FRESNO -- On the edge of suburbia here, where farmland awaits the
developer's plow, the magnificent gardens of Southeast Asian refugees
rise and fall.
On leased ground no bigger than 5 or 10 acres -- small potatoes to the
giant industrial growers -- the refugees plant their own longshot
dreams: Chinese bitter melon, Chinese broccoli, Thai chili, ong choy,
su choy, daikon and kohlrabi.
The best strawberries in the San Joaquin Valley are grown by a tribe
of CIA-trained commandos who fled the highlands of Laos after the
Vietnam War. Thai eggplant, slightly spicier than its Armenian cousin,
is the specialty of the lowland Lao.
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Former Investigator Is Arrested In The Stabbing Death Of Prosecutor Stephen
Tauzer, Who Tried To Help His Troubled Son.
BAKERSFIELD -- In the days before his murder gripped this oil and farm
town, Stephen M. Tauzer walked in fear for his life. But Tauzer, the No. 2
man in the Kern County district attorney's office, didn't request police
protection or even share his concerns with colleagues.
Instead, the 58-year-old prosecutor told a friend that he had received a
phone call warning him that Chris Hillis, a former Bakersfield cop and
district attorney investigator, was going to kill him. Tauzer and Hillis
had been arguing over Hillis' son.
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Sequoia: Woman Allegedly Used Drugs, Stalked Husband before Setting
Campfire That Grew Out of Control.
FRESNO -- In the hours before she lighted a campfire that, so far, has
burned 62,000 acres of the Sequoia National Forest, Peri Van Brunt
allegedly smoked methamphetamine and stalked her estranged husband,
following him to the Roads End Resort near where the fire started last
Sunday, according to a federal criminal complaint filed here Friday.
A tearful Van Brunt, 45, appeared in U.S. District Court on charges of
setting the fire "willfully and without authority." The complaint
painted a portrait of a desperate woman who was nursing an injured eye
and trying to patch up a rocky marriage marred by years of drug abuse.
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FRESNO -- California has agreed to pay $1.7 million to whistleblower
Richard Caruso, a former guard at Corcoran State Prison who broke the
code of silence and exposed a pattern of deadly shootings of inmates,
only to lose his career.
The settlement came together late Wednesday after months of
negotiation in which top officials, including Gov. Gray Davis, had
urged a resolution of Caruso's five-year ordeal.
``The nightmare is finally over,'' Caruso said. ``Now I can take care
of my family.''
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Officials Reconsider The Discredited Idea Of Rehabilitation As Two Out Of
Three California Parolees Are Back In Prison Within Two Years.
CORCORAN, Calif. - The white prison van pulled up to the train stop in
Corcoran, in the shadow of the big grain silos, and out walked two young
inmates just released from the state penitentiary down the block.
They were headed back home to Los Angeles, but there was one piece of
business left to transact with the guard setting them free. They each put
down their wrinkled grocery bag of worldly accumulations and reached out to
grab an envelope with two $100 bills tucked inside.
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FRESNO--For three weeks, the state prison guards union prevented homicide
detectives from questioning guards about the fatal shooting of inmate
Octavio Orozco at Pleasant Valley State Prison in May, county authorities
say. Fresno County Dist. Atty. Ed Hunt said Tuesday that the investigation
into possible criminal conduct was hindered because of the delay in
questioning both the guard who shot Orozco and the guards who witnessed the
killing at the prison in Coalinga.
"The [union] attorney showed up, said he was representing all the officers,
invoked an attorney-client privilege, and we were handcuffed from talking
to the officers," Hunt said. "Three weeks might be a long time, but if we
find out the officers concocted their stories during that time or
obstructed justice, that's a high crime in Fresno County and we'll
prosecute." The case is the latest example of accusations that the powerful
guards union has thwarted criminal and administrative investigations into
brutality at prisons statewide. The FBI is currently investigating whether
actions by the union at nearby Corcoran State Prison constituted
obstruction of justice, federal authorities say.
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COALINGA, Calif.--In the seven months since inmate Octavio Orozco died
at her feet, correctional Lt. Patricia Newton has never wavered from
The 23-year-old Orozco was killed needlessly, shot in the head by an
officer at Pleasant Valley State Prison because he and a handful of
other inmates were fighting in the dining hall.
"When I entered the dining hall that night, I entered into a scene
that I will never forget for the rest of my life," said the
43-year-old Newton. "Blood and brain matter were all over the floor,
splashed up on the walls. I don't care if he was an inmate, he was
still a human being and he didn't deserve to be killed, not for fighting."
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Probe: Commission finds 24 of 31 serious or fatal Corcoran incidents
unwarranted, and says state's system of investigating use of force on
inmates has broken down.
SACRAMENTO--Two dozen fatal and serious shootings of inmates at Corcoran
State Prison were not justified, and the state's entire system for
investigating and prosecuting prison shootings has broken down, an
independent panel concluded in a report released Wednesday.
