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Deputies Use Pepper Spray to Quell Brawl at Pitchess Facility

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 700 to 800 Latino inmates from rival gangs brawled at the Pitchess jail on Wednesday, prompting deputies to douse the men with pepper spray to quell the disturbance. No one was seriously hurt, authorities said.

It marked the latest in a long series of battles among Pitchess inmates, though the number involved was far larger than usual for such fights, which generally draw in several dozen to about 100.

It was also unusual in that it involved only Latinos. Most fights are race-related clashes between black and Latino inmates. The cause was unclear, except that the participants belonged to different gangs, deputies said.

The fighting began about 10:30 a.m. at an outside area in the lower compound of the Pitchess Detention Center South Facility, authorities said.

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“Inmates fought using hands, fists and feet,” said Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Isaac Gonzalez, adding that no weapons were used. In other fights, weapons have ranged from broomstick clubs and improvised knives to broken pieces of toilet.

Deputies from the three neighboring facilities assisted in controlling the fight, which ended within about 15 minutes after deputies doused the inmates with pepper spray, Gonzalez said.

Twenty-two inmates suffered superficial injuries, and none required hospital treatment, said Deputy Joan Rayber.

The South Facility is a minimum-security area made up of inmates either sentenced to County Jail time or awaiting trial. All 1,668 inmates were in lock-down Wednesday night as investigators try to find out what caused the brawl.

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“Unfortunately everyone gets punished,” Rayber said.

Since 1991, there have been more than 150 race-related brawls at Pitchess. Racial tension and violence among inmates is one of the issues being raised by the three candidates opposing Sheriff Sherman Block in the June primary.

Block said in a Times interview last month that racial problems are caused by factors beyond his control, and that first among them is the chronic overcrowding at the Pitchess East Facility and at the county’s newest jail, the North County Correctional Facility. Pitchess East, designed to hold 960 inmates, currently holds 1,760. North County has 3,700 inmates living in a facility built to house 2,064. The jail’s South Facility currently holds 1,668 inmates. Its maximum capacity is 1,700, Rayber said.

Block started a program called Operation Safe Jails to combat the violence, and major brawls fell from 61 in 1996 to 25 last year.

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