FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CR
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 1998 (202) 616-2777
TDD (202) 514-1888
EIGHT OFFICERS INDICTED FOR CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AT CORCORAN STATE PRISON IN CALIFORNIA
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Eight California correctional officers and supervisors have been indicted on federal criminal civil rights charges in connection with inmate fights that occurred at Corcoran State Prison in 1994, the Justice Department announced today.
The nine-count indictment, unsealed today in U.S. District Court in Fresno, charges two sergeants, one lieutenant, and five officers employed by the California Department of Corrections with conspiring to deprive inmates of their civil rights under color of law. One officer is also charged with perjury.
Also today, an indictment was unsealed in Brooklyn charging five police officers with criminal civil rights violations and related charges stemming from the arrests of Abner Louima and Patrick Antoine last August. The Brooklyn indictment alleged that four officers beat Louima while he was handcuffed in a police car. It also alleged that two of the officers sexually assaulted Louima while he was in a bathroom at the police station by "shoving a wooden stick into his rectum and mouth."
"The vast majority of law enforcement officers across the country are hard-working professionals dedicated to protecting the public," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "But we will not hesitate to prosecute officers who use their authority to hurt others intentionally."
According to the Fresno indictment, the defendants all worked in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Corcoran State Prison. Inmates being disciplined for prison conduct violations are held in the SHU. Many of those inmates are members of rival prison gangs or factions.
"The law gave these individuals the power to protect, but they used it to torment," said U.S. Attorney Paul Seave in Sacramento. "These defendants used their authority to sponsor blood sport. In the process, they violated the civil rights of individuals and abused their power and public trust."
The indictment specifies that on February 23, 1994, four of the defendants (Jennings, Gipson, Dickerson, and Taverez) purposely released an African-American inmate into the prison yard with two Southern Mexican inmates from a rival faction. The defendants allegedly provoked the Southern Mexican inmates by telling them that they should keep the fights "one-on-one," and if they allowed other inmates to participate in the fights, they risked being shot by the officers. The defendants then watched the fight without acting to prevent it. Afterwards, they falsified a written report to cover up the fact that they had intentionally staged the fight, according to the indictment.
The indictment also states that on April 2, 1994, four defendants (Martin, Vaughn, Bethea, and Arvizu) placed two African-American inmates into the yard with members of the Southern Mexican faction, even though guards were aware that there were "problems" likely to occur between inmates. Sergeant John Vaughn assigned Officer Christopher Bethea to the yard gun position, where Bethea took possession of a 37 millimeter weapon that shoots wooden blocks and a 9 millimeter rifle to use, if needed, to quell problems in the exercise yard.
Sergeant Vaughn then told Officer Mary Farquar that a fight was expected and to come with him to the control booth, where she was assigned to operate the sallyport doors that let inmates into the exercise yard. A defendant in the control booth stated, "It's going to be duck hunting season."
Once in the yard, the two members of the Southern Mexican faction violently attacked the other inmates, as anticipated. They fought for a brief time. Officer Bethea then allegedly fired two shots at the inmates--one from the 37 millimeter weapon, and one from the 9 millimeter rifle--which hit Preston Tate in the head and killed him.
Following the shooting, the four officers involved allegedly prepared false and misleading written reports designed to cover up the fact that they had encouraged the inmates to fight, knew the fight would occur, and intentionally failed to act to protect the inmates from one another, according to the indictment.
"As stated in the indictment, the defendants sent inmates from rival groups into the exercise yard together, knowing that a fight would be the likely result," said FBI Special Agent in Charge James Maddock. "It appears the fights were staged, and even provoked, for the amusement of correctional officers or as retribution against inmates. That this activity could be allowed to occur, and did occur, with the knowledge and participation of prison management personnel is particularly troubling."
Additionally, Officer Taverez is charged with lying to the grand jury when he denied ever viewing an inmate fight while working at the prison.
Each conspiracy count carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Each count of deprivation of civil rights under color of law carries a maximum prison sentence of ten years and a $250,000 fine, unless death results, which could result in a life sentence. Perjury carries a five-year maximum sentence, and/or a fine of up to $250,000.
The case was investigated by the Fresno Resident Agency of the FBI and is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Fresno and the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division.
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