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California and Oregon Prison Guards Fire Shots to Break up Fights

Between September and November 2012, California state prison guards at three high-security facilities used live rounds to quell fights on prison yards. One prisoner was killed by the gunfire; two others were injured.

On September 19, over 60 prisoners engaged in a large scale brawl in the yard at CSP-Sacramento, also known as New Folsom. Guards initially fired non-lethal rounds, which did not dissuade the rioters. Switching to live ammo they fired six rounds, injuring one prisoner. At least a dozen other prisoners were stabbed or slashed in the fight and taken to local hospitals.

High Desert State Prison was the scene of two recent disturbances. On October 31, 2012, a 36-year-old prisoner was shot in the hip after ignoring two warning shots when he was kicking another prisoner in the head, with the aid of two friends. The victim of the assault, who was knocked unconscious, was doing 33 years to life for murder; his assailants were serving fixed terms for drug offenses and kidnapping.

Just 9 days later, on November 9, 2012, a 23-year-old High Desert prisoner serving 82 years to life for murder was shot dead by guards as he was stabbing and kicking another prisoner in the yard. He was assisted by another murderer serving life without parole. The fatal round was fired by a guard with a Mini-14 rifle. The victim of the assault was treated for stab wounds.

In December 2012, a fight involving 115 prisoners in the Facility A Level IV yard at Calipatria lasted seven minutes before guards fired a warning shot and used pepper spray and non-lethal rounds to quell the disturbance. Observing the yard melee from the dining hall, 90 prisoners there also erupted in riots, using food trays as makeshift weapons. They were joined by another 16 prisoners in the culinary area who armed themselves with dough cutters and bread pans. Nine prisoners were injured, none by gunfire.

Prison guards in Oregon also have used live rounds to quell recent disturbances, though only warning shots were fired resulting in no injuries or deaths. On August 22, 2012, three prisoners were fighting in the recreation yard at the Snake River Correctional Institution. Guards first used verbal warnings and pepper spray, which proved ineffective, before a tower guard fired a warning shot.

And on November 22, 2012, 59 prisoners engaged in a riot at Snake River. The fighting continued for an hour after initially quieting down following the firing of a warning shot. One prisoner and an employee reportedly suffered injuries that required outside medical treatment; the facility was placed on a modified lockdown after prison officials regained control.

Sources:,, Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Times,,

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