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Federal prison lockdown triggered by inmate deaths expected to be short-lived

This is at least the fifth time since April 2020 the Bureau of Prisons has locked down its penitentiaries.

(CN) — Federal inmates are being confined to their cells Tuesday and visitations have been suspended after administrators imposed a nationwide lockdown in response to the deaths Monday of two prisoners after a brawl at a Texas penitentiary.

Several inmates started brawling around 11:30 a.m. Monday at USP Beaumont, a high-security prison that houses 1,372 male prisoners in far southeast Texas, the Bureau of Prisons said.

Four of them were transported to a local hospital and two, Andrew Pineda, 34, and Guillermo Riojas, 54, were pronounced dead.

The BOP said no staff or other inmates were injured and at no time was the public in danger. But in what it described as an abundance of caution to ensure “good order” at its 122 prisons, the agency placed them all on lockdown.

We anticipate this security measure will be short-lived,” the BOP’s Office of Public Affairs said Tuesday in an emailed statement.

The melee reportedly involved members of MS-13, a transnational gang formed by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles, whose reach spread to Central America as its members were deported to their home countries. MS-13 members are known for carrying out brutal killings with machetes of rival gangsters, witnesses and informants.

Riojas was serving a 38-year sentence, imposed in 1995, following his jury conviction in the Eastern District of California for carjacking and interfering with interstate commerce, according to the BOP. He had been incarcerated in USP Beaumont since May 2013.

Both Riojas and Pineda had histories of altercations behind bars.

Riojas was involved in stabbings at a federal prison in Pennsylvania in 1996, and at a Colorado federal penitentiary in 2007, the Associated Press reported.

Pineda received a 6.5-year sentence in the Central District of California after pleading guilty in October 2019 to a racketeering conspiracy as a member of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, court records show.

The Mexican Mafia had appointed Pineda a “shot-caller” while he was confined in a Los Angeles County jail in 2015, and on his orders two other inmates there were assaulted in August 2015 for interfering with the gang’s activities, according to Pineda’s plea agreement. He was transferred to USP Beaumont in February 2021.

This is at least the fifth time in the last two years the BOP has locked down its prisons. It did so in April 2020 in response to the pandemic as Covid-19 infections spread among prisoners and staff; in June 2020, out of fears the nationwide protests against police brutality precipitated by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops would cause unrest among prisoners; again after the incursion at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; and later that month ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

During BOP lockdowns, federal inmates are restricted to their cells for most of the day and visitations are canceled. But due to a spike in Covid-19 cases, prisoner visits from family and friends had already been suspended at almost all the agency’s prisons, according to the AP.

The Beaumont prison is said to be dealing with a staffing crisis that has endangered correctional officers and prisoners in recent years. In November 2007, two inmates there stabbed another prisoner to death after they shanked two officers and stole cell keys. In February 2008, two Beaumont inmates strangled another one to death in his cell.

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