Report: Jail short-handed, guard failed to notice broom-handle attack

A Curry County detention officer watching jail inmates with surveillance cameras told investigators she didn't see Louis Guerra attack Jaime Perez. She didn't realize there was a fight until she saw another officer take Perez, covered in blood, out of his cell.

The officer's statement is part of a 99-page administrative investigation into the June 27 assault released Thursday by County Attorney Stephen Doerr.

Perez was treated for injuries at the Clovis hospital, but was not seriously injured.

The focus of the investigation was the alleged broom-handle assault of Perez by Guerra, who was later convicted of killing Perez's brother. Perez was a witness against Guerra and was placed in the cell next to Guerra despite multiple alleged warnings that the two needed to be separated. District Attorney Matt Chandler was among officials who asked they be kept apart, Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller said.

The officer watching inmates via video screens in central control said she did focus cameras on the pod of cells where the fight took place, but "I didn't see anything that may have looked like a fight."

She had been working in the jail about 16 months, the report shows. She was also relieving the usual central control officer, who was helping a short-handed and overwhelmed booking staff.

The report of the investigation conducted by jail Capt. Keith Farkas is peppered with details not previously released by county officials. It paints a picture of a short-handed staff coping with outdated equipment and safety systems, ill-informed about who they are guarding and failing to pass along warnings of a blood feud between Guerra and Perez.

Among details:

  • All but one of the seven officers and two supervisors on duty the night of the beating said they were not aware of any problem between Guerra and Perez.
  • There was no information in Perez's file indicating he and Guerra should be separated.
  • A booking officer took a call from Perez's wife warning that he and Guerra should be kept separate when he entered the jail June 16, more than a week before the beating. The officer didn't make a note of the call or tell any other staff, saying she forgot.
  • A sheriff's deputy who transported Perez from Parmer County's jail to Curry County the night of the beating said he warned a holding officer at the Curry jail that Perez must be separated from Guerra. The holding officer told Farkas she didn't remember the conversation. When Farkas showed her a video indicating the deputy spoke to her, she insisted she didn't remember such a conversation and "that he was probably giving her 'crap.'"
  • Perez told staff twice that he feared for his life while in Curry County jail, once in writing.
  • Outdated computer software didn't permit inmate alerts or keep separate entries to alert jail staff. "There was also no way to flag the inmate's file," Farkas wrote, "to indicate to booking officers that they should inquire into the file for special circumstances."

Farkas' report doesn't mention Chandler's request to separate the two inmates. It does note, "The arresting agency for Louis Guerra did not convey any information about co-defendants, witnesses, victims, associates or any other information that would notify the facility of conflicts for housing detainees together."

Farkas also writes, "Perez did not give any information about conflicts with Guerra. He said nothing about being afraid other than his family was receiving threats … (about) upcoming courts (sic)."

Doerr's release of the report is an about-face for the county, which had maintained until this week it was not a public record. County officials said the report had been conducted in direct response to notice of a lawsuit filed June 29 by Perez's attorney Tye Harmon, thereby falling under "attorney-client privilege."

Doerr said the decision to release the Farkas report on Thursday followed discovery of new information.

"Upon receipt of that additional information and after consultation with my client, the decision was made to release the documents to you," Doerr wrote in an email to the Clovis News Journal.

Doerr's email did not disclose the "additional information."

Commission Chairman Wendell Bostwick said he wasn't sure what Farkas was investigating and when.

"I can tell you," Bostwick said, "that whenever it (the beating) was reported to me, as chairman … I asked (jail administrator) Mr. (Gerry) Billy what happened. He said he didn't know, but he would look into it and get back to me.

"When something like that happens … my thought process is to find out what happened, how to properly deal with it and how we are going to make sure that it doesn't happen again," Bostwick said.

Billy said the Farkas report resulted in a two-week suspension without pay for one staff member, written reprimands to three others and a "counseling" with another.

Billy said brooms and mops are now being secured. He also said the current computer software is incapable of being upgraded to flag inmates or alert staff of special conditions.

Billy said new software that will allow such alerts when it becomes fully operational in October. The new system is online, he said, but training and other details won't be finished until October.

In the interim, he said, "We're doing all that by hand, actually in red envelopes" inserted with other paperwork in inmate files.

The report made no mention of jail staff notifying law enforcement about the beating. Officials have since said law officers were not notified for almost 16 hours.

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