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

Prisoner Killed in California Prison

On the morning of Sept. 29, 2001, after his very first night in prison, Gary Avila was found dead in his cell, apparently strangled by his cellmate. Inside the cell Paul Posada paced nervously and muttered to himself. "Yeah, I did it," he allegedly confessed to a prison lieutenant. "He messed up."

Avila, just 18 when he was sent to California's Wasco state prison, was a first time offender. He had been sentenced to two years for being a gang member in possession of a firearm, a relatively minor offense by California prison standards.

By contrast, Avila's cellmate, Paul Posada, was a violent, antisocial, career criminal with a long documented history of severe mental illness. He was also three inches taller than Avila and outweighed him by 40 pounds. Posada had just returned to prison from Kern County Jail where he was sentenced to an additional eight years for spitting in a guard's face while at
Tehachapi state prison.

A court ordered analysis done just two months before Posada's return to Wasco characterized him as "aggressive, paranoid, antisocial, explosive, schizoid, and depressive."
Posada also reportedly told mental health workers that he eats his own excrement and receives orders from a "devil girl."

Kern County Jail officials believed Posada was so unstable that they classified him as a high security risk and kept him in isolation. Gary Knox, a sergeant at the jail, says that paperwork detailing Posada's high security status and mental health problems accompanied him to Wasco on Sept. 28. Prison officials denied that any paperwork was sent.

Rufus Hernandez, Posada's first cellmate at Wasco, refused to be housed with him. According to a prison document detailing an interview with Hernandez, "[He] allegedly told [the guard] that inmate Posada was nuts, and he shouldn't be here. Hernandez also told [the guard] that nobody should be celled up with Posada."

This information, however, was not included in the original report. It didn't surface until prosecutors in the case learned of its existence and specifically requested it. According to the
lieutenant who interviewed Hernandez, "This information was deemed not necessary for inclusion [in the original report]."

Even without the documentation from Kern County Jail and Hernandez's statements, prison officials could have learned of Posada's psychiatric problems and his "single cell status" simply by checking their own computer database. A download from the Department of Corrections computer in Sacramento would have quickly told them all they needed to know. However, this database is not typically checked during the initial screening process.

Avila's death was potentially avoidable. According to one guard on duty the night Avila was killed, and who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation by prison officials, "There were warning lights going off, but -nobody was paying attention. This just never should have happened."

Source: Los Angeles Times

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