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Federal Jury Convicts California DOC Guards on Assault and Conspiracy Charges; Judge Tosses Verdict

Last September, a federal grand jury delivered an indictment against California prison guard Hector Flores on allegations that he helped cover-up an unjustified use of force on two prisoners at the California Institution for Men (CIM) at Chino. Flores’ indictment followed the February 2007 indictments of fellow CIM guard Robert McGowan and Sgt. Thomas Ramos. McGowan was charged with two counts of assault and conspiracy under color of authority, while Ramos faced charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

The three were charged in connection with a May 9, 2002 incident at CIM where McGowan allegedly threw two shackled prisoners from a van onto the ground; since they were restrained, they couldn’t break their fall. His actions were reputed to be in retaliation for an assault on staff earlier the same day.

Prosecutors accused Ramos and Flores of drafting false memos that documented their denial of any knowledge of the incident. Flores allegedly told the grand jury that another guard had done the dirty work.

All three guards were found guilty following a trial on October 15, 2007 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. McGowan was convicted of two counts of deprivation of rights under the color of law (18 U.S.C. § 242) and one court of conspiracy to obstruct justice; Ramos and Flores were convicted of one count each of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

After the trial, however, Judge Manuel L. Real ruled there was insufficient evidence to find the defendants guilty, and reversed the verdicts. Prosecutors have appealed the reversals to the Ninth Circuit. Gary Clark, president of the local chapter of the CCPOA, the union that represents the prison guards, stated “I think the feds are dead in the water with this,” and “I think they need to just get off our backs and let us do our jobs.”

But what if the guards’ jobs include assaulting prisoners and then covering up their misconduct?

Sources:, Whittier Daily News

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