Former prison guards sentenced
Friday, February 7, 2003 | San Francisco Chronicle
By Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Two former guards at Pelican Bay State Prison were sentenced to federal prison Thursday for setting up assaults on inmates, mostly child molesters and other sex criminals.
In sentencing Michael Powers to seven years and Jose Ramon Garcia to more than six years, a federal judge in San Francisco said they had abused the prisoners they were sworn to protect.
The guards' "experience and information was used for bad, not good," said U. S. District Judge Martin Jenkins.
Defense lawyers said they would appeal the convictions. They persuaded Jenkins to reduce the sentences somewhat below the norm because the former guards would likely be at risk of attacks from other inmates. They remain free on bail.
Powers, 56, and Garcia, 48, were convicted last May of conspiring to violate the civil rights of prisoners who were beaten or stabbed by other inmates between July 1992 and August 1996. Powers was implicated in seven attacks and Garcia in six.
Prosecutors said the guards targeted convicted child molesters and rapists, as well as prisoners who would not cooperate with them. They offered other inmates alcohol and other privileges to attack them. The prosecution case depended heavily on testimony from prisoners, some of whom received sentence reductions for their cooperation.
Pelican Bay, in a remote corner of Del Norte County, houses some of the state's most violent prisoners. In 1995, a federal judge found a pattern of brutality by guards and ordered changes in conditions and operations at the prison.
In a 1998 trial in Del Norte County, Garcia was convicted of conspiracy to assault Pelican Bay inmates and was sentenced to more than four years in state prison. After he was paroled, with time off for good behavior, a judge overturned his conviction on the grounds of incompetence by his trial lawyer, Robert Noel. Later, Noel and his wife, attorney Marjorie Knoller, were convicted of manslaughter in the dog-mauling death of a San Francisco woman.
Garcia's current lawyer, Matthew Pavone, argued Thursday that his federal sentence should be shortened considerably because he already served time for "essentially the same conduct" and is now undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.
Jenkins agreed that those circumstances justified some leniency but said Garcia's federal conviction involved more assaults than the Del Norte case.
E-mail Bob Egelko at email@example.com.