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4. "Foul Play" | S2: New Folsom

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On the right side of the image is a photo of a black man with a shaved head looking at the camera. His arms are crossed and he's wearing a white T shirt. On the left side of the image is a medical injury report that lists details about a use of force incident that resulted in injuries.
Left: CDCR form dated Sep. 15, 2016, documenting the injuries of Ronnie Price, who was incarcerated at California State Prison, Sacramento at the time. Right: Prison portrait of Ronnie Price

View the full episode transcript.

How did Sgt. Kevin Steele go from being a true believer in the institution of New Folsom to writing an explosive memo hoping to tear it down? We sift through video evidence, interrogation tapes and internal reports to find glimpses of his transformation. But when he feels his reports of corruption are ignored—he takes an even more drastic step.


 

Resources

If you are currently in crisis, you can dial 988 [U.S.] to reach the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

SAMHSA National Help Line
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Helpline
US Health and Human Services
Warmline Directory

 

The Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism was a key partner in making Season 2 of On Our Watch.

The records obtained for this project are part of the California Reporting Project, a coalition of news organizations in California. If you have tips or feedback about this series please reach out to us at onourwatch@kqed.org

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Episode Transcript

 

Producer: Before we start, just wanted to give you a heads-up that this episode includes graphic descriptions of violence and discusses a suicide. If you or someone you know needs support, we’ve got links to resources in the episode description.

Sukey Lewis: A few months into our investigation, in late 2022, I get a call.

Hello?

Joel Uribe: Hello, can you hear me now?

Sukey Lewis: Yes, hi.

Joel Uribe: Can you hear me?

Sukey Lewis: Yes.

Joel Uribe: I guess the other headphones I have ain’t working that good.

Sukey Lewis: The connection isn’t great, but the call is a breakthrough.

Joel Uribe: I was at Sacramento for like about like two, two or three years off and on.

Sukey Lewis: This man isn’t at Sacramento’s New Folsom prison anymore, but he is still in prison. I wrote to Joel Uribe because Sergeant Kevin Steele mentioned him in his memo — that one he sent to the warden shortly before he was banned from prison grounds.

Joel Uribe: I finally just got your letter five minutes ago, just barely.

Sukey Lewis: Now, Joel is calling me ’cause he just got my letter five minutes earlier.

Sukey Lewis: In my letter, I didn’t mention anything about Steele or the memo, but before I bring it up, Joel starts talking about Steele.

Joel Uribe: I remember ISU, uh, Sergeant Steele’s coming in and yelling at the COs saying, “Why didn’t you guys call me?”

Sukey Lewis: Joel is telling me about the first time he met Sergeant Steele, May 2017. Joel was in the hospital.

Joel Uribe: You see in pictures of me in the hospital, the bed I’m laying on is, like, soaked in blood. I was bleeding a lot.

Sukey Lewis: I was able to get a video of Joel in the hospital. It was actually taken by Sergeant Steele.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: This is Sergeant Steele. I am recording Inmate Uribe. What’s your CDC number?

Sukey Lewis: Steele has the camera trained on Joel, who is lying in the hospital bed with a blood pressure cuff on his arm and monitors taped to his bare chest. Blood has seeped into the gauze pads under his head.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: I want you to tell me in your own words what happened.

Joel Uribe: Um, I was in my cell and…

Sukey Lewis: At one point, Steele swings the camera around to the right side of Joel’s shaved head and, you can see, there is still an open wound in his skull.

Joel Uribe: I’ve still got the scar on my head.

Sukey Lewis: On the phone, Joel tells me officers put him in the hospital that day.

Joel Uribe: They broke my ribs.

Sukey Lewis: They broke his ribs.

Joel Uribe: I lost my hearing on one of my ears.

Sukey Lewis: And he lost hearing in one of his ears.

At any point, like have you pursued, uh, litigation? Have you tried to, you know, get any other remedy?

Joel Uribe: I’ve been trying to, and I’ve been trying to see if I can-

Automated Voice: You have 60 seconds remaining.

Sukey Lewis: It’s gonna shut off any minute. Can you call back or do you have to go?

Joel Uribe: Yeah. I’ll call back later on.

Sukey Lewis: Okay. Thanks. Bye.

Joel Uribe: Okay, bye.

[Theme music]

Sukey Lewis: Years before Officer Valentino Rodriguez died, years before Sergeant Kevin Steele met Valentino’s father and joined him on his mission, the sergeant had already begun gathering evidence, evidence that he’d one day cite in that memo, evidence of the times he felt the institution had broken its promises to officers and the public.

I’m Sukey Lewis, and this is On Our Watch, Season Two: New Folsom.

[Music break]

Sgt. Kevin Steele: It is currently about 2:46 on Wednesday morning. Inmate Uribe…

Sukey Lewis: On May 3rd, 2017, at UC Davis hospital in Sacramento, Sergeant Kevin Steele interviewed Joel Uribe around 2:45 in the morning and then in greater depth around 12:20 in the afternoon, after he received medical treatment. You’ll hear audio from both.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Inmate Uribe, have I told you anything to say?

Joel Uribe: No.

Sukey Lewis: In the video, Joel is clean-shaven.

Sukey Lewis: He’s got dark brown eyes and tattoos cover his abdomen and creep up his neck and face.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: I want you to tell me in your own words what happened.

Joel Uribe: I was in my cell and…

Sukey Lewis: Joel tells Steele it all started when officers told him he was moving to a housing block in a different building.

Joel Uribe: They go, “You gotta go.” And I go, “Look, man, I already know what’s up, man.” I go-

Sgt. Kevin Steele: What do you mean when you say that?

