FRESNO -- A federal court jury Monday cleared a former Atwater prison guard of beating an inmate with a flashlight in retribution for throwing urine and feces into a fellow guard's face.
Authorities claimed Eric McEachern, 35, hit Maximilian Monclova-Chavez twice in the head while he was shackled in an isolation cell at Atwater's federal penitentiary.
They charged him with violating Monclova-Chavez's civil rights and for filing a false report in an attempt to cover up the April 2007 incident. But jurors took just 3½ hours to clear McEachern.
He breathed a sigh of relief as the verdict was read and patted his attorney, E. Marshall Hodgkins, on the back. He had faced the possibility of 30 years in federal prison.
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McEachern declined to comment.
Hodgkins built his defense not only on reasonable doubt, but also on a much more serious allegation -- that federal investigators pressured McEachern's fellow guards into changing their story and implicating their colleague.
The incident -- which happened in Atwater's Special Housing Unit, where inmates in protective custody are held -- began when Matt Tincher, an Atwater guard, opened a small cell-door slot to give Monclova-Chavez and his cellmate their lunches. That's when the inmate threw feces and urine into Tincher's face.
A specialized team of prison guards later moved Monclova-Chavez to an isolation cell. About 4 p.m., prosecutors said, McEachern, along with fellow lieutenants Timothy Miller and Kenneth White, visited Monclova-Chavez.
In the cell, Miller and White sat on a bench on each side of the shackled Monclova-Chavez, where they verbally assaulted and intimidated him. Then, prosecutors said, McEachern entered the cell and hit Monclova-Chavez twice over the head with the flashlight.