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Racial conflict could have led to jail brawl

February 18, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Imperial County Sheriff's Office officials were investigating whether a melee between 20 inmates in the county jail Friday occurred as a result of a racial conflict.

Sheriff Harold Carter said this morning the brawl started between two Native American inmates and Hispanic inmates in the recreation yard.

Several others joined in the confrontation and three people suffered minor injuries. Two jail-made weapons were found, both spoons with the handles sharpened into points.

Sixteen inmates were facing counts of suspicion of attempted murder in connection with the brawl.

Carter said the majority of those involved were in custody on parole violations — meaning they had served time in prison on earlier convictions and were back in custody awaiting court dates on other alleged violations.

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The fight occurred Friday morning as inmates walked into the recreation yard for their three-hour recreation period.

Carter said authorities think the dispute had been brewing over the week as a result of other incidents in the jail facility.

He added authorities in full riot gear broke up the fight and placed the jail under lockdown as a search was conducted for other weapons. Officers used tear gas on one inmate who refused to leave his cell as part of the search effort.

Carter said whether race was the cause has not officially been determined. However, he did say "we think it has the overtones of that."

He added the difficulty in the investigation is getting inmates to provide information.

The following names and ages of the 16 under suspicion of attempted murder were listed on the office's log: Francisco Daniel Alvarez, 40, of El Centro; Manuel Sandoval Avina, 60, of El Centro; Ivan Lopez Garcia, 22, of Brawley; Luis Gomez, 20, of El Centro; Pablo Vargas Hernandez, 27, of El Centro; Johnny Albert Jaime, 39, of Oceanside; Mike Gonzalez Jimenez, 30, of El Centro; Ruben Antonio Martinez, 38, of El Centro; Rey Manuel Ayon Montaño, 20, of Imperial, John Martin Patton, 38, of El Centro; Angel Peña, 29, of El Centro; Gabriel Juan Reyes, 26, of Brawley; Abel Vasquez-Bojorquez, 30, of the state of Sinaloa, Mexico; Michael Lopez Velarde, 20, of El Centro; Juan Francisco Velasquez, 34, of Heber and Jose Manuel Zepeda, 33, no home town listed.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie contributed information to this story.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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