Joel Uribe: Um, I already knew they were gonna fuck my up.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: How do you know that?

Joel Uribe: Because of everything that’s been going on with Gomez. We knew it was retaliation. And, uh-

Sgt. Kevin Steele: And when you say Gomez, you’re talking about Officer Gomez?

Joel Uribe: Yeah, the one that got assaulted.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: By-

Sukey Lewis: An officer named Joseph Gomez had been assaulted by a different incarcerated man about a week and a half earlier.

Sukey Lewis: Joel says officers thought he had something to do with it because he’d gotten in an argument with Gomez. And Joel was convinced this move was being orchestrated as a cover to get him out of his cell so they could beat him up.

Joel Uribe: I just gonna get it out the way, dog, and get-

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Get what out of the way?

Joel Uribe: Get their beating out the way. And they were like, “Mm it’s too funny, it’s too funny, don’t, man.” And, um-

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Other inmates were telling you not to come out of your cell?

Joel Uribe: Yeah, not to come out.

Sukey Lewis: Joel says the circumstances of the move seemed strange. It was 7:00 at night. And not only that, he was set to be transferred to a different prison shortly. Why go to the trouble of moving him and all his stuff twice? But Officer Eric Shinnette and another officer came to take him to another housing facility.

Joel Uribe: Shinnette came, chained, cuffed me, walked me to the cage.

Sukey Lewis: Shinnette’s a big guy, about 5’9″ and 240 pounds. Joel is quite a bit smaller, two inches shorter and at least 80 pounds lighter. And it’s important to know that, because of problems with his back, Joel walked with a cane. He was shackled at the ankles and his wrists were cuffed to a waist chain.

Joel Uribe: And we walked all the way over there. And then when we got in front of the block…

Sgt. Kevin Steele: And you were going from B Facility to A Facility.

Joel Uribe: Yeah.

Sukey Lewis: Let me take a minute to describe the layout of the prison so you can picture what’s happening here. There are three main yards, or facilities, A, B, and C, that are all similarly designed. Each facility has eight housing blocks that can hold around 120 people each. These housing blocks are further subdivided into sections. They also each have their own administrative offices, dining hall, etc. Those eight blocks are organized around a central outdoor yard, kind of like the petals of a flower. So to get from B Facility to A Facility, Shinnette, holding Joel’s arm, had to walk quite a ways. And two of Shinnette’s partners followed behind, one of them pushing a cart with Joel’s belongings on it.

As they got to the gate, a couple of other officers joined in the escort.

Joel Uribe: You know where you gotta come in through that gate? You come in this way and-

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Yep. The bay gate.

Joel Uribe: Yeah.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Mm-hmm.

Sukey Lewis: The group filed through a number of locking doors and security checkpoints that feed into the rotunda of the housing block, which you walk through to get into the housing sections or administrative offices.

Joel Uribe: The first window you see to the office, they put me on that little concrete pillar where the door comes like this.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: What do you mean put you on it? What does that mean?

Joel Uribe: Uh, he like, like, said “stand right here,” in front of the concrete thing.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: With your facing the con- You’re facing the wall.

Joel Uribe: Yes. I’m facing the wall and, and-

Sukey Lewis: Joel says Shinnette took his cane and handed it to another officer.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Did he grab your cane because you were attempting to use it?

Joel Uribe: No. As soon as he did that, he spit on the floor and he just socked me, man.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Socked you meaning?

Joel Uribe: He s- like s- with his fist.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Punch?

Joel Uribe: Yeah, he punched me hard-

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Where did he hit you at?

Joel Uribe: Like right here.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Here, you’re, it looks like you’re pointing towards your forehead area or your head, face?

Joel Uribe: Yeah. Yeah, and then I fell down to the ground and I fell on my, I was laying on my right s- on my right side, but I couldn’t lay on my stomach because I was like, the concrete wall was holding me up. And they were just s- stomping my head, man, and socking me. And then I just seen the blood coming out and I go, “Oh man, they’re gonna kill me. They’re gonna kill me.” Then I just felt it crack, crack, right, uh, in, uh-

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Where was that crack at?

Joel Uribe: Right here. And then he-

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Just for reference, you’re referring to this, your chest area right here?

Joel Uribe: Yeah.

Sukey Lewis: At some point, they stopped. They put Joel in a holding cage. He says he was in pain and throwing up, but he refused treatment. Finally, he did get assessed by medical staff, and he told them he had a back spasm and had hit his head on the door knob.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: When you told him that, was that true?

Joel Uribe: No.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Why did you say that?

Joel Uribe: Um, because I was scared, man. I’m not gonna lie, I was scared.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Scared of?

Joel Uribe: Them retaliating, because there were still a grip COs there.

[Music]

Sukey Lewis: When he got to the hospital, escorted by two correctional officers, initially Joel told doctors the same thing about the door knob. It wasn’t until Sergeant Steele arrived and told the other officers to leave that Joel changed his story and gave the explanation you just heard.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Okay, we’re gonna go ahead and conclude this. It is now 12:50 on the same day, Wednesday. We’re gonna conclude this interview.

Sukey Lewis: Joel was diagnosed with a concussion, three fractured ribs, and he received four sutures to close up the wound on his head.

[Ambient sounds]

This seems to be working okay. Let’s just kind of scooch together so that we both are on mic.

My co-reporter Julie and I are in the studio together to go over some stuff. We’ve gotten hundreds of pages of documents from CDCR about Joel’s case and more than a dozen audio recordings.

Julie Small: What are you pulling up?

Sukey Lewis: So this is the CDCR recordings that we got that are associated with the case in which Joel Uribe ended up in the hospital and was very injured.

