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Correctional officer killed in stabbing at Atwater prison

A federal correctional officer at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater is dead after being stabbed by inmates at the facility Friday, according to Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin.

Although details are still sketchy, Pazin said the officer, identified as Jose Rivera, 22, of Chowchilla, was transported to Mercy Medical Center Merced after the stabbing. The FBI is conducting the investigation into the attack and Pazin said his office will conduct the autopsy.

Rivera was taken to the hospital at 3:30 p.m. and was pronounced dead at 4:15 p.m., Pazin said.

Pazin said Rivera's death underscores the dangers that correctional officers face every day.

"Our hearts go out to our fellow officers at the federal prison," Pazin said. "Any time you lose an officer, it's always traumatic."

A statement from the prison said Rivera was assaulted by two inmates with "homemade weapons" in a housing unit. The inmates were restrained by staff and placed into administrative detention, the statement said.

Jesse Gonzalez, a spokesman for the prison, declined further comment. The inmates have not been publicly identified.

Rivera's death is not the first violent incident to happen at the prison.

In November, a correctional officer at the prison was held hostage in a housing unit for nearly two hours by two inmates. He was later released unharmed. Bureau of Prisons hostage negotiators worked to quickly resolve the situation.

There have also been tensions at the prison between officers and inmates.

A former corrections lieutenant who worked the prison was indicted in May by a federal grand jury for allegedly beating an inmate with a flashlight.

Eric McEachern, 33, was indicted on charges of violating the civil rights of an inmate, obstruction of justice and falsifying records in a federal investigation, according to Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

According to a complaint filed earlier this year, McEachern and two other lieutenants assaulted inmate Maximiliano Monclova-Chavez, 41, on April 7, 2007, while he was lying on the floor, fully restrained in handcuffs and leg shackles.

McEachern is also accused of falsely telling a superior in a memo that Monclova-Chavez slammed his own head into a wall. If convicted, McEachern faces a maximum of 30 years behind bars.

Monclova-Chavez also filed a civil suit because of the alleged assault, Horwood said.

Since opening in 2001, the prison has previously had problems with staffing.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or