SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California correctional officer Arturo Pacheco was upset while escorting a prison inmate, so he yanked the inmate's feet from under him, sending him crashing to the ground and ultimately killing him. A few months earlier, without provocation, he sprayed pepper spray at short range into the eyes of another inmate, later calling the incident “funny” in a text message, according to a plea agreement.
Pacheco, 40, of Elk Grove, who was fired from his job in 2018, pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges stemming from both on-duty 2016 assaults under a plea agreement in which prosecutors will seek less than 13 years in prison when he is sentenced in October.
The charges carry up to 10 years on each of two assault charges and up to 20 years on each of two false reporting charges from attempts to cover up the abuse. That would amount to 60 years in prison if the maximum sentences were imposed consecutively, but Pacheco will likely face no more than 14 years based on federal sentencing guidelines.
In the fatal incident, the 65-year-old inmate's hands were cuffed behind him in September 2016 when Pacheco reached down and pulled his legs from under him.
The fall sent the inmate face first onto the concrete floor, breaking his jaw and several teeth. The inmate was being treated in the hospital two days later when he died of a pulmonary embolism.
A second correctional officer who also was fired in 2018 previously pleaded guilty to submitting a false report about Pacheco's actions. Both officers worked at California State Prison, Sacramento, which neighbors Folsom State Prison east of Sacramento.
Ashley Marie Aurich of Sacramento is awaiting sentencing after her guilty plea in January 2021. She inaccurately detailed how Pacheco brought the inmate to the ground and failed to identify another eyewitness.
Pacheco was evidently counting on similar cooperation from his fellow officers when he pepper-sprayed the “calm and compliant” 54-year-old prisoner in the face in May 2016, leaving him temporarily blind, prosecutors said.
Pacheco falsely claimed the man had a piece of glass and refused to drop it. He then texted a friend describing how “funny” the incident was.
“(I)t’s all about how u write ur report,” “plus ur partners have ur back,” he texted, according to his plea deal. “(B)lood, broken glass, n just u n ur partners. … Green light!”
“While Pacheco thought a ‘green wall’ or code of silence would protect him, he was wrong," U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert said in a statement announcing the guilty plea.
Pacheco's attorney, David Fischer, declined comment.