The largest riot at San Quentin State Prison in 23 years left 42 inmates injured Monday, three of them seriously enough that they were sent to outside hospitals, authorities said.
The fight broke out between white and Latino inmates about 8:40 a.m. in a medium-security dormitory-style unit that houses about 900 prisoners, said Vernell Crittendon, public information officer for the prison. Prison officials said as many as 80 inmates in several buildings were involved.
It took about 50 officers armed with batons and pepper spray to quell the riot, which lasted six minutes, said Sgt. Eric Messick, a warden's administrative assistant.
Three seriously injured inmates were taken to hospitals, authorities said.
"One inmate has a slash wound that goes from his ear all the way over to his mouth. It appears he was attacked by a razor blade attached to a toothbrush or a comb," Crittendon said.
Authorities found five weapons in the unit: three soap bars in socks, a razor and a "small weapon made out of a metal tip, melted into the end of a pen," Messick said.
Authorities had yet to pinpoint what sparked the riot, though they ruled out gang- or drug-related activity.
"We suspect the conflict will center around disrespect," said Crittendon. "One group felt they were disrespected by another."
The prison was locked down early Monday, and hundreds of bruised inmates were handcuffed as officers searched the unit and separated the groups.
Under lockdown rules, prisoners are confined to their quarters 24 hours a day and cannot enter the exercise yard, reports LA Times.
According to SF Gate it all started Aug. 1 with three assaults by Latinos on white inmates in North Block, a sprawling section with five tiers of cells. It appears some Latino prisoners took issue with a tattoo or marking that one of the white prisoners had, indicating he was allied with Latino gangs in Southern California.
The north/south gang rivalry in California has been going on for nearly four decades, one of the products of which was the split between the Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia.
Now gangs from the north wear red and gangs from the south wear blue. Territorial fights on the streets are often deadly.
Messick said the white prisoners retaliated the next morning, beating a prisoner of Mexican descent. At noon that same day, guards noticed the two groups getting ready to square off in the yard, prompting an alarm and a lockdown of the prison.