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FBI report: Prison riot was gang-driven

NATCHEZ — Two different narratives about the Adams County Correctional Center prison riot in late May — that it was gang violence and that it was planned by disgruntled inmates — merged together as new details about the disturbance were revealed in court documents filed late last week.

The ACCC is a federal immigration prison, and in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, FBI Agent Casey Markovitz stated that a group of Mexican nationals known as Paisas controls the most power and influence within the ACCC inmate population. It was a day after a shake-up in the leadership of Paisas that the riot tore through the facility, causing an estimated $1,305,142 in damage.

The former gang leaders were ousted because members felt their interests were not being represented, the affidavit says, and were replaced by two inmates, Ernesto Granados and Juan Arredondo, on May 19.

The new gang leadership — along with a large group of inmates — planned to take a list of grievances to prison authorities May 20. The new gang leadership told Paisas to disobey correctional officials and stay outside their housing units until their grievances were addressed.

The grievances were with “what the inmates perceived to be inadequate or substandard food, medical conditions and disrespectful staff members at ACCC,” the affidavit said.

The alleged plan also included compiling a list of three correctional officers the inmates wanted ousted from the prison as part of their demands.

The riot — which lasted from approximately 2 to 9 p.m. and resulted in the death of 24-year-old correctional officer Catlin Carithers — began after correctional officers noticed something was wrong and began shutting down internal gates within the facility. According to the affidavit, members of Paisas were trying to escort their ousted leaders to a special housing unit to be segregated from the general population.

When some of the gates were closed, Arredondo and Granados and approximately 200 other members of Paisas approached one of the gates, demanding to speak with Warden Vance Laughlin.

After being ordered by correctional officers and over the prison’s public announcement system to return to their housing units, the affidavit states the inmates began kicking and tearing at the gates, and correctional officers began to deploy tear gas.

Inmates were able to tear through a fence and steal a 32-foot ladder, which they used to access a roof and attack two correctional officers, who were then taken hostage. Other inmates stacked food service carts to climb onto the roof of another building, where they found Carithers and another correctional officer, Deborah Temple. Both were attacked, with Carithers sustaining a blunt trauma to the head that ultimately claimed his life.

The inmates ultimately ransacked the prison kitchen, took guards hostage and used guard keys to access other parts of the prison. They also tried to free members of Pasias — and possibly attack enemies — who were being detained in the special housing unit, the affidavit states.

During the riot, one inmate, Juan Lopez-Fuentes, apparently demonstrated that he was in charge of the inmates, sometimes quieting them and other times telling a hostage correctional officer to relay demands to riot responders, the affidavit says.

The prison’s Special Operations Response Team, aided by the Mississippi Highway Patrol, was eventually able to take back control of the facility with the use of rubber bullets and tear gas.

The affidavit states that Lopez-Fuentes acknowledged to FBI investigators that he was part of the riot.

The affidavit ends with the note that Lopez-Fuentes was scheduled to be released from prison last Thursday and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to begin the deportation process. The affidavit was filed last Wednesday. Calls to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Jackson about the timing of the filing were not returned Monday.

An ACCC spokeswoman said late Monday afternoon she would try address questions submitted to her, but as of press time, a response to several submitted questions had not been received.

In July, Laughlin said prison officials believed that during the course of the riot, between 500 and 700 prison’s 2,550 inmates participated in the disturbance. A number of inmates were removed from the facility following the riot, but the prison was rebuilding its population, Laughin said.

Since then, the prison has modified how it will allow prisoners to move through the facility, and prison officials were able to identify structural weaknesses that allowed rioters to access areas they should not have gained, Laughlin said at the time.

The warden also said in July he could look anybody in the eye and say that inmates were not mistreated.

The independent American Correctional Association accredits ACCC, and in a 2010 audit, the facility scored a rating of 99.5 percent. ACA accreditation is conducted every three years.

ACCC is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America, which contracts with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to house the prisoners.

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