I-Team obtains San Quentin crisis videos

May 20, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
We're about to give you a rare look at the tactics used by San Quentin State Prison guards in crisis situations -- an overwhelming show of force called "cell extraction teams." The I-Team's Dan Noyes has obtained internal videos from the prison.

Many reality TV shows have been shot at San Quentin, but veteran guards tell Noyes the cell extraction teams are normally off limits. These videos show how guards deal with serious threats from some very dangerous inmates.

San Quentin State Prison holds some of California's most dangerous criminals -- serial killers, rapists, robbers. And when they threaten staff or refuse to follow orders the cell extraction team goes in -- six members strong, each with a specific duty.

Inmate from crisis video: "Pop the door and you're going to have to kill me."

Before the team moves in, the guards use the prison's camera to identify which one of them will be deploying the O.C. pepper spray, handcuffs, baton, leg irons, and who will be holding the camera.

One member of the team runs a video camera to document the process, and protect the prison against excessive force complaints. Using the Public Records Act, the I-Team has obtained some of those recordings and they show one of the most dangerous jobs in the Bay Area.

Retired San Quentin Prison Guard Jeff Evans tells Noyes, "I've had coworkers that never left that gate, that never came out alive."

Evans worked more than 100 cell extractions. At 6'4" tall, 280 pounds, Evans was usually the first man into the cell with the riot shield.

Noyes: "So, you're there, got your gear on, you got the shield, you're the first one in the cell, what's going through your mind?"
Evans: "Do my job. Do it right, because the first guy in, if I do it wrong, then I'm putting my partners behind me in harm's way."

One of the three cell extraction videos Noyes obtained shows Albert Levanos, a lifer with a long rap sheet including robbery, carjacking, kidnapping and rape. He threatened to attack guards with a homemade weapon.

On the crisis video, a prison captain explains, "He was heard by a lieutenant stating that he will spear any staff members that come by the cell."

As the guards head to Levanos' cell, other inmates warn the extraction team is on the move, "Here they come, here they come!"

The team allowed Levanos more than two hours to cool off, but he still refuses to cooperate.

A prison lieutenant says, "He is refusing to come out at this time. Sergeant, deploy the O.C."

O.C. is "Oleoresin Capsicum" or pepper spray. The guard empties one large can and starts another. Levanos has barricaded his cell door with his mattress, so the team removes the wire mesh to get a better shot.

But, a guard holding the pepper spray can't see Levanos in the darkened cell and asks, "Where's he at?"

The pepper spray has failed -- Levanos won't give up, so the cell extraction team makes its move. The head of the team yells, "Go, go, go, go! Get him down."

Levanos charges at the guards, and is able to make it outside the cell door, and the captain yells, "Get control of that head, get control of the arms, don't let go of anything until you got him."

The camera keeps rolling while they take Levanos to wash away the pepper spray.

Levanos is seen in the video under the shower saying, "Whoo, that's good."

The guards get him cleared by a nurse and into administrative segregation.

Noyes took the videos to one of the foremost prison rights advocates in the nation -- the Prison Law Office based in Berkeley. Director Don Specter says he understands the need for cell extraction teams "...but we want to make sure it's done appropriately and only when necessary."

Specter questions the large amount of pepper spray in these extractions and a tactic used on inmate Brian Antaya, who didn't want to leave his cell for a TB test.

A prison lieutenant explains on the crisis video, "The last several sprays have been onto the toilet and the sink area."

Evans says, "If you shoot in those areas, when he goes over and tries to use that water or the sink and the toilet, he's actually pepper spraying himself."

But Specter argues, "That seems to me to be incredibly excessive, as well. You're supposed to use the minimum amount of pepper spray necessary to gain compliance."

Noyes reached Antaya by phone. He's now out of prison, getting his life together.

Noyes: "Tell me how that felt, that pepper spray?"
Antaya: "It didn't like burn the eyes too bad."

Antaya surrendered after being pepper sprayed. Now, he says he should have followed orders. He has no problem with how the guards treated him at San Quentin. Antaya told Noyes, "I'm kind of ashamed that I ended up being in there, but I do thank God how well it does run, and they were very courteous and polite."

On the crisis video, you can see a prison lieutenant wrapping up Antaya's cell extraction.

Prison lieutenant: "Mr. Antaya, except for the burning, are you OK?
Antaya: "Yes sir, I am Lieutenant."
Prison lieutenant: "All right."

If you have an idea for our next investigation, you can reach Dan Noyes on Facebook or Twitter, email me online here or call our tip line at: 1-800-40-I-Team.


Load Comments