The tape I want to play for Julie, it’s a little scratchy. It’s from a recording of a prison phone call Joel made to his mother, Juana Lopez, about 10 days after the incident, and they start talking about Sergeant Kevin Steele.

Joel Uribe: Like, like I was telling you before, be cool with Lieutenant Steeles, ’cause he’s helped me.

Juana Lopez: No, no, I am, I am. Yesterday I apologized.

Sukey Lewis: It’s clear from their call that Juana has also talked to Steele, and it sounds to me like she kind of went off on him. She was angry and scared for her son.

Juana Lopez: Are you in a safe place? ‘Cause he promised me you were in, in a safe place.

Joel Uribe: Yeah. Yeah, he’s got me right here.

Sukey Lewis: Joel tells her Sergeant Steele is protecting him.

Joel Uribe: Lieutenant Steele goes, “I don’t work here to protect my own. I work here to protect everybody. If I’m following the rules and following the laws, and I’m supposed to be doing this, then my partner should be doing this too. There’s no code of silence here or nothing like that.”

Sukey Lewis: The code of silence. It’s a term used for an unspoken agreement between correctional officers that they won’t report misconduct or turn on each other. It’s officially banned, but it still happens.

Joel Uribe: I was like, “Thank you, man. I appreciate that.” You know? And he’s for reals, mom. And he-

Juana Lopez: I know, I know. That’s why I apologized, but he understands from where I was coming from.

Joel Uribe: Because, um, ma, he, even he knows this was bullshit.

Sukey Lewis: Coming across this call — where Joel talks to his mom about Steele — way back in 2017… felt like finding one of Steele’s footprints in the snow.

But that’s just interesting to me ’cause like this, uh, his term code of silence is not a term that I have ever heard Joel use. Like I don’t feel like that, like he is, to me it feels like he is quoting him, because that’s a term that Steele would use, ’cause he knows about the code of silence and everything.

Julie Small: Mm. Yeah. Right. Yeah.

Sukey Lewis: Um, so I was just like that’s, you know, just very interesting.

Julie Small: And the, you know, the “I’m not here to just protect my own, I’m here to protect everybody,” that fits with everything we know and have heard about him.

Sukey Lewis: And it’s also like at this point it feels like he still believes it, right? Like h- this is in 2017 or whatever, and he’s saying there’s no code of silence, like it’s, you know.

Julie Small: Right.

Sukey Lewis: He feels like he can protect Joel and things will be figured out.

Julie Small: Mm.

Sukey Lewis: You can trust- still trust the system.

While we’ve heard a lot about Steele from Val Senior, part of what Julie and I are trying to understand and retrace are the steps that led Steele, a sergeant who trusted and supported this institution, to become the man who sent that explosive memo, hoping to bring it down.

[Music]

We’ve gone over his memo many times, each time peeling back another layer of evidence and comparing it with the evidence we have been able to gather.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: I’m Sergeant Steele. This is Sergeant Steele. It is the 20th of July. It’s about a little bit after 8:00, approximately 10 after 8:00 on the…

Sukey Lewis: And through these records and tapes…

Sgt. Kevin Steele: It is Tuesday, the 16th…

Sukey Lewis: … We catch more glimpses of Steele.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: This is Sergeant Steele, ISU… 19th of August… on a Friday morning.

Sukey Lewis: And we learned that Steele was often the guy who did “use of force” interviews. The department has this policy that if someone in prison gets really badly hurt or alleges they were badly hurt by a guard, an officer, someone not involved in the incident, has to interview them on camera within 48 hours to document their injuries and ask them about what happened. In fact, you’ve already heard Steele doing one of these interviews in an earlier episode. That was Steele who initially talked to an incarcerated man that we called C, the guy in the psychiatric services unit who says officers handed him a noose.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: …Uh, you made the allegation, you, while trying to hang myself, the COs came in and smashed my face into the wall. Can you tell me about that, what you mean?

Sukey Lewis: So Steele had this really direct interaction with incarcerated people who’d been injured where he’d take down their allegations firsthand. Of course, this is also how he met Joel Uribe. But it wasn’t Steele’s job to figure out if those allegations had merit or if the use of force was justified. After Steele interviewed someone like Joel in the hospital, the officers’ reports and any photos or evidence would get kicked to higher-ups to decide whether it needed further investigation.

[Music]
If they thought it did, they’d call in investigators from outside New Folsom to do the follow-up. Special agents from the Office of Internal Affairs would be tasked with investigating if officers broke policy, which could mean discipline, or broke the law, which could mean criminal charges.

[Ad break]

Grant Parker: Today is September 19, 2017, and the time is approximately 6:19. Uh, this is the initial report concerning…

Sukey Lewis: In Joel Uribe’s case, Office of Internal Affairs Special Agent Grant Parker was assigned to look into Joel’s allegations.

Grant Parker: Are you comfortable?

Eric Shinnette: Yeah, I’m good.

Grant Parker: You good?

Eric Shinnette: Adjust myself here.

Grant Parker: Okay…

Sukey Lewis: In September, about four months after the incident, the special agent sat down to interview Officer Eric Shinnette, the one who’d been walking alongside Joel. In California, correctional officers like Shinnette are peace officers, so they’re protected by the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights, which means, going into this interview, he’s got the right to know what it’s about ahead of time and his union lawyer is in the room with him.

Grant Parker: Do you recall that incident?

Eric Shinnette: Uh, yes.

Grant Parker: Okay. Why don’t you give me your version of that incident.

Eric Shinnette: Yeah, so from the beginning? Uh-

Grant Parker: Let’s go from, uh, yeah, whatever your beginning is. We’ll take it from there.