The three-member panel, commissioned by state officials last summer during
legislative hearings on violence at the San Joaquin Valley prison, issued a
strong denunciation of the Department of Corrections, its use of deadly
force and the internal investigations and oversight boards that have
routinely determined the shootings to be justified.
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High rate of killings by state guards
Despite efforts to cut down on prison shootings, guards in California
continue to kill and wound inmates engaged in fistfights and melees, a
practice unheard of in every other state.
Since late 1994, when the Department of Corrections shooting policy came
under criticism for its role in widespread inmate deaths, 12 prisoners have
been shot dead and 32 wounded by guards firing assault rifles to stop fights.
In all other states combined, statistics and interviews show, only six
inmates were fatally shot by guards in the same period -- all of them while
trying to escape. In no other state do guards shoot at inmate fighters,
choosing instead to break up brawls and melees with pepper spray, tactical
teams or warning shots.
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Since 1994, state prison guards breaking up brawls have killed 12 and
seriously injured 32. In rest of nation, only six inmates were fatally
shot, all while trying to escape. Despite efforts to cut down on
prison shootings, guards in California continue to kill and wound
inmates engaged in fistfights and melees, a practice unheard of in
every other state.
Since late 1994, when the Department of Corrections shooting policy
came under criticism for its role in widespread inmate deaths, 12
prisoners have been shot dead and 32 wounded by guards firing assault
rifles to stop fights.
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Prison: Former officer claims supervisors sanctioned violence, including
rapes that still haunt a former inmate.
It's been two years since guard Roscoe Pondexter walked the cellblocks of
Corcoran, two years since he wrapped his big basketball hands around the
neck of an inmate and squeezed until the air nearly went out.
"Now don't you go passing out on me, you hear?" he would whisper as he
squeezed a little more, until he heard that tiny gurgle and the inmate had
the eyes of someone drowning. That's when a partner would yank on the
inmate's testicles while two higher-ranking officers stood outside the
cell, pretending all was fine and blocking any view inside.
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CORCORAN, Kings County - For seven years, California turned a blind eye to
the deadliest prison in America, where 50 inmates were wounded or shot dead
Gov. Wilson and the man who wants to succeed him, Attorney General Dan
Lungren, finally examined Corcoran State Prison last year. The result was a
whitewash - a pair of investigations that never probed a single fatal or
serious shooting, the Los Angeles Times has found.
The Wilson administration blocked efforts to investigate brutality by
officers and mismanagement by top officials in the Department of
Corrections, according to investigators assigned to a special corrections
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FBI Probes Deaths at 2 More State Prisons
Inquiries: Slayings of inmates at Pelican Bay and in Susanville lead to
investigations of guards. Corcoran officers plead not guilty in earlier
FRESNO--As part of the federal government's growing scrutiny of California
prisons, the FBI is launching civil rights investigations at the Pelican
Bay and Susanville penitentiaries into the role guards may have played in
the beatings and killings of inmates.
FBI officials said the decision to investigate follows a number of recent
assaults and deaths of inmates at the two maximum-security prisons in
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Toddler, Infant Die Alone in Stifling Fresno Apartment
Tragedy: Police say mother was out looking for drugs and left daughters
unattended for 4 days during heat wave.
FRESNOThe bodies, a baby face up in a crib and a toddler
wedged beneath a bed, were discovered Sunday night in the
96degree apartment, the windows shut and the air conditioning
Investigators said the two young sisters were left alone for four
days inside a stifling Fresno apartment while their mother went
searching for drugs. Police surmise that the girls succumbed to
dehydration one day after being abandoned during a 105degree heat
wave. "They died in a closedup apartment on the hottest day of the
year while their mother was out looking for drugs," Fresno Police Lt.
Jerry Davis, the head of homicide, said Monday. "We're still trying
to trace her movements, but it appears that she was gone from the
apartment from Wednesday to Sunday." The 29yearold mother, Debbie
Ann Lowe, on parole for a drug conviction, was being held in Fresno
County Jail on suspicion of murder in the deaths of her two children,
Ebony Whitfield, 20 months, and Myisha Tolbert, 6 months. Lowe was
spotted Sunday afternoon "acting crazy" in a neighborhood several
miles from her apartment, according to police. She emerged from an
abandoned house in a seedy part of town screaming and wielding a
large rock. She then tried to break the window on a van belonging to
Luis Rodriguez, who told police he had never seen the woman in the
neighborhood before. "She was screaming and acting crazy," Rodriguez
told the Fresno Bee. "She said she was looking for her little baby. I
told her that her baby wasn't in my van." He said she left but soon
returned with police officers, who could not make sense of her
statements that her children had been kidnapped. Police suspect that
Lowe was under the influence of drugs and may have concocted the
kidnapping story as a way to explain the deaths. "At this point, we
don't know if she returned to the apartment and found the children
and was using the kidnapping story to explain how they died," Davis
said. Lowe directed police to her home at the Dakota Woods apartment
complex. Officers found the upperlevel, twobedroom apartment shut
tight with the airconditioning unit turned off. They surmise that
the oldest child, Ebony, may have crawled under the bed in search of
a cooler place and died there. The children showed no other signs of
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