State Sued Over Murder of ‘San Quentin 6’ Inmate

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Revered by civil rights activists for his role in California’s 1960s prisoner-rights movement and one of the “San Quentin Six,” Hugo Pinell was “assassinated” days after being released into general population in 2015 after 43 years in solitary confinement. Pinell’s murder sparked a massive inmate riot at a California prison and left his family questioning why the 71-year-old inmate who was serving multiple life sentences was ever allowed on the prison yard.
     Claiming a set-up by California prison officials, Pinell’s daughter sued the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Federal Court on claims of wrongful death and negligent supervision on Friday.
     Born in Nicaragua, Hugo “Yogi” Pinell was convicted of rape at the age of 19 and sentenced to life in 1965. He soon gained notoriety for his role in a botched 1971 San Quentin Prison escape that left six people dead, including three prison employees and Black Panther Party activist and inmate George Jackson.
     In what was at the time the longest trial in California history with more than 23,000 pages of testimony, a Marin County jury convicted Pinell of two counts of felony assault by a prisoner serving a life sentence. The jury deliberated for 24 days and returned six of the 46 charges against the San Quentin Six. Pinell was given a third life sentence for slitting two officers’ throats during the failed prison escape.
     Pinell languished in solitary confinement for decades before he was released into the general population at California State Prison-Sacramento in August 2015. According to the complaint, the former Black Panther Party member was killed by two white inmates in a supposedly racially motivated attack 50 years after first being incarcerated.
     “Just five days before he was killed, he was released into general population despite the fact that [prison officials] knew that he was targeted by other inmates,” Allegra Casimir-Taylor says in her complaint, filed on behalf of herself and Pinell’s estate. “They were aware of multiple credible death threats against Pinell including a threat issued by the Aryan Brotherhood.”
     Pinell’s fatal stabbing incited a prison riot at the 2,300-inmate maximum-security prison outside of Sacramento. About 70 inmates were involved with 29 sustaining injuries, according to prison officials.
     Jayson Weaver and Waylon Pitchford are awaiting trial for Pinell’s murder, with an Oct. 28 hearing scheduled at Sacramento County Superior Court. Weaver was previously convicted of assaulting another inmate, while Pitchford is facing charges for another inmate assault, according to the complaint.
     Casimir-Taylor says the department of corrections knew Pinell was a target for assassination and risked his life by placing the elderly inmate into general population. She’s suing the state for punitive and exemplary damages for failing to protect Pinell.
     “Reportedly [prison officials] placed bets on how long Pinell would survive being in general population,” the nine-page complaint states.
     Casimir-Taylor’s attorney Ashley Amerio did not return an interview request Tuesday. CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton declined to comment on the litigation, saying the department hasn’t been served with the federal lawsuit.
     After Pinell was transferred in 2014 to the maximum-security facility adjacent to the notorious Folsom prison that Johnny Cash famously played for inmates in 1968,Casimir-Taylor says she visited him every weekend. Pinell was an important figure in his daughter’s life and during the visits encouraged her to “renew her vigor” in performing charitable work.
     In an article published in the San Francisco Bay View, an inmate claiming to be one of the last people to see Pinell alive says the murder was coordinated by the department of corrections.
     “About the time I did reach Yogi, it was too late. Dragging him away from his killers, Yogi’s eyes were wide open as he took his last breath. His eyes seem to say it all: ‘I’ve done my part, young brotha. The rest is on you,” Devon Bush wrote on January 30.

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