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Lawyers in Aryan Brotherhood case want secret reports compiled by dead prison official

The effort by attorneys for accused Aryan Brotherhood member Brant “Two Scoops” Daniel comes as two guards at the prison have pleaded guilty to a cover-up at the facility

By Sam Stanton, Wes Venteicher
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Lawyers for an Aryan Brotherhood defendant charged in a racketeering and murder case in Sacramento federal court are asking a judge to order prosecutors to hand over confidential reports about alleged wrongdoing inside California State Prison, Sacramento, written by a prison whistleblower who killed himself last year.

The effort by attorneys for accused Aryan Brotherhood member Brant “Two Scoops” Daniel comes as two guards at the prison have pleaded guilty to a cover-up at the facility, and as the FBI is investigating allegations that guards have planted drugs and weapons on inmates and conspired to help inmates murder other prisoners.

Daniel’s attorneys, Timothy Warriner and John Balazs, argue they need the documents to rebut guards’ claims that they found a 6-inch handmade shank inside Daniel’s cell and that he planned to use it to assault or kill a guard.

They also note that the U.S. Justice Department has yet to notify them whether it intends to seek the death penalty against Daniel in the pending racketeering case, and that they need the reports to bolster their contention that he was set up by guards.

“It was the first time in 26 years in CDCR custody that Daniel had ever been accused of any offense involving violence against an officer,” his attorneys wrote in their motion.

At issue are secret reports written by Sgt. Kevin Steele, a correctional officer at the prison who was part of a unit that investigates crimes inside the facility, which also is referred to as New Folsom.

Steele wrote the reports in 2021 to the prison warden and the secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation outlining allegations that co-workers were planting drugs and weapons in inmates’ cells, falsifying documents and helping inmates stage attacks on others.

In the reports, which were obtained by The Sacramento Bee, Steele wrote that he was being harassed by colleagues because of his concerns and he eventually was banned from the prison grounds. Steele also was cooperating with attorneys suing CDCR, providing them with information on cases where he believed evidence had been suppressed or faked.

He also expressed concerns about the death of another whistleblower, Valentino Rodriguez, who also worked in the investigative services unit and died of an accidental fentanyl overdose in 2020 after facing harassment and hazing from co-workers. Steele was found dead on the grounds of a home in Miller County, Missouri, in August 2021. The county’s coroner ruled his death a suicide.

Federal prosecutors have not responded to the motion by Daniel’s lawyers as of early Tuesday, but have previously cited his criminal history, writing in court filings that he has “an egregious 24-year history of prison violence, including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, manslaughter, battery with a deadly weapon (twice), and battery on an inmate with serious injury.”

Daniel’s lawyers wrote that prosecutors cannot “argue this is a fishing expedition,” noting in court documents that The Bee has reported extensively on Steele’s allegations.

“This discovery request seeks known memoranda authored by Kevin Steele, a former CDCR investigating services unit officer,” the attorneys wrote in a request for access to any documents Steele provided that allege guards planted weapons on inmates or in their cells, or that guards falsified documents or committed other acts of misconduct.

They also are seeking all documents related to the Oct. 7, 2020, “rules violation report” filed after guards searched Daniel’s cell and claimed they found the handmade shank in his mattress while using a handheld metal detector.

Daniel’s lawyers wrote that “after reviewing the report and other evidence regarding the October 2020 disciplinary charge against Daniel, Steele advised a Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney that he believed the allegation against Daniel was not credible.”

Balazs has previously confirmed that Steele was the “confidential source” cited in court filings making allegations against guards. The claims have spawned two lawsuits by family members of an inmate stabbed to death at the prison in 2019, allegedly by three inmates who had guards help them set up the attack.

Luis Giovanny Aguilar was handcuffed to a chair when he was attacked and stabbed to death in December 2019, and one of the lawsuits says guards recruited “inmates to murder Mr. Aguilar and (allowed) these inmates to practice and then carry out the murder.”

Sources have told The Bee the attack was captured on prison security cameras.

The prison has been the focus of a probe by the FBI and CDCR investigators that already has led to guilty pleas by two former guards.

Ashely Marie Aurich pleaded guilty in January to filing a false report involving an incident in which an inmate later died.

Her partner, Arturo Pacheco, pleaded guilty on Monday to four felony counts accusing him of falsifying reports and depriving inmates of their rights under color of law. One of the inmates, a 65-year-old man who had his wrists handcuffed behind his back, died two days after Pacheco yanked his legs backward out from under him, causing his head to hit the concrete face first.

Pacheco’s plea agreement in that case was filed last Thursday.

Daniel’s attorneys filed their motion seeking Steele’s reports the next day.