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Lockdown Still Affects Some at San Quentin

Times Staff Writer

A section of San Quentin State Prison remained locked down Tuesday, a day after one of the largest riots at the facility in more than two decades.

The move was designed to lessen the likelihood of renewed fighting between white and Latino inmates, said Sgt. Eric Messick, a prison spokesman.

Monday’s fight, in which 39 inmates were injured, left officials at the 5,500-inmate prison with the task of identifying the combatants.

“Typically speaking, when we’ve identified participants in a riot in San Quentin, they will be transferred out of San Quentin,” Messick said.

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More than 50 inmates have been segregated from the general prison population because of their involvement in incidents leading up to the riot.

Problems at the state’s oldest prison began brewing a week ago in the medium-security 828-inmate North Block.

The fighting appeared to stem from violations of the complex inmate-imposed rules that govern prison life.

A white inmate was apparently viewed as a “Southern sympathizer,” someone with an association with Latinos from Southern California, Messick said. Of San Quentin’s Latino prisoners, most are from Northern California.

“This is a condition that’s been going on for over 35 years,” Messick said. “Its roots run real deep. There’s been a divide between the northern and southern Hispanics.... It’s taken very seriously.”

The sympathizer label was untrue, but white inmates might have taken offense at it , Messick said. Personalties and attitudes probably fueled the conflict until it escalated to violence, he said.

On Aug. 1, groups of Latino inmates assaulted lone white prisoners in three incidents in the North Block, Messick said. That night officers placed North Block on lockdown, during which inmates are confined to their quarters except for showers and meals. Visits are not allowed. The medium-security H-Unit was locked down the next morning when the two groups squared off on the yard.

A partial lockdown of white and Latino inmates was still in effect Monday when inmates of the H-Unit returned to their dorm after breakfast, about 8:40 a.m.

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“A small group of Hispanic inmates attacked a white inmate in his living area, and almost instantaneously other fights broke out among the two groups,” Messick said.

The fighting, which involved at least 80 inmates, was quelled in about six minutes by officers using pepper spray, Messick said. Three inmates who suffered serious injuries were treated at a hospital and released.

A riot in June 1982 involved 1,500 prisoners and left dozens of inmates and four guards injured.


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