Gang-related assault in federal prison sends four men back to serve more time

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Maxine Bernstein
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Article date: 
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
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The last of four men who attacked an inmate in federal prison with punches to the back of his head, kicks to his back and strikes with a chair was sentenced Wednesday to more than three years in custody.

The victim, identified in court papers only as E.I., suffered a broken jaw, a broken nose and a brain hemorrhage and was hospitalized at Salem Hospital for 2 ½ weeks.

Ten days after the attack, the victim told FBI agents he didn't remember anything about the assault and had no idea who hurt him. But he did recall that he had upset some of the "Southsiders'' when he complained they were trying to act like they wanted to be black, Assistant U.S. Attorney Hannah Horsley wrote in a sentencing memo.

According to court records, the assault occurred a year ago, the morning of May 31 in a common area of the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.

The victim was sitting at a table watching TV when one of the defendants, Jose Carlos Acosta Jr., gave a hand signal. With that, Acosta, Omar Mendoza, Javier Rodriguez Tijerina Jr. and Victor Alas-Felix converged on the victim. Mendoza struck E.I. in the back of the head with a closed fist, knocking him off his chair. The three others then stomped and kicked him and punched him while he was on the floor. E.I. appeared to be unconscious after the attack and stayed on the floor for a few minutes before he came to.

When he stood and tried to return to his cell, he was attacked a second time. Alas-Felix kicked him hard in the back and Acosta struck E.I. with a plastic chair.

Alas-Felix, 40, ditched his bloody shoes in a trash can near his cell, and they were later recovered.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Chief Justice Michael W. Mosman sentenced Alas-Felix to three years and four months in prison.

Assistant federal public defender Thomas Hester told the court that Alas-Felix had tried to drop out of the Surenos gang, but once the assault was ordered, he feared that if he didn't participate, his life would be threatened as well.

"He isn't saying he should not be punished,''  Hester added.

....Alas-Felix was serving a sentence for illegally entering the United States from Mexico and has other weapons, drugs and burglary convictions.

Alas-Felix, his arms and neck covered in tattoos, is "rather conspicuous,'' ...

Hester argued for a 30-month sentence, while the federal prosecutor urged a 46-month sentence to send a clear message that gang assaults in prison will be seriously punished...

The judge said he was convinced that Alas-Felix had tried to remove himself from gang life behind bars, but Mosman didn't cut him any slack.

"I'm unwilling to judge you by the rules of prison life. It just turns everything upside down,'' Mosman said. "I'm not judging you by the rules of your criminal organization. I'm judging you by the standards of this country where we live.''

The judge asked that Alas-Felix be placed in a federal prison outside of the Western or Southwestern regions of the country and be placed in some type of special housing to isolate him from gang influences.

Alas-Felix's co-defendant Tijerina previously was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison; Acosta to three years and four months; and Mendoza to two years and two months for the assault. The four also have been ordered to pay a total of $58,811 in restitution to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which paid for the victim's medical expenses.

After serving his sentence, Alas-Felix will be deported to Mexico.