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California Guards Convicted of Arranging Prison Beatings, New Conspiracy Accusations Leveled

by Marvin Mentor

On May 15, 2002, a federal criminal jury convicted two Pelican Bay State Prison (CA) guards of violating the civil rights of eight prisoners whom they conspired to have beaten and stabbed - two fatally; And in a civil trial ensuing from one prisoner's death, new accusations implicating more guards as well as the former trial attorneys for the prison guards - linking them to a prison gang - were leveled.

Guards Michael Powers and Jose Garcia allegedly targeted child molesters, rapists and prisoners who refused to cooperate with them, by soliciting other prisoners with alcohol and special privileges to attack the targets. Federal prosecutor Melinda Haag told the jury of such violence and cruelty dating back a decade; describing ten incidents where Powers or Garcia had prisoners they didn't like "hurt, assaulted, stabbed or shot." Prisoner Watson White was fatally stabbed in 1992 by a prisoner allegedly solicited by Powers. Prisoner William Boyd was stabbed to death in the Pelican Bay yard just days after he had reluctantly testified against Garcia. Prisoner Duke Bolter is pending a capital murder trial in Boyd's death. Garcia was ultimately convicted in state court for conspiracy and for bringing alcohol into the prison, completing his 4-1/2 year term while the federal charges were pending.

Prisoners and guards were called as witnesses at the federal trial. The prison guards' union (CCPOA), which collects $18 million in members dues annually, paid the attorneys for Garcia and Powers. The union also allegedly pressured Pelican Bay's warden not to release subpoenaed guard personnel files. Federal District Judge Martin Jenkins ordered the warden to comply.

Prisoner Michael Black testified about Powers' challenging Black to a fight, but that Powers swung at his face before other prison guards removed Black's handcuffs. Former prisoner Eugene Ebright, a tattooed skinhead, testified that in 1996 Powers left a knife under his pillow so Ebright could assault another prisoner. Ebright backed out when he learned he would be getting released soon on a time cut - hiding the knife behind an electrical box before paroling, without carrying out the assault. When Ebright related this to FBI investigators in 1999, they located and dismantled the electrical box and found the knife still there, true to Ebright's testimony. The federal jury evidently believed the prisoner witnesses and not the guards. After a month-long trial, they found Powers and Garcia both guilty of conspiracy.

After the verdicts, Judge Jenkins permitted Garcia and Powers to remain free on bail pending sentencing, in spite of alleged threats made against colleagues who had testified against them or who had investigated them. Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Heimrich dismissed these allegations as "a couple of hotheads who made stupid remarks they should have kept to themselves, or done some scream therapy in their cars."

In a recent development, Garcia's attorneys in his state trial, Robert Noel and Marjorie Knoller, (who, under contract with the CCPOA, had for years unsuccessfully defended Pelican Bay guards) were recently convicted of manslaughter in a San Francisco dog mauling homicide implicating Pelican Bay prisoners. (See next month's PLN for more on this topic.) But Noel (now serving his time in Oregon) and Knoller also represented Boyd's widow in her civil action over Boyd's murder - without revealing their obvious conflicts of interest.

In October, 2002, Boyd's widow filed new charges in her ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging that Noel and Knoller had committed a "fraud on the court" by hiding the identity of the true culprits in her husband's death - in cahoots with the CCPOA. Boyd's widow's new lawyers, Catherine Campbell and Robert Navarro of Fresno, CA, have asked the district court to open discovery into the new allegations and to name as new civil defendants former guards Michael Powers, Roy Alvarado, CCPOA chapter president Charles Alexander and chapter vice-president Rick Newton. Campbell's allegations go on to implicate Noel and Knoller's close association with the Pelican Bay Aryan Brotherhood prison gang as a factor in their conspiratorial deceptions. Campbell alleges that Boyd, a known prison "shot-caller," was silenced by co-conspirators whose motive was to prevent Boyd from revealing damaging information about other prison guards. Campbell further alleges that it was Alvarado and Powers who ordered Boyd's murder.

But Alvarado has never been charged with any crime. Powers' attorney Matthew Pavone stated that "there was never a suggestion that they ever attributed a direct role to Jose Garcia in Boyd's death." On February 6, 2003, Powers was sentenced to seven years in prison and Garcia to six. The court ordered the men to prison in June 2003, but has given them time to appeal that ruling. See: US v. Powers, No. CR-00-105MJJ (USDC, N.D. Cal.); Boyd v. Fallman, No. C-98-3717 T.E.H. (USDC, N.D. Cal.).

Other Sources: San Francisco Daily Journal, San Francisco Chronicle

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Related legal cases

United States v. Powers

Boyd v. Fallman