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Colorado DOC Investigates Multiple Murders of Prisoners at Sterling

by Matt Clarke

The Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) is investigating the killing of four prisoners at the Sterling Correctional Facility within the past two years. This high rate of prisoner murders compares with only three killings of prisoners in all the other DOC prisons during the same time period.

Tom Clements, DOC executive director, is meeting with Sterling warden Kevin Milyard to be briefed on each of the four cases.

"We're looking at assignment protocols," said Clements. "We want to see if there are any common denominators. It's got my attention."

One common denominator is that three of the victims committed sex offenses or crimes against children. Such prisoners are often considered "at risk" and housed separately from other prisoners, but not at Sterling.

Lyle Brent White, who was convicted of killing an 11-year-old boy, told his sister that he was being threatened and feared for his life.

"He's been threatened ever since he's been in there," said his sister, Elizabeth. "This totally could have been prevented."

Despite White's repeated reporting of the threats against him and requests to be segregated from the prisoners who were threatening him, prison officials did nothing to protect him and he was beaten to death. The prisoner who killed him on December 1, 2011, said that the child molester got what he deserved. But White had not been convicted of child molestation.

Five days before White's murder, Mark Fredrick Hanson, who was serving a two-year sentence for failing to register as a sex offender, was beaten to death at Sterling.

David Guerro-Estrada, who was serving a three-year sentence for attempted sexual assault of a child, was beaten to death in his cell on January 13, 2010. Sterling prisoner Jamie Rodriguez, 29, was charged with first-degree murder for the crime. However, Rodriguez has been found mentally incompetent and is under evaluation and being treated at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.

Sterling prisoner Cleveland Flood, 38, a habitual burglar, was beaten to death in February 2010. Two other prisoners are suspected of committing the murder.

Instead of admitting any kind of problem, DOC spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti said that, with over 2,500 prisoners at Sterling, more than 10% of the prisoners in the DOC, violent confrontations happen.

"Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to protect them, sometimes this kind of thing happens," said Sanguinetti.

But White's sister is not so easily convinced. DOC officials contacted her the day after her brother was murdered and asked if he had mentioned any threats to her. She told them that he had been repeatedly threatened. However, DOC officials had no interest in her brother or the threats while he was alive.

Logan County District Attorney Robert Watson is investigating the murders and finds it strange that there is such a rash of them when his county often goes for years without a single homicide. He said that classification or placement errors may have contributed to the killings.

Both DOC policy concerning threatened prisoners and Sterling's implementation of it should be investigated and amended as need to prevent further needless loss of life. The DOC has a duty to provide a safe environment for its prisoners. It should start taking that duty seriously.

Source: Denver Post

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