Jail is locked down after brawl

Times Staff Writer

Inmates in Orange County’s Central Men’s Jail were locked in their cells Monday for a third consecutive day, the result of a racially motivated melee involving about two dozen inmates, an Orange County sheriff’s official said.

About 1,300 inmates at the Santa Ana jail have been denied outdoor recreation, religious services, education programs and visits from family and friends because of a Friday night brawl between black and Latino inmates, said Sheriff’s Capt. Roland Chacon.

The fighting broke out after some “name-calling” in two dormitories that each housed 68 low-security inmates, Chacon said. Deputies broke up the fighting quickly and without having to use force. Twelve inmates were injured, and one was treated at a hospital for a cut on his head.

After the fight, sheriff’s officials moved several of the inmates to disciplinary cells where they will be isolated from other inmates. Some of the jail’s eight dormitories were segregated to discourage racial violence, and the entire jail was locked down. Inmates are being fed in their cells rather than in a dining hall.


The previous lockdown at the jail, in September, lasted one week. The department kept Theo Lacy Jail in Orange on lockdown for three weeks last year after racially motivated violence. Chacon said the current lockdown would last indefinitely. “When we’re comfortable and confident in the safety and security of the inmates, as well as the staff, then we can remove the lockdown status. It’s continuous right now,” Chacon said.

“When inmates lose privileges, they’re quick to resolve these problems themselves. They hate to lose visiting.”

Inmates at the neighboring Central Women’s Jail and Intake Release Center were not locked down. No lockdown was ordered at the Theo Lacy or James A. Musick jail facilities.

Racial violence is common among inmates at county jails and state prisons throughout the United States, Chacon said. He said deputies monitor inmates to determine whether racial violence is imminent.


“These incidents don’t happen that often, but they do happen,” Chacon said. “When we start to get word that things are brewing, we take it very seriously.”

The disturbance is the latest in a string of incidents that have brought increased scrutiny to the Orange County jails. Earlier this month, a judge released transcripts of testimony from a grand jury investigation that showed deputies at Theo Lacy allowed inmates to police themselves while the guards napped, watched television or played video games.

Acting Sheriff Jack Anderson fired one deputy, suspended five other employees, asked the FBI to investigate and initiated what he said would be the largest internal-affairs investigation in department history.

The testimony came during a district attorney’s investigation into the October 2006 slaying of John Derek Chamberlain, who was beaten by a mob of inmates at Theo Lacy while two deputies and a security officer sat in a nearby glass-enclosed booth, apparently unaware of what was happening. One of the deputies was watching TV and exchanging text messages at the time of the slaying, according to testimony. Nine inmates have been charged in Chamberlain’s death. No sheriff’s personnel were charged criminally.

The district attorney’s office is also investigating the death of inmate Jason Jesus Gomez, who lost consciousness March 25 after deputies shocked him with electric stun weapons during an altercation in his cell at the Intake Release Center in Santa Ana.

He spent one week on life support and died April 1. Several sheriff’s employees were placed on administrative leave after that incident, Anderson said.