Correctional officer assaulted at John Latorraca Correctional Center

A correctional officer suffered moderate injuries to his face Wednesday morning after being assaulted by two inmates at the John Latorraca Correctional Center, the Merced County Sheriff's Department reported.

The officer's name hasn't been released, according to Deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman.

The incident was reported around 4 a.m. after the officer, who is 45 years old, was delivering meals to a dorm. One of the inmates, Liborio Saille, 23, began arguing with the officer, saying he didn't leave enough food, MacKenzie said. The officer told him the count was right, referring to the number of trays with food for the inmates and began to leave. As the officer was closing the door, Saille allegedly spit at the officer.

The officer went back inside to remove Saille from the dorm, when he was punched in the head by a second inmate, Nick Ballez, 29.

MacKenzie said the officer let go of Saille and grabbed Ballez to remove him from the cell. Saille then allegedly pushed him against the wall. As the officer hit the wall, he began to fall to the ground, and Saille and Ballez began hitting him. A second correctional officer entered the dorm and broke up the fight. He ordered both inmates to the ground. Although Saille complied immediately, Ballez refused.

Ballez was struck once with a baton by the officer, forced to the ground and cuffed. The injured officer was taken to a local hospital and treated. MacKenzie said the officer suffered a bruised and swollen eye and a cut on his lip. He may also have a broken jaw and fractured cheek bone.

Ballez is at the jail on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, public intoxication, resisting arrest and traffic violations. Saille is in custody on suspicion of violating his probation. Saille was on probation for carrying a concealed weapon and sales of narcotics, MacKenzie said.

Both men will face charges of felony assault on a correctional officer.

MacKenzie said 17 inmates were inside the dorm when the attack happened. The jail is on lockdown.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.