Eric Shinnette: Okay, um…

[Music]

Sukey Lewis: Shinnette says, as they were moving Joel to a different unit, everything was going smoothly…

Grant Parker: Where’d you have him?

Eric Shinnette: Well, I had him, I hold him with my right hand, his left, like, tricep.

Grant Parker: Tricep/elbow area?

Eric Shinnette: Right..

Sukey Lewis: … Until they got through the door and walked into the rotunda of the housing block.

Eric Shinnette: And then out of nowhere, uh, Uribe just turned around, plu- uh, pulls away from my grip, turns around and hits me with his, his cane. I was able to push him down.

Grant Parker: When he fell down on the ground, did he fall on his, on his back, on his stomach?

Eric Shinnette: Uh, no, on his head. I know that.

Grant Parker: Oh, on his head?

Eric Shinnette: Right.

Grant Parker: Okay, c- could you tell me o- one side or the other?

Eric Shinnette: Uh, I really don’t remember.

Grant Parker: Forehead?

Sukey Lewis: Shinnette says he also slipped and ended up on the ground where Joel kept lashing out.

Eric Shinnette: He’s still hitting me, kicking me, or, you know, hitting me with his, uh… I’m trying to get the cane away. He hit me with his cane. I’m trying to get the cane away. I punched him two to three times.

Grant Parker: While he was on the ground.

Eric Shinnette: While we were on, both on the ground.

Grant Parker: Oh, okay.

Sukey Lewis: Another officer, or officers, arrived and helped him hold Joel down.

Eric Shinnette: I was able to get the cane away. Then CO Brewer comes in and, um, pins his upper body. I’m pinning his lower body.

Sukey Lewis: So to recap, Shinnette’s version is that they walked inside the housing unit, out of nowhere Joel Uribe hit him with his cane, Shinnette pulled him to the ground, Joel landed on his head, and then Shinnette punched him a couple times to get the cane away, and then they got Joel under control and it was all over. The special agent doesn’t ask Shinnette anything about Officer Joseph Gomez, who’d been assaulted about 10 days before the incident with Joel. His questions were focused on the use of force that day. The special agent talked to the other officers involved too. And we won’t play you all of their interviews, but what is important is these noticeable discrepancies in how officers remembered the incident.

[Music]
For example, no one can agree on which direction Joel was facing when he was on the ground.

Officer Camacho: He was on his back.

Grant Parker: And he has his, he has his cane, and he’s face down on the ground.

Officer White: Yes, sir.

Officer Brewer: He’s laying, he’s on his back.

Eric Shinnette: Uh, he was on his stomach, facing…

Grant Parker: Okay, so face, face down.

Eric Shinnette: Yes.

Sukey Lewis: To me this is key because, remember, Joel is shackled at the ankles and the waist. If he’s on his stomach, he’d barely be able to move, let alone pose a threat. And if the only force was two or three punches from Shinnette, how did Joel get those injuries, a head injury needing stitches, a concussion, loss of hearing in one of his ears, and three broken ribs?

The officers who used force on Joel also wrote reports, but what stood out to me reading through them is that they’re totally inconsistent. Officer Eric Shinnette’s report doesn’t mention Officer Camacho or Officer White using force. Officer Brewer’s report mentions Officer White using force, but does not mention Officer Camacho using force. Officer White’s report mentions Officer Camacho using force, but not Officer Brewer. And, Officer Camacho’s report does not mention Officer Brewer or Officer White using force. Now, that may sound like one of those logic puzzles you get on the SAT, but even after prison supervisors asked some of the guards to clarify these reports, the picture of who actually did what remains confusing.

CDCR did not respond to questions about this case. My attempts to contact Eric Shinnette over email were unsuccessful. The oversight agency that monitors prisons did review this investigation and found no evidence that officers planned to beat Joel. They said Shinnette did have bruises on his chest and legs from the cane, and they speculated that Joel could have broken his ribs when he fell on an officer’s boot. In the end, CDCR’s internal investigation didn’t find that the officers did anything wrong and none of them were disciplined; Joel, however, was.

At a disciplinary hearing a few months after the incident, Joel was found guilty of assaulting a peace officer with a weapon, the cane, and he was sentenced to 42 months, three and a half years, in the SHU, solitary confinement. He says he served more than a year of that before prison officials decided to release him from solitary.

Automated Voice: I have a call from Joel Uribe, an inmate at…

Sukey Lewis: I just want to point out that Joel is taking a risk by talking to me, as is anyone who is still incarcerated.

[Music]

Automated Voice: This call and your telephone number will be monitored and recorded.

Sukey Lewis: Officers can listen in and hear what they are alleging, and Joel doesn’t have another Steele around to protect him.

After the incident, Joel was referred to the DA for assault with a deadly weapon, the cane, which could have meant a whole new prison term. The documents that we obtained show that the charges were dropped in the “interest of justice.” As we spoke in that first call, Joel tells me that was because Steele intervened.

Joel Uribe: Within the first two weeks, Sergeant Steele pulled me off then told me that uh, “I’m dropping the DA referral because I already know what’s going on. I know you didn’t do nothing. I know you had nothing to do with this, and that’s the best I could do for you.” And I said, “Man, I appreciate that.”

Sukey Lewis: And he gives me another clue to Steele’s character. Long after the incident, Steele kept in touch with Juana Lopez, Joel’s mom.

Joel Uribe: He’s gonna make sure, and yeah, no, your son’s okay. He would call and make sure I’m okay.

Sukey Lewis: Joel says while he was in solitary, serving out his SHU sentence, Steele would come by and check on him.

