Crime

USP Atwater inmate killed, officials say. Second death this week at the prison.

The Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California. Pictured is the upstairs showing some of the typical general population unit exterior doors.
The Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California. Pictured is the upstairs showing some of the typical general population unit exterior doors. Merced Sun-Star file

A second inmate in U.S. Penitentiary Atwater has died this week after being found unresponsive in his cell, prison officials said Thursday.

Inmate Juan Flores, 28, was found about 8:30 p.m. Saturday in his cell before prison staff attempted life-saving measures, according to a news release from Thursday.

Officials said the incident will be investigated as an apparent homicide, and that the inmate may have been strangled.

Flores was taken to a local hospital for treatment of “life-threatening injuries” but died at the hospital, the release said.

Flores was serving a six-month sentence for a supervised release violation and arrived to the prison on May 14, according to officials. He was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The FBI has been notified and is investigating, according to the release. Flores’ next of kin have been notified. At no time was the public in danger, the release said.

A similar news release issued Monday afternoon provided few details in the death of Raul Ortega, described as a 25-year-old man serving an 18-year stretch in the federal prison for carjacking and firearm use.

Prison officials said Ortega was found by prison staff around 9:15 p.m. Sunday. Officials described him as unresponsive and said life-saving measures were taken but Ortega was pronounced dead around 10 p.m. by hospital staff.

Officials said the death is believed to be a suicide. Ortega had been in custody in Atwater since October of last year.

According to a 2014 news release from the FBI, Ortega was one of two men involved in a violent month-long crime spree in Bernalillo County, New Mexico.

Ortega pleaded guilty in 2014 in connection with at least two carjackings in January 2013. He also was described as a suspect in a home-invasion robbery on Jan. 13, 2013, in which he and co-defendant Robert Meeks forced their way into a home, beat the resident and tied him up before stealing credit and bank cards.

According to the FBI, Ortega and Meeks forced the homeowner to tell them the PIN number on the bank card and then stole the man’s car, threatening to kill him if “he screamed or called the police.”

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