Inmate pleads guilty to participating in 2012 prison riot

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, February 27, 2013

NATCHEZ — A former Adams County Correctional Center inmate recanted his earlier claim of innocence and pleaded “guilty” to the charge that he participated in the deadly May 2012 prison riot.

Yoany Oriel Serrano-Bejarano had pleaded “not guilty” to the charge of mutiny and riot in October, but speaking through a translator in U.S. District Court in Natchez Tuesday, he entered a change of plea acknowledging his role in the seven-hour riot.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Lemon said prosecutors had reached a plea agreement with the defendant, but that it would be sealed with the court, and his recommendation to Judge David Bramlette was to sentence Serrano-Bejarano in line with the agreement.

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Bramlette said such agreements are not binding and are to be considered only as guidelines. The judge said a pre-sentencing investigation would be completed before Serrano-Bejarano was sentenced, and he ordered the defendant to cooperate with the federal probation officer during the investigation.

While previous documents filed with the court identified Serrano-Bejarano as having stacked food service carts to access prison rooftops — and the guards who had taken refuge there — during the mutiny, Lemon said what the prosecution was prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt was that the defendant had participated in the riot, caused damage to the facility and stolen food items.

“The defendant was interviewed by members of the FBI and stated that he stole food items during the riot,” Lemon said. “A review of the prison’s video system shows the defendant using an object which appears to be a stick and attempting to break into a dry food unit, and later carrying food away from that unit.”

Officers from the prison were also going to testify they saw Serrano-Bejarano attacking fences within the prison and trying to conceal his face to avoid identification, Lemon said.

Serrano-Bejarano will be sentenced at 10:30 a.m. June 4.

The May 20, 2012, riot started after prison officials attempted to contain a mass disobedience by a large group of prisoners who were protesting what they perceived to be inadequate food and medical services and disrespectful guards.

During the prisoner uprising, one guard — Catlin Carithers, 24 — received blunt force trauma to his head that later claimed his life. Carithers was on the roof of one of the prison’s buildings, deploying tear gas canisters, when he was assaulted. According to court filings, a prisoner — Marco Perez-Serrano, who was indicted last week on charges of mutiny and riot —initiated the assault on Carithers by striking him with a food tray.

Dozens of other guards and prisoners were injured during the riot. Several former prison employees who were at the prison during the incident were in attendance at Serrano-Bejarano’s hearing Tuesday, but declined to comment.

The Adams County Correctional Center is a federal immigration prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America. It is located near Natchez.