At the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad last July 20, a group of agents from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched a planned 3am raid on the cells of Black inmates in what was called “Operation Akili.” The goal, CTF Warden Craig Koenig said at the time, was to investigate gang activity inside the prison.
As described by some of those inmates who were taken from their cells, as well as other prisoners and a staff member who witnessed the raid and spoke to the media, the Black inmates were dragged from their cells and physically assaulted by unmasked CDCR agents who made profligate use of the n-word and refused to let them put on masks to protect themselves from Covid. The Black inmates were forced to strip and then amassed in a dining hall while their cells were tossed, multiple witnesses say.
The raid became what attorney Ben Pavone refers to as a “superspreader event” in which the CDCR weaponized Covid-19; the lack of pandemic safety precautions eventually led to 2,719 cases of Covid, including 17 deaths, directly traceable to the raid, he says.
Now four of the inmates taken from their cells during Operation Akili are suing Koenig, the CDCR and two CDCR agents for assault, negligence and civil rights violations. Those inmates – Shelton Adams, Terrence Brownlee, Antoine Keil and Gary Lawless – say they and fellow Black inmates were targeted for Covid exposure and the point of Akili was to try to prove they are members of a prison gang, which they deny.
In the lawsuit, filed Feb. 22 in Monterey County Superior Court, Adams states one of the guards put him in a headlock and that the Black inmates were told, “By the time this ordeal is over, you niggers will have Covid-19.” Brownlee says guards stepped on his neck and head after taking him to the ground, and repeatedly called him the n-word as well, according to the lawsuit.
An inmate named Michael McCurty, who isn’t a plaintiff to the suit, told Pavone that while he was being escorted through the facility, he witnessed guards telling Black inmates, “Black lives don’t matter here at CTF.”
In all, about 150 prisoners were put in zip-tie hand restraints and put, unmasked, into the dining hall.
A spokesman for the CDCR asked for further information about the suit and then did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Why that night, and why only Black inmates were targeted, Pavone says, “is the million-dollar question.
“All they’ve given is the punitive explanation that they were tossing everyone’s cell to search for evidence of gang activity,” Pavone says. “Why do it at 3am, why round them up without masks and any protection and why this racist vitriol? I’ve been in prison litigation for 10 years and if I’ve seen the n-word three times I’d be surprised… I was really taken aback with how cavalier, how expressive they were.”
An initial hearing in the case is scheduled for June 22.