Sterling prison murders blamed on staff indifference, misconduct

Categories: Crime, News, Prisons

James Bergman beat a child killer to death the first day they were put in a cell together. Additional photos below.
Court records and testimony prompted by a wave of inmate homicides at the Sterling Correctional Facility claim that SCF officers have repeatedly placed at-risk prisoners, particularly sex offenders, in life-threatening situations -- and that some staff have even celled deadly enemies together to "teach a lesson," fully expecting one inmate to attack another.

The result has been mayhem on a grand scale: Five inmate murders at Sterling in a two-
year period that ended in 2012. An internal investigation, with findings never made public, was ordered by prison chief Tom Clements before his own murder last year. A lawsuit was recently filed by one victim's family, with possibly more to come.

See also: Gabrial Adams, serving life, found dead in prison for mentally ill

With close to 2,500 inmates, Sterling is the largest prison in the state system, housing everything from short-term, minimum-security offenders to high-security prisoners serving long sentences. Prison officials say they have a proven system for separating inmates who may fight each other and have suggested -- most recently in this peculiar article in the Denver Post -- that a new law allowing for civil detention of the most predatory inmates beyond their sentence would help stem the violence.

The Sterling Correctional Facility, home to 2,481 inmates.
But other observers say the rash of killings at Sterling has a great deal to do with staff attitudes and even possible misconduct by guards. "I refuse to believe that this many deaths in a two-year period in the same prison is a statistical anomaly," says Tom Ward, a public defender whose office has represented several of the defendants in the fatal attacks. "If you look deeper into this, the evidence is clearly that it isn't."

Inmates who fear assaults by gangs or a mentally unstable roommate are routinely told that the Colorado Department of Corrections doesn't make "convenience moves" and that they are just supposed to "deal with it." At one hearing last fall, inmate Virgil Rice testified that a Sterling major told him that sex offenders weren't entitled to the same protection as other inmates. "She openly said, 'I don't care what happens to you. I believe all of you should be assaulted,'" Rice said. "She, herself, claimed to have been assaulted by her father. So it was her attitude that she needed to, you know, to prosecute her own agenda on the backs of prisoners."

Lyle White.
Three of the five killed were serving time for crimes against children. David Guerrero-Estrada, beaten to death in his cell in early 2010, was sentenced to three years for attempted sexual assault of a child. Mark Hanson, also beaten to death, received two years for failing to register as a sex offender. Lyle White, killed six days after Hanson, had murdered an eleven-year-old boy.

In defending White's killer, James Bergman, at a special evidentiary hearing last fall, Ward called several inmate witnesses in support of Bergman's claim that he'd been forced to share a cell with White over his protests. The move was described as a form of punishment for Bergman orchestrated by one correctional officer, who told him, "You're moving in with a chomo [prison slang for child molester] and you're going to deal with it."

Bergman dealt with it in accordance with the convict code. He beat White to death the first day they were alone in a cell together.

Continue for more about murders at the Sterling prison, including additional photos.

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The article failed to mention that Lyle White was attacked by his killer months earlier. Why were they celled together?? Guards are the ones who decide who is celled together...


Sounds like the New Mexico officers are making their way to Colorado.  Crooked as hell, almost all of them.  

muhutdafuga topcommenter

Who are the worst criminals, the ones in jail or the criminals that enforce the law?


I can testify to the fact that guards 'baiting' inmates into fighting and housing known enemies together on purpose is a 100% fact of prison life. When you complain to them that you want to avoid violence so that you can GO HOME, they tell you to shut up and 'deal with it'. When you are in a fight in prison, you are automatically GUILTY of assault, even if you were the one getting beat down, they could care less about the reasons for the attack. This makes your chances for parole or release very slim. The guards get some sort of sick, twisted satisfaction in watching people kill, rape, and assault each other...Maybe this has to do with the fact that a lot of them are ex-law enforcement and military...The violence in the prisons could be eliminated by 95% with a simple re-structuring of the entire process but this would be no fun for the sadists that work there.....The administration that runs the joint likes things just the way they are.....So do the gangs....

RobertChase topcommenter

I name John Hickenlooper as an accomplice in these murders.


Robert...I dislike Hickinpooper as much as you, however, these problems have been going in a lot longer than he's been at the helm. In fact, this has been a KNOWN systemic problem within the DoC since at least the '90's.

What I will lay at his feet entirely is his inability to have dealt with the death penalty when it was before him in 2012. Like a jellyfish with no spine, he passed the buck to the next administration to deal with...

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