5 deputies hospitalized after inmate attack at Calif. prison

An estimated 30 to 40 inmates jumped the deputies during a routine clothing exchange Thursday morning

By Tony Saavedra and Nathaniel Percy
The Orange County Register

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Dozens of inmates attacked five Orange County sheriff’s deputies on Thursday, Dec. 20, at the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana, officials said, in an incident that re-ignited union concerns about how safely the facility is staffed.

The unprovoked attack at about 7:30 a.m. took place in a hallway during a clothing-and-sheets exchange, a period where numerous inmates were out of their cells, said Carrie Braun, spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The altercation was quickly controlled, she said.

Tom Dominguez, the president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, estimated that 30 to 40 inmates jumped the deputies during the routine clothing exchange in Module B at the jail, which houses convicted felons transferred from state prisons under California’s realignment program.

The deputies suffered moderate injuries, Braun said. One inmate suffered moderate injuries during the attack and was also taken to a hospital.

Additional inmates involved were medically assessed at the jail and cleared to return to housing, Braun said.

Dominguez said it appeared that the inmates were not armed, but it was unknown whether the attack was planned.

The deputies were taken to an area hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries, Dominguez said.

“But they do look like they’ve been in a fight,” he said.

Inmates routinely exchange their soiled clothing for fresh clothes under deputy supervision. Dominguez said jail intelligence had picked up reports recently that deputies needed to be more watchful. Security cameras captured the attack and the module was placed under lockdown while sheriff’s officials conduct an investigation.

Court transportation and mandatory medical services for inmates were still taking place during the lockdown, Braun said.

Dominguez said the violence underscored problems with California’s voter-approved 2011 prison realignment program, sending some convicted felons from state custody to local jails. At the same time, Orange County is employing more civilian jail workers for jobs previously done by more highly trained deputies, Dominguez said.

Sheriff-elect Don Barnes also said the “incident directly correlates to the changing criminal sophistication of the inmates in our jail that have resulted from legislative mandates like Assembly Bill 109

He added: “Our deputies in custody operations are tasked with the tremendous duty to maintain order and control with individuals who have proven that they cannot follow society’s laws. Our deputies and civilian staff do an exceptional job, and we are grateful that despite the desire of the inmates to harm them, no one was seriously injured.”

It is unknown whether the attack was related to the use of non-sworn jailers. But sheriff’s data shows that inmate-staff attacks have increased since the realignment was instituted. Dominguez said it was time for tough conversation on the issue.

“I’m tired of it and we are going to have some serious and frank discussions with the incoming sheriff and the Board of Supervisors,” Dominguez said. “We’re going to be more aggressive in ensuring that jail is run in the manner that a state prison should be run.”

Investigators were interviewing inmates involved in the attack, Braun said, adding it was too early to determine which inmates may face additional charges.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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