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Prison Locks Down During Weapon Hunt

Inmates in Lancaster are confined to their cells after a bullet and several homemade devices are found. The search for more is continuing.

September 09, 2003|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

State prison inmates in Lancaster have been locked in their cells since Friday after authorities searching the maximum-security institution found several hidden weapons, a spokesman said Monday.

Officials gave few details of the search that produced the homemade weapons.

But Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections, said the confiscated items included seven metal shanks and a .22-caliber bullet that was hidden in an air duct in a vocational classroom.

Prison officials said they were especially disturbed by the discovery of the ammunition -- though no gun was found. Inmates in other institutions have been known to manufacture crude, one-shot "zip guns" to deliver such a round, manufacturing them from such mundane items as cleaning brushes and ballpoint pens.

Guards continued their search of the prison Monday. All of the roughly 4,000 inmates will remain locked in their cells, probably for the next few days, Heimerich said.

"No inmates have yet been [arrested], but we may, in the course of our investigation, develop suspects," Heimerich said. "The nice thing about conducting an investigation like this is that nobody's going anywhere, so we can kind of do this at a deliberate pace."

Lancaster has seen a few particularly brutal inmate-instigated incidents in recent years. In August 2002, gang members attacked three guards, stabbing one in the head and fracturing another's jaw. A sweeping investigation followed, leading to the confiscation of 70 weapons and charges against more than 15 inmates for planning or participating in the attack.

In December 2001, more than 300 men rioted, injuring 20 in the worst violence at the lockup since it opened in 1993.

The prison's last major lockdown came in June, part of a controversial attempt by prison officials to save money on overtime pay for guards.

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