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Lock-Down Continues After Prison Melee

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Inmates at a state prison at Blythe remained in general lock-down Monday after a riot left four guards and 14 prisoners injured, including a Pomona man who was in a coma after being shot through the eye when prison guards opened fire.

The riot Saturday at the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, a low-security facility with 3,300 first-time inmates, started when African-Americans and Latinos argued over the use of a basketball court, said spokesman Lt. Steve Morgan.

Correctional officers quelled the disturbance within 30 minutes, but only after guards who took position on rooftops over the prison yard fired at least five shots, Morgan said.

Most of the injuries, described as minor to moderate, were caused when inmates wielded chairs, plastic irrigation pipe, barbells, broom handles and other accessible items against one another and guards, Morgan said.

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Most seriously injured was Kenneth Newton, 35, of Pomona, who was shot in the eye. His mother, Katherine Newton, said her son was in a coma Monday and on life support at Desert Hospital in Palm Springs. Hospital officials would only say that Newton was in critical condition.

Whether Newton was targeted by a correctional officer or was hit by a ricochet bullet was unclear and under investigation, Morgan said.

Another inmate was grazed on his head by a ricocheting bullet, Morgan said.

Under prison policy, if inmates do not heed verbal commands, guards must fire one warning shot as a signal for inmates to drop to the ground. The policy also outlines when guards are to shoot to disable aggressors who refuse orders and continue to pose a serious threat to others, said Tip Kindel, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections in Sacramento.

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Racial tension has been a problem at the prison, Morgan said, “since long before . . . I was born.” The violence erupted Saturday when one group of inmates wanted to take control of the basketball court from another group.

On Monday, inmates were restricted to their cells and guards searched the prison for homemade weapons and other contraband, Morgan said.

Katherine Newton said her son had been at the prison for two years after a conviction for auto theft. She said she was told by a nurse at Desert Hospital that her son “was in the middle (of the fight), trying to break it up” when he was struck by the bullet.


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