By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It was at Chino’s Sycamore Hall that Roberg first befriended Ziska. The inmate and the correctional officer soon became friends. Roberg said he grew to respect Ziska and even called off a hit on a Skinhead named Junior at Ziska’s request.
“Ziska asked us not to stab Junior,” he said. “He said Junior was his boy. Ziska asked me a favor because of the rapport we had. It was the least I could do for him. He did me favors.”
On another occasion, Ziska again asked Roberg to refrain from stabbing an inmate, because he feared that a knife attack would bring heat down on his unit. “We just beat him down,” said Roberg. “No one would be disciplined. It would be different if there was a stabbing.”
Roberg took Ziska’s words to heart one more time, in 1999, after a Skinhead named Nathan “Chance” Johnson allegedly raped his cellmate. Johnson denied the rape, but, as white prison policy dictated, he had to pass along his “paperwork,” or incident report, to his unit’s shot caller for review. After taking a look at the report, Roberg decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to call a hit on Johnson for violating one of the Ride's cardinal rules — the one against rape.
Roberg also told how Ziska had come to his cell and influenced his decision. “He gave me the incident report,” he testified in court. “Ziska said I needed to look at it. I said I didn’t believe the paperwork. I saw that something had happened. I figured that the dude just beat him up. Ziska was making such an issue about the incident. He was giving all the indications that the dude needed to be hit. To have a rapist socializing with NLR — that’s bad stuff as far as politics go. It was clear in my mind I was missing something in letting Johnson into the program. Ziska’s access to information was far greater than mine. It was a clear indication that I should look further into it.”
On July 24, 2000, Ziska got his way. Johnson was stabbed in the eye on the yard by Ride member Joseph “Sulky” Diamond.
Roberg wasn’t the only inmate with special privileges who came forward to testify against Ziska. “Bobbo” Wilson, a “Wood,” or Ride associate, became Ziska’s tier-tender, or helper, at Sycamore Hall in the mid-’90s. (Wilson also worked out a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.) One of their first orders of business together was the assault of an ex-Marine who was housed in their unit.
“We came to find out that he was there ?for breaking his baby’s arms,” said Wilson. ?“We were given the paperwork from Ziska. Whites aren’t supposed to hurt kids. This individual needed to be got because what he did was wrong.”
As a favor to Ziska, Wilson agreed to throw the inmate a beating, and Ziska obliged by opening the ex-Marine’s cell. On another occasion, Ziska opened a cell for Wilson when he found out that an inmate was in for raping a mentally challenged girl. “You don’t rape, period,” he said. “We are running the prison for whites, and we want to know who is coming in.”
Another inmate who received special favors was a violent Skinhead named James “Spinner” Abbott, who was in and out of custody for 15 years. Abbott, a so-called independent, was a good match for Ziska. The two would talk about German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. “The white race is genetically superior,” he said from the witness stand. “Smarter. We invented almost everything. Ziska told me that he started out as a traditional Skin, but it seemed to me that he got more infatuated with the [Nazi Low Riders]. He liked the structure of them. He seemed to gravitate towards that.”
Ziska regularly taught Abbott martial arts, how to thwart a knife or pepper-spray attack, and gave him Plexiglas so he could make a weapon. “I was in that wicked way,” he said. “Ziska wanted us to be strapped in in case of a riot.”
Abbott also planned the beatings of an inmate who was “wagging his weenie” at two corrections officers, as well as a child molester, at the behest of Ziska. “When my homeboy was socking him up, Ziska walked down toward the guard shack, and when the old man screamed, he looked away like it was coming from another direction. It was funny. He didn’t go check to see if he was okay,” said Abbott, about the second beating.
But not everyone was buying the inmates’ stories.
“They are all cons,” said defense attorney Salzman. “They have major sentences. The government is arguing that the motive is racial. He might be a hard person, but he is not a racist. Someone would have picked this up. Other guards wouldn’t have tolerated this. Why would he do it? Why would he sacrifice his career for this purpose?”
Chino corrections officer Richard Allan Palacios Sr. worked the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift with Ziska in the late 1990s. The two officers got on reasonably well. Palacios didn’t ask too many questions when he saw 15 to 30 white inmates out of their cells at one time, and Ziska provided no answers. Instead, Palacios would grab another officer, and the two would corral the inmates back into their cells. It was a regular ritual. It was usually followed by Ziska’s letting them back out. “We would confront inmates, and they said they got permission from Ziska,” he said. “They would be screaming out his name.”
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