Death of infamous inmate triggers California prison riot: Who was Hugo Pinell?

Some 70 state prison inmates wielding makeshift weapons were involved in the melee.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation/AP/File
Inmate Hugo Pinell appears in a Jan. 8, 2014 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation photo. Mr. Pinell, involved in a bloody 1971 San Quentin escape attempt that left six dead, has been killed by a fellow prisoner. The slaying of Pinell triggered a riot Wednesday, at a maximum security prison east of Sacramento.

The slaying of a prisoner who was involved in a bloody 1971 San Quentin escape attempt triggered a riot in the maximum security prison in California, which involved 70 inmates, officials said.

The corrections department said inmate-made weapons were used in the stabbing melee. They would not identify the alleged attacker for his own protection.

Eleven prisoners were taken to hospitals with stab wounds and "numerous" others were injured during the incident at California State Prison-Sacramento just before 1 p.m., the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.

Officials identified the inmate killed as Hugo Pinell, who had been imprisoned for 50 years. Mr. Pinell was originally convicted of rape and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

He was later convicted in the March 1971 murder of a prison guard as part of an escape attempt, which resulted in the deaths of three guards, two inmate trustees and escape ringleader, George Jackson.

Correctional Officer Urbano Rubiaco Jr. survived the incident to later testify that Pinell used a knife made of razor blades embedded in a toothbrush handle to slash Officer Rubiaco's throat.

Pinell’s death did not come as a complete surprise to his attorney, Keith Wattley of Oakland, who told The Sacramento Bee he learned Tuesday that his client – the target of prison attacks in the past – had been moved into the general population shortly before his death.

“The threat of harm to him has been well known by prison officials,” Wattley said. He added that Pinell had been the target of “long-standing threats,” but said he could not elaborate Wednesday.

So what makes prison riots likely to occur?

The Christian Science Monitor recently probed the causes of prisoner-on-prisoner violence.

The story quoted a report on root causes of violence in Georgia’s prisons and found it includes “failures of basic security, inadequate supervision, and accessibility to lethal weapons and cellphones.” Many prisons around the nation face similar challenges, law enforcement experts say.

Another study by Karen F. Lahm at Wright State University on inmate-on-inmate assault investigated data from 1,054 male inmates in 30 prisons and revealed aggressive inmates were found to commit more assaults in prisoners that were more crowded and had a greater percentage of younger inmates.

This report includes material from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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