Guards suspected in beating reinstated
Herald Salinas Bureau
A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said her agency and the state Attorney General’s Office will consider appealing the decision.
“Our department is reviewing the facts of the case and reviewing the decision of the state Personnel Board,” said Michele Kane. “The CDCR has 30 days to file a petition for a rehearing and we are looking at all of our options.”
The allegations were leveled six years ago by the inmate, Rafael Serrano, and another guard, Martha Jaramillo, who said she witnessed the assault on the handcuffed Serrano. In a ruling Nov. 9, the board said the two gave contradictory testimony and neither was credible.
Ordered reinstated with back pay were guards James Benefield, Fernando Chavez, Christopher Corotan, Walter Faulkner, Derrick Mackinga and Kevin Rawhoof.
The board earlier this year ordered the reinstatements with back pay of officers Ronald Sphar and Robert Martin, ruling there was insufficient evidence that they turned off a guard-tower camera that would have recorded the alleged assault.
Barry Bennett, the Fresno attorney who represented all eight plaintiffs, said the rulings vindicated his clients, who claimed they were made scapegoats in reaction to the Green Wall controversy.
According to testimony in depositions and at a state Senate hearing, the Green Wall was a criminal clique of guards that enforced a code of silence to cover up violence and other misconduct against inmates.
The group was exposed in 2001 by former correctional officer D.J. Vodicka, who was targeted for his role as a whistleblower and later testified before the senate committee.
In response to the controversy, the Department of Corrections instituted a “zero tolerance” policy for the code of silence and tried to weed out members of the Green Wall. Faulkner and Chavez were among those fired for alleged participation, but were later reinstated by the Personnel Board.
Bennett said the subsequent actions against his eight clients were taken up by the department to show it was serious about enforcing the new policy.
“I think because of the history of the Green Wall, the administration saw this (complaint by Serrano) and said, ‘Oh, we got them,’ and didn’t even bother to do a thorough investigation,” Bennett said. “There was a political feeling that ‘We don’t need to investigate this. What we need to do is get on it, and it will prove itself.’
“Our job was to show they (had) to do more than that,” he said.
The Personnel Board’s ruling rejected a proposed ruling by an administrative law judge, who listened to testimony from 39 witnesses during a hearing that lasted 29 days over a span of three years, ending in 2008.
That proposed ruling found that Serrano was attacked, and the officers covered up their actions, but concluded their discipline should be one- to two-year suspensions, not termination.
In its 12-page ruling, the board said there was insufficient evidence to support that finding. It noted that Serrano gave conflicting statements about what happened and didn’t report the alleged incident for a month, so there was no physical evidence.
Jaramillo, the board said, gave a different account of what happened and had “questionable” motives. She did not report witnessing the event until three months after it allegedly happened, and only then after she was told that two unrelated complaints she’d filed against Benefield had been denied. If her account of the attack was true, the board reasoned, she would have used it to strengthen her claims against Benefield. The ruling also noted that Jaramillo may have been seeking favor in her request for a transfer to a San Diego prison, which she has now received.
In addition, the board concluded, numerous employees and inmates who reportedly witnessed or were told about the event denied any knowledge. Incident logs from the time recorded nothing unusual and the accused officers took the stand under oath and swore the assault never happened.
“The board supports the CDCR’s effort to eliminate the ‘Code of Silence’ from California’s prison system. The board has sustained discipline in many such cases in the past,” the ruling concludes. “However, in this case, the CDCR failed to prove beyond a preponderance of the evidence that the cage extraction occurred as alleged.”
Vodicka predicted the department will appeal the decision, if for no other reason than the high cost of back pay for the officers. Edward Caden, the former warden of Salinas Valley State Prison who initiated the investigation and who later testified regarding the Green Wall, was appalled at the board’s decision. He said the case was mismanaged by the CDCR, which assigned at least three different attorneys to handle the case during its pendency. Caden said he and the FBI also tried to get the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute the case, to no avail.
“This is just an absolute travesty. This sends a clear message” to both honest and dishonest correctional officers, said Caden, now a Sacramento-area attorney. “If you commit a crime under the color of authority and stick together and keep your mouths shut, no one can do anything.”
Whistleblower recounts origins of ‘Green Wall’ at Salinas Valley State Prison
Herald Salinas Bureau
On Thanksgiving Day 1998, prisoners at Salinas Valley State Prison rioted, injuring 18 correctional officers, 14 of whom were hospitalized. It marked the birth of the Green Wall.Guards who survived the riot began wearing enameled turkey pins to mark their solidarity. They named themselves after the color of their uniforms and began using the ganglike tag “7/23,” for the seventh and 23rd letters of the alphabet, G and W. They attacked inmates and planted evidence on them. And they avoided discipline and prosecution by enforcing their “code of silence.”
