While gang wars raged on the streets of Los Angeles, a little noticed though violent series of attacks broke out among members of the Crips gang imprisoned on San Quentin's Death Row, prison officials say.
The battle reached its height last October when Tiequon A. Cox, who was in the Rolling 60s faction of the Crips in Los Angeles, stabbed and wounded Stanley (Tookie) Williams, a body builder who helped found the gang 20 years ago.
Williams has denied any continuing role in Crip activity on or off the row. And Colleen E. Butler, Cox's attorney, noted that in prison, "what appears to be the case is not always what happened."
Dozen Inmates Penalized
Nevertheless, Jeannie Ballatore, legal affairs coordinator at San Quentin, said in an interview, "We believe it was a power struggle between the Crips." Prison documents state that the attack was one of several assaults among Crips last year. It prompted prison officials to confine more than a dozen suspected Crip members and associates on Death Row to "Grade B" status, where some remain.
As Grade B inmates, they are denied various items and privileges, and are allowed 10 hours a week out of their cells on exercise yards. That is a third of the exercise time given condemned inmates who have not caused major problems.
By attacking Williams, 36, the 23-year-old Cox took on a man thought by San Quentin officials to be the leader of most of the 20 to 30 Crips who are under a sentence of death.
In Los Angeles, law enforcement authorities on gangs viewed Cox as part of a new generation of violent Crips. He is on Death Row for the 1984 murders of the mother and three other relatives of former professional football star Kermit Alexander. Trial testimony indicated that Cox and his partners apparently meant to murder residents in a house two doors away, but misread the address.
Williams remains a part of the lore of the streets in Los Angeles a decade after his capture. Even detectives who work on gang-related crime recall with some nostalgia the days when they could turn to Crips leadership to help quell disputes before someone was murdered.
"When he was out here, there was some control," said Herbert Giron, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who specializes in gang work in Operation Safe Streets. "There weren't all these factions. I wish it were still true. We wouldn't have all these killings."
Most gang members on Death Row put aside differences, knowing that any prison rule infraction can haunt them if their sentences are overturned on appeal and they are retried. That made the eruption of the recent violence all the more unusual.
Details of the Crips power struggle were pieced together from interviews with officers and documents filed in a federal court hearing over prison conditions earlier this year.
Allegedly Ordered Attack
The attorney general's office filed the documents to justify the prison's decision to place the inmates on Grade B status and revoke their privileges. Inmates' lawyers protested introduction of the documents, saying they were incomplete and inaccurate. A federal hearing officer is considering whether the prison violated the inmates' rights by revoking their privileges.
According to one of the documents, the struggle began when Williams ordered Cox to stab another Death Row inmate, Darren Williams, apparently because Stanley Williams suspected Darren had been an informant. Darren Williams also is on the row for his role in the murder of Alexander's family members.
Cox refused the alleged order and instead, on Oct. 10, slashed Stanley Williams as Williams walked past an outdoor shower in an exercise yard.
A gun officer ordered everyone on the yard to "freeze," and Cox tossed the 4 1/2-inch blade onto a basketball court. Williams, bleeding from a neck wound, refused to talk to officers. The report quoted Williams as saying simply: "I don't know what happened. I don't remember."
In the report stating why Williams was confined to Grade B status, Lt. Melford Hamilton cited "numerous violent incidents" involving Crips members and identified Williams as a Crips leader.
'Bigger Than Life' Figure
"A more controlled environment appears warranted," Hamilton concluded.
Not long after the attack, word reached the streets of Los Angeles that Tookie had been "killed," Giron said, adding that prison news gets "down here faster than the U.S. mail."
"You'd be surprised how many of the youngsters 'know' Tookie," Giron said. "I know they don't. It's the folklore they know. You say, Tookie, and people know that name all over the county. . . . He is bigger than life to some of these kids."
San Quentin Warden Daniel Vasquez recently ran across a vivid example of the lore of Stanley Williams. A San Quentin chaplain had visited a juvenile detention facility where he heard an 11-year-old describe Williams as a "hero."
"He wanted to be like Mr. Williams," Vasquez said. "He wanted to be on Death Row. . . . Tookie Williams was given an opportunity to go on (video) tape and say, 'My place is not to be envied. The place that I take up in history is no place to be.'
Worked as a Counselor
"He refused. He kept playing us along (saying), 'We'll do it tomorrow. We'll do it next week.' In the final analysis he refused."
For a time in the middle 1970s, Williams went "semi-legit," Giron noted. He worked as a counselor in boys' homes urging youths to leave gangs, and extolled the virtues of body-building.
But as it did with many others, the drug PCP "wore him out, big as he was, strong as he was," Giron said. He was fired from a counseling job in 1977 after he was seen running down a street half-naked, screaming.
Williams was convicted on March 13, 1981, in Superior Court in Inglewood on four counts of murder, committed during robberies at a 7-Eleven store and a motel in February and March, 1979. Five days after he was found guilty, he was sentenced to death.
On Death Row, Williams returned to body-building. San Quentin prison spokesman Lt. Cal White estimated that Williams can bench-press as much as 400 pounds, even though as a Grade B inmate he does not have access to weights.
The state Supreme Court upheld Williams' death sentence last year. His lawyer is pursuing other avenues of appeal. The court has not yet ruled on Cox's case. For now, Cox is relegated to his own exercise yard with only one other inmate. If he were placed on a yard with other prisoners, he would be attacked, officials say.