Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2008
Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials are investigating a riot that broke out Tuesday involving hundreds of immigration detainees at a county-run facility in Lancaster, where guards had to use tear gas grenades to restore order, authorities said today.
The Sheriff’s Department contracts with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to house about 900 detainees awaiting deportation at the Mira Loma Detention Center, according to sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.
Sheriff’s and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel spent much of the night interviewing detainee witnesses, and some who instigated the riot may be prosecuted on criminal charges, authorities said.
ICE officials plan to send a review team to Mira Loma this week to conduct an in-depth inquiry.
Tuesday’s riot started as a morning fight between two detainees from rival gangs, then escalated by 1:30 p.m. into a “melee” in the detention center’s outdoor yard, Kice and Whitmore said.
Mira Loma guards routinely separate detainees based on gang affiliation, and that process will be evaluated as part of the sheriff’s investigation into the riot, Whitmore said. Gang leaders, or “shot callers,” inside the facility can be placed in isolation, in different cell blocks or moved to other facilities, he said.
Already, 50 detainees involved in Tuesday’s riot have been identified as gang members and bused to other federal facilities, he said this morning. Whitmore would not say what gangs those detainees were affiliated with or which gangs were involved in the riot.