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Justification for California Prisoner Shooting Death Disputed

Fresno County, California sheriff's investigators and California Department of Corrections' (CDC) officials disputed whether the shooting death of a Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP) prisoner on October 12, 2003 during a prison yard disturbance was justified based upon CDC's use-of-lethal-force protocol.

Alejandro Enriquez, a 28 year-old lifer, was fatally shot by a single shot to the chest from a prison guard's Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle during a fight on the PVSP Facility B yard. Initially, prison authorities reported a "major riot" among 300 prisoners. But eyewitness accounts, backed by videotapes of the incident, showed that no more than 50 prisoners were involved.

Upon release for the evening meal, two prisoners of rival Mexican gangs scuffled, following which everyone was sent back to their cells. After a determination that there would be no further problems, the meal release was continued. Thereafter, Enriquez was observed pummeling a rival gang member in the yard. After firing warning rounds and shouting warnings, two guards fired a live round each at Enriquez - one killing him.

In question was whether such deadly force was proper under guidelines promulgated after 39 prisoners were shot to death by CDC guards during the 1990s. The new standards require preventing escape or preventing catastrophic injuries to prisoners or staff. Here, it was undisputed that there were no weapons involved or even suspected - just a fist fight. Moreover, the injuries suffered by Enriquez's victim were only superficial facial bruises and swelling, for which he refused outside hospital medical treatment.

SVSP spokesman Lt. Paul Sanchez surmised that the guards (now on administrative leave) "perceived it to be a life-threatening situation." Another administrator privately opined that "you don't fire a deadly round to stop a fight unless you're dam sure an inmate is about to be killed." Investigations by the sheriff and CDC are ongoing to determine whether the shooting was justified.

In 1998, SVSP prisoner Octavio Orozco was shot to death in the same prison. CDC settled an action brought by Orozco's family for $600,000 in February, 2003.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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