United for No Injustice, Oppression or Neglect
Bullet hits bus near shooting range
A San Quentin State Prison shooting range was closed after a bullet shattered a bus window a mile away -- the second time stray ammunition believed to be from the range has rained down on civilians within a year.
The bullet struck the driver's-side windshield of a parked Golden Gate Transit bus at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. The bus was in a lot at the agency's main facility on Andersen Drive in San Rafael.
San Rafael police spokeswoman Margo Rohrbacher said no one was hurt because the driver was in the back of the bus at the time. She said the bullet was found on the ground in front of the windshield.
The bus yard is over a hill and about a mile way from two shooting ranges adjacent to San Quentin, off of East Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, just east of Larkspur.
Nobody on Friday could say exactly how the accident happened, but one prison investigator said that if the bullet did come from the shooting range, it was truly a "poorly aimed" shot.
About 50 law enforcement agencies regularly use the ranges for target practice.
"Based on the proximity of the yard to the range, we believe it is a reasonable assumption that that's where the bullet came from," Rohrbacher said.
She said the bullet will be tested at the California Department of Justice ballistics laboratory to definitively determine that it came from a weapon fired at the range.
Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections, said officers from the Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Highway Patrol were using the range at the time.
"Because we had an incident like this in March of last year, we decided to close down the range until the investigation into where that round came from is completed," he said.
On March 11, an errant bullet from the range ricocheted and then grazed the elbow and head of an employee of the Lucasfilm subsidiary Industrial Light & Magic as he stood in the company parking lot on Kerner Boulevard -- also about a mile away. At least a ddozen more bullets were found nearby.
Heimerich said the errant rounds originated with U.S. Park Police officers who were practicing a course requiring them to roll over on their backs to shoot.
"If you squeeze off too early the round is going to go too high, which is what happened," Heimerich said, explaining how it was possible for officers to be so far off-target that their bullets would go over the hill that serves as a backdrop.
Heimerich said officers are not allowed to practice in that manner at the ranges anymore. In addition, range masters are now required to monitor all lines of fire and keep track of discharged ammunition.
The round that struck the bus was probably fired by a DMV officer, investigators said, because it came from a pistol and the CHP officers were firing rifles Thursday.
Bill Branch, spokesman for the DMV, said the officers at the range were firing at stationary targets from standing or kneeling positions and there were no rolling exercises of any kind.
E-mail Peter Fimrite at email@example.com .
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
Former prison guards sentenced
6-year and 7-year terms for pair who set up assaults at Pelican Bay
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Two former guards at Pelican Bay State Prison were sentenced to federal prison Thursday for setting up assaults on inmates, mostly child molesters and other sex criminals.
In sentencing Michael Powers to seven years and Jose Ramon Garcia to more than six years, a federal judge in San Francisco said they had abused the prisoners they were sworn to protect.
The guards' "experience and information was used for bad, not good," said U. S. District Judge Martin Jenkins.
Defense lawyers said they would appeal the convictions. They persuaded Jenkins to reduce the sentences somewhat below the norm because the former guards would likely be at risk of attacks from other inmates. They remain free on bail.
Powers, 56, and Garcia, 48, were convicted last May of conspiring to violate the civil rights of prisoners who were beaten or stabbed by other inmates between July 1992 and August 1996. Powers was implicated in seven attacks and Garcia in six.
Prosecutors said the guards targeted convicted child molesters and rapists, as well as prisoners who would not cooperate with them. They offered other inmates alcohol and other privileges to attack them. The prosecution case depended heavily on testimony from prisoners, some of whom received sentence reductions for their cooperation.
Pelican Bay, in a remote corner of Del Norte County, houses some of the state's most violent prisoners. In 1995, a federal judge found a pattern of brutality by guards and ordered changes in conditions and operations at the prison.
In a 1998 trial in Del Norte County, Garcia was convicted of conspiracy to assault Pelican Bay inmates and was sentenced to more than four years in state prison. After he was paroled, with time off for good behavior, a judge overturned his conviction on the grounds of incompetence by his trial lawyer, Robert Noel. Later, Noel and his wife, attorney Marjorie Knoller, were convicted of manslaughter in the dog-mauling death of a San Francisco woman.
Garcia's current lawyer, Matthew Pavone, argued Thursday that his federal sentence should be shortened considerably because he already served time for "essentially the same conduct" and is now undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.
Jenkins agreed that those circumstances justified some leniency but said Garcia's federal conviction involved more assaults than the Del Norte case.
E-mail Bob Egelko at firstname.lastname@example.org .
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle
Former Pelican Bay guards convicted
Two former guards at Pelican Bay State Prison were convicted by a federal court jury Wednesday of conspiring to arrange beatings and stabbings of inmates.
Michael Powers, 56, and Jose Garcia, 46, were found guilty of a conspiracy to violate the civil rights of as many as eight prisoners between July 1992 and August 1996. One of the inmates, Watson White, was stabbed to death in August 1992 by a prisoner allegedly solicited by Powers, according to the indictment.
The conviction carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Defense lawyers plan to appeal.
Garcia, who has already served a state prison term on related charges, was acquitted Wednesday of a separate charge of assaulting two inmates by shooting rubber bullets at them.
Prosecutors said the guards targeted convicted child molesters and rapists, as well as prisoners who would not cooperate with them, and offered other inmates alcohol and other privileges to attack them.
The prosecution case depended heavily on testimony from inmates about the guards' alleged involvement. Defense lawyers attacked their credibility and noted that some were getting breaks in their sentences.
"Evidently the jury decided to accept the word of the inmates," Powers' attorney, Wayne Ordos, said after the verdict. He said he was surprised by the convictions because "I felt that we had a resounding defense."
Pelican Bay, in a remote corner of Del Norte County, houses some of the state's most violent prisoners. The conduct of its guards has come under court scrutiny in several cases.
One guard, David Gene Lewis, was convicted in federal court in 2000 of violating the civil rights of a prisoner by shooting and wounding him in the mistaken belief that he was a child molester.
Earlier, in a class-action suit by Pelican Bay inmates, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson found a pattern of brutality by guards and ordered changes in conditions and operations at the prison.
Garcia was convicted of conspiracy to assault Pelican Bay inmates in Del Norte County in 1998 and was sentenced to 4 years and 8 months in prison, a term he has completed, with time off for good behavior.
His attorney in that case was Robert Noel, now awaiting sentencing on a manslaughter conviction for a fatal San Francisco dog mauling last year; Noel's wife, Marjorie Knoller, was convicted of second-degree murder.
Garcia's current attorneys argued that Noel had represented the guard incompetently by failing to object to evidence of statements Garcia made to state investigators during a disciplinary probe. U.S. District Judge Martin Jenkins agreed and excluded some of the statements from the federal trial, but he refused to dismiss the case.
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©2002 San Francisco Chronicle
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