out of prison for burglary, oral copulation and assault with a firearm, records with CDC show. He is also accused of being caught with a weapon while in prison. 
Luick, 33, has convictions for drug possession and Ellis, 39, has convictions for burglary, drug possession and weapons charges, state records show. 

An arraignment for Ellis, Luick and Padgett has not been scheduled. If convicted, all three men could face life in prison. 

Reach Stefanie Frith at (909) 893-2114 or

Inmate's death spurs concerns 

TEEN: A 17-year-old Redlands boy was housed among the state's most violent young offenders. 

10:54 PM PST on Sunday, November 9, 2003 

By LISA O'NEILL HILL / The Press-Enterprise 

TEHACHAPI - Francis Ray was born 11 days before Christmas to a 13-year-old girl. He died in an isolation cell with a braided bed sheet hanging around his neck. 

His short, difficult existence ended on July 1 at Tehachapi Correctional Institution, where the 17-year-old Redlands boy was housed among the state's most violent youthful offenders. 

During the two months before his death, Ray was shuttled from prison to prison for mental health treatment that was unavailable at Tehachapi, according to a Senate committee that asked for an independent investigation into the suicide. 

He was sent to a prison in Lancaster twice, transferred to Corcoran state prison for crisis care treatment and then later sent to the Department of Mental Health's Vacaville Psychiatric Program. 

The investigation by the Office of the Inspector General found no wrongdoing by the prison staff, but the office raised concerns about the lack of adequate health-care services at the prison, said Rocky Rushing, a consultant for the committee chaired by state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles). The committee is waiting for the results of a Department of Corrections inquiry, Rushing said. 

Details of Ray's life remain murky. But the little information available in court records presents a portrait of a troubled kid who had a difficult start in life and occasionally tried to hurt himself. 

One teacher at Tehachapi said he never would have singled out Ray as someone who would commit suicide. Others say Ray showed signs of mental illness and killed himself despite the prison's best efforts to save him. 

"We do not have enough manpower to watch every individual kid. If someone is determined to kill himself, they will," said Joel Valenzuela, a chaplain at the prison for 18 years. "I know that we did all we could, honestly." 

Under psychiatric watch 

Ray had talked about killing himself a month before he was discovered hanging, Valenzuela said. Prison officials promptly took him to the infirmary and put him under special watch, Valenzuela said. 

The teenager underwent a psychiatric evaluation but later was deemed well enough to be removed from a psychiatric hold, prison spokesman Brian Parriott said. 

Ray's death was the first suicide of a youthful offender at the prison since the passage of Prop. 21 in 2000. The initiative gives authorities more leeway in trying juveniles as adults and in some cases requires that they do so. 

The proposition authorized district attorneys to send minors charged with certain serious crimes straight to adult court without a juvenile court hearing. 

In California, all 16- and 17-year-old boys tried as adults wind up at Tehachapi. 

Prison life 

Tehachapi, a sprawling prison nestled in a picturesque valley in Kern County, houses about 5,300 inmates. About 140 are 16- and 17-year-old murderers, rapists, robbers and other felons. The teenagers are sent to the prison from across the state. Most are from Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, according to statistics from the Department of Corrections. 

The teenagers live in a beige wing with barbed wire fences that is separated from the adults. They never mingle with the adult inmates, prison officials said. 

The teens sleep in two-person cells, where they have access to televisions, radios and books. In the general area, they watch television together, or play games such as chess or checkers. 

Their daily routine includes exercise, classes and chores. 

Most of the young inmates are working on their high school diplomas, said correctional officer Paul Soto. The others are assigned to daily jobs around the prison, such as mopping floors. 

Their lives are regimented: Breakfast is served in the cells between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. At 8 a.m., the wards split into groups and head for classes or the gym. At 11 a.m., they return to the housing unit for a head count and then lunch.

"A lot of kids come in here with a lot of time," Soto said. "We get them ready for the main line. They have to follow the rules." The main line is prison slang for adult prison. 

Prison officials will not let visitors touring the facility speak to the teen felons because they are minors. 

Charles "Andy" Williams, who at age 15 killed two students and wounded 13 other people at a Santee high school in 2001, is one of the boys in Tehachapi's Youthful Offender Program. He is serving a sentence of 50 years to life. 

Andy Williams is well-cared for and is allowed books, a television and packages in his cell, said his father Charles Williams, 43. 

"It's a little bit more than what he had in Juvenile Hall," Charles Williams said. 

Prison officials do a good job of keeping the youthful offenders segregated from the adults, the older Williams said. 

Charles Williams said, however, that he has some concerns for his son's education. He said prison officials cancel classes when it is foggy because they cannot have the teenagers walking across the prison yard. 

