Thirteen inmates shot, one killed during riot at Pelican Bay State Prison
CRESCENT CITY, Calif. (AP) – Guards shot 13 inmates, killing one, to stop a race riot Wednesday at the maximum-security Pelican Bay State Prison, which houses some of California’s most dangerous criminals.
About 200 inmates were gathered on an exercise yard when black and Hispanic prisoners began fighting about 9:30 a.m. using handmade weapons, said Lt. Ben Grundy. The riot ended a half-hour later after guards, who first used tear gas and pepper spray, resorted to lethal force.
”The main groups of people involved were black and Hispanic,” said Grundy, who did not know what exactly sparked the violence. ”A lot of them are in street gangs but this was more of a racial issue than a gang issue. We’ve had racial incidents in the past.”
Grundy said 13 prisoners were shot and 19 were stabbed or beaten. Twenty-eight inmates were taken to hospitals, where two were in intensive care and one was in critical condition. Others were treated at the prison. No guards were hurt. The names of the guards and prisoners involved were not released.
The violence erupted in the exercise yard serving the general population of the prison, which houses 3,484 prisoners, many of whom are considered the state’s most dangerous and escape-prone inmates. Prisoners involved in violence at other facilities are often sent to Pelican Bay.
”All indications are there was no single inmate who started it. It was more of a group effort,” Grundy said. ”From the number of weapons recovered, it would indicate it was premeditated.”
There were only 20 guards standing on the yard when the fighting began. At first they tried to pull inmates apart, then gave a stand-down order, which inmates ignored. Then 75 to 100 more guards arrived, using tear gas and pepper spray, followed by rubber and wooden bullets.
”The inmates ignored those orders to stop. Progressive force was used,” Grundy said. ”It was used unsparingly.”
Guards finally resorted to lethal force, firing 14 rounds from .223-caliber ”Mini 14” semiautomatic rifles, Grundy said.
Approximately 50 homemade weapons were recovered from the yard after the melee. Grundy did not know the kinds of weapons recovered but said prisoners often fashion weapons from toothbrushes or pieces of metal from doors and chairs.
”They’ll use a razor if they have it and melt it into plastic and use it as a slashing weapon,” he said.
Pelican Bay was on lockdown until the warden decides otherwise.
Last August, guards used tear gas and rubber bullets to end another riot at the prison, which is 20 miles south of the Oregon border and about 290 miles north of San Francisco. A guard underwent surgery for a fractured cheekbone, but no inmates were seriously hurt in that disturbance. The prisoners had been in limited lockdown since this riot and had been taken out of lockdown just a week ago.
Wednesday’s riot was the most forceful and intensely violent outbreak in the prison’s history, Grundy said.
In 1997, six inmates were killed, all in clashes between cellmates at the prison, where more than 1,200 inmates are in permanent lockdown conditions.
In an apparently unrelated event, two former prison guards have been charged with violating the civil rights of Pelican Bay inmates. A federal grand jury indictment made public Wednesday accuses E. Michael Powers and Jose Ramon Garcia of conspiring to arrange assaults on prisoners, one of them fatal, over a nearly three-year period.
Garcia is already serving a state prison sentence on similar charges. Another former Pelican Bay guard, David E. Lewis, was convicted of civil rights charges Feb. 14 for shooting a prisoner after a fight in 1994.