Another Inmate Dies in Racial Fighting

Times Staff Writers

A black inmate died Sunday afternoon after a racially motivated fight at Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail. He is the second inmate to die in nine days of unrelenting riots between blacks and Latinos in the county jail system.

The 38-year-old inmate, whose name was not released, took part in a brawl that pitted him and another black inmate against the four Latinos in his cellblock at the downtown jail, said Sheriff’s Deputy Alba Yates.

The death is being investigated as a homicide, she said.

The recent spate of violence began Feb. 4 with a melee involving more than 2,000 inmates at the North County Correctional Facility, part of the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.


Wayne Tiznor, 45, a rapist in jail on a parole violation for failing to register as a sex offender, was slain in that riot, and dozens of others were injured.

The unrest has continued despite emergency lockdowns at all county jails and the hastily ordered racial segregation of inmates in some wards. Because of the charged nature of any decision to segregate by race, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has not separated black and Latino inmates throughout the system.

Violence continued Sunday at Pitchess Detention Center, the site of most of the fights among inmates. More than 90 inmates fought in the jail’s North Facility about 3:30 p.m., said Sheriff’s Deputy Luis Castro. Four inmates suffered minor injuries. Two were taken to a local hospital and the other two were treated at the scene.

As they did in previous incidents, sheriff’s deputies broke up the scuffles using tear gas and pellet weapons known as sting balls. No deputies were injured.

If ruled a homicide, Sunday’s death at the Men’s Central Jail would mark the eighth inmate slain in the outmoded facility in the last 2 1/2 years.

In that incident, what began as a fight between two of the men “escalated when the inmates separated along racial lines and began to fight,” Yates said.

After the fight was broken up by sheriff’s deputies, the two black inmates complained of pain and were escorted to the jail medical clinic. One fell unconscious in the hallway and could not be resuscitated. He was pronounced dead about 1:50 p.m., Yates said.

The other black inmate was treated for minor injuries.

The county coroner’s office said the inmate’s relatives had not been notified. Sheriff’s officials declined to say why he was in jail.

Investigators suspect the Feb. 4 riot was ordered by Mexican Mafia prison gang leaders, who they say encouraged Latino jail inmates to attack blacks. The melee was in retaliation for an attack on one of their associates that they said was committed by a black gang member in Los Angeles, officials have said.

After last week’s violence, officials said known gang members and accused murderers would be moved from both Pitchess and the Men’s Central Jail. Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said Sunday night that process was ongoing, with the more high-risk inmates being moved to “more secure locations.”

Officials also attempted to quell the violence by separating inmates according to race, but chose only to do that at the North County Correctional Facility, the site of the initial riot Feb. 4.

But sheriff’s officials said repeatedly last week that they are uncomfortable with racial separation of inmates -- a move allowed by law in emergencies only -- so that process was halted over the weekend. Whitmore said the desegregation was underway in all but one section of the jail.

Elected officials and clergy have called for an end to the violent brawling, and said publicly that they fear the violence will continue when inmates are released and go back home.

Experts have blamed the disturbances, in part, on the dormitory-style housing that places violent offenders in close quarters.

With only about 1,000 single cells available in a system that houses 21,000 people, jailers have said, even in times of crisis it is impossible to separate all inmates.

The facilities mostly predate the explosion of gang-related crime in Los Angeles County and are ill-equipped to handle increasingly violent inmates, officials said. Though racial tensions have always been high in the county jail system, officials said, in recent years the domination of Latino gangs has left African Americans particularly vulnerable to attacks.

Because of demographic shifts in the county, officials said, Latinos now outnumber blacks in the dormitories.

Department officials have said that they lacked the staffing needed to house violent offenders at Twin Towers, a newer jail facility that has more single and double-occupancy cells.

Instead, they housed the most dangerous inmates at the much older Men’s Central Jail and at the Pitchess Detention Center, where inmates are housed in groups of up to 100.