"I really hope that sometime somewhere down the line, somebody in the Legislature will have the backbone to give all the kids a chance, get rid of Prop. 21 and let a juvenile judge make the decision whether a kid deserves to go to adult prison," Williams said. "I'd rather have a professional judge make that decision rather than a district attorney." 

As soon as the juveniles turn 18, they are sent off to another prison, where for the first time, they will mix with adult inmates. 

Troubled youth 

Two years after Ray's birth, the child and his mother were made wards of the court. A female relative tried to raise the child, court records show, but that ended when the boy became too aggressive. Ray ended up in court-supervised placements, where he displayed aggression toward counselors and teachers and fought in school. 

He also occasionally tried to harm himself. 

Originally from the Bay Area, Ray was living in a group home in Redlands when he was arrested in January 2002 -- at age 16 -- for robbing another teen of a cellular telephone and a jacket in a Redlands park. During that holdup, Ray was armed with a box-cutter, according to the court records. 

That same night, without the box-cutter, Ray robbed two pizza store workers of $70 and a van, which was wrecked while being chased by police. 

Court records reveal that Ray had no prior record. However, a Juvenile Court judge decided that Ray should face prosecution in adult court. 

Ray pleaded guilty in adult court on July 29 to two counts of robbery. He was sentenced Nov. 4 to three years in state prison. 

Prop. 21 

Prosecutors could have sent Ray's case directly to adult court, rather than submitting it to a Juvenile Court judge for evaluation. However, at the time of his arrest, Prop. 21 was in limbo because the California Supreme Court was deciding whether the measure was constitutional. 

Since then, Prop. 21 has passed all legal challenges, and prosecutors have the option of sending teens as young as 14 directly to adult court. 

Ray's next of kin could not be reached for comment. His body was claimed by a Daly City funeral home, according to the Kern County Sheriff-Coroner's Office. 

Mental health care 

Ray spent the last two months of his life being sent from prison to prison for mental health treatment. 

Ray was sent to the state prison in Lancaster for mental health treatment on April 16 and was returned to Tehachapi a week later, Rushing said. On May 1, he was sent back to Lancaster, then back to Tehachapi six days later, Rushing said, citing information supplied to the committee by the Department of Corrections. 

About a week after that, Ray was sent to Corcoran state prison for crisis care treatment, where he stayed until the end of the month. He then was transferred to the Department of Mental Health at Vacaville, where he stayed until June 9, Rushing said. 

Less than a month later, he was dead. 

At some point soon after he returned to Tehachapi, Ray was placed in segregation after trying to kill his roommate, Rushing said. He did not have additional specifics on the incident. 

Prison staff had checked on Ray about 90 minutes before he was discovered hanging, a Department of Corrections spokesman has said. 

Ray had been at the prison for seven months when he hanged himself from a metal vent in the ceiling with a braided bed sheet. He was taken to the prison infirmary, where resuscitation efforts failed, according to an autopsy report. 

Shortly after Ray's death, Romero sent a letter to the Office of the Inspector General, requesting the investigation into the suicide. 

"I believe this tragic death raises serious questions about the lack of mental health care treatment juveniles are receiving at the Tehachapi prison and elsewhere" in the correctional system, she wrote. 

Inmates in the administrative segregation unit where Ray was housed have said that they called to the guards for help when they learned Ray was trying to kill himself but that the guards did not respond for 20 to 30 minutes, Romero's letter states. Guards had been frustrated by inmates playing "man down" by crying out for help when there was no emergency, according to the letter. 

The allegations about the guards could not be substantiated by the Office of the Inspector General, Rushing said. 

The committee hopes to get more information about the circumstances of Ray's death when it receives the Department of Corrections report, Rushing said. 

Staff Writer Richard Brooks contributed to this report. 

Reach Lisa O'Neill Hill at (909) 368-9462 or,1,5609600.story

Inmates Are Moved After Riot Kills 2
A melee at a privately run state prison in Riverside County prompts officials to transfer out more than 130 detainees.
By Jenifer Warren
Times Staff Writer

October 29, 2003

SACRAMENTO — More than 130 inmates have been transferred out of a privately run state prison in eastern Riverside County after a weekend riot there left two convicts dead and tensions at the low-security lockup unusually high.

State corrections officials said a melee Saturday night at the prison in Eagle Mountain involved about 150 inmates and raged for 90 minutes before a warning shot fired into the ground by an off-duty correctional officer quelled the fighting.

The deaths were the first violence-related fatalities at any of the nine California prisons run by private corporations under contract with the state, a corrections official said.

The victims, both from Los Angeles County, died after being stabbed and bludgeoned by other inmates, according to early reports. They were identified as Rodman Wallace, 39, serving two years for burglary, and Master Hampton, 34, serving a 16-month term for a drug offense.

Four other inmates wounded in the riot were taken by helicopter to hospitals for treatment, and 50 prisoners had less serious injuries and were cared for on site. No staff members were hurt.

