SACRAMENTO — The attorneys of state prison officials being sued over a 2018 cellmate stabbing death have presented a new argument: their clients didn’t check the victim’s enemy history, so they didn’t know it was a mistake to place him with an Aryan Brotherhood associate who attacked him just minutes after the cell doors closed.
Lawyers for three officers at High Desert State Prison also argued that the officers are legally protected for any protocol violations behind the decision to place 28-year-old Rodney DeLong in a cell with Robert Stockton, 42, a validated associate of the Aryan Brotherhood. DeLong, who the suit alleges was listed as an enemy of the prison gang, was killed within a half hour.
“It was not clearly established that a prison employee violates an inmate’s constitutional rights by placing an inmate in a cell with another inmate without following the prison’s usual protocol when the employee is unaware of any specific danger from the cell move,” lawyers with the state Attorney General’s office wrote in court records.
U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley will likely issue a written order on the motion in the coming weeks.
In January, DeLong’s family filed a federal lawsuit against officers identified as “J. Carrillo, F. Cea, and S. Valverde,” alleging that when Stockton and DeLong were housed together, the prison’s internal database — known as Strategic Offender Management System or SOMS — identified DeLong as an enemy of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Stockton had already demonstrated his willingness to kill for the white power prison gang, which is also known as The Brand and the AB, the suit says.
Attorneys for the three officers wrote that the DeLong family’s second amended civil complaint alleges that it wasn’t until after the cell change that the officers realized it hadn’t been processed through SOMS, “at which point they attempted to correct the error.”
“Defendants could not, therefore, have known of and disregarded the threat to Decedent, because they were not aware the threat existed,” the motion says.
But Eugene Chittock, the DeLong family attorney, wrote in a response that the defense was trying to “rewrite the facts to suit their needs.”
“Contrary to defendants’ suggestion … plaintiffs allege that each defendant had knowledge of Stockton’s violent propensities, the fact that he was a member/associate of the AB, and that he had carried out hits for the AB in the past,” Chittock wrote. “The (second amended complaint) also alleges that defendants knew DeLong was an enemy of the AB, and that Stockton posed a particularized threat to DeLong.”
Less than two years earlier, at the same prison, Stockton stabbed to death 53-year-old Doug Maynard over a drug debt to the gang, allegedly at the order of Aryan Brotherhood member Jason Corbett.
Near-identical lawsuit dismissed over oddity
In 2017, the daughter of Hugo “Yogi” Pinell filed a suit against the state of California alleging that prison officials had placed Pinell in harm’s way, leading to him being stabbed to death by Aryan Brotherhood members in 2015.
Pinell was one of the most famous people to be imprisoned in California. In 1971, he and five others were implicated in the “San Quentin Six” escape attempt, which left three guards and three inmates dead, including George Jackson, the activist, author, and co-founder of the Black Guerrilla Family.
Pinell’s status as a target for violence was no secret.
The Aryan Brotherhood had been making attempts on his life as early as 1981, when Richard “Mickey Mouse” Miles, an Aryan Brotherhood associate, was caught with a wooden, double barreled pistol that was smuggled into Folsom State Prison. Miles was said to be looking to shoot Pinell, who was in trouble with the Black Guerrilla Family, to improve relations between both gangs. Pinell later survived a homemade bomb being thrown at him as well as two stabbings.
After spending 43 years in solitary confinement, “much of it at his own request,” Pinell was put into a general population yard at New Folsom, the suit said. Five days later, Aryan Brotherhood members Jayson Weaver and Waylon Pitchford stabbed him to death on the prison yard, leading to an hours-long riot that injured 29.
Aryan Brotherhood commissioner Ronald Dean Yandell was later heard talking on a contraband prison phone bragging about the murder and using racial slurs to refer to Pinell. Federal authorities were wiretapping the phone and recorded the calls, according to a complaint charging more than 20 AB members and associates, including Yandell and Corbett.
The suit alleged that prison officials “knew that (Pinell) was a target for assassination by multiple groups of prisoners and that there was substantial risk he would be killed” if placed in general population, but did so anyway. But in a twist, the suit was dismissed when a DNA test showed the plaintiff was not Pinell’s biological daughter and therefore had no legal claim to sue on his behalf, court records show.
In the parole hearing last year, Stockton acknowledged being listed as an Aryan Brotherhood affiliate but said it was “in name only.” He grew up in Richmond, but moved to Southern California, where he was arrested and charged with murder at 16, and tried as an adult.
He denied personally killing Corning resident Todd Bates in 1995, though he admitted to taking a “broken shotgun” to confront Bates. The day of the killing, Stockton and another man, Jeremy “Mojo” Buddin, were angry that Bates, 20, had “worn a wire” to get a local drug dealer busted, and disrespected a girlfriend who was friends with Stockton.
“I thought Todd was a real bad guy,” he said, according to the transcript.
When they found Bates, Stockton said he realized Buddin intended to shoot Bates so he ran away and didn’t see what happened next. He heard gunshots, he said.
“Once it got real, I left,” he said.
Bates’ family spoke at the hearing. His father said the murder “destroyed my family” and that some members haven’t been the same since.
“We’re a very empathetic family and I can see where a lot of the things he’s done are very commendable. The drug rehab, all that stuff. But what does concern me is the pending charges,” Bates’ father said, referring to the murder counts. “I don’t want another family to have to go what we went through.”