By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Which is Jessner’s fundamental reason for pursuing the ultimate punishment for the gang’s leaders: How exactly do you deter prisoners serving long sentences from continuing to terrorize and kill? Here were cunning, intelligent and very, very pissed-off men who had no intention of leaving prison but instead consolidated their power within it. “They were a completely new facet of crime,” notes Mark Lillienfeld of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Division. Lillienfeld was on the prison-gang strike force that spearheaded a prior RICO investigation into the AB for the FBI in the 1980s, an investigation that the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles ultimately declined to prosecute. Now the lead detective on the Phil Spector murder case, Lillienfeld says part of the reason was the fact that the 40 murders they investigated over a 10-year period happened within prison, meaning the victims were “unappealing.” Law enforcement even has a term for such cases: “NHI” — “No Humans Involved.”
“The victims themselves were bad men,” says Lillienfeld. “A lot of people would think, ‘Good for them, shame on them.’ But I worked on that case for three years, and it was a real eye opener. You develop compassion for them. They weren’t that different from you or me. They had families, hopes, dreams — they just happened to turn left where you or I turned right.”
That’s putting it mildly. From one rather warped perspective, the United States, which spends around $60 billion annually on its prison and jail systems, has been getting its money’s worth: The AB are the most lethal killers this country has produced outside of Delta Force. They are one of the “Big Four” of prison-born gangs in the U.S. — all of which first formed in California. Over the years they have perfected a sort of asymmetrical warfare in dealing with prison authorities. Their fearsome propensity for violence — not merely at the drop of the watch cap but before the cap even hits the ground — has made them legends within the penal system. In a 1992 study from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Brotherhood constituted less than one-tenth of a percent of the inmate population in the federal system — yet they were responsible for 18 percent of all its homicides. In 1999, an FBI agent said under oath that the figure was closer to 25 percent.
What’s more, the law-enforcement and penal branches of state and federal governments have built bigger and bigger prisons to house the very supercriminals who train themselves for the “posture of battle” (as Angela Davis described it) almost in direct proportion to the amount of punitive pressure placed on them by The Man. In this respect, the AB has flourished in the most regimented and isolated maximum-security prisons on Earth, including the enormous mall-like Supermaxes. In fact, the entire concept of Supermaxes was born out of violence committed by AB members. In 1983, within an eight-hour period in the dreaded federal pen at Marion, Illinois, inmates Clayton Fountain and “Terrible Tom” Silverstein butchered two correctional officers named Robert Hoffman and Merle Clutts. Hoffman was stabbed 40 times and managed to save two other officers before dying in the arms of his son, also a guard at the prison. Both Silverstein and Fountain had gotten free of their shackles by using counterfeit keys passed to them by other AB members. Thing was, they were already in Control Unit H, a supposed “prison within a prison” built especially to house them.
The Aryan Brotherhood trials arrive at a time when California is confronting the demons of its prison system — a vast labyrinth of 98 facilities, 308,400 inmates and 54,000 employees — and its reform-minded Governator is issuing tautologies along the lines of “The purpose of corrections should be to correct.” In 2004, a declaration of emergency was made to deal with the overcrowding that had been forcing jails to triple-bunk inmates in two-person cells. (It was the fifth state of emergency in eight years.) Five inmates were killed in seven months at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Racial riots flared, including violent uprisings at Folsom State Prison in June 2004 and the privately run Eagle Mountain Community Correctional Facility on October 25, 2003 (where white, black and Latino inmates had 90 minutes to hack away at one another with knives and meat cleavers stolen from the kitchen while weaponless guards waited for armed backup from nearby state-run prisons). Just a few weeks ago, on January 10, 43-year-old guard Manuel A. Gonzalez Jr. was stabbed to death by gang-affiliated inmates at Chino, the first murder of a state correctional officer since 1996. And in an eerie echo of prison abuses abroad, investigators recently uncovered the Green Wall, a purported “secret society” of rogue Salinas Valley State Prison guards who turned their oath of silence into a perversion of misconduct and intimidation and were even able to infiltrate the prison’s Investigative Services Unit.
Dismantling the AB required the cooperation of four branches of law enforcement over six years and resulted in nearly 100 search warrants executed on homes, offices and jail cells in 12 states. But it began more like an old-time Western: a gunfight at dusk on Valentine’s Day. Michael Halualani, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), and two members of the L.A. County Sheriff’s now-defunct Career Criminals Division were staking out the Harbor City home of Russell Hinman, a recently paroled AB member who was wanted on an outstanding warrant. “He left and went to a service station, and we decided that it was safe to go ahead and try to arrest him,” recalls Halualani. “When two of the deputies approached him, he jumped in his van. When I tried to block him in, he rammed me, and at that point in time the shooting started.” Hinman, who produced a weapon, was shot twice by deputies; he still managed to smash past Halualani’s Explorer, hitting two other cars as he careened out onto the street. After that, it got very Cops— with Hinman leaping out of the van while it was still moving and attempting to flee on foot as his vehicle crashed into a parked car. Police dogs found him hiding underneath a tarp in a nearby backyard.