Captain denies rumors of racial brawl at jail

An African-American Butte County Jail inmate claims he was jumped by a group of Caucasian and Hispanic inmates in a choreographed assault Saturday afternoon.

The inmate, Brett Johnson, reported that “at least 30” other inmates attacked him and two other African-American inmates and alleged that the attack was caught on the jail’s security videotape system, reports Butte Community Coalition Director Willie Hyman. The names of the two other inmates who were victims in the alleged attack weren’t available.

Attorney Paul Persons, who wrote a consent decree that monitors Butte County Jail inmates’ conditions, confirmed that Johnson had contacted him regarding the assault. Persons couldn’t confirm that it happened but said that he planned to interview Johnson at the jail about the alleged attack.

“All I know is that [Johnson] called me about it,” Persons said. “From there, I don’t know anything else.”

However, jail commander Capt. Gary Keeler said rumors of a vicious, choreographed assault are overblown at best and downright false at worst. He acknowledged that there had been “a small incident” in the jail’s H pod on Saturday afternoon but said that it was only a “minor fistfight that was over almost as soon as it began.”

He added that there are fights in the jail “almost on a daily basis,” and that many of them have racial overtones. However, Keeler denied that a band of Caucasian and Hispanic inmates “jumped” and injured three African-American inmates last week.

“[Fighting] in the jail is nothing new,” he said. “Many of the people here, just because of the type of environment they’re from, have trouble being around other types of people.”

He said Saturday’s scuffle lasted “about 10 seconds” and that it was caused by “some people just not getting along. … It usually just takes one loudmouth in a pod to start a problem.”

He added that there were no reports of injuries related to the fight, and that the combatants were separated. No complaints have been filed.