More than 25 inmates were involved in two fights at the Orange County main men's jail in Santa Ana on Sunday and Monday, sending four prisoners to the hospital for head and hand injuries.
Sheriff's Department officials downplayed the incident, saying that the injuries were minor and that they had no plans to increase the jail staff or change the inmates' daily routine. After X-rays to check for broken bones, two prisoners hospitalized from the fight Sunday night were returned to the jail Monday, Lt. Bill Miller said.
Inmate Michael Windsor of Westminster said in a telephone interview from the jail, however, that the two fights were racially motivated and that they were symptoms of a conflict that has been building for the past few weeks.
Sheriff's Department officials would only say that the cause of the outbreak was under investigation.
Dining Hall Restriction
Windsor, who said he was awaiting trial on assault and weapons charges, said that because of the disturbance the deputies fed prisoners dinner by individual cell blocks on Monday night . This meant that only 48 inmates were in the dining hall at one time; normally there are several hundred. He also said there were more deputies present than normal.
Windsor said the fight was between a group of Latino and black inmates.
"It has just been building and building; they knew it was coming," he said. "After lunch today, it just broke out."
All four of the hospitalized prisoners were taken to UCI Medical Center for X-rays. Sheriff's Department officials said that two complained of hand injuries and that two had been struck on the head.
Injuries Called Minor
They described the injuries as minor, but Windsor said the two men hospitalized Monday were carried out of the jail on stretchers.
Both fights occurred in a second-floor housing block called B-10. It is a dormitory-style jail housing area that includes about 32 prisoners in eight-man cells.
The fight Monday broke out at about 12:40 p.m. in a television viewing area of the cell block. It was just after lunch when about 25 inmates were watching television.
Guards rushed to the fight and broke it up. Later, investigators were sent to question the inmates involved.
Sheriff's Department spokesman Lt. Richard J. Olson said that details of both fights were not known and that he could not release the names of the injured prisoners until after an investigation.
Elaine Beno, spokeswoman for UCI Medical Center, said she could not comment on the condition of patients unless their names were revealed.
Orange County has been trying for several years to reduce a serious overcrowding problem in its main men's jail that has caused a federal judge to put limits on the number of prisoners that can be housed in the building.
Guidelines of the state Board of Corrections allow only 1,219 inmates at the Santa Ana jail. But the Sheriff's Department has been keeping more than 1,400 prisoners at the jail.