Cause of Riot Revealed | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Cause of Riot Revealed

A federal affidavit sheds light on what caused a deadly riot at a privately run federal prison in Natchez.

A federal affidavit sheds light on what caused a deadly riot at a privately run federal prison in Natchez. Photo by Adams County Correctional Facility

Little made sense in the hours after a riot erupted at a privately run federal prison in Natchez on May 20. That afternoon, around 3 p.m., a group of inmates seized control of the Adams County Correctional Center, killed one corrections officer and held a number of other guards hostage.

Some answers came last week in the form of an FBI agent's investigative affidavit that is part of a criminal complaint against former inmate Juan Lopez-Fuentes, the alleged leader of a group of inmates known as paisas, or "countrymen," who took guards hostage.

Casey Markovitiz, an agent with the Jackson field office, filed the report. "Many within the inmate population became disgruntled with what the inmates perceived to be inadequate or substandard food, medical conditions and disrespectful staff members" at the ACCC, run by the Corrections Corporation of American, the nation's largest prison contractor.

Markovitz reported that a large influential group known as paisas orchestrated the riot. On that day, the paisas planned to take its list of grievances to Warden Lance Laughlin. The paisas' leaders instructed fellow members to disobey staff commands and remain outside their cells until Laughlin met their demands. Markovitz's affidavit indicates that the inmates planned to destroy the prison and assault corrections officers who got in their way, and even compiled a list of guards they wanted fired.

Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance, bristled at the report's implication that paisas—a generic Spanish term for countrymen—are an organized group similar to a gang. Chandler said that relatives of inmates sent MIRA letters complaining of mistreatment, poor medical care and rotten food.

"They had complained and complained to no avail," Chandler said. Those complaints came to a head at about 1:30 p.m. on May 20 when roughly 200 of the inmates demanded to speak to Laughlin. Cos barked at inmates through the public-address system to go back to their cells, and some guards began assembling on housing unit rooftops. When prisoners refused to obey and started tearing things up, gate guards stationed on the roofs of the housing units threw tear-gas canisters onto the crowd; some inmates tossed some of the canisters back.

Over the course of the next four hours, inmates climbed to the roofs, assaulted several Cos and looted the commissary.

Prisoners stacked food carts to gain access to the top of the building where Carithers and a female guard were stationed. There, the inmates assaulted the female guard and beat Carithers to death.

Gail Tyree, a prisoner-rights organizer with North Carolina-based Grassroots Leadership, wants to know if the guards—whom inmates accuse of abuse—will face criminal penalties. If they don't, she said it's evidence that prisoners no value. "There are people who go to prison for abusing animals," Tyree said.

Comment and email reporter R.L. Nave at rlnave@jacksonfreepress.com.

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