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California Guard Murdered By Prisoner; Investigative Reports Blame Gross Staff Incompetence

A prison guard at the California Institution for Men (CIM) at Chino was stabbed to death in the Sycamore Hall housing unit on January 10, 2005 by an East Coast Crips gang-affiliated prisoner who had just begun a 75-year-to-life three-strikes enhanced sentence for the attempted murder of a Los Angeles peace officer. This was the first murder of a guard by a state prisoner in California in twenty years. All 33 California prisons (and many county jails) were locked down for one day; Governor Schwarzenegger ordered Capitol flags lowered to half mast.

Guard Manuel A. Gonzalez, Jr., 43, died from three stab wounds to his chest and abdomen that were allegedly inflicted by Jon Blaylock, 35. Using a prison-made weapon, Blaylock was allegedly assisted by fellow prisoners Keith White and Henry Riley when he attacked Gonzalez from behind. Gonzalez was not wearing a protective vest because CIM had received only 352 of its order for 900 of the $500 vests; none were issued pending receipt of the balance. However, it is uncertain whether a vest would have saved Gonzalezs life. Blaylock is now fighting for his own life: San Bernardino Co. District Attorney Michael Ramos is seeking the death penalty for Gonzalezs murder.

Four Inquiry Boards Convened

Four formal inquiry boards were convened to investigate the killing. Separate reports were issued by the San Bernardino County Sheriff, the California Office of Inspector General [a legislative watchdog agency for prisons], the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), and by a national panel of experts appointed by former Corrections Secretary Roderick Hickman. The latter panel was chaired by New York DOC Commissioner Glenn S. Goord.

One area of inquiry raised by officials with Californias prison guards union (CCPOA) was why none of the protective vests were issued until the entire purchase order had been filled. CIM Warden Lori DiCarlo indicated it was a fairness issue raised by the union itself, i.e., who should be favored if only some staff could be outfitted with vests?

A second concern lay with the fact that Blaylock was a maximum-security (Level IV) prisoner who was being held at a Level III Reception Center until his custody placement was resolved. Blaylock claimed to have enemies at Corcoran State Prison where he was initially slated to go, and begged off his earlier transfer. He reportedly had medical and mental conditions (including suicide attempts) that required special placement. Blaylock was hoping to go to the California Medical Facility, a Level III prison.
Meanwhile he remained at CIM for seven months, where his security restrictions were lower than the maximum security level expected for someone with his criminal history and known assaultive behavior.

Guards Are Safe Prisoners Are Not

CCPOA President Mike Jiminez blamed Gonzalezs slaying on a prisoner-coddling culture allegedly instilled by former CDCR Secretary Hickman that compromised the workplace safety of guards. Indeed, on May 6, 2006, Michael Watson, a mentally unstable prisoner at New Folsom (Sacramento) facility who was unhappy over losing his job in the kitchen, took guard Sheila Mitchell hostage for 10 hours using a prison-made knife (the incident ended peacefully through negotiations). But statistically, California guards have suffered far fewer workplace homicides than have other classes of workers. With one murder in 20 years, the CDCRs average annual workplace homicide rate computes to about 0.25 deaths per year per 100,000 guards. This compares favorably with taxicab drivers (26.9 homicides per 100,000 drivers/yr.]), detectives (5.0) and
justice/public-order workers (3.4). The average rate for CDCR guards is 1/3 that for workers in all professions (0.7), according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Healths 1995 report, No. 93-109.

To be sure, prisoners have a much greater on the job homicide risk. For example, 50 prisoners were shot to death by CDCR guards from 1986 to 2004, some of which were reported as staged bloodsport fights. Only one of those shootings involved an escape. Other prisoners have died after altercations with guards, including being pepper sprayed. And according to findings of fact in Plata v. Schwarzenegger, a class action lawsuit over health care in CDCR facilities, on average, a California prisoner needlessly dies every six to seven days due to grossly deficient medical treatment [See: PLN, Mar. 2006, pp.1-9].

No guards did any time for these killings. No special commissions were convened. The respective governors at the time didn't concern themselves with dozens of prisoners' deaths. But when New Folsom (Level IV) prisoner Mathew Ormsby stripped a protective vest off a guard in March 2004 in an attempted stabbing that only resulted in minor injuries, he was sentenced to 89-years-to-life. On November 30, 2004, a guard at New Folsom fatally shot prisoner Wade Shiflett in the back while Shiflett was stabbing another prisoner on B yard. And on August 27, 2004, California Mens Colony prisoner Anthony Brown stopped breathing two hours after being pepper-sprayed by a guard he had elbowed.

