143 Hurt in Brawls at Pitchess Jail


The largest in a five-year series of racial brawls erupted at the Pitchess jail in Castaic on Wednesday, a battle between 1,600 inmates that left 143 injured, nine of them critically.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, who guard the county jail, suffered minor injuries in breaking up the fights, which started at 2 p.m. and lasted into the night, officials said.

The Pitchess Detention Center has been plagued for years by fights between African American and Latino inmates, sometimes several brawls a week. Some spontaneous fights have involved seemingly trivial issues such as use of telephones or toilets, but authorities say many are part of an ongoing power struggle between the two ethnic groups for control of prisoner life.

On Wednesday night, more than 500 deputies swarmed through the sprawling complex, which was at maximum shutdown, with all prisoners locked in their cells or dormitories, Deputy Angie Prewett said.

Deputies said the initial fight Wednesday appeared to have been planned because it started simultaneously at 12 of the 13 dormitories in the maximum-security east facility of the jail complex.


It took deputies about an hour to control the prisoners, who attacked one another with fists, feet, jail-made knives and weapons fashioned from broken urinals, beds and light fixtures in the dormitories, Deputy Matt Bailey said.

With the help of two Sheriff’s Department emergency response teams, deputies quelled the fight, launching a fusillade of “sting-ball” grenades and nonlethal projectiles, Bailey said. When the dust settled, 125 inmates had been injured. Some were treated in the jail clinic.

One who was critically hurt was taken by helicopter to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Newhall and others were driven to Northridge Hospital Medical Center in the San Fernando Valley and UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, deputies said.

About 3:25 p.m., another brawl broke out in the north facility, this one involving about 300 inmates, Bailey said. The brawl ended after a few minutes with 13 more inmates hurt, Bailey said.

The next eruption came in other dorms of the north facility about 4:55 p.m. This time it took deputies two minutes to halt the fighting, and five inmates were injured.

About 6:30 p.m. inmates in three dormitories of the east facility restarted their brawl, but were separated within 15 minutes with no injuries.