SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal lawsuit claims California officials could have stopped what it says was the “assassination” of a notorious California inmate who was stabbed 19 times just days after he was released into the general prison population last year.
Prison officials should have known that Hugo Pinell, 71, would be quickly targeted at the maximum security prison east of Sacramento, alleges the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Pinell’s daughter, Allegra Casimir-Taylor.
Pinell was a convicted killer who had been isolated ever since a bloody escape attempt at San Quentin State Prison in 1971 that left six dead. He was known as one of the San Quentin 6 and helped slit the throats of prison guards during the failed jailbreak.
The decades in isolation were often for his own protection after repeated attempts on his life, the lawsuit claims, citing two attacks in the 1980s. A white inmate threw a homemade bomb at him and he was stabbed twice in the back by a black inmate, a member of a faction of Pinell’s own purported prison gang.
He said in 1987 that he would refuse to leave his cell to avoid his enemies because “they’re not going to give up now,” says the complaint filed in federal district court in Sacramento. The lawsuit claims that the department’s own paperwork warned that Pinell should not be released into the general inmate population for fear he would be killed.
California began emptying its infamous Pelican Bay security housing unit under pressure from reform groups. After 45 years in isolation, the longest such stint of any inmate, Pinell was integrated into the general prison population in August 2015.
The lawsuit claims, without providing evidence, that correctional officials bet among themselves on how long the Pinell would survive.
He was slain after two weeks.
Corrections department spokeswoman Terry Thornton said Thursday that she can’t comment on the pending wrongful death lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages. She specifically declined comment on the betting allegation, and said she couldn’t discuss whether there were warnings in Pinell’s paperwork because inmate files are confidential.
The suit claims that Corrections officials knew of multiple credible death threats by various groups against Pinell, including one by the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood. It says his two alleged attackers, Jayson Weaver and Waylon Pitchford, are white inmates with “an extensive history of racially motivated attacks on other inmates.”
The Aryan Brotherhood wanted to kill Pinell for his purported involvement in the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang with San Quentin 6 ringleader George Jackson, who was killed in the 1971 escape attempt, Pinell’s attorney, Keith Wattley, said after his client’s death. He said Pinell long denied any gang connection, but rallied other black inmates who refused to accept some prison policies decades ago.
Two convicted killers are awaiting an Oct. 28 court hearing on charges of murder in Pinell’s August 2015 death. His stabbing at California State Prison, Sacramento, set off a riot by 75 inmates that sent 10 other prisoners to outside hospitals.