Do you think your mom might talk to me as well?

Joel Uribe: Yeah, she will.

Sukey Lewis: He gives me his mom’s number. And, I want to call her to hear more about Joel, but also more about Steele, because this feels so unusual, a correctional officer keeping in touch with the family of someone in their custody.

Joel Uribe: Yeah, she’ll talk to you like for sure. And, uh, she knows a lot too, what happened.

Sukey Lewis: Okay, that’s great. Thank you so much.

Joel Uribe: Thank you. Okay, bye.

Sukey Lewis: In his memo, when Steele writes about what happened to Joel Uribe, he says there were “many more of these cases where the man’s injuries didn’t match what officers wrote on their reports.” While we don’t know what incidents Steele was thinking of when he says there were many more cases like Joel’s, we have been doing our own investigation.

So here’s our current list of cases, updated, so…

We’ve been fighting to get records on all serious use of force cases from the Department of Corrections. In 2022, we sued, well, KQED’s lawyers did, because CDCR was giving us these records so incredibly slowly. The agency still hasn’t given us all the records we asked for, but with those we have been able to get, we’ve been building a database of incidents and the names of involved officers.

And this one involves… Look, who does it involve?

Julie Small: Oh.

Sukey Lewis: Eric Shinnette. Leach, who was also involved in the Uribe incident.

Julie Small: Hmm.

Sukey Lewis: And that’s also interesting, when you just look at like the kind of order of events, it’s again during an escort and he doesn’t want to go wherever they’re going, you know, placing him in a new cell.

Julie Small: Mm-hmm.

Sukey Lewis: The rules around officer use of force are pretty clear. It’s gotta be proportional, so deadly force can only be used to overcome a deadly threat. Batons, pepper spray, even fists can be used to overcome resistance or to stop a threat, but once the resistance stops or the threat is gone, the officers also have to stop. They’re not allowed to use force in retaliation or as a punishment.

[Music]

We’ve been able to get records of all the serious incidents that happened at New Folsom between 2014 and 2021. In all, according to CDCR, there were 27 of these incidents in which officers severely injured someone or used deadly force. Some of these appear totally lawful — officers shooting to save someone’s life who’s being stabbed or using pepper spray grenades to stop an attack. But in about half of these incidents where the person ended up seriously injured, the circumstances followed a pattern. The reports note that the incarcerated person was resisting in some way. And despite the fact that in most of these cases the incarcerated person was already in restraints, either handcuffed behind their back or handcuffed and shackled at the ankles, in many cases officers used force so severe that the person ended up with really bad injuries, ranging from head lacerations to broken noses and ribs. One man’s femur was even broken. But in many of these cases, in the reports filed by officers, it’s often unclear how the events they describe resulted in such severe injuries. For example, in one report, the officer wrote he used “the minimal amount of physical force needed to place the incarcerated person on the ground.” But the man ended up in the intensive care unit with broken ribs and extensive internal bleeding. Sometimes the officers’ explanations were contradicted by other witnesses or evidence.

And these are just the cases that we actually got reports for. Incarcerated people have told us about incidents that don’t appear in the records at all. A lawsuit filed by one of these men, who was incarcerated at New Folsom in 2016, alleges that his back was broken by officers and that officers poured urine and feces in his mouth. Medical records show that his back was fractured at some point and he required extensive surgery a year later, but CDCR refused to release documents related to the incident, saying it didn’t qualify as a use of force that resulted in great bodily injury. In court filings, CDCR has denied the man’s claims.

We tracked down about a dozen men who were incarcerated at New Folsom who say they were beaten excessively by officers or as retaliation or that they witnessed these beatings. We also got interview tapes from CDCR of incarcerated people telling investigators like Steele what happened to them. Here are their voices.

[Music]

Speaker 1: They would cuff us. They would handcuff us and beat us.

Speaker 2: I was handcuffed as I am now.

Speaker 3: With my hands behind my back, still handcuffed, and my legs…

Speaker 2: He was escorting me with his right hand.

Speaker 3: And then I seen him coming at me, and before I knew it…

Speaker 2: I was forced to the ground.

Speaker 4: He grabbed me. He slammed me on the floor.

Speaker 5: Dropping their knees down on my back and my spine, stomping on my…

Speaker 4: He even kicked me in the face two times.

Speaker 2: Punches coming to the back of my head.

Speaker 4: Grabbing my hair, knocked out my teeth.

Speaker 2: I was pulled to the left and I was hit.

Speaker 6: You are knocked out, but you still feel the blows.

Speaker 3: And then they threw me in the cage.

Speaker 5: And that’s how they broke my back.

Speaker 6: Thought I was gonna die. I felt like I was dying, man.

Speaker 7: I was like, you know what? I’m not gonna say nothing, ’cause if I did, they’re gonna beat me again and I might die this time.

Sukey Lewis: We have also spoken to four current and former correctional officers who said when they worked at the prison it was well known that some officers would beat up incarcerated people. They all said they witnessed at least one of these beatings firsthand but did not report misconduct because they were afraid of retaliation.

I just want to point out that out of the 800+ guards who work at New Folsom, only about 50 were responsible for injuring people in their custody, and there were clear repeat offenders, names that kept showing up in the records. CDCR said they have a new process in place to investigate all complaints of employee misconduct. They also pointed to the new fixed cameras and body cams that they have installed at New Folsom.

In the 27 serious use of force incidents that we have records for, however, there was almost always the same outcome. It’s what happened with Joel Uribe’s case. There was no discipline for the officers. And more often than not, the incarcerated person was punished.

But there is one case that turned out differently from all the rest. It started, as so many of them did, with Sergeant Steele on camera in the hospital.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: This is Sergeant Steele, ISU. The date is the 16th of September.

