1. $100 million (demand) FAMILY OF MURDERED UNITED STATES FEDERAL BUREAU OF PRISONS CORRECTIONAL OFFICER – CIVIL RIGHTS ACTION: At the USP Atwater, on June 20, 2008, United States Federal Correctional Officer Jose Rivera, a US Navy veteran (with two tours in Iraq), was (allegedly) fatally stabbed by two intoxicated maximum-security inmates who were inappropriately housed in the general population. At the time of the murder, Officer Rivera, had no protective gear or stab protective vest – both of which could have saved his young life. (Atwater, California)
  2. $100 million (demand) FAMILY OF MURDERED CALIFORNIA CORRECTIONAL OFFICER – CIVIL RIGHTS ACTION: At the California Institute for Men in Chino, California, on January 10, 2005, California State Correctional Officer Manuel Gonzalez, a 16-year veteran with the California Department of Corrections and father of six children, was (allegedly) fatally stabbed in the heart by Jon Christopher Blaylock, a 3-strike felon and maximum-security inmate who was inappropriately housed in the general population cell for nearly seven months. At the time of the murder, Gonzalez, along with other 361 correctional officers, was awaiting the issuance of a stab protective vest, which the prison received on September 9, 2004. A personally fitted vest assigned to Gonzalez, and bearing his name, was in a storage warehouse at Chino Prison at the time of his death. (Chino, California)
  3. $2,250,000 - Parol Agent (Department of Corrections)
  4. $2,000,000 - Huntington Beach Firefighter
  5. $1,030,000.00 – Client (77 years old – Kern County Firefighter’s father-in-law) was driving his vehicle northbound on State Route 1 in San Luis Obispo at the intersection with Dairy Creek Road/Hollister Avenue. Client approached the intersection and came to a complete stop in the left turn pocket. He had a red light. Also at that time, defendant, while in the course and scope of his employment, was traveling southbound on State Route 1 approaching the intersection. The light turned green for client and he commenced turning left. At that same moment, defendant proceeded to enter the intersection from the other side of the intersection on a red light. Defendant failed to yield and his vehicle and Client’s vehicle impacted defendant’s vehicle. Defendants offered $250,000. Defendants settled ($1,030,000.00) after jury was selected and immediately before opening statement. (San Luis Obispo, California)
  6. $1,000,000 – Client, Retired Navy Officer, hit by dump truck while riding his bike. Client injured ribs, back & shoulder. Client returned to work.
  7. $1,000,000 – Client, Los Angeles County Law Enforcement Officer, rear-ended by another vehicle on remote icy overpass in Kennewick, Washington. Client injured his back – requiring surgeries. Defendant offered 00.00 – matter settled as trial was approaching. (Kennewick, Washington)
  8. $950,000 – Client, California Highway Patrol, officer injured in vehicle accident (Riverside, California)
  9. $812,500 – defendant food company truck made an illegal left-turn in front of clients resulting in a vehicle accident. Client suffered a fractured heel (Fountain Valley, California)
  10. $500,000 – California Correctional Officer suffered partial posterior cruciate ligament tear (knee – no surgery) as a result of vehicle accident (occurred on way to work) (Bakersfield, California)
  11. $450,000 – 18 year old niece of California Correctional officer suffered neck injuries as a result of vehicle accident (El Centro, California)
  12. $300,000 – Bakersfield Police Officer rear-ended by another vehicle. Client suffered low back injuries (Bakersfield, California)
  13. $190,336.92 – wrongful death – decedent, brother of Anaheim Police Officer, killed by a driver who was under the influence at the time of the accident. Defendant had no insurance.

Rivera v. Lappin (BOP)

On June 20, 2008,  at the USP Atwater in Atwater, California, United State Federal Correctional Officer Jose Rivera, in only his 10th month with the United States Bureau of Prisons, was fatally stabbed by two apparently intoxicated inmates: Jose Cabrera Sablan and James Ninete Leon Guerrero (the assailants) both serving life terms.  The US Attorney General's office is seeking the death penalty against the assailants. Sablan, previously convicted for Murder, Attempted Murder, and Felony Escape, also had a significant disciplinary history: Assaulting with Serious Injury, Fighting, Possessing a Dangerous Weapon, Possessing Drugs and Intoxicants, and Physically Assaulting a Female Correctional Officer.  Guerrero, previously convicted for Conspiracy to Commit Armed Bank Robbery, has a history of assaulting staff, including several incidents of serious assault and fighting with inmates.

The lawsuit contends that the Bureau of Prison Administration (Lappin, Smith, et al.) were responsible for the multiple dangerous conditions at USP Atwater which existed at the prison at the time of the murder. These dangerous conditions included, among others:

  • Assignment of the assailants/prisoners to a lower level of custody than warranted by their violent history/known violent propensities.
  • Classification, placement, incarceration and over-all handling of the assailants/prisoners while they were incarcerated at USP Atwater.
  • Allowing assailants/prisoners to choose their own cells.
  • Allowing prisoners to assert & maintain control.
  • Knowledge that assailants were likely to assault and kill decedent Correctional Officer Rivera, other correctional staff and/or other inmates.
  •  Assailants/prisoners allowed to make & consume intoxicants.
  • Deplorable Key Management preventing life saving response by other staff.
  • Deplorable intake procedures of assailants/prisoners.
  • Indifference to dangerous and violent propensities of the prisoner population.
  • Indifference in maintaining a seriously undermanned custody work force.
  • Glaring deficiencies and repugnant state of prison management and security controls.
  • Indifference to general ease at which prisoners manufacture & maintain weapons.
  • Indifference by failing to arm correctional officers (i.e., no pepper spray, batons, TASER guns).
  • Indifference at decreasing staffing levels.
  •  Refusal to issue a stab resistant vest and/or other protective equipment.
  • Indifference to effect of exploding inmate population on staff and local communities.

