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News 5 Investigates: Video of brutal fight between inmates at Pu - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

News 5 Investigates: Video of brutal fight between inmates at Pueblo Jail

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PUEBLO COUNTY -

Inmate on inmate assaults in the Pueblo County Jail have nearly tripled over the last four years as the Sheriff’s Office struggles to find room to keep an increasing number of violent inmates separated in the overcrowded facility.   

News 5 Investigates obtained a copy surveillance video from one particularly violent fight on March 31 in which an inmate suffered serious injuries.

The fight lasts 96 seconds. It started between inmates Mario Valdez and David Gonzales who engaged in a fist fight while the guards were distracted.  As the fight went on, other men joined Gonzales and began attacking Valdez.

A third inmate then rushed to Valdez’s aid prompting even more inmates to join the fray.

News 5 showed the video to Valdez’s mother Carmella. She said her son suffered a broken jaw, cracked ribs, a concussion and brain swelling.

The video was difficult for her to watch, particularly when Gonzales and others repeatedly stomped on her son’s head.

"One more stomp to the head and he could have died," she said.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the two guards on duty that day were pulled away to assist with the transfer another inmate out of the jail.

"One deputy is dealing with getting another release inmate out for another to go to another jail the other deputy was working on the paperwork process regarding that," explained Undersheriff JR Hall.

Carmella told us she thinks someone should've should have seen the fight and stopped it sooner.

“When those two were just fighting, it could've been stopped there,” Valdez said. “It didn't have to go to where he was brutally, savagely beaten."

Inmate-on-inmate assaults have steadily grown from 98 cases in 2014 to 269 this year. Inmate-on-deputy assaults during that same time period have dropped. There were 10 to 11 cases each year from 2014 to 2016 but only 3 this year.

The data also suggest the inmate on inmate assaults are becoming more violent. There were two such assaults involving weapons in 2016 and 8 this year. None of the assaults from 2014 or 2015 involved weapons.

Part of the problem is structural. The dormitories where this fight occurred hold anywhere from 80 to 100 inmates at a time, all with just two guards in the room to keep order.

When the dormitories were built in 2006, they were designed to house low-risk inmates. Undersheriff Hall explained that the maximum security floor in the older jail tower is constantly at capacity leaving no choice but to house high risk in the dorms.

"That whole dorm is of high risk individuals," the Undersheriff said.

A community task force studied the issue of overcrowding and recommended ballot question seeking a 0.45 percent a sales tax increase to finance construction of a new jail. While that ballot question failed, Undersheriff Hall said  no one at the Sheriff’s Office blames the voters for saying no.

He points out that the facility and the deputies who staff it continue to meet the usual professional standards and certificates.

"We'll continue to work with the citizenry with what they've given us to work with and we'll continue to do the great job that we're doing here,” Hall said. “We will at some point in time have to discuss it again."

Eventually, though, Pueblo County risks being sued over the way it treats its prisoners. Valdez said she and her son are talking to lawyers.

She's less worried about a bigger jail if there won't be guards to keep the peace.

"Some of the guards just really don't care and say stupid things like, well that's what happens, he's in jail. What do you expect? Well, I expect him to be safe! I don't expect him to get beaten half to death."

Valdez said Mario has recovered physically from some of his injuries, but still suffers memory loss and post traumatic stress from the incident. He has since been transferred to the Colorado Department of Corrections.

The other fighter, David Gonzales, remains in the Pueblo County Jail without bond. All of the participants in the March 31 fight since have been charged for their respective roles in the ordeal.

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