Monday, October 3, 2022

Federal prisons locked down nationwide after deadly brawl at facility in Texas

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal penitentiary system was placed on a nationwide quarantine after two inmates were killed and two others injured Monday during a group altercation at a federal prison in Texas.

The incident took place around 11:30 am Monday at USP Beaumont, a federal prison in Beaumont, Texas. Members of the violent MS-13 street gang were involved in the altercation, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. People were unable to discuss the ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The attack is just the latest example of serious violence in the beleaguered Federal Bureau of Prisons. The agency has experienced many crises in recent years, including widespread staffing shortages, serious employee misconduct, a series of escapes and deaths.

The lockdown, implemented in more than 120 of the agency’s federal prisons across the US, was prompted by fears of potential retaliation and concerns that the violence could spread to other facilities. During the nationwide quarantine, prisoners are kept in their cells for most of the day and visits are cancelled. Due to the surge in coronavirus cases in federal prisons, social visits have already been canceled in almost all facilities.

The use of nationwide blocking is relatively rare. The agency took the measure in April 2020 as the number of coronavirus cases in prisons across the country began to skyrocket, again after the January 6, 2021 US Capitol uprising and shortly before President Joe Biden’s inauguration later that month.

On Monday, the Department of Prisons said Texas prison officials observed several inmates fighting and responded to secure the area. Two prisoners, Andrew Pineda, 34, and Guillermo Riojas, 54, died at a local hospital after the attack. Two other prisoners were wounded and taken to nearby hospitals for treatment.

The federal penitentiary system has experienced a number of serious security issues over the past few months, including several deaths and stabbings of inmates. The Justice Department announced earlier this month that agency director Michael Carvajal is stepping down amid increased scrutiny of his leadership and following an Associated Press report that exposed widespread corruption, misconduct and other problems at the agency.

Several inmates have escaped from the Beaumont prison complex in recent years, and union officials have denounced what they have called a serious staffing crisis at the prison. The AP reported in June that security at the complex is so lax that local law enforcement privately joke about its seemingly “open door policy.”

Riojas was serving a 38-year sentence for auto theft and interference in interstate commerce. Pineda was sentenced to more than six years in prison on racketeering charges and has been in jail since February.

Both men were involved in previous clashes behind bars, court records show.

Riojas was involved in stabbing at a federal prison in Pennsylvania in 1996 and a federal prison in Colorado in 2007.

Pineda was described in court documents as a member of a prison gang known as the Mexican Mafia. While incarcerated at the Los Angeles County Jail in 2015, prosecutors said, Pineda followed orders to attack inmates who were disrespectful to the gang.

In November 2007, two Beaumont inmates stabbed to death another inmate in the penitentiary’s special housing block after they freed themselves from handcuffs, kicked two corrections officers who were escorting them to their cells, and stole the cell keys. They were convicted and sentenced to death. A few months later, in February 2008, a Beaumont inmate was strangled to death in his cell by two other inmates, one of whom was a co-founder of the Dead Man Incorporated prison gang.

There are 1,372 male inmates in a Texas prison.

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