On May 31, 1993, Tom Avenall and Gary Harlow, corrections officers at Avenal State Prison in California, were on duty in Housing Unit 250 in the medium security prison's Facility Two. Facility Two had been experiencing heightened tension between two Hispanic gangs--one based in Northern California and the other based in the southern part of the state--since April. The tension was steadily increasing between the opposing groups, and officers sensed that it was only a matter of time before it erupted into real trouble.
The previous day, one Hispanic inmate was severely stabbed on the handball court and had to be medically transferred to an outside hospital. Because the incident was believed to be gang-related, 18 other inmates were placed in administrative segregation and the entire facility was placed on lock-down status.
Just before 10 p.m., two Northern Hispanic inmates refused to stay in their assigned bunks and were taken into custody by officers on duty. Immediately afterward, a fight among several gang members erupted inside another dorm on the opposite side of the building. The fight moved onto the central floor and eventually to the front of the unit supervised by Avenall and Harlow. At this time, three Southern Hispanic inmates and two Northern Hispanic inmates were involved. The facility's Hispanic population became agitated and restless, but they remained on their bunks.
When Avenall realized that one of the fighting inmates had a shank, he activated his personal alarm. Avenall realized, however, that if he waited for his fellow...