Correctional Officer Rivera was subjected to these dangerous conditions, (and others), and yet the responsible individuals acted with deliberate indifference by failing and refusing to protect him. The Rivera family wants to know why these two inmates were where they were at the time of the murder.  That’s a good question.  It appears that Guerrero was a ‘disciplinary transfer’.  He had been in lock down at his previous prison; so why wasn't he immediately placed into lock down when he came to Atwater instead of being released into general population?” continued Peacock. AIt appears obvious that the inmates had taken control of the prison system. “Worse yet, the site Unit Manager, Marie Orozco, who is apparently in charge of prisoner placement at Atwater, predicted just such an attack,” said Peacock. AWell, tragically, her prediction proved to be accurate.” After suggesting that inmate Guerrero should be placed in Secure Housing Unit (lock down), Ms. Orozco was overruled by one Lt. Jesse Estrada and Guerrero was placed in general population. Upon hearing that Guerrero was to be placed in general population with Sablan, Orozco stated that they were ‘going to put him with another killer,’ and, she predicted, ‘Okay if that is what you are going to do. We’ll be lucky if he doesn't end up killing somebody before the night is out.’ Within 24 hours of these grossly regrettable decisions, Officer Jose Rivera was dead.  He had no idea of the bear trap that had been set for him by the Bureau of Prisons.  They gave him no warning, no equipment to safeguard himself, and no weaponry with which defend himself.  Nothing.  If he had had a simple canister of pepper spray he would have been able to have a fighting chance to save himself.  The Bureau hadn't even given him that. He used the only weapon he had: his head.  He head-butted one of his attackers.  That was all he had against two inmates who were fully armed,” said Peacock. AIt is unbelievable that they would allow our correctional officer to work in such a violent environment with no back-up, no safety equipment and no weaponry.  Absolutely unbelievable.  Shame on anyone responsible for failing Officer Rivera in that way.”

As the Warden, Dennis Smith should have done everything within his control to ensure the safety of the brave correctional officers who worked the beat at Atwater. This appears not to have occurred. As a result, he failed in his duty to provide for the safe keeping of his officer staff, and in particular Officer Rivera,” said Peacock. AHe is accountable for the breakdown which allowed well-documented violent inmates into general population, which further compounded an already unsafe situation. The Bureau of Prisons Administration participated in the creation of the dangerous environment in which Officer Rivera worked, and were indifferent in subjecting him to this dangerous environment. This was a totally unnecessary and tragic murder which could have, and should have, been avoided. These individuals dishonored the correctional staff, and this dishonor contributed to the death of Officer Rivera.”

Officer Rivera suffered 28 sharp-force injuries. Cause of death was determined to be two puncture wounds to the left chest which penetrated the heart muscle. AThe reality is that if Officer Rivera had been wearing a stab-resistant vest he could very well be alive today. Shame on anyone in the Bureau of Prisons who has prevented the officers, Officer Rivera in particular, from getting a vest. How many more officers must be killed or maimed before something is done,” said Mark Peacock.

It is the Rivera family’s hope and aim that this lawsuit will help effect change within the Federal Bureau of Prisons so that no other family will suffer the loss of a loved one as they have had to suffer.  To that extent, a website has been set up to help bring about necessary changes and bring awareness to the grave dangers our brave correctional officers face on our behalf everyday. It is also the Rivera family’s hope that their beloved Jose never be forgotten, and that his death be not in vain.

For more detailed information on the Rivera tragedy, please feel free to download & review the following documents (to download simply double click the highlighted links below):

  • April 17, 2009 report issued by the Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Prisons Board of Inquiry Report entitled, AJune 20, 2008, Homicide of Correctional Officer Jose Rivera United State penitentiary, Atwater, California; Department of Justice Board of Inquiry Report on Homicide of Correctional Officer Jose Rivera
  • FBI investigative document (302) – interviews with Marie Orozco & Lt. Jesse Estrada; FBI REPORT
  • Federal Tort Claim (Rivera Family); RIVERA FEDERAL TORT CLAIM
  • Letters to all United States Senators.
  • Letters to Pres. Barack Obama & cabinet (Vice Pres. Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Attorney General Eric Holder) -  President Obama et al
  • Rivera v. Lappin Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit - Rivera Civil Rights Law Suit 1:09-CV-00954-LJO-SMS

Please note that additional documents can/will be available for downloading as they become available.


Law Offices of Mark Peacock – specializes in representing safety (law enforcement, corrections, fire) in civil matters.


CDCR Personnel Depositions

Below are Deposition Transcripts of the various witnesses/parties (feel free to download the documents by double clicking the links):