U.S. Attorney announces crackdown on Aryan Brotherhood in CA prisons
This is how federal prosecutors say Jason Corbett killed fellow inmate Donald Pequeen in the D yard at High Desert State Prison in Susanville on July 20, 2018:
First, fellow inmate Pat Brady struck up a conversation with Pequeen, distracting him while Corbett slipped up behind him, pulled out a handmade weapon and began stabbing Pequeen in the back, prosecutors say.
Pequeen tried to run, but prosecutors say Corbett and Brady chased him down and, with two other inmates helping to stop him, continued stabbing him in the head, neck and torso before dropping their weapons and walking away as prison guards closed in.
One of the knives had Nazi “SS” lightning bolts etched into the handle, prosecutors say, a sign that the Aryan Brotherhood wanted others to know who had ordered the killing “to demonstrate its strength within the prison system.”
On Monday, the 47-year-old Corbett appeared in a federal courtroom in Sacramento as part of a massive racketeering case charging 16 California inmates with conspiracy to order and commit murders, sell drugs and smuggle cell phones into the state’s prisons for the benefit of the Aryan Brotherhood.
On this day, Corbett, who stands 6-feet, 1-inch tall, weighs 226 pounds and sports colorful tattoos covering his bald head, chin and neck, was there to get his shoes back.
Now residing in isolation on the eighth floor of the Sacramento County Main Jail across Sixth Street from the federal courthouse, Corbett was fully shackled Monday and wearing bright-orange rubber slippers resembling Crocs that his lawyer says are causing him problems.
“Mr. Corbett has purchased tennis shoes through the California prison system for the last 22 years because of serious, permanent foot problems,” Kresta Daly wrote in court papers asking a judge to order the return of his prison tennis shoes.
“As a younger man, Jason Corbett was an avid motorcycle rider,” Daly wrote. “Throughout the years he was involved in several serious motorcycle accidents.
“For example, in one accident he suffered a severe concussion as well as broke his feet so grievously that the bones of his feet came through his leather motorcycle boots. His bones were cut off to remove his boots.”
The result, Daly wrote, is that Corbett now has “numerous plates and screws in his feet” and is still in pain.
Prosecutors were not sympathetic.
“There is reason to view these claims with some skepticism in light of the damage that Corbett and a co-defendant were able to accomplish on the body of Donald Pequeen on July 20, 2018,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason Hitt, Ross Pearson and David Spencer wrote in opposition to Corbett’s request.
Corbett was already serving a life sentence for murder, and has now been accused of killing Pequeen and ordering a hit that killed an inmate at another prison. Prosecutors say that, given his background, the jail should decide how best to handle his security.
“Given Corbett’s recent history of carrying out extraordinary violence within a highly restrictive prison system, jail officials must be given maximum deference in this particular case to determine how best to accommodate each defendant’s medical needs without compromising vital security interests,” they wrote.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Claire asked the Marshals Service to talk to the jail about the issue, but declined to order the return of Corbett’s shoes, saying that was beyond her authority.
The shoe controversy may be solved long before the case is over. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Tess Deterding says health officials indicated he did not need his tennis shoes and that the issue could have been ironed out without a court hearing.
“We, being the Sheriff’s Office, do not have a problem with him having these shoes if it is deemed medically necessary,” Deterding wrote in an email. “There are numerous inmates at the Main Jail who have special shoes as recommended by a medical professional.”
In reality, the Crocs versus tennis shoes debate is a microcosm of problems attorneys for the defendants say they are having with the jail.
The need to keep such high-profile inmates – some of whom may face federal death penalty prosecutions – away from others at the county jail is severely restricting their access to lawyers, hot water, medication and other basic needs, defense lawyers say.
In a July 29 letter, defense lawyers for eight of the accused wrote to prosecutors and the Marshals Service complaining about conditions in the jail.
“This is going to be a long case, and the current living conditions for the defendants at the jail are not sustainable, and the conditions under which the attorneys will have to prepare for trial are unacceptable,” they wrote, adding that their clients “are locked up in dark, cramped, filthy cells for 23 1/2 hours or more per day.
“While held in isolation, defendants are deprived of human contact, programming, fresh air and sunlight,” the lawyers wrote.
The defendants have been given access to the smallest visiting booth to meet with their lawyers, one that has no pass-through slot and has room for only one stool, prohibiting investigators, paralegals and other experts from working alongside the primary attorney, they wrote.
The visiting booths also lack electrical outlets, which are needed to review 1,800 hours of wiretap audio evidence and other evidence provided electronically, and some deputies have been reading legal documents when they are handed over for an inmate’s signature, they claim.
The lawyers also complained their clients do not have reasonable access to phones to call their attorneys, that they are given only one set of clothes per week and “have to wear the same socks and underwear all week,” and that they are only allowed to flush their toilets once an hour.
Sheriff Scott Jones dismissed their complaints in a statement to The Bee on Tuesday.
“While I can certainly appreciate this group’s frustration that they do not get to enjoy all the freedoms they had in the California prison system – that same system, incidentally, where they were able to carry out the extraordinarily heinous crimes that they are now being charged with – they are treated and housed according to their charges and in-custody conduct,” Jones said. “Further, all are receiving what is required under state and federal law, and all have processes available to them to address any grievance, enjoy unfettered access to their attorneys, and acquire any medically necessary treatment.”
Daly says lawyers plan to file a new motion this week about conditions at the jail, and that the inmates had better access to attorneys in the state prisons, including Pelican Bay State Prison, where harsh conditions led to massive hunger strikes years ago that ultimately led to reforms.
“I think overall it’s just how the jail is run,” Daly said after court Monday. “I think they’re being especially harsh and unfair to this particular group.”