Long Beach Press Telegram
Lock up the guards
Saturday, January 17, 2004 - Recall the LAPD's Rampart scandal, where anti-gang police officers formed gangs of their own, brutalized suspects, broke every rule in the book and maintained a code of silence while supervisors deliberately looked the other way.
Now think of the California penal system as one big Rampart.
That's the grim picture painted by a federal investigator and prison expert assigned to investigate the California Department of Corrections.
The damning report by Special Master John Hagar alleges widespread corruption and brutality among prison guards, orchestrated cover- ups by top-ranking administrators, and describes efforts by the state's powerful prison guards union to protect rogue guards and interferes in department operations.
As Hagar describes it, prison guards often form gang-like subcultures and make deals with prison gangs, routinely abuse inmates and stage fights and attacks, while administrators subvert criminal investigations under pressure from the union. The system protects corrupt guards from prosecution, he says, turns good officers bad, and has "lost control" of its ability to investigate and discipline correctional officers. And a near-universal "code of silence" has hampered investigation efforts, Hagar alleges.
Former prison director Edward Alameida, who resigned last month, and deputy chief Thomas Moore are accused of impeding and shutting down a series of investigations that began in 2002 after two guards at the Pelican Bay prison were convicted of beating inmates and arranging an inmate's stabbing. The convictions came amid allegations of systematic beatings and other problems at Pelican Bay.
Alameida, Hagar's report says, had evidence from federal prosecutors that three guards lied under oath during the trial, yet investigations were not pursued. In another case cited in the report, an officer was cleared internally on charges that he illegally shot and wounded an inmate, despite "compelling evidence," but was later convicted in federal court.
Furthermore, Alameida and Moore should be charged with criminal perjury and contempt, Hagar recommends, for allegedly lying in federal court.
Hagar is especially critical of what he calls a pervasive and damaging influence of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, one of the state's most powerful unions and a top campaign contributor to former governors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis, who took $1.4 million from the union in his first term alone. The union has "disrupted" numerous criminal and administrative investigations at Pelican Bay during the past 10 years, Hagar alleges. The union is denying it.
These charges deserve immediate attention. State senators Jackie Speier and Gloria Romero are to begin hearings next week into the allegations of abuse and cover-up. That's a start. The situation also calls for a wider federal probe that must leave no stone unturned: Criminal officers must be brought to justice, corrupt administrators must be fired, the entire system must be fixed.
Just as the Rampart scandal initiated a fundamental shake- up in the LAPD, this scandalous report must do the same for California's prison system.
Three Strikes Legal - Index