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Prison Guards Can Consult Lawyers Prior to Questioning

Court: Ruling creates middle ground, refusing to let union representatives sit in on interrogations.

September 25, 1998|MARK GLADSTONE and MARK ARAX | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SACRAMENTO — A Superior Court judge has ruled that prison guards can consult with attorneys before being interrogated in criminal cases, including investigations of brutality against inmates.

But in issuing the ruling late Wednesday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Raymond D. Williamson Jr. declined to give union representatives the power to actually sit in on the questioning by state investigators.

The issue of union representation came up last month when agents from the attorney general's office swept into Corcoran State Prison and without notice, sought to interview guards in connection with the rape of an inmate by a prison enforcer nicknamed "the Booty Bandit."

State investigators called in dozens of prison officers who they believed had knowledge of the 1993 rape of inmate Eddie Dillard and an alleged cover-up of the incident. The state is reinvestigating allegations that Dillard was intentionally placed in the enforcer's cell by prison guards who were angry that he had kicked a female officer.

The investigators barred officers from bringing in union representatives for the interviews and also told attorneys for the guards union that they could not set foot onto the grounds of the San Joaquin Valley prison.

Almost immediately, the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn. challenged the attorney general's stance and was granted a temporary restraining order.

Williamson's ruling carved out a middle ground. While giving union members the right to consult with attorneys prior to any interrogation, he refused to grant the union a seat at the questioning of officers who may have witnessed a crime.

State investigators did not want union representatives present because of concern that criminals would be tipped off about the nature of the inquiry and the questions being asked.

An attorney representing the Department of Corrections said the ruling was "far more limited" than what the union had sought. "I view it as a clipping of the union's wings," said Morris Lenk, a senior assistant attorney general.

Even so, the attorney general's office is considering whether to appeal the limited right.

An attorney for the union voiced a different opinion about the decision. "We're thrilled because they weren't letting our people consult with lawyers," said San Francisco attorney Ronald Yank.

"This won't hold up investigations. . . . They just need to let our people consult with lawyers," Yank said.

The focus of the attorney general's investigation is inmate Wayne Robertson, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound prison enforcer with a record of a more than a dozen rapes inside Corcoran and other prisons, according to documents and testimony at a recent legislative hearing.

The 120-pound Dillard was repeatedly raped by Robertson after Dillard was placed in a cell with Robertson, according to state investigative documents.

Robertson told state agents last year that he had raped Dillard at the behest of Corcoran officers who wanted to punish Dillard and that he received extra food and tennis shoes from staff.

The Kings County Grand Jury in Hanford is continuing to weigh evidence on the allegations.

Gladstone reported from Sacramento and Arax from Fresno.

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