STOCKTON -- The California Youth Authority is seeking a criminal investigation of six employees at a high-security youth facility in Stockton after a videotape surfaced showing two guards beating and kicking two young inmates, at least one of them handcuffed.
The video shows guards continuing to hit the youths after they were subdued during the Jan. 20 incident, striking one boy at least 15 times in the face, the San Jose Mercury News reported Wednesday, citing unnamed sources.
"I abhor this kind of behavior and will be taking appropriate action to address this from a criminal and administrative standpoint," new Youth Authority Director Walter Allen said in a statement Wednesday after watching the video. The authority would not comment on what the tape shows.
The incident is the latest in a string that has led parents, advocates, and some county officials and state legislators to suggest the authority should be dismantled.
Two youths at an Ione facility hanged themselves in their cell in January, about the same time a half-dozen state-funded reports by national experts severely criticized the authority's practices.
Those practices include overuse of chemical Mace, physical and chemical restraints, poor treatment of mentally ill and drug-dependent youths who make up the majority of the population, and its use of small mesh cages to separate troublesome wards.
The six employees at Stockton's N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility have been placed on administrative leave during an internal investigation, but none have been criminally charged.
Both youths were initially charged with assault, but the charges were dropped when the two officers refused to testify and invoked their right against self-incrimination.
It is not known how the other four are involved, though another unnamed source told the Mercury News officials are investigating whether official reports of the incident matched the videotape.
"I will not tolerate any behavior that undermines our mission of restoring and rehabilitating our wards. Nor will I tolerate the use of excessive force or the use of the code of silence by our employees," Allen said Wednesday. He said the incident was being reviewed by the San Joaquin County district attorney.
He told the Mercury News on Tuesday that the incident appeared to be started by the two youths, whom the paper identified as Vincent Baker, 19, of Stockton, incarcerated after failing an alternative sentencing program, and Narcisco Morales, 21, of Madera, who was committed to the authority on carjacking and auto theft charges.
The video shows the two officers controlling the youths after several minutes' struggle that included the use of pepper spray. One then jumped up and down with his knees on Baker's back and neck. After Baker was handcuffed, an officer kicked him in the head, the newspaper said, again quoting an unnamed source.
After Morales was subdued, the tape shows an officer punching him 15 to 20 times in the head, the paper said, quoting a law enforcement source who saw the video. The source said the officer appeared to be holding Morales' head back by grabbing his hair, and changed hands while punching him apparently because his hand got tired.
Davey L. Turner, Baker's Stockton attorney, said his client was kicked in the head "while he's lying prone with his hands cuffed behind his back."
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