However, one thing is certain. The results of the investigations into Gonzalez's murder will be closely watched by his surviving family members. Their attorneys, John A. Ferrone and Michael Peacock, have already filed suit against CIM officials and CDCR, alleging misconduct in failing to provide adequate safety for Gonzalez. During a post-murder search of Sycamore Hall, officials discovered 35 stabbing and slashing instruments, some rusted with age and secreted in toilets and traps. Within days after Gonzalezs death, the 352 protective vests held in the CIM warehouse were quietly issued. They had been in storage for over 4 months.
Reports Reveal Failed Leadership

Two initial investigative reports on Gonzalezs January 10, 2005 murder, which revealed failed leadership, resulted in CIM Warden Lori DiCarlo and two guards being placed on administrative leave by then-CDCR Secretary Hickman. Further disciplinary actions are expected.

Hickman's initial findings uncovered serious management deficiencies. First, the alleged killer, Jon Blaylock, was not placed in proper high level custody during his seven months at Chino. Blaylocks history of assaulting staff and others, while known to the prisons classification committee, was essentially ignored in their four reviews. Blaylock, in and out of prison since 1990 and recently re-incarcerated for the attempted murder of a Los Angeles peace officer, had a classification score of 376 points (only 52 points are needed to require maximum security [Level IV] placement). With documented mental health problems, Blaylock had over twenty citations for violence to staff and other prisoners, including possession and use of weapons.

Nonetheless he was placed in the general population, which put him in daily open contact with staff and prisoners. He stabbed a prisoner on July 31, 2004, but was returned to the general population on September 22 of that year.

CIM staff did not tighten security after a riot and series of stabbings between December 6, 2004 and January 9, 2005. In response to a December 28 stabbing, Blaylock, a reputed shot caller for black prisoners, told guards that prisoners blamed staff for permitting the attack and wanted to get the responsible guards. No warden-level review of this threat was ever conducted.

Further, the murdered guard, Manuel Gonzalez, routinely let Blaylock out of his cell to move on the tier unsupervised. On the day he was killed, Gonzalez violated procedures by releasing Blaylock from his cell while leaving the grill gate and front door open. That was when Blaylock attacked him. Such violations during Gonzalezs second watch period were reportedly common.

The Inspector General Sums Things Up

A March 16, 2005 report by the State Inspector General revealed lax inventory controls that permitted prisoners easy access to tools with which to manufacture weapons. Daily Tool Inventory Records were obviously falsified as having been checked off during a 20-day period when the tools had earlier been seized as evidence. Check-boxes on Tool Inventory forms were suspiciously signed by the same pen, appearing to have been done after-the-fact by one person. Facility disrepair and poor building maintenance provided prisoners with a ready supply of raw materials for making weapons. The IG's inspection found unsecured tools in a five gallon bucket, unsecured lockers containing welding rods and propane cylinders, and numerous unsecured bins containing non-inventoried replacement parts kept on hand for electrical and plumbing repairs. Broken windows permitted prisoners to pass contraband from cell to cell. Required daily cell searches were not performed.

The IG report noted that Blaylock was inappropriately housed in the general population and that Gonzalez and other guards regularly violated security protocols by letting such violent prisoners run loose. Following Gonzalezs murder, the prison's clinic was found to be ill-prepared to handle emergency medical needs, with key supplies such as defibrillators, oxygen and airway relief equipment kept in different locked closets in separate rooms. Indeed, the prisons emergency response was characterized as disorganized and pandemonium, so much so that the crime scene was contaminated and destroyed, resulting in the loss of important forensic evidence linking the victim and assailant. Staff were described as traumatized and inadequately prepared by academy and institutional training. Elementary chain-of-custody procedures were not followed; evidence bags were not secured. Even blood evidence from Blaylock's hands was neither examined nor preserved. Incredibly, no incident log was ever made. Additionally it was noted that prison officials had failed to adequately address Blaylock's known mental health needs.

The March 2005 Board of Corrections report, augmented by input from New York DOC Commissioner Glenn S. Goord, concluded unremarkably that CIM was overcrowded, that vests should have been distributed earlier, and that Blaylock should have been put in administrative segregation when he was processed in.

More to the point, all of the above reports generally labeled CIM as being in complete disarray and sorely in need of immediate new leadership. Secretary Hickman ordered a thorough review of the remaining 32 California prisons and eight youth facilities. Under increasing pressure, he subsequently resigned on February 26, 2006.

Sources: Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Workers Comp Insider, Voters for Corrections Reform, Office of the Inspector General, Special Review Into The Death of Correctional Officer Manuel Gonzalez, Jr., March 16, 2005.

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