The California Department of Corrections (CDC) will provide legal representation for eight employees facing federal allegations over two 1994 incidents at California State Prison, Corcoran.
“After reviewing the evidence and statements given under oath, I believe these officers have acted appropriately,” said Corrections Director C. A. Terhune. “It is important that we support our officers who put their lives on the line every day they go to work.”
The federal charges concern two inmate fights at the prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU). The unit houses the most predatory and violent offenders in the prison system. Many are gang members who attack prison staff and other inmates. Confining these predators to the SHU improves safety for the majority of inmates and Department staff.
By law, inmates in SHU must be released 10 hours per week for exercise. It is during these periods most of the inmate fights occur. Of the more than 14,300 SHU exercise yard periods at Corcoran last year, there were 336 inmate fights. Correctional officers had to use weapons to stop 130 of the fights to protect inmates from suffering great bodily injury or death.
CDC staff have a range of weapons to control inmate violence. These include tear gas, pepper spray, riot control guns that fire rubber and wooden blocks, shotguns, and rifles. These tools allow officers to use only the necessary level of force to restore security.
“Every day our nearly 30,000 peace officers are called on to make difficult life and death decisions,” said Terhune. “We do not want them to hesitate to follow policy to use appropriate force to save lives. It is important for staff to know the Department will stand behind them when they do their jobs correctly.”
The Department conducted a thorough management review of Corcoran SHU operations in November 1996 and provided staff with detailed training on Department policies. These included appropriate inmate classification for cell and exercise yard assignments, and appropriate use of force.
In November 1997, the Department concluded there was no evidence to support wide ranging accusations of staff conspiracies to abuse inmates at Corcoran, or that staff interfered with FBI investigators.
“The FBI has had the Department’s full cooperation,” said Terhune. “There has been a standing order from Headquarters since 1994 to provide the FBI with any records or access it wants. The Department even delayed its own investigation at the request of the FBI.”
The Department has the statutory discretion to provide legal representation for an employee charged with committing a crime during the scope of his or her employment. The criteria are:
- That a defense would be in the best interests of the Department;
- That the employee acted in good faith and without malice; and
- That the employee acted in the apparent interests of the Department.