A Benton County jail inmate charged with attacking corrections officers twice this year is now accused of head butting and strangling more jailers.
Erick J. Nieto, 26, was scheduled for two trials this week in Benton County Superior Court on three counts of custodial assault.
Then on Monday before a jury could be seated, defense attorney Ryan Swinburnson said he had concerns about Nieto’s competency based on what happened last weekend in the jail.
Nieto had to be Tasered while he allegedly was trying to strangle an officer during a struggle. Then, while he was being placed in a restraint chair, Nieto reportedly smashed another officer on the bridge of the nose by thrashing his head around.
Nieto appeared in court the next day with Swinburnson, who requested a mental health evaluation of his client. Judge Vic VanderSchoor signed the order, canceled the trials and placed the two pending cases on hold.
Court documents show that Corrections Officer Jon Forbes was passing out sack lunches on March 13 when he told Nieto that he needed to wait a moment because the cell door did not have an opening large enough for the sack to pass through.
Officers would only contact him in pairs because of Nieto’s past violence toward officers, documents said.
Apparently upset he had to wait, Nieto swore at Forbes and tried to push his way out of the cell once the door was open, court documents said. Forbes grabbed onto Nieto’s wrists so he couldn’t hit the officer, but the inmate fought his way out and hit Forbes on the chin with his head, documents said.
Nieto, Forbes and Corrections Officer Saul Morfin ended up in a struggle on the ground. It took several officers to handcuff Nieto and get control of his legs, documents said.
Then on April 3, Nieto was sitting in his pod’s day room without his shirt, and he was told to get back in uniform. He approached Corrections Officer Eric Christian with his fists clenched, then tried to punch his face and body four to five times, court documents said.
Christian dodged and blocked the blows, then hit Nieto in the face several times in an attempt to control him and eventually forced him to the floor, documents said.
Officer Samuel Cover, who was doing a security check of the pod’s top tier, ran to help Christian. As Cover was trying to grab Nieto’s legs, Nieto allegedly hit the officer on the face above an eye, documents said.
It was during another security round last Sunday that Nieto allegedly charged an officer and tried to strangle him.
He was shocked with a Taser when he ignored commands to stop, said jail Commander Scott Souza. Nieto then hit a second officer with his head, Souza said. No one was seriously hurt, said Souza.
Nieto’s criminal history includes a 2014 conviction for felony attempting to elude police and misdemeanor hit-and-run with damage. He got four months in jail for driving through stop signs on the wrong side of the roadway and speeding up to 70 mph in a 25-mph zone.
Nieto also was stabbed in a 2013 Christimas Eve incident that left his cousin, Gerardo Villamar Jr., dead.
Kennewick police determined that Nieto and his relatives started the fight, and prosecutors decided not to charge the teen who stabbed Villamar in the back because the victim’s family and friends would not fully cooperate.