FBI investigating COs at Calif. prison plagued by inmate slayings, hazing
COs have been accused of conspiring with inmates to orchestrate two murders of other prisoners
By Sam Stanton and Wes Venteicher
The Sacramento Bee
SACRAMENTO — Federal agents are investigating potential wrongdoing by guards at California State Prison, Sacramento, the troubled institution where correctional officers have been accused of conspiring with inmates to orchestrate two murders of other prisoners, sources have told The Sacramento Bee.
Four law enforcement and correctional sources say FBI agents have spent months investigating allegations at the prison, also known as New Folsom, and that the probe dates back to incidents that occurred as early as 2016. The sources requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation and for fear of retaliation.
Two sources said the investigation appeared to escalate on Friday, when federal agents appeared on prison grounds and at the home of at least one officer to interview employees about a murder in the prison's B Facility.
On Dec. 12, 2019, two inmates in the B Facility attacked and killed a third inmate, Luis Giovanny Aguilar, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Lawyers for an Aryan Brotherhood prison gang member, citing a "confidential source," have said in court filings that guards conspired to allow the two inmates to murder the third. The attorneys cited the same source to allege guards planted evidence in inmates' cells.
Several officers who were on duty during the attack have been moved to the prison's mail room, according to two sources.
The California Correctional Peace Officers Association sent a memo to California State Prison, Sacramento officers on Friday reminding them that they "may decline to talk with outside, non-CDCR agencies if you are told the interview is voluntary."
The memo, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, cites the FBI and local police departments as examples.
The extent of the federal investigation isn't clear, but sources at the prison — which holds roughly 2,200 inmates and has a total staff of more than 2,500 — said many employees are on edge.
"People are very nervous right now," one correctional source said this week. "Very, very nervous."
Feds acknowledge FBI involvement in one prison case
Federal prosecutors acknowledged the existence of an FBI probe in a court filing late Tuesday related to the Aryan Brotherhood case and claims by lawyers for Brant "Two Scoops" Daniel, writing that the confidential source "was interviewed by the FBI about unrelated matters occurring in 2016."
Prosecutors cast doubt in the filing on the testimony of the attorneys' confidential source, who is identified in court documents as "CS."
"CS has no personal knowledge" of the Aguilar killing, prosecutors wrote in the court filing. "Instead, he/she 'reviewed the report and other evidence' and watched a video."
The prosecutors also addressed more general claims made by the confidential source that officers were planting weapons and drugs on inmates.
"CS has no personal knowledge about officers providing or allowing inmates at CSP-Sacramento to possess weapons on their person or in their cell," they wrote. "Instead, Daniel's lawyers report a vague claim that the CS 'was aware' of a now-deceased person telling two other people that officers were planting weapons and drugs on inmates in order to get overtime.
"No nexus to Daniel presented. Moreover, no time period is referenced about this claim."
Inmate's lawyers claim guards "complicit" in slayings
Daniel's lawyers have filed a series of claims against guards at the prison, alleging that "rogue officers" have twice been "directly involved in the killing of a CSP-Sacramento inmate."
They also have claimed their confidential source has told them there is video evidence that guards were complicit in the 2019 killing of inmate Aguilar.
Three inmates — Dion Green, Anthony Rodriguez and Cody Taylor — were charged in that slaying. Taylor pleaded no contest and was sentenced last May to 100 years to life, plus two years. Charges against Green and Rodriguez are pending.
Prison officials say Aguilar was attacked in a day room at 10:10 a.m. and stabbed to death.
The "confidential source" has told Daniel's lawyers that there is video related to the attack, according to court filings.
"This includes video evidence that staff allowed the inmates to do a practice run about seven days before the actual killing," the lawyers wrote in court papers last week.
Sources say prison video shows fatal attack on inmate
Two sources who have seen video of the attack say it shows Taylor, Rodriguez and Aguilar all restrained in chairs in a day room in the B Facility. Taylor and Rodriguez are able to remove metal cuffs from their hands and their feet, retrieve a weapon from the second floor and attack Aguilar, who remained restrained, the sources said.
No officers were present to stop Taylor and Rodriguez from escaping their restraints, the sources said. The corrections department said in a news release last year that officers fired foam baton rounds at the attackers.
Two sources also say they have seen video of the alleged "practice run" a week before the attack.
Both sources say the inmates can be seen extricating themselves from restraints while they were seated in a room away from their cells, apparently the "practice run" Daniel's lawyers alleged in their court filings.
One source added that there is no evidence that guards were involved in helping them escape their restraints.
A second source said the video shows Taylor actively removing his restraints and running to a cell on another floor to retrieve a weapon. Then Taylor hurried back down the stairs and put his restraints back on with the weapon in his pants. The source said the events took place in view of correctional officers on the first floor.
Extent of FBI probe remains unclear
The extent of the ongoing probe remains unclear. Two sources said the FBI was at the prison last Friday. A source said agents recently visited the home of at least one officer. The agents' questions in the recent interviews were focused on the B Facility and Aguilar, sources said.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento declined comment Wednesday.
Corrections department spokeswoman Dana Simas said in an email that the department was "unable to comment on specific FBI-related matters," adding "the department often works and collaborates with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, and other partners, in things like investigations and operations."
The investigation dates back to events from at least five years ago, when a 65-year-old inmate being escorted by guards died after one of the guards, Arturo Pacheco, allegedly yanked the handcuffed man's legs out from under him.
The inmate hit the floor face-first, smashing his jaw and teeth. He died two days later at a hospital.
Pacheco was indicted by a federal grand jury in Sacramento in November on two counts of falsifying records in a federal investigation and two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law.
Pacheco also is accused of filing a false report in May 2016 after allegedly spraying a 54-year-old inmate in the face with a canister of pepper spray. He has pleaded not guilty and the next hearing in his case is set for June 21.
Ashley Marie Aurich, a guard who was with Pacheco when the inmate hit the floor and later died, pleaded guilty in January to falsifying records in an attempt to cover up the events of that day and has agreed to cooperate with federal investigators in return for a reduced sentence.
Her next hearing is a status conference on sentencing set for Aug. 16.
CDCR has declined comment on the claims that correctional officers assisted in the killing of inmates, but have said their own investigators worked with the FBI on the case involving Aurich and Pacheco and that both guards were fired June 25, 2018.
"CDCR has a zero-tolerance policy for any form of dishonesty," the department said in a statement last year. "All reports of dishonesty or misconduct are investigated thoroughly, and proper disciplinary action is taken."
But the ongoing investigation is the latest trouble sign for the high-security prison, where officers say morale is plummeting among some staffers.
The corrections department is investigating misconduct among former Investigative Services Unit officers after Valentino Rodriguez Jr., an officer from the unit, died of a drug overdose at his home in West Sacramento on Oct. 21.
Rodriguez left behind text exchanges among the officers on his iPhone that show repeated hazing and harassment, potential violations of the corrections department's code of conduct.
Staffing rosters obtained by The Sacramento Bee show that as of this month, the entire unit — about 20 officers and support employees — has been replaced.
One of the officers has been placed on leave amid the investigation, according to the department. Officer Daniel Garland, who was a part of the unit, has been banned from the prison's grounds, according to a memo obtained by The Sacramento Bee.
In addition to the hazing allegations, the family of an inmate allegedly killed by his cellmate in 2019 filed a lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento last week against Acting Warden Jeff Lynch that seeks in excess of $5 million.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of inmate Tou Thao, claims prison staffers ignored warnings from his cellmate, Jose Antonio Negrete, that he wanted to be in a single cell and would kill Thao.
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