Crime - Sacto 911

Susanville inmate shot dead during prison dining hall riot

Jonathan Velarde
Jonathan Velarde Calfiornia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

An inmate at a state prison in Susanville was killed Sunday during a dining hall riot, state corrections officials announced Wednesday.

Jonathan Velarde, 23, was struck by a round from a Ruger Mini-14 initially used by correctional officers to fire warning shots and later pronounced dead at the California Correctional Center, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

A CDCR statement said officers fired “at least four warning shots from the Ruger Mini-14 to quell the disturbance” and that Velarde was hit by a fifth round from the Mini-14. The incident is under investigation by the prison Investigative Service Unit and a Deadly Force Investigations Team. It is being referred to the Lassen County District Attorney’s Office, while the Office of the Inspector General has been notified.

At about 5:45 p.m. Sunday, about 45 inmates began fighting in one of the prison’s medium-security dining halls, according to the statement. Officers used pepper spray and “less-than-lethal force options,” besides firing warning shots from the Ruger Mini-14.

Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said correctional officers in such situations fire four warning shots before firing “with purpose.”

Simas said announcement of the death was delayed until the coroner could determine whether Velarde died of stab wounds or the gunshot wound. She said numerous weapons manufactured by inmates were involved in the fight. The gunshot wound was found to be the cause of death. The cause of the fight is under investigation, she said.

Simas said the District Attorney’s Office will review the incident to determine possible prosecution of inmates involved.

Velarde was serving a two-year, eight-month sentence for attempted second-degree robbery and marijuana possession for sale as a felon with a second strike. He entered the Susanville prison on Sept. 16, 2013, after his conviction in Los Angeles County.

No prison staff were injured in the incident.

The California Correctional Center in Susanville houses approximately 4,800 conservation camp, minimum-medium custody inmates who work with Cal Fire in wildland conservation and firefighting projects, according to the CDCR news release.

This was the second violent death involving a California state correctional facility inmate in the past week. Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, 71, died Aug. 12 during a stabbing melee involving 70 inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento, in Folsom. At least 11 other inmates were taken to hospitals. Prison officials said the riot began in a general-population yard at the prison, which houses 2,300 maximum-security inmates.