Sukey Lewis: It’s 2016, a little less than a year after Steele joined the ISU squad. A second officer is behind the camera. Steele is wearing his wire-rimmed glasses and checks his black military watch.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: It’s approximately 10:30 on a Friday morning. Go ahead and introduce yourself?

Ronnie Price: Um, Ronnie Price…

Sukey Lewis: In the video, you can see, again, a man lying in a hospital bed. His name: Ronnie Price. He’s in a dark blue gown, hooked up to an IV, a handcuff around his wrist. You can’t see his face because it’s been blacked out in the video.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Go ahead, tell me what happened to you.

Sukey Lewis: Price tells Steele he transferred to New Folsom a week earlier, and officers were about to move him to a new cell with a cellmate. Price didn’t want to go. That part of the audio is redacted, so it’s not totally clear why he didn’t want to go there.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: But you understand, when an officer tells you you gotta go there, that’s what you gotta do.

Ronnie Price: Yeah, I, I, but I was willing to, to take the punishment in the hole.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Okay.

Ronnie Price: ‘Cause if, if I go in the cell and get caught up, I’m gonna spend years wishing I had went to the hole.

Sukey Lewis: What this sounds like to me is that Price is afraid he’s going to get caught up in something that he’ll regret. He’d even rather go to the hole or solitary confinement which is the punishment for refusing the cell move than go to this new cell.

Ronnie Price: Yeah.

“We gonna take you to the hole. J- Just cuff up.”

I said, “Oh, no problem.” So I turned around and they opened the door and they, they cuffed me.

Sukey Lewis: But as the officers escorted him, he realized where they were going, and it wasn’t the hole.

Ronnie Price: So I asked, “Where y’all going? This, this ain’t the way to the hole.” So that’s when they put the, the leg restraints on me.

Sukey Lewis: So now he was cuffed behind his back and his ankles were in shackles.

Ronnie Price: I told them, “I’m not going in that cell with the guy.”

Sukey Lewis: As they tried to physically move him along…

Sgt. Kevin Steele: You were pushing back?

Ronnie Price: Yeah.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: You were resisting?

Ronnie Price: Yeah.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Okay.

Ronnie Price: Yeah I was.

Sukey Lewis: He says four officers grabbed him, two on each arm, and propelled him forward into the rotunda.

Ronnie Price: That’s when somebody stepped on my, uh, shackles and-

Sgt. Kevin Steele: From behind.

Ronnie Price: Yeah.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Mm-hmm.

Ronnie Price: And they, they, they pushed me.

Sukey Lewis: He says an officer, or officers, stepped on the shackles around his ankles and pushed him to the ground face first. With his hands cuffed behind his back, he couldn’t even break his fall.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: I’m gonna have the camera come in here. What happened to your mouth?

Ronnie Price: It, it, uh, knocked out two false teeth and, and knocked out two of my, my own teeth.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Two r- regular teet- teeth.

Ronnie Price: Yeah, four teeth got [inaudible 00:32:24].

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Okay.

Ronnie Price: And when, when I raised my head up to spit the teeth out, somebody grabbed my head and s-

Sgt. Kevin Steele: You’re on the ground.

Ronnie Price: Yeah.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: You’re on the ground, you raise your head up.

Ronnie Price: When I raise up, uh, was about to spit the teeth out, somebody grabbed my head and slammed it, slammed it…

Sukey Lewis: There is some kind of alarm going off, but you can hear Price say they slammed his head on the ground.

Ronnie Price: … On the ground.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: How did they do that? How did they slam your head?

Ronnie Price: When I, when I raised up, somebody grabbed me by the head and slammed it into the ground.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: They’re using their hands to push your head down on the ground?

Ronnie Price: Yeah.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Is that what they used, their hands?

Ronnie Price: Yeah, their hands.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Okay.

Sukey Lewis: Steele asks a few more questions, Price confirms they took him to see medical and then, by ambulance, to the hospital.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: Do you have any questions?

Ronnie Price: Not that I can think.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: We’re gonna go ahead and conclude this interview.

Sukey Lewis: Steele checks his watch again.

Sgt. Kevin Steele: It’s now about 10:48 on the 16th of September. Again, it is Friday. This concludes this interview.

Sukey Lewis: The very next day, according to internal reports, Price went into a medical emergency around 4:30 in the afternoon and his heart stopped beating. Records show Steele attended his autopsy. The coroner ruled Price’s death a homicide, but that just means death at the hands of another; it doesn’t assign criminal liability or if the use of force was justified. Just like in Joel Uribe’s case, special agents from the Office of Internal Affairs were called in to find out if officers violated policy or broke the law.

Justin Bolden: Okay, we’re on the record. The date is December 5th, 2017. The time’s approximately 1406 hours.

Sukey Lewis: Already this is unusual. As you can hear in this interview, it’s taking place in December 2017. That’s more than a year after the incident happened. Most of these investigations are wrapped up much sooner.

Justin Bolden: I’m Special Agent Justin Bolden. I’m in charge of this interview and I’m gonna be assisted by, uh, Special Agent Lillia Duarte. Also present is…

Sukey Lewis: In the hot seat today is an officer named Arturo Pacheco, one of the officers who escorted Ronnie Price to his new cell.

Sukey Lewis: As Bolden goes over Pachecho’s rights at the beginning of the interview, there’s another step he goes through that’s less common.

Justin Bolden: Okay, so, um, Officer Pacheco, you’re being interviewed regarding an incident where there are criminal proceedings pending or pe- potential. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court.

