LANCASTER : 66 Inmates Seek $660,000 for Injuries in Crackdown


A prisoners’ rights law office filed claims Thursday seeking more than $660,000 for 66 inmates at Lancaster state prison who said they were shot with wooden pellets and forcibly removed from their cells by guards during a violent crackdown earlier this year.

The Feb. 2 incident stemmed from an investigation into a tip that several inmates in a special unit for problem prisoners were conspiring to stab a sergeant. According to claims filed by the San Rafael-based Prison Law Office, a daylong series of “cell extractions” to search for weapons left at least four inmates with broken bones and one with a severed finger.

In the course of the operation, one of the guards used a gas-propelled gun that fires wooden bullets to force uncooperative inmates from their cells, according to the claims filed with the state Board of Control. “The guards were vicious and used far more force than necessary,” said Steven Fama, an attorney for the private law office near San Quentin state prison.


But Lancaster prison Warden John Ratelle on Thursday defended the operation in which 13 guards also suffered minor injuries. The incident was never reported to the news media.

“We’ve done an internal affairs investigation on that whole incident,” Ratelle said. “There was no excessive force.” He described the inmates as “totally uncooperative” and said they threw urine and feces on guards.

Almost all of the prisoners pulled from their cells that day were transferred from Lancaster to high-security units at Pelican Bay and Corcoran state prisons, according to the claims filed on behalf of 66 inmates.

Eve Shapiro, another lawyer working on the case, said one prisoner received no medical treatment for a broken foot until he arrived at Pelican Bay two days later.

Ratelle denied that any prisoners with apparent injuries were taken away from Lancaster without medical treatment.

“All of the inmates we knew of who were injured were treated here at the institution before they were transferred,” he said, adding: “They get better medical care than you or I do.”