Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Colorado Prisoner Beaten, Not Stabbed

In the December, 1998, "News In Brief" PLN reported that Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP) prisoner Michael Garcia was stabbed to death by two other prisoners. We got our facts from published news accounts, and those facts were wrong.

"The Denver Post printed that false report," a Colorado subscriber and prisoner wrote to PLN . He sent us a copy of a feature-length article about the incident, "The Killing Floor," that was published in the December 10-16, 1998, issue of the Denver Weekly, Westword .

According to Westword , on the morning of September, 24, 1998, Garcia armed himself with a sharpened toothbrush. He wrapped the shiv tightly into his fist with strips torn from a T-shirt so it would be impossible to easily disarm him. Then he went to meet his death.

Garcia, who was serving two life sentences without parole for stabbing to death an elderly couple during a botched burglary, apparently harbored a death wish.

"I tell you I would rather be on death row than doing life," he wrote in a letter requesting a sentencing review, "because doing life is just a long, slow, miserable death."

Garcia was incarcerated in CSP's Progressive Reintegration Opportunity (PRO) unit, a sort of "halfway house" between 23-hour-day ad seg and general population. He was in D-2, a 16-cell pod with a central dayroom. He walked silently up behind Matthew Clark. His first thrust caught Clark in the cheek, an inch below his right eye.

"Somebody just told me to watch out -- there were four of us sitting at this table -- and he got me right here," Clark told Westword , pointing to a small red scar. "I didn't even have a chance to get up, and he was on me. Then he goes around the table for my buddy [Johnny Estrada]". For the next six brutal, desperate minutes Clark and Estrada struggled with Garcia while eleven other prisoners and nearly as many guards watched and did nothing.

"It should have never gone as far as it did," says Estrada. "There was no excuse for [guards] to stand there and watch me choke Mr. Garcia to death. I was just holding him and restraining him to keep him from stabbing anyone else. I felt I had to restrain him until the [guards] came in, and that never happened."

The DOC's own investigation into Garcia's death found numerous security and operational problems in the PRO unit. For one thing, the unit's "gang release," an automatic mechanism that allows guards to open and close an entire tier of cells at a time, wasn't working because it had not been properly programmed.

Guards stood outside the pod and watched the beating through a glass window. The eleven prisoners not involved in the fracas stood by their cell doors, but because of the faulty locking mechanism they couldn't lock up. And CSP policy calls for a ratio of four guards per prisoner before staff are allowed to intervene in such a situation.

So Estrada and Clark kicked, beat, and choked Garcia, who had apparently gone berserk and was a virtual stabbing machine whose wrapped shiv made it impossible to disarm, while the guards on the scene waited for a total of fifty to sixty guards to arrive.

"I've grown up around violence," says one of the other men who witnessed Garcia's death, "and I've seen a lot of crazy stuff. I'm not tripping on the guy getting killed. I am tripping on why eight, nine or ten police just watched it and did nothing to stop it. Garcia did not need to die, and they know it."

According to a letter from another CSP prisoner, both Estrada and Clark have been charged by the Fremont County District Attorney with second degree murder. DOC spokesperson Liz McDonough says that the initial report that Garcia was stabbed to death was an unfortunate mistake on her part. She was told a weapon had been found on the scene and assumed it had been used on Garcia. She issued a correction the next day, but almost none of the press outlets that carried the original botched press release bothered to print the correction. "There was no interest," she says.

Westword , Reader Mail

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login