California inmates turn canes, walkers into weapons

Associated Press and Associated Press

AVENAL, Calif. – A California prison was under lockdown yesterday as administrators investigated a riot involving rival Latino gangs that sent 24 inmates to hospitals, one in serious condition.

Inmates at Avenal State Prison used canes, walkers and foot rests from wheelchairs to beat each other Monday night. The most seriously injured inmates suffered puncture and slash wounds, none life-threatening.

‘Exactly what they were fighting over, we’re still trying to figure that out,’ said Lt. Doug Snell, prison spokesman. ‘It’s still a big mess.’

It took 16 ambulances responding from four counties to carry the injured to five hospitals.

Avenal, built in 1986 in the southern Central Valley, is a medium-security prison where inmates have earned the right to live in dormitories instead of cells. Only one of the six housing complexes was involved.

The fight began in the yard of Facility 5, where 1,026 inmates are housed, then immediately spread inside three of the four dormitories. Two hours later, as prison officials were cleaning up, fighting broke out in the fourth dorm, Snell said.

At least 193 inmates were involved. Prison officials confiscated 30 weapons.

‘That’s very significant, and it’s very troubling,’ said Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections.

All programs have been suspended as prison officials work to transfer fighting inmates to different facilities. Those involved will either be charged with participation in a riot, or the cases will be referred to the Kings County District Attorney’s Office for consideration, Snell said.

‘Incidents like this displace a lot of inmates,’ he said. ‘After a major riot there’s no way to put them back together again.’

The names of the injured have not been released. Seven remained hospitalized and under guard.

One of the biggest challenges facing prison authorities is keeping peace between rival prison gangs.

On Sept. 7 at least 21 rival north-south Latino gang members fought at Avenal, and on Aug. 15 a larger fight erupted between Hispanic and African American inmates.

The inmates will be required to help with the cleanup, Snell said.