Sukey Lewis: The investigation into Price’s death is criminal as well as administrative, so Pacheco has a right not to incriminate himself.

Justin Bolden: Having been informed of your rights and having your rights in mind, are you willing to talk to us?

Arturo Pacheco: I, I wish to invoke…

Sukey Lewis: Pacheco’s voice is kind of faint there, but he says he wants to invoke his right to remain silent. This doesn’t mean the interview is over, though. Bolden goes on to issue what’s called a Lybarger Warning.

Justin Bolden: This is an administrative inquiry, and as such you do not have the right to refuse to answer.

Sukey Lewis: What this means is that if Pacheco wants to keep his job, he has to answer their questions. But because it’s a compelled interview, nothing he says in the interview can be used in a criminal case against him; it can only be used for internal disciplinary purposes.

Justin Bolden: Do you understand?

Arturo Pacheco: Yes.

Justin Bolden: Okay, now we’re gonna do this…

[Music]

Sukey Lewis: During the interview, Pacheco’s story about what happened during the escort is different from Ronnie Price’s. He says as they entered the rotunda of the unit…

Arturo Pacheco: I had just walked in and we’d took an approximate five steps in. By the time we got to the rotunda, that’s when inmate Price stopped.

Justin Bolden: And this is fi- towards the office?

Arturo Pacheco: Towards the office.

Justin Bolden: Okay. And-

Arturo Pacheco: Right where the lockers are at.

Justin Bolden: And there’s lockers on what side of the…

Arturo Pacheco: The left side.

Justin Bolden: On left side? Okay. So are you next to, standing next to the lockers when Inmate Price stops?

Arturo Pacheco: Uh, we were, it was a tight fit.

Justin Bolden: Yeah.

Arturo Pacheco: So once you walk in, I, my partner, I believe, was right behind me, and he stopped, and that’s when he resisted and he s- broke free of my grasp by lunging forward.

Justin Bolden: Okay.

Arturo Pacheco: All I did was just immediately use force, ’cause at the time that’s w- I could use my body weight right there and then, so I brought him down. And I didn’t think nothing of it, so brought him down and…

Sukey Lewis: I’ve listened to a lot of recordings of Internal Affairs interviews. A lot of times, they sound almost collaborative, like the investigators are trying to help the officers tell their story. But this time the Internal Affairs special agent takes a very different tone. He interrupts Pacheco.

Arturo Pacheco: … So I used immediate force to overcome Price’s resisting-

Justin Bolden: Okay, so stop right there. W- What is immediate force?

Arturo Pacheco: Immediate force is…

Justin Bolden: And you’re referring to your white card-

Arturo Pacheco: I’m u- referring to my card.

Justin Bolden: Yes.

Arturo Pacheco: Um, the use of force to respond without delay to a situation or circumstance that constitute an imminent threat over the security and safety of persons

Sukey Lewis: He lets Pacheco refer to his report, but he also really presses him.

Justin Bolden: Okay, and in this rotunda, who was in there?

Arturo Pacheco: That I know of, just me and my partner and the inmate and the officer bringing me upstage, but-

Justin Bolden: You said that you know of. Would there be anybody that didn’t not know of?

Arturo Pacheco: No, it’s, that’s it.

Sukey Lewis: Pacheco’s report mirrors what he says here, that he was the only officer to use force. But this question of who was there isn’t just the special agent fishing, he’s setting a trap. Over and over, the special agent circles back to this question of who else was there, and Pacheco keeps dodging and denying. Then Bolden springs the trap.

Justin Bolden: So, what happened is that, um, I talked to Officer Luna, and Luna said he was [censored]. He said he was there.

Sukey Lewis: He reveals he knows there was another officer there who also came down on Price who is totally missing from the incident reports.

Justin Bolden: And you look kinda surprised, but that’s a fact, um, Officer Luna was there.

Arturo Pacheco: Okay.

Justin Bolden: Okay?

Arturo Pacheco: That’s what he said. And I’m telling you what I did.

Justin Bolden: I know, but I’m telling you that Officer Luna was there too. You’re, you’re saying that nobody else was there, so-

Lawyer: No, he said he didn’t know.

Justin Bolden: Okay, so-

Lawyer: I’m gonna object to your representation of.

Justin Bolden: You’re gonna object, that’s fine.

Sukey Lewis: That’s Pacheco’s lawyer jumping in.

Justin Bolden: So, um, during the escort, Officer Luna [censored]. Do you recall now him being there?

Arturo Pacheco: No. I was focused on the inmate.

Justin Bolden: Well, he, he walked with you.

Arturo Pacheco: But I wasn’t focused on what’s behind me though.

Justin Bolden: Uh, I’m not saying you weren’t focused or anything.

Lawyer: Can we take a break please?

Justin Bolden: Yeah, we can take a break. The time is, uh, 1503 hours. Taking a break.

[Music]

Sukey Lewis: They come back from the break, and still Pacheco tries to say, well, he didn’t see the other officer or he doesn’t remember. And a little later, Bolden’s Internal Affairs colleague, who’s been quiet for most of the interview, steps in.

Lillia Duarte: I can tell the pressure’s on you, that, uh, all you really have left to do right now is just to, to tell the truth, because it gets worse. It does get worse with the information that we’re gonna share with you.

Sukey Lewis: Finally, an hour and 30 minutes into the interview, this happens.

Justin Bolden: So, uh, during the break, did you have a chance to kinda think things over, um?

Arturo Pacheco: Yes.

Justin Bolden: Okay. So, what, what’s, what, what changed?

Arturo Pacheco: Luna was there.

Sukey Lewis: Pacheco admits the truth, Officer Luna was also there.