Dozens of Riverside County sheriff's deputies and officers from the two state prisons in Blythe were called in to help end the melee, which broke out in a recreation room while inmates were watching the World Series — and spread quickly.

Because guards at private prisons do not carry any weapons — not even pepper spray — they were forced, according to protocol, to retreat from the fighting until additional officers arrived. After the brawling stopped, witnesses described a scene of widespread destruction, from broken windows to torn fencing and smashed furniture.

"I walked onto the yard when it was over, and it looked like Beirut," said Lt. Warren Montgomery, one of those who traveled 60 miles from Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe to assist.

Montgomery said inmates attacked one another with knives and meat cleavers seized from the kitchen, as well as table and chair legs and mop handles — "anything they could get their hands on."

He said the fight was predominantly between African American and Latino inmates, and that prisoners of both ethnic groups, as well as some Asian and white inmates involved in the fighting, were moved to other prisons to prevent a recurrence.

The brawling caused about $15,000 in property damage, but nothing severe enough to force the closure of the prison, its operators said.

Nevertheless, the riot is likely to rekindle debate over the use of private institutions to incarcerate some of the state's low-risk prisoners. Eagle Mountain and the eight other privately run community correctional facilities house about 3,600 inmates in all, mostly drug offenders, burglars, parole violators and other nonviolent criminals.

The powerful state prison guards union has long opposed private lockups, over which it has no jurisdiction. Union leaders have argued that "prisons for profit" are less secure and that their staffs are not adequately trained.

In a move described as a money-saving step, the state plans to close three of the private prisons in the coming year. Eagle Mountain is one of them, scheduled for closure Dec. 31.

A spokesman for the Utah-based company that operates Eagle Mountain and 15 prisons in other states defended the 438-bed facility, noting that these were the first deaths since it began operating in 1988.

Management & Training Corp. spokesman Carl Stuart said that although the cause of the melee was not yet known, tensions at the normally quiet facility had been surging in the last six weeks. During that period, he said, the Department of Corrections transferred out about 200 inmates with longer sentences and brought in a group scheduled to be paroled before the end of the year.

"So we've had about a 50% turnover rate, and it has definitely increased friction," Stuart said. "When you have a whole bunch of new people coming in who haven't learned how inmates do things at this facility, there are issues of turf and you get a more volatile environment."

Stuart said that Eagle Mountain was at full staffing at the time of the riot and that there was never a breach of the perimeter fence.

"We did not lose control of the facility; we followed standard procedure and backed our staff off while waiting for backup to come," Stuart said. "These things don't normally happen at a minimum-security unit. And we think the unprecedented way the department brought in a new population had a lot to do with it."

Margot Bach, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections, did not dispute that the inmate population at Eagle Mountain had changed recently. But she could not confirm whether that contributed to the riot.

"It may have been one factor," Bach said, "but it's still too early to tell."

Because it involved homicides, the incident at Eagle Mountain is under investigation by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. 

No one had been arrested in connection with the deaths by late Tuesday.

The fatalities came two weeks after an inmate was shot and killed by a correctional officer during a much smaller brawl at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga.

That shooting is under investigation by the Fresno County Sheriff's Department.

Operators of Eagle Mountain, about 60 miles east of Palm Springs, are just about the only employers in the remote company town of the same name, which once was the site of a mining camp.

As a result, townspeople have joined prison officials in opposing the state's closure of the facility.

So far, their efforts have been unsuccessful.

But when Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor, prison officials quickly contacted his staff and asked him to consider renewing the Eagle Mountain contract.

There has been no response, but officials remain hopeful. Schwarzenegger worked in Eagle Mountain a decade ago during the filming of a "Terminator" movie.

The Desert Sun
October 27th, 2003 

Two killed, 7 injured in inmate riot

DESERT CENTER -- Two men were killed and seven others were injured during a riot at Eagle Mountain Community Correctional Facility.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said Sunday that the riot occurred shortly before 7 p.m. Saturday night. 

Deputies reported that one man died at the prison and the other man died at John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Indio.

The other injured inmates were taken to JFK, Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs and Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, according to the sheriff’s department.

Deputies said the riot started with an altercation between a group of white and Hispanic inmates who reportedly attacked a group of black inmates at the facility.

The names of the two dead men have not been release pending notification of their families. Autopsies have been scheduled for this week on the bodies of the two inmates who were killed. 

Sheriff’s Department Central Homicide Unit is investigating the case with help from deputies in the Blythe, Indio and Palm Desert sheriff’s stations. 

Eagle Mountain Community Correctional Facility is a private prison that houses male prisoners for the state of California.

Anyone with information about the riot is asked to contact Investigator Ben Ramirez with the Sheriff's Department Central Homicide Unit by calling 836-1632.

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