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California Prison Guards Sentenced for Assaulting Prisoners

by Jacob Barrett

A pair of former guards with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) have been sentenced to federal prison for assaulting prisoners, one of whom died. A third guard has also been indicted on charges of participating in a cover-up of the incident.

Ashley Marie Aurich, 34, was handed a 21-month prison term by the federal court for the Eastern District of California on December 12, 2022. She pleaded guilty in January 2021 to falsifying a report in an attempt to cover up the fatal assault on a prisoner by a fellow guard at California State Prison in Sacramento, known as New Folsom. See: USA v. Aurich, USDC (E.D.Cal.), Case No. 2:20-cr-00219.

That fellow guard, Arturo Pacheco, 40, received a 151-month prison term from the Court on October 17, 2022. He pleaded guilty in July 2022 to two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and two counts of falsifying records in the assault. See: USA v. Pacheco, USDC (E.D.Cal.), Case No. 2:20-cr-00221.

In September 2016, the two guards were escorting handcuffed prisoner Ronnie Price, 65, when Pacheco, without provocation, leaned down and yanked Price’s legs from under him. In the resulting fall, Price broke his jaw and lost several teeth. He was taken to a hospital where he died from a pulmonary embolism two days later, on September 17, 2016. The two guards then drafted a report that falsely accused Price of spinning around and lunging at them, also claiming Pacheco then took the prisoner down in a “controlled manner.” [See: PLN, Sep. 2022, p.64.]

A third guard, Sgt. Brenda Villa, 32, was indicted on December 27, 2022, on charges that she also falsified reports to cover up the assault. Villa was the one who ordered the other two guards to take Price on the escort that proved fatal to him. Testifying to a grand jury in November 2020, she allegedly lied that only Aurich was in the area with Price at the time he fell. Villa faces charges of conspiracy to commit falsification and falsification of records in a federal investigation as well as making false declarations before a grand jury. See: USA v. Villa, USDC (E.D.Cal.), Case No. 2:22-cr-00245.

Pacheco was no stranger to falsifying reports, either. In May 2016 he pepper-sprayed a 54-year-old prisoner in his cell, falsely claiming later that the prisoner had a piece of glass and refused to drop it. In a text message to a friend, he later joked that the incident was “funny” and claimed it’s “all about how u write ur report,” so long as “ur partners have ur back.”

“Blood, broken glass, n just u n ur partners. … Green light!” Pacheco texted.

CDCR investigated and fired all three guards in 2018.

Incredibly, after Aurich apologized, Judge William B. Shubb told her that he doubted Pacheco would have done what he did “if he had not been confident that you had his back.”

“I believe [Pacheco] is basically a good man,” Shubb said, fretting also over whether a prison in northern California was “best for his personal safety.”

Price’s nephew, Takis Tucker, told Pacheco that “we forgive you.” But he said his uncle’s death has been hard on his mother, especially since CDCR left them believing he’d been killed by another prisoner until charges were filed against the two guards four years later. A relative of Pacheco’s who encountered Tucker outside the courtroom was overheard calling him a “punk bitch.”

Price’s family filed suit in the Court on September 14, 2022, accusing Pacheco, Aurich and New Folsom Warden Jeffrey Lynch of his wrongful death. They are represented by attorneys Mark Redmond of San Diego and Kresta N. Daly of Barth Daly LLP in Winters. See: Price v. Pacheco, USDC (E.D.Cal.), Case No. 2:22-cv-01610.

The FBI investigation at New Folsom continues into allegations that guards played a role in the deaths of two other prisoners: Luis Giovanny Aguilar, 29, who was killed by fellow prisoners Anthony Rodriguez and Cody Taylor after they somehow slipped free from restraints in December 2019; and Milton Beverly, also 29, whose 2016 suicide was brought under suspicion after a whistleblower said another prisoner’s confession to murdering Beverly had disappeared from the case file. [See: PLN, Feb. 2022, p.34.] 

Additional sources: CBS News, New York Times, Sacramento Bee

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