California prison guard died after exposing corruption
SACRAMENTO, Calif .– A California prison guard committed suicide after reporting cases of corruption and harassment to authorities and cooperating with attorneys prosecuting the state, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.
Sgt. Kevin Steele, 56, wrote notes to senior prison officials earlier this year in which he said fellow correctional officers at his California state prison in Sacramento forged documents and planted drugs and weapons on detainees.
Two attorneys told the Sacramento Bee that Steele had also worked with them on cases where he claimed evidence had been tampered with or withheld.
He was found dead on August 20 in Miller County, Missouri, where he surrendered after being kicked from the prison compound in what prison officials called an investigation for misconduct. The county coroner ruled her death a suicide.
A second member of the same investigation unit who also complained of harassment and retaliation, Valentino Rodriguez, 30, died of an accidental fentanyl overdose at his West Sacramento home a year ago.
The entire unit – tasked with investigating crimes committed inside the prison – has been replaced, and 10 of its officers face disciplinary action related to Rodriguez’s death, the door told the newspaper. word of the prison service, Dana Simas.
Prison workers are the subject of investigations by both the FBI and the prison service.
“We take every allegation of staff misconduct very seriously and work hard to ensure that there is accountability when the allegations are confirmed,” Simas said in an email to The Bee.
John Balazs, a lawyer for a member of a white supremacist prison gang facing federal charges, said Steele was his confidential source for statements in court documents he filed alleging his client could be killed in the maximum security prison commonly known as New Folsom.
The source he now identifies as Steele said “rogue” guards dropped weapons and drugs into inmate cells to get more overtime, spread false rumors and passed on private information from the files. detainees to other detainees in violation of departmental policy, “and on at least two occasions were directly involved in the murder of a CSP-Sacramento inmate,” Balazs said in his court record.
He alleged that guards allowed inmates to go on a “training run” a week before two inmates killed a fellow inmate who was handcuffed to a chair, citing a source he now says is Steele.
In a January note to prison warden Jeffrey Lynch obtained by The Bee, Steele said he alerted his supervisors to “inconsistencies” regarding this murder, supported by recorded interviews.
The newspaper previously reported that prosecutors said the confidential source was interviewed by the FBI and did not have direct knowledge of the wrongdoing, but relied on a report and other evidence, including a video.
Steele alleged in a February memo to Corrections Secretary Kathleen Allison that prison officials responded with “indifference” to her reports of wrongdoing and “victimization” of Rodriguez.
“I am NOT a disgruntled employee looking for revenge,” Steele wrote to Allison. “Instead, I witnessed an ISU (Investigative Services Unit) engulfed in corruption and saw integrity forced to curl up in terror and fear of retaliation! “
Balazs said Steele also told him the allegations were false that his client, Aryan Brotherhood member Brant Daniel, planned to kill a correctional officer with a homemade knife found in his cell.
A second lawyer, Steve Glickman, told The Bee that Steele had informed him that evidence had been suppressed in the death of a 29-year-old inmate who was found dead in his cell.
Corrections officials said he hanged himself in his cell in 2016, leaving behind a suicide note, and Glickman filed a wrongful death complaint on behalf of the inmate’s family.
But Steele said another inmate confessed on video and in writing to the murder, but the confession was gone. Glickman said Steele immediately informed the warden of the prison and that he had to testify publicly to his death.
“Anytime I discovered anything that looked like corruption, wrongdoing, exploitation, fraud and / or breach of trust, I ALWAYS alerted the supervisory staff and the direction of the institution, because that’s what I thought was the desire of both the administrative staff and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, ”Steele said in his January memo to the prison director. “However, it would appear that this is NOT the desire of either entity.”
He said in the memo that Rodriguez told him some of their fellow officers planted drugs and guns on detainees late in the afternoon “in an attempt to have to work overtime to complete reports. “.
A year ago, federal prosecutors charged two former correctional officers with false reports of the death of a 65-year-old New Folsom inmate.
Ashley Marie Aurich pleaded guilty in January to lying to her account of how another correctional officer tore off the legs of the handcuffed inmate in 2016. The two guards escorted the prisoner, who hit his head on the concrete and died in hospital two days later.
Both were fired from their jobs in 2018.
The second former officer, Arturo Pacheco, faces two federal charges of deprivation of rights under cover of law and two counts of falsifying records in a federal investigation.