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[LAAMN-ANN] Acquittal of Prison Guards

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  • Amnesty International
    * News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International * Amnesty International public document AI Index AMR 51/098/2000 News Service
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 19, 2000
      * News Release Issued by the International Secretariat
      of Amnesty International *

      Amnesty International public document

      AI Index AMR 51/098/2000
      News Service Nr. 116

      15 June 2000

      USA

      Acquittal of prison guards -- time to end "code of silence"

      The acquittal of eight prison guards accused of staging
      "gladiator style" fights among prisoners once again
      illustrates how difficult it is to bring guards to justice
      for abuses in the California prison system, Amnesty
      International said today.

      The guards acquitted last Friday were accused of setting up
      prison yard fights among rival prison gangs in Corcoran
      Prison's High Security Unit between 1989 and 1995, and then
      shooting at them when brawls broke out. This resulted in
      guards shooting 31 unarmed prisoners, seven of them fatally.

      "The incidents at Corcoran were part of a serious pattern of
      abuses in the Californian prison system during the period in
      question," Amnesty International said. "We are worried that
      investigations into this and other cases were hampered by
      cover-ups and the 'code of silence' among prison officers."

      Amnesty International is concerned by claims that the
      prosecution was stifled by the judge's ruling barring any
      testimony about a "code of silence" among prison guards. A
      former guard called as a government witness backed away from
      her testimony for fear of being labelled a "rat". The two
      prison guards who became "whistle blowers" and exposed the
      deadly system at Corcoran were subsequently threatened,
      ostracised and forced to resign.

      The prosecution was further hampered by the judge allowing
      several people to sit on the jury even though they
      apparently had reason to lean toward the guards' side,
      including someone whose application to be a state guard was
      pending.

      "The shootings during the period of the gladiator fights
      raise serious questions about the failure to ensure a safe
      environment for inmates and staff and about the use of
      lethal force on prisoners," Amnesty International said.
      Between 1988 and 1994, more prisoners were shot by guards in
      California than in the rest of the country.

      "The authorities should explain why there have been so many
      more shootings in California than in any other state," the
      organization added.

      While the Californian authorities have been forced to revise
      their policy on the use of deadly force and "integrated
      yards", Amnesty International continues to receive reports
      on the failure of prison officials to protect inmates.

      "Adequate preventative policies and monitoring are urgently
      needed," the organization said. "It is time the Californian
      authorities put into place measures to deal with the 'code
      of silence' among prison guards to break the circle of
      connivance in abuses against inmates."

      Amnesty International is also urging the authorities to
      ensure that any prison officer found to have been involved
      in abuse is strongly disciplined or removed from the prison
      system. The organization has recently written to the
      authorities about a series of cases of alleged abuse in
      Californian prisons.


      Background

      California's prison system is the largest in the country.
      State legislative hearings in 1998 confirmed a pattern of
      brutality at Corcoran, and criticized the Californian
      Department of Corrections for failing to investigate or
      prevent abuses in prisons and for inadequate discipline. An
      independent panel found that nearly 80 per cent of the
      shootings were unjustified and never fully investigated by
      the state.

      The trial of the eight Corcoran guards was one of the
      largest prosecutions ever of state prison guards and
      eventually took place in the federal courts after the abuses
      and cover-ups were exposed by two "whistleblowers" -- and
      after four years of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
      and newspaper investigations. The prosecution conceded,
      however, that it would be difficult to prosecute guards in a
      largely conservative area with a high number of prisons.

      The eight guards were indicted in 1998 after years of
      internal investigations and legislative hearings had
      produced no charges. Four of them had faced possible life
      sentences for civil rights abuses including the fatal
      shooting of inmate Preston Tate during one of the 1994
      brawls, moments after a guard allegedly said: "It's going to
      be duck hunting season".

      ENDS.../

      Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton
      Street, WC1X 8DJ, London, United Kingdom

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      Past and current Amnesty news services can be found at
      <http://www.amnesty.org/news/>.

      Visit <http://www.amnesty.org> for information about Amnesty
      International and for other AI publications. Contact
      amnestyis@... if you need to get in touch with the
      International Secretariat of Amnesty International.

      -30-


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