California

California to pay $1.9 million to settle lawsuit tied to prison ice-pick slaying

Prisoners from Sacramento County await processing after arriving at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy in this 2014 picture.
Prisoners from Sacramento County await processing after arriving at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy in this 2014 picture. AP

On Oct. 23, 2017, Rodrick Roman Castro, an inmate at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, was questioned about allegations a former cellmate of his had been involved in drug dealing.

The next day, the 34-year-old Castro was found dead in his cell, stabbed 92 times in the neck and torso with an ice pick.

Now, the state of California has agreed to pay $1.9 million to settle a federal wrongful death lawsuit that alleges prison officials left Castro unguarded in an unlocked cell despite knowing that he was surrounded by associates of his former cellmate.

“Correctional officers and corrections staff and supervisors ... knew that violence occurs when housing cooperating witnesses with suspects and members of different gangs together or housing inmates affiliated with rival gangs together,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed by Long Beach attorney Alexis Galindo on behalf of Castro’s family.

The suit, filed in federal court in Sacramento, alleges that when Castro was questioned about a drug-selling conspiracy involving a previous cellmate at Salinas Valley State Prison, officials allowed his current cellmate to witness the interrogation.

The next day, the lawsuit says, the cellmate was escorted out of the cell “and within minutes Rodrick Roman Castro was murdered in the cell.”

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would not comment on the lawsuit, saying the settlement is not yet finalized.

But Galindo confirmed the amount of the settlement and wrote in the lawsuit that video recordings from inside the prison “show that the suspect inmates had begun planning and orchestrating the attack” shortly after Castro was interviewed by a correctional officer.

“The preparation (included) moving contraband from one area of the unit to another, including an item that appears to resemble the murder weapon, an ice pick found at the scene,” the suit says, adding that guards did not monitor the live video that could have prompted intervention before Castro was killed.

The suit also alleges officials announced Castro’s slaying publicly before notifying his mother, Virginia.

Castro was serving a 10-year, eight-month sentence for attempted second-degree murder and carjacking out of Los Angeles County at the time of his death.

More than a year after Castro’s slaying, San Joaquin County prosecutors filed a murder charge against Jose Almaraz, another inmate at the Tracy prison. That case is pending, Assistant District Attorney Kristine Reed wrote in an email.

Sam Stanton has worked for The Bee since 1991 and has covered a variety of issues, including politics, criminal justice and breaking news.
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