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.
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.