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Two years after Oklahoma riot, inmates file suit against private prison company

Two years after a violent riot sent dozens of California inmates to hospitals all over western Oklahoma, a group of prisoners who lived through the melee are suing the private prison company that housed them.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: October 12, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: October 12, 2013

Two years after a riot sent dozens of California inmates to hospitals all over western Oklahoma, a group of prisoners who lived through the melee is suing the private prison company that owns the sprawling facility.

The inmates, who are black men, claim they were put in harm's way when the former warden allowed them to mix with large groups of Hispanic gang members at North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre.

The suit alleges that poorly trained prison guards and reckless understaffing are to blame for the “severe and permanent physical and mental injuries” suffered by the four inmates, who are identified in court records as Michael Bolton, Jamar Henry, Kevin Hicks and Jabaar Walton.

The men were serving time at the private prison in far western Oklahoma on Oct. 11, 2011, when a massive riot erupted.

Court records show the riot started at 11:37 a.m. after a “one-on-one fight” in the facility's main dining hall.

“Thereafter, fighting spread to the West Yard, Gym A, Bravo North, the expansion dining hall and the Hotel Alpha housing unit,” an attorney for the inmates wrote in the petition, “with Hispanics associated with the Surenos prison gang systematically attacking and beating African-American inmates, including plaintiffs.”

The inmates' attorney specifically blamed Corrections Corporation of America, the owner of North Fork, and Fred Figueroa, the prison's former warden.

The prison company has declined to comment.

“Defendants ... were aware that by concentrating a large number of Hispanics associated with the Surenos prison gang at North Fork, they were putting plaintiffs, African-American inmates, at a significant risk of harm,” the attorney wrote.

The attorney also wrote that understaffing at the prison prevented guards from offering much in the way of assistance.

“Often, they merely watched the attacks from outside the area until the attacks stopped on their own or ... were able to gather enough manpower to try and intervene,” the attorney wrote in the suit.

Reports from the private prison company at the time indicated that nearly 50 inmates were injured. Sixteen required hospitalization at nearby medical centers.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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