Eleven years after the Thanksgiving Day Riot, D.J. Vodicka, the former guard who blew the whistle on the gang of rogue officers, has published a book about the experience that left him in hiding.
“The Green Wall: A Prison Guard’s Struggle to Expose the Code of Silence in the Largest Prison System in the United States” is a self-published tome that tracks Vodicka’s life, from his 1988 dream-fulfilling graduation from the correctional officer’s academy in Gault through some of California’s most dangerous prisons. His career ended in 2002 when he was forced to leave the system in fear for his life after exposing the Green Wall.
The book begins with Vodicka walking in to testify before a state Senate committee investigating California’s prisons in 2004. It then flashes back with pride to his work on the force that opened Corcoran State Prison, the state’s first Segregated Housing Unit designed to house the “worst of
A veteran by the time he reached Salinas Valley, Vodicka became the lead officer in the Investigative Services Unit, the team responsible for investigating crimes committed in the prison. As such, it was his responsibility to photograph the scene once the Thanksgiving Day Riot was quelled.
In his book, Vodicka says he snapped photos of makeshift weapons found beneath prone inmates as well as injuries to their faces, documentation that did not sit well with his fellow guards. He was marked as someone not to be trusted and was thus unaware as the Green Wall grew in membership.
In March 2001, Vodicka was videotaping three “cell extractions” — guards removing uncooperative inmates from their housing. Each officer had to identify himself and his role in the extraction. Vodicka writes that the videotape captured one of the guards flashing a W with three fingers. Kept underground since 1998, the Green Wall had surfaced.
The book goes on to detail the investigation of the group — or lack thereof under warden Anthony Lamarque — and actions by prison management that exposed Vodicka as a whistleblower.
According to a forward in the book by retired warden Edward Caden, who succeeded Lamarque at the prison, the Office of Internal Affairs investigated the Green Wall and concluded it didn’t exist. And when the Independent Office of the Inspector General concluded the gang was real and some of its members were criminals, the prison warden ignored the report.
Meanwhile, Vodicka was targeted as a snitch. The book details threats on his life, including one in front of his 8-year-old son, and occasions when fellow officers set him up for inmate attacks. He quit the job, filed a lawsuit and began to wear a bulletproof vest.
Eventually Vodicka, his attorney Lanny Tron, and Caden ended up testifying before the Senate committee, which concluded the system was incapable of policing itself. Caden wrote a “corrective action plan” which adopted a “zero tolerance policy” against the code of silence.
The book concludes with transcripts of depositions by some of the prison’s highest-ranking authorities who were forced to testify to their complicity in covering up or ignoring the Green Wall as part of Vodicka’s lawsuit. The last of those depositions is by Lamarque, who went on sick leave after the Senate hearing and remained on leave until his retirement.
In deposition, he described the Green Wall as similar to a “college frat group,” and then fled when confronted during a break by a Herald reporter and photographer.
Judge Michael Fields ordered Deputy Attorney General Mary Cain-Simon to return Lamarque to complete his deposition, but she said the ex-warden had gone to France. Lamarque remained overseas until Vodicka settled the suit for $500,000 and a disability retirement. Vodicka said the state workers’ compensation insurance fund has refused to pay the disability settlement in a lump sum. To date, taxpayers have paid close to $350,000 in psychological and medical bills.
In his book, Vodicka also details the history and influences of the state’s prison gangs and provides interesting insight into how the “war on crime” built a prison system so overcrowded that corrections officials have abandoned any pretense of rehabilitation. Guards, he says, are so overwhelmed they are forced to separate races and factions and let the gangs rule themselves.
“The Green Wall” comes at a time when the state is appealing a federal court order to reduce its prison population due to unconstitutional overcrowding. U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson, who placed California’s prisons into federal receivership, wrote a letter to Vodicka at the conclusion of his civil case. It is included in the book.
“The court’s remedial plans would not have been possible if it were not for correctional employees, like yourself, who have the courage to stand up against the Code of Silence,” Henderson wrote. “I want to emphasize to you personally that I have the utmost respect for the position that you took, and sympathy concerning the many adverse consequences that resulted.”
Vodicka, who has left the state, said publication of the book provided him closure. His only regret is that his parents did not live to see it in print. His father died in 2005; his mother six months later, in 2006. The book is dedicated to them.
Source: Monterey Herald