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Gang Violence in Texas Federal Prison Results in Two Deaths, Nationwide BOP Lockdown

by Keith Sanders

On April 7, 2022, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) announced indictments against seven federal prisoners for the brutal murder of two fellow prisoners in their Texas lockup, an incident that prompted a rare nationwide lockdown of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

The victims, Guillermo Riojas, 54, and Andrew Pineda, 34, were fatally stabbed during a spate of gang violence at the U.S. Penitentiary (USP) in Beaumont, Texas, on January 31, 2022. Both men were members of the Sureños gang, an affiliate of the Mexican Mafia which is, in turn, a rival of the notorious MS-13 gang, which originated in Los Angeles but has spread and is active in Central America, particularly in El Salvador. All seven prisoners charged with the killings are MS-13 members, DOJ said.

Two other unnamed prisoners were also injured in the attack and treated at a hospital. The unusual decision to lock down all 120 BOP facilities was apparently prompted by fears that the violence would spread to other prisons where members of the Central American gang might seek revenge for their comrades’ apprehension.

The 15-count indictment includes racketeering and attempted murder charges for the seven prisoners: Juan Carlos “Stocky” Rivas-Moreiera, 41; Dimas “Toro” Alfaro-Granado, 39; Raul “Humilde” Landaverde-Giron, 32; Larry “El Socio” Navarete, 41; Jorge “Rama” Parada, 42; Hector “Cuervo” Ramires, 28; and Sergio “Anytime” Sibrian, 29. Each faces the death penalty if convicted on the murder charges. All seven remain in federal custody.

The violence erupted after MS-13 leadership in El Salvador, known as “Ranfla Nacional,” sought “to exert more control and independence of its own members while [they are] incarcerated in [U.S.] prisons,” DOJ said. Previously, the Central Americans maintained a “symbiotic” relationship with the Mexican Mafia and the Sureños, which provided protection for MS-13 members inside state and federal prisons. To assert their independence and sever ties with the Mexicans, the seven MS-13 members allegedly plotted to kill them.

Riojas, who was serving a 38-year sentence for carjacking, was the first to go down in the attack, DOJ said. He was allegedly stabbed from behind by Rivas-Moreiera, who then joined the other defendants to chase down and stab Pineda, who had been at the prison for just a year on an 80-month sentence for racketeering.

“Even while incarcerated, MS-13 members … continue to engage in extreme acts of murder and attempted murder,” stated John J. Durham, Director of Joint Task Force Vulcan, which was created by the federal government to counter the gang’s threat.

Yet while admitting that BOP hosted a gang brawl, Durham didn’t say whether prison officials had simply been counting on the Sureños to keep the Central Americans in line.

The federal prison population has grown just 1% since 2001, but the annual murder toll has exploded by 44%, from 39 to 120 in 2018, according to DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston of the Eastern District of Texas promised that any prisoner “who causes physical injury to another inmate, or corrections officer, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

BOP began lifting the lockdown on February 7, 2022. By February 24, 2022, the agency reported it had returned to normal operations.

On May 1, 2022, another clash between two prisoners at USP-Beaumont left one dead. But there was no lockdown after the killing of Erick Jermaine Leday, 35, which BOP spokesperson Renee Noel said had “no gang affiliation” and was “unrelated to the incident in January,” though it was “still under investigation.” The attacker was not identified, and no charges have yet been announced. Leday, who was serving a 37-month sentence for a weapons violation, had been at the prison about 15 months. 

Additional sources: AP News, Beaumont Examiner, Houston Chronicle, KBMT, KDFW, New York Times, Port Arthur News

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