A black inmate who died Sunday after a fight with Latino cellmates at Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles had been placed in a group cell with inmates considered serious security threats, despite repeated warnings to officials that mixing nonviolent and violent inmates can be deadly, the Los Angeles Times reports. The death brought new criticism of the Sheriff’s Department, which has tried to calm racially charged violence in the jails. It has faced past scrutiny for killings inside the jails when high-risk and lower-risk inmates are placed together.
Sean Thompson, 38, had been arrested on suspicion of drug possession after he ran a stop sign. Jailers designated Thompson, the father of three, a “moderate security risk” because he had previous convictions for nonviolent felonies. He was attacked after coming to the aid of a 63-year-old black cellmate, also charged with drug possession, who was threatened by three Latino inmates trying to take over a bunk bed that had the best light for reading. Deputies had classified the Latinos as “level 8s” – the second-highest threat level in the classification system and a designation given to inmates with a history of assaults or escapes. An official said the mixing of moderate-security threat inmates with more violent offenders will continue through March, when jailers will be able to shift high-risk offenders to other facilities.