Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, who was part of a group of inmates that tried to break out of San Quentin Prison in 1971, was killed Wednesday during a stabbing melee involving 70 inmates at New Folsom prison.
The fiery black militant, 71 when he died Wednesday, was one of the closest allies of George Jackson, who founded the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang and was killed in the San Quentin escape attempt. According to a 1987 story in The Sacramento Bee, Pinell was once called by his captors “the most dangerous man in the California prison system.”
At least 11 other inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento, were taken to hospitals Wednesday, officials said. No staff members were injured in the riot, which began at 12:55 p.m. in a general-population yard at the prison, which houses 2,300 maximum-security inmates. The combatants inflicted stab wounds with weapons furnished in prison, according to the state corrections department.
Pinell’s attorney, Keith Wattley of Oakland, said he learned Tuesday that his client – the target of prison attacks in the past – had been moved into the general population before his death.
“The threat of harm to him has been well known by prison officials,” Wattley said. He added that Pinell had been the target of “long-standing threats,” but said he could not elaborate Wednesday.
Pinell was originally sent to prison in 1965 on a rape charge in San Francisco County. On March 3, 1971, he killed a guard at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, according to a news release Wednesday from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was sentenced to life with possible parole in May 1972.
A few months after killing the Soledad guard, Pinell took part in an August 1971 escape attempt at San Quentin. Six people were killed, including Jackson, three other inmates and two guards. Prosecutors charged that Jackson smuggled a gun into the prison by placing it under a wig.
Convicted of assaulting two guards during the escape attempt, Pinell was sentenced to life – again with the possibility of parole – in September 1976.
Pinell was denied his ninth bid for parole in 2009 and had his sentence extended for another 15 years under a new voter-approved initiative, according to the Marin Independent Journal. The section of Proposition 9 allowing that long a parole denial was later struck down by a federal judge.
A mixed-race man who emigrated from Nicaragua as a young man, Pinell had a reputation for explosive anger, according to the 1987 Bee story. According to stories and investigations from the time, he and other black inmates were placed in solitary cells, sprayed with tear gas, routinely beaten and shot by guards when they fought with white inmates.
At Soledad, and later at San Quentin, Pinell was in charge of leading strikes by black inmates.
Over the years, Pinell was attacked by other inmates. In 1981, he received lacerations when a white inmate threw a homemade bomb at him, according to a Bee story. In 1984, he was stabbed twice in the back by a black inmate who was a member of his own gang.
Pinell spent much of his time in prison in solitary confinement at his request. In 1987, he told The Bee that he stayed in his cell in Folsom to avoid his enemies. “They’re not going to give up now,” he said. “That’s the way it is.”
Officials said guards at Folsom used pepper spray and at least three warning shots from a Mini 14 rifle to quell Wednesday’s disturbance. “The cause of the riot is under investigation,” said Lt. Aaron Konrad, a prison spokesman.
Corrections officials said in a statement that “numerous inmates were injured,” including the 11 taken to outside hospitals for treatment. The others were being treated at the prison.
The El Dorado Hills Fire Department tweeted that its units were being called to transport some victims to area hospitals following reports of stabbings.
Konrad said most of the injuries were stab wounds. He said the disturbance was quelled within about 20 minutes and that officials will review video footage of the riot to determine what charges may be filed.
The prison, known informally as “New Folsom” to distinguish it from adjacent Folsom State Prison, has been the site of disturbances in the past, including a 2012 riot involving 60 inmates that left one prisoner shot by a guard and 12 others injured.