SAYRE — An October riot at a private prison in Sayre that left dozens of inmates injured has yielded a 2,700-page report and could lead to several new felony cases being filed in Beckham County.
Mike Machak, a spokesman for the private North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre, said 19 inmates involved in the Oct. 11 riot could face “attempted murder” charges, although such a crime doesn't exist in Oklahoma.
The riot, which is still somewhat shrouded in mystery, left 46 prisoners injured.
Sixteen of those were injured badly enough to be taken to local hospitals. Three prisoners were in critical condition, prison officials said shortly after the melee.
Corrections Corporation of America, the company that runs North Fork, is based in Tennessee and has prisons sprinkled across the country.
In a prepared statement to The Oklahoman, Machak said that “violence between security threat groups is a challenge for every prison system,”
All of the prisoners housed at North Fork are from California, which began transferring inmates out of state in 2007 to ease overcrowding.
Dennis Smith, district attorney for Beckham County, said he has an experienced prosecutor analyzing the massive report submitted by the prison company but hesitated to confirm that 19 inmates would be charged with serious violent felonies related to the riot.
He said the prosecutor also has spent considerable time viewing video footage of the riot during the course of the lengthy investigation.
“First of all, we don't even have ‘attempted murder' in Oklahoma ... we have similar charges but not ‘attempted murder' like his statement says,” Smith said. “I believe that charges will be filed, but we have to go through each one and make sure they can be prosecuted.”
Smith, who is the district attorney for five counties in western Oklahoma, said his offices are short-staffed and he didn't know when charges would be filed.
“It's a lot of information to look at — 2,700 pages is a lot,” Smith said.
“My biggest murder case was something like 500 pages, if that tells you anything.”
In addition to California prisoners, Machak said inmates from Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Vermont have been housed at the prison over the past 12 years.
A lawsuit filed in federal court by a California inmate being housed at the North Fork Correctional Facility could shed some light on what happened during the October riot.
Melvin Fisher filed the lawsuit against the prison's warden, a guard and a California prison system administrator, court documents show.
According to the lawsuit, Fisher, who is black, is claiming that the warden of the prison didn't afford him adequate protection by allowing large groups of Sureno gang members to populate the prison.
The inmate claims these Hispanic gang members are “troublemakers” and outnumber blacks five to one at North Fork.
Fisher claims he broke his nose during the Oct. 11 riot when he and three other black inmates were attacked in a gym by dozens of Sureno gang
Fisher said the guard named in the lawsuit held the door leading out of the gym closed with her foot, causing him to run into it and break his nose.
“We started yelling through the door for her to let us out,” Fisher wrote in the lawsuit.
“Finally, she let the door go after the response team instructed her to do so and come to their safety net.”
A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation administrator also is named in the lawsuit because she allowed “Northern Mexicans” to be transferred out of North Fork and be replaced by Sureno gang members.
“They both knew that by increasing the numbers of Sureno Mexicans, (it) would give them power over other races of inmates,” Fisher wrote. “They both knew that it was an excessive risk of a riot happening.”