An inmate riot at the suburban El Cajon Jail that left 36 inmates injured may have been an incident deliberately incited by prisoners rather than a spontaneous outburst stemming from overcrowded conditions, sheriff’s deputies said Thursday.
“We’re looking at prosecution for as many as possible for assault with a deadly weapon and that kind of thing,” said El Cajon Jail Commander Benny McLaughlin of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Though officials now believe that the Wednesday night disturbance was planned, they moved to reduce the inmate population at the jail, which was holding six times the number of prisoners it was designed for at the time of the riot.
“The tension keeps building. You cannot cram 800 people into a place built for 120,” said McLaughlin, who added that 68 inmates were transferred Thursday to San Diego’s downtown Central Jail.
With the transfers, the number of inmates assigned to the El Cajon Jail was reduced to 763, still many more than its rated capacity of 120.
The jail was locked down Thursday, with inmates confined to their cells while deputies investigated the riot, which involved fighting between Latino and black inmates, sheriff’s spokeswoman Liz Foster said.
None of 64 deputies were injured while putting down the riot, which involved about 140 of 175 inmates in a cell block designed to house 24, Foster said.
Of the injured inmates, 17 were treated at the jail and 19, including one critically injured prisoner, were taken to five area hospitals for treatment, Deputy Al Bates said.
The two most seriously injured inmates were at the UC San Diego Medical Center. One was in critical condition with head injuries after falling 14 feet from the cellblock’s upper tier to the concrete floor. The second was reported in serious but stable condition with a stab wound in the neck. The names of the two were not available.
Because deputies who guard the jails are not armed, they had to wait until the inmates quit fighting before they could go into the cellblock to restore order, McLaughlin said.
“We had darn near everybody in the cellblock fighting at one point,” he said.