Lockdown continues at O.C. jail

A second incident has officials extending the restrictions at Theo Lacy Jail.
By Garrett Therolf
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

September 27, 2007

Orange County’s largest jail was in its second week of turmoil Wednesday after a gang fight and resulting tensions prompted administrators to place inmates under lockdown with no end in sight.

A top-ranking prison gang leader was disrespected by a member of a rival group in a recreation area of Theo Lacy Jail in Orange Sept. 14, sparking a riot among the nearly 3,000 inmates, authorities said.

Prison officials suspended inmates’ privilege to receive visitors, their access to recreation areas, and their privilege to worship, shower and eat in large groups.

Those restrictions were gradually relaxed but were reinstated Sunday when gang tensions erupted during a chapel service.

Eight men began fighting, resulting in two receiving treatment for minor scrapes and bruises, said Damon Micalizzi, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

A lockdown does not limit court appearances or official visits from attorneys or bail bond agents. Inmates also continue to receive medication and medical treatment, Micalizzi said.

The restrictions were imposed partially out of concern that a much larger riot could erupt.

The department cited a February 2006 incident in the Los Angeles County jail system that injured more than 100 inmates and resulted in two deaths.

Micalizzi said the recent troubles at Theo Lacy had been at least partially motivated by race, but the altercation Sunday did not divide along racial lines. He declined to specify the race of the gangs.

Lockdowns are a common control tool in the jail system partly because guards are severely outnumbered and do not carry firearms.

Despite the recent disturbance, the Sheriff’s Department said in a prepared statement that its jail system remained one of the safest mega-jails in the country.

Theo Lacy, however, has many areas out of view of guard stations. A group of inmates allegedly capitalized on such a blind spot last year to fatally stomp an inmate being held on child pornography charges.

Six inmates have been charged in that incident, the first homicide in the jail in 20 years.

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