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California Youth Authority Fires Six For Pummeling Prisoners And Filing False Reports

On September 10, 2004, six California Youth Authority (CYA) Correctional Counselors (guards) were fired for using excessive force" in beating two prisoners at a Stockton, California youth prison on January 20, 2004, and then falsifying the reports. The San Joaquin County prosecutor and the State Attorney General declined criminal prosecution of the guards.

In nationally publicized footage from video cameras inside the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility, two of the counselors [who are peace officers and members of the powerful prison guards union (CCPOA)] were filmed pummeling the two youths long after they had been subdued. Counselor Delwin Brown struck 28 blows to the side of the head of handcuffed prisoner Narcisco Morales while sitting on top of the face-down youth. Counselor Marcel Berry was observed kicking subdued and restrained prisoner Vincent Baker in the face, while driving his knee repeatedly into Baker's neck. The remaining four counselors, Linda Bridges, Steve Chiu, Danny Torrez and Robert Dutra, were fired for pepper spraying the prisoners after they were subdued and/or for filing false, self-serving reports on the incident.

The melee apparently began when prisoner Morales punched one of the counselors in the face in his office, bloodying and breaking his nose. The scuffle spilled into the video-monitored lounge area, where the pummeling was documented showing one counselor shooting a prisoner with a gun that fired balls of pepper spray, while another counselor sprayed their faces with chemical mace. The counselors falsified their reports by saying that the chemical weapons were used only to subdue the two prisoners, when the tape clearly showed it happened after they were handcuffed, face-down and prone on the floor. CYA Director Walter Allen concluded that the firings were the appropriate level of reprimand, noting that they have their appeal process that they have to go through" with the State Personnel Board. However, that Board's record on prison guards' appeals has been to reverse disciplinaries, reinstate jobs and order back pay for over 60% of the cases heard.

Local CCPOA Chapter President David Darchuk said that the appeal would disclose the truth ... that what took place was perpetrated by these wards, these inmates, these gang members and predators." Brown was fighting for his life, and Berry was helping defend him," Darchuk said of his union brethren who repeatedly kicked, kneed, punched and maced the subdued and restrained youths.

San Joaquin County Assistant District Attorney Jim Willet had to dismiss charges they had initially filed on the two youths when the guards refused to testify at the preliminary hearing, instead invoking the Fifth Amendment. Willet declined to prosecute the guards, in turn, because of the fact that the prisoners had started the fight. State Attorney General Bill Lockyer who accepted six-figure donations from the CCPOA during his recent election campaign declined to prosecute the guards as well.

Youth and Adult Correctional Agency Secretary Roderick Q. Hickman, a dues-paying member of the CCPOA, called the counselors' reports troubling" and a reminder of the need to wipe out the code of silence" that protects criminal guards. [See: PLN, Aug. 2004, p. 17 (Green Wall" Code of Silence Culture Said To Rule California Prisons.] Hickman opined that the counselors here exacerbated problems through their behavior in the aftermath.

Darchuk called the incident isolated, adding that gang-affiliated prisoners organized plans to assault staff including Brown. Imagine the stress he was under, knowing he could be assaulted or killed at any time.

Sources: Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times; San Jose Mercury.

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