Clallam Bay Corrections Center (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Clallam Bay Corrections Center (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Official: Clallam Bay Corrections Center fight racially motivated

Close-custody units remain on lockdown after dozens brawl

CLALLAM BAY — The fourth serious violent incident at Clallam Bay Corrections Center since May was racially motivated, prompting ongoing inmate restrictions throughout the facility beginning Saturday, a state Department of Corrections spokesperson said Monday.

Janelle Guthrie said 26 close-custody inmates — the prison’s most serious offenders — took part in the Saturday afternoon brawl in the B Unit dining hall.

Officials suspect the fight stemmed from an earlier altercation in which two Latino inmates fought an African American inmate.

“It appears to have been racially driven,” Guthrie said.

The prison’s four close-custody units remained on lockdown Monday while prison officials’ investigation into the fight continues.

The medium custody units of the facility are on restricted movement.

Visitation and volunteer programming were shut down indefinitely through Monday.

“It’s day by day,” Guthrie said of when restrictions might be lifted.

Guthrie said an ongoing investigation narrowed down an earlier estimate of inmates who were involved in the fracas, many of whom wielded food trays and metal utensil holders as weapons.

Forty-six were in the dining hall at the time when the fight broke out Saturday.

Three were transported to the hospital, two for lacerations and one for being temporarily knocked unconscious. There were no staff injuries.

Guthrie said Sunday in an email that everyone officials believe was involved in the fight was moved into solitary confinement, also known as administrative segregation.

There are 29 inmates in solitary confinement, including the 26 identified as fighting in the dining hall and the three involved in the initial fight, Guthrie said.

Eighty-one inmates in a recreational yard were involved in a May 22 brawl among close-custody inmates that required several warning shots to bring under control. Five inmates were injured, one whose jaw was broken.

On July 3, a close-custody inmate attacked two corrections officers with his fists. As with the May 22 brawl, the facility was put on lockdown.

The following day, July Fourth, an inmate stabbed another with a shank. The inmate received a minor injury.

The last incident that provoked punitive action by prison authorities was a nonviolent meal strike Oct. 7-9 during which some inmates intimidated others into participating, according to corrections center officials.

The transfer of five inmates to Walla Walla State Penitentiary and their incarceration in solitary confinement led to a lawsuit by the inmates, represented by Columbia Legal Services of Seattle and filed in Thurston County Superior Court.

Columbia Legal Services lawyers and a spokesperson did not return calls for comment Monday.

Clallam Bay inmates George Augustine, Kimonti Carter, Jason Roberts, Felix Sitthivong and Corey Zaharko want Judge John B. Skinder to rule that DOC violated their rights to due process, equal protection of the laws and constitutional guarantee against cruel punishment.

A trial date has been set for Feb. 28.

Shoddy, expensive products and services and group punishment without being able to seed evidence against them or confront their accusers led the majority of inmates to refuse to attend breakfast or participate in prison activities Oct. 7, according to an amended complaint, filed Oct. 29.

The prison remained on lockdown through Oct. 8, and the five men were transferred from the prison at 3 a.m. Oct. 9 for the trip to Walla Walla, according to the lawsuit.

Thirty-six inmates were transferred to other institutions within the state corrections system following the strike.

At least 15 were placed in solitary confinement, without being told why, they allege.

“In the months leading up to the recent food and work strike, the Department received information from multiple sources that groups advocating for the strike would punish with violence individuals who refused to participate,” Robert Herzog, secretary of DOC’s prisons division who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said in a prepared statement.

“To diffuse the situation and allow for further investigation, the Department identified 15 individuals thought to be involved in advocating for the strike and for enforcement of it through threats or intimidation, and placed those individuals in administrative segregation while the investigation continued,” he said.

“However, to protect the safety and security of our state’s prisons and individuals in our care, DOC does not publicly share specific intelligence regarding prison management decisions and specific individuals.”

Before the meal strike, prison Superintendent Jeri Boe, named as a defendant in the lawsuit, announced that lunches will be prepared at the prison and that higher quality fruits and vegetables would be provided.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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