Two correctional officers at the California State Prison in Lancaster have been suspended for their suspected involvement in plots to smuggle drugs into Los Angeles County's only maximum-security prison, officials said Monday.
A third officer has also been suspended indefinitely after his off-duty arrest on a misdemeanor drug charge in February. However, prison officials say they are not concerned about the possibility of any broader corruption at the facility, where approximately 600 corrections officers guard more than 4,000 of the state's most dangerous criminals.
"It happens once in a while," said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections. "It happens in almost every walk of life, where you get some people who do things they shouldn't."
Nine-year state corrections veteran Dwayne Brewton was arrested March 14 on conspiracy charges for his alleged involvement in a plan to sell drugs and cell phones to inmates, prison spokesman Lt. Ken Lewis said. Acting on a tip, prison investigators searched a suspected drug pick-up point for Brewton and found 39 grams of marijuana, 1 gram of heroin and 3.5 grams of crack cocaine, Lewis said.
On Feb. 26, prison officials suspended another veteran guard who works in the prison office that receives packages sent to inmates. The officer allegedly approved the delivery of a 7.8-pound package of marijuana valued at $250,000 to an inmate without searching it first, and investigators believe the oversight may have been deliberate, said Capt. Carl Wofford of Lancaster's internal investigations unit. The officer has not been arrested or charged, but Wofford said his office is preparing a case for review by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
A third officer, 10-year veteran Michael Colino, was arrested Feb. 7 by San Fernando police during a traffic stop that turned up a small amount of marijuana, Lewis said. Colino, 32, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of being under the influence of a controlled substance and has agreed to enter a drug treatment program, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Greg Denton.
All three officers have been placed on paid administrative leave while investigations continue, officials said. A number of inmates are also being investigated for the smuggling incidents, Lewis said.
The incidents come as corrections officials are making a concerted effort to crack down on drug abuse in state prisons. About 85% of California's 160,000 inmates were addicted to drugs or alcohol when they committed their crimes, prison officials say.
In the last seven years, the Corrections Department has increased from 400 to 8,500 the number of prison beds set aside for substance-abuse treatment. At Lancaster, officials have been trying to stop the production of homemade prison wine by limiting prisoners' access to fresh fruit, one of the preferred ingredients for the homemade drink known as pruno.
Heimerich said most of the contraband that passes through prison gates comes from visitors and packages. But parents of inmates believe much of it is brought in by corrections officers.
Last month, inmates' rights groups rejoiced when a bill to limit the packages family members can send to inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison died in the Senate's Public Safety Committee. On Monday, the father of a Lancaster inmate said the recent investigations justified the groups' position.
"They are blaming all the drugs coming in by the mail.... But the [officers] don't mind the drugs in there because it keeps [the inmates] calm," said the father, who said he feared retaliation against his son if he revealed his identity. "They give them drugs to keep them quiet."
At Lancaster, the last known incident of a guard smuggling drugs was in 2001, when the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, while conducting a sting operation, found drugs in the lunch pail of corrections officer Anthony Lunnon, Lewis said. Lunnon was sentenced to two years in prison.