A recent lawsuit filed in federal court in California claims officials should have prevented the death of California inmate Hugo Pinell, who was killed just two weeks after being released into the general prison population last August. Pinell was revered by civil rights activists for his role in California’s prisoner rights movement of the 1960s.
Born in Nicaragua, Pinell was convicted of rape at age 19 and sentenced to life in prison in 1965. Pinell had been in solitary confinement since a violent escape attempt from San Quentin in 1971, which left six dead, including three prison guards and Black Panther activist and inmate George Jackson. Pinell was deemed one of the “San Quentin Six” for slitting the throats of several guards during the botched attempt. After what was at the time the longest trial in California history, Pinell was given a third life sentence for his involvement in the incident.
The lawsuit alleges that prison officials should have known that the 71-year-old inmate would be targeted when released into the general prison population at the maximum security prison near Sacramento. Filed by Pinell’s daughter, Allegra Casimir-Taylor, the case alleges wrongful death and seeks unspecified damages. Pinell was stabbed 19 times.
Pinell’s decades in solitary confinement were allegedly for his protection following repeated attacks in the 1980s. One inmate stabbed him twice in the back, and another assaulted him with a makeshift bomb. The former was a member of Pinell’s own suspected prison gang.
In 1987, Pinell refused to leave his cell because he wanted to avoid attacks. The lawsuit alleges that the California Department of Corrections’ (DOC) own files indicated that Pinell should not be integrated into the general prison population because he might be attacked or killed.
Facing pressure from prison reform groups and the implementation of new policies limiting the use of solitary confinement, the California DOC began clearing out Pelican Bay last year. Pinell was isolated in Pelican Bay, which is designed to house California’s most serious criminal offenders, for 45 years–longer than any other inmate. He was released into the general population in the summer of 2015.
The lawsuit claims that corrections officials bet on how long Pinell would survive in the general population. He was killed after just 14 days.
Allegedly, corrections officers knew of numerous death threats against Pinell, such as one by the Aryan Brotherhood. The white supremacist faction purportedly wanted to kill Pinell for his alleged involvement in the Black Guerilla Family prison gang, which Pinell has denied. Two of Pinell’s alleged attackers were white inmates with documented histories of racially motivated attacks.
A spokeswoman with California DOC has declined to comment on the lawsuit. She said she could not speak to allegations of intra-guard betting and further couldn’t comment on Pinell’s file because inmate paperwork is confidential.
Pinell’s killers have been charged with murder; a hearing is scheduled for October 28. The stabbing set off a 75-inmate riot that resulted in the hospitalization of 10 prisoners. One inmate remains in serious condition.
The wrongful death lawyers at the Neumann Law Group represent victims of accidents throughout the Los Angeles area. Call us at (213) 227-0001 for a free consultation.
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