A riot in a west Texas state prison Tuesday, April 25, 2000, has left one prisoner dead and thirty-one injured severely enough to require hospitalization according to National Public Radio. The riot, which had racial overtones, began in the dining facility of the 1,300-man minimum/medium-security Smith Unit while the evening meal was being served when a black prisoner began fondling himself while looking at a female guard. A Hispanic prisoner took offense and a fight ensued.
The fight in the dining facility was limited to the two participants. However, word of the altercation spread throughout the unit and several small fights later escalated into a riot in which over three hundred black and Hispanic prisoners, some of them armed with garden tools, met and fought on the yard. Guards fled the area and the fight went on for another five hours until the deployment of approximately three hundred guards and massive quantities of "a substance similar to pepper spray" dispersed the prisoners early the next morning. The prison's kitchen was gutted by fire during the night.
Fernando Trejo, 20, was killed by a blow from a pick ax taken from a utility closet inside the prison which is located about 60 miles south of Amarillo. Several of the thirty-one hospitalized prisoners are listed as critical. No guards were injured in the melee.
This is the largest disturbance ever in a Texas prison. It was also the second Texas prison disturbance in a week. On April 24, eight prisoners attacked three guards at the Connally Unit near San Antonio. Two Guards received minor injuries.
On April 14, a prisoner took a female guard hostage at the Clements Unit in Amarillo. The guard was released without injury.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Wayne Scott discounted any link between any of the above-reported incidents and each other or the other recent disturbances in Texas prisons. "In each case you must look for the underlying causes, and we always do. But in so many instances you will find no common thread beyond the fact that it happens in a prison setting." said Scott. He also stated that the Texas prison guard shortage did not contribute to the riot or any of the other incidents.
Sources:National Public Radio--Morning Edition, All Things Considered, San Antonio Express-News
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