6 charged with murder in O.C. jailhouse death

Times Staff Writer

Six current or former Orange County jail inmates were charged with murder Friday in the beating death last month of another prisoner, the first homicide inside the jail in 20 years.

John Chamberlain, 41, who had been charged with possessing child pornography, was severely kicked while in the showers, then dragged -- apparently unnoticed by guards -- to another section of the jail, where the beating continued.

After finishing, the inmates had time to wash their jumpsuits to get rid of blood and other evidence before the guards learned of the attack, a sheriff’s official told The Times last month. Guards believe they learned of the attack half an hour after it started, according to a sheriff’s department spokesman.

Another prisoner, Fernando Ramirez, who was awaiting trial on charges of child molestation, was severely injured in a June beating at the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana. He was recently released after five months in the hospital and, according to his family, has suffered brain damage.


Seven inmates were charged in Ramirez’s beating. One was deemed incompetent to stand trial, and two who pleaded guilty to assault and conspiracy were sentenced to two years in state prison. Four others are set for trial Nov. 27.

The two beating cases have brought attention to the Sheriff’s Department policy change not to isolate inmates accused of sex crimes against children, offenses that even fellow prisoners find reprehensible. Orange County jails are the only ones among the state’s five largest jail systems that do not automatically provide protective custody to inmates accused of child sex crimes.

The inmates killed Chamberlain because they thought he was a child molester, according to the district attorney’s office.

Of those charged, Stephen Paul Carlstrom, 38; Eugene Garret Aguilar, 24; Michael Stewart Garten, 21; and Louis Jared Petrovich, 22, are still in jail, authorities said.


Charles Eric Miller, 21, who was released since the attack, was arrested Friday at a Costa Mesa home. Deputies said they were looking for Christopher Cope Teague, 30.

The men, who each face 25 years to life in prison if convicted, are scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday at Central Justice Center.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Ebrahim Baytieh, who is prosecuting the case, said at least 12 other inmates were also involved. “The question is: Do we have the evidence to prosecute them?” he said.

Hours before Chamberlain was killed Oct. 5 at Theo Lacy Jail in Orange, his public defender called jail officials to warn them that his client believed he was in danger and urged them to place him in protective custody. Chamberlain was not moved.


Although Chamberlain was awaiting trial on charges of possession of child pornography, a law enforcement source familiar with the case said he may have been targeted after a deputy wrongly told at least one inmate that the computer technician was accused of child molestation. That aspect of the case is still under investigation.

Chamberlain’s family has filed a claim against the county, saying the Sheriff’s Department was negligent by not moving him.

After Chamberlain’s death, the public defender’s office asked for better responses from the jail, and the Sheriff’s Department agreed to provide a 24-hour contact number for attorneys to call, according to Jane Wilkinson, a senior assistant public defender.