Hundreds start riot at prison in California

Friday, December 21, 2001

LANCASTER, Calif. -- More than 300 inmates rioted at a crowded state prison Thursday, prompting a crackdown by guards using tear gas and wooden bullets, authorities said. Five inmates were seriously injured.

The fighting broke out in a recreation yard and was quelled after 15 minutes, said prison spokesman Ron Nipper.

"The inmates started to fight, and it just gained momentum," Nipper said.

Guards used pepper spray, tear gas and wooden bullets on the prisoners before firing several warning shots, said Margot Bach, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections. It was unclear whether any prisoners were hit. Bach said 26 homemade weapons were recovered.

No guards or staff were hurt.

Five inmates were taken to local hospitals, where they were in critical condition with "deep puncture wounds," Bach said. Twelve others were treated at the prison infirmary for cuts.

The prison is located in the Mojave Desert, about 40 miles north of Los Angeles. It was put on lockdown Dec. 11, when a guard was beaten by four inmates, department officials said. Inmates were just starting to get some of their privileges back Thursday when the riot began.

It was not immediately clear whether crowding may have contributed to the rioting and Bach said it may take several days to determine the exact cause.

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