Inmate Killed at Otay Mesa Prison : Scuffle With Guard in Prison Yard Led to Shooting From Gun Tower

Times Staff Writer

An inmate at the recently opened Otay Mesa state prison was shot to death by a guard Monday after he tried to help a prisoner who was attacking another guard, authorities said.

The shooting--the first ever at the facility--occurred three weeks to the day after the prison opened.

Lt. Sandra O'Neill, a spokeswoman for the prison, said the incident occurred after a guard tried to break up a fight between two inmates, and "one of the inmates involved in the altercation physically attacked the officer."

"A third inmate was going to the assistance of the inmate who was attacking the officer," O'Neill said. At that point, a guard on one of the prison's 12 gun towers warned the third inmate to stop, "and then fired one round . . . when the inmate continued going toward the officer and failed to obey the command to halt."

'Protect Lives'

"Our responsibility is to protect the lives of inmates and staff, and we shoot to disable . . . when we can," said prison Supt. John Ratelle. "Deadly force can be used if it's necessary to save lives."

Ratelle said the tower guard issued two verbal warnings but did not fire any warning shots. He said that all but one of the 200 or so inmates in the yard laid down after the warnings were issued, and that only the single inmate continued to advance toward the guard. It was during his advance that he was shot. The guard involved in the altercation was uninjured, authorities said.

The dead inmate was identified as Gerald Wayne Cork, 33, of Oakland. He had been serving a sentence for receiving stolen property and parole violations.

Internal Investigation

The guard's name was being withheld until the prison's internal investigation is completed, probably sometime this week, O'Neill said. Sheriff's Department homicide detectives also are investigating the shooting.

O'Neill declined to disclose any further information about the guard, except to say that he was "experienced" and has been put on paid leave until the investigation is completed. "It's very traumatic for the officer because nobody wants to shoot anybody, but it's part of the job," O'Neill said.

There currently are 632 prisoners at Otay Mesa, which is officially known as the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility at Rock Mountain. The first 100 inmates at the medium-security prison were "model" prisoners, but since the first week all types of prisoners have been incarcerated there.

The prison finally opened July 27 after months of delay when Gov. George Deukmejian signed legislation approving two Los Angeles area sites for new prisons. State law required that at least one Los Angeles area prison be approved before the Otay Mesa facility could open.

Political observers said the intent of the law was to pressure Los Angeles legislators, who have blocked attempts to build prisons near the city. Although it accounts for 40% of all state inmates, Los Angeles does not currently have any state prison.

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