Justin Bolden: Why didn’t you straight up and say, “He was there”?

Arturo Pacheco: Just a dirtbag I guess.

Justin Bolden: Who?

Arturo Pacheco: Me.

Justin Bolden: I don’t think you’re a dirtbag. I think you made, you probably made a, uh, a wrong decision, okay? And that happens. And then we’re, that’s why we’re here, to kinda cl- clarify and get, get the truth.

Sukey Lewis: Pacheco doesn’t say he stepped on Price’s shackles, but he does say that they took him down.

Arturo Pacheco: And then that’s when we went forward and dumped him.

Justin Bolden: Okay, and you said we dumped him. Who dumped him down?

Arturo Pacheco: Me and apparently Luna.

Justin Bolden: How was it apparently Luna?

Arturo Pacheco: He’s on top of him.

Sukey Lewis: Other officers confirmed that dumping someone is taking them to the ground. No one said they slammed Price’s face a second time, but Special Agent Bolden isn’t just interested in what they did during the incident. He also has questions about what they did afterwards.

[Driving music]

Justin Bolden: I know it’s a coverup. I know everyone talked. I got everyone’s emails and I know all the reports went back and forth to one main person. And all the information I’m providing you was, was straight facts. I’m telling you straight-up, I’ma look you, you at your face. I’m not he- I’m not here to lie to you. I’m not here to play a joke. I’m not here to play a game. I was, I was pretty straightforward with you.

Sukey Lewis: Bolden reveals over their year-long investigation they’ve gotten search warrants of officers’ phones and searched their departmental emails and found that after the incident officers coordinated a coverup. Investigators found multiple versions of the officers’ reports. The sergeant on duty actually changed their reports and removed details about Price saying he didn’t want to make the cell move.

Justin Bolden: Did you ask her wh- uh, why it wasn’t needed about the information that she revised and took off?

Arturo Pacheco: But I did not que- I didn’t question her. She’s the supervisor.

Justin Bolden: Okay.

Arturo Pacheco: So I just signed it and I was happy with it.

Sukey Lewis: And finally, the investigator confronts Pacheco with text messages that he sent. They say, quote, “It’s all about how you write your report,” and, “Your partners have your back.” As the interview comes to a close, Pacheco’s voice sounds subdued and almost strangled.

Arturo Pacheco: This report, yes, is incorrect.

Sukey Lewis: This is a rare moment, an officer admitting his reports were false.

Justin Bolden: Okay. Looking back at this report and what was done, was it wrong?

Arturo Pacheco: Yes.

Justin Bolden: How do you feel about it now?

Arturo Pacheco: Dirtbag.

Justin Bolden: Okay.

Sukey Lewis: Again Pacheco calls himself a dirtbag.

Justin Bolden: Did we, during this investigation, did we treat you okay or fairly?

Arturo Pacheco: Yes. You treated me fairly.

Justin Bolden: Okay. At, uh, closing, is there anything that you would like to include?

Arturo Pacheco: I’m sorry all this happened. It wasn’t my intention. I had no intention of, I guess, for him dying, you know?

Justin Bolden: Right.

Arturo Pacheco: I never planned for that, you know, it’s, so I’m just sorry and sorry to everybody.

[Music]

Sukey Lewis: Pacheco and his partner along with three other officers and the sergeant who changed the reports were all fired for violating policy, including using excessive force or lying about the incident. Pacheco and his sergeant were also referred to the district attorney for potential criminal charges. She couldn’t use the interviews you just heard, but the other stuff, text messages and altered reports, was fair game. However, she declined to prosecute, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to secure a homicide conviction. But it turned out, another agency did think there might be evidence of a crime, the FBI.

[Ad break]

The FBI investigation into Arturo Pacheco and the other officers involved in the death of Ronnie Price took years. But finally, in October 2022, in a federal courtroom in Sacramento, he was called to account.

Walk me through arriving at the courthouse. What happened, who’d you see, what stood out?

Julie Small: Well, Pacheco’s family filled the entire courtroom practically.

Sukey Lewis: Pacheco had pleaded guilty to falsifying records in a federal investigation and depriving Price of his civil rights under color of law. This means he used his authority as an officer to unlawfully injure Price. My co-reporter Julie and producer Steven Rascón attended this hearing, where Pacheco would find out his sentence.

Julie Small: He looked very, um, crisp, clean. He was wearing a crisp blue linen shirt and dark slacks.

Sukey Lewis: Ronnie Price’s family was there too.

Julie Small: Uh, the nephew of Ronnie Price, you know, he wanted to speak. He wanted to read his victim statement. The judge was like, “Well, why, I have it in writing. I don’t need you to present it.” And he’s like, “Well, I want to. You know, I want, I want him to hear this.” Him meaning Pacheco.

[Music]

Takis Tucker: To prepare this statement has been tremendously difficult and painful. My mom and I cried heavily before we started to write this. We had come to the sense and reality that Ronnie would not be coming home from prison.

Sukey Lewis: We couldn’t record in court, but Price’s nephew, Takis Tucker, read his victim impact statement for us later.

Takis Tucker: It is difficult because even though Ronnie may have been a felon and was incarcerated, we never would have imagined that a peace officer who was ordered to monitor and protect would be the cause of Ronnie’s death.

We have suffered. It’s like an empty space that lays on our heart. It is sad to know that he is dead. He had a calm demeanor and it would take an awful lot to get him beside himself. Ronnie was funny. He had a sense of humor and he loved hard candies. I remember a time after he was released he wanted to go with the family and listen to his favorite singer Sade.

He was determined to manage his business and get things done whether he was in jail or not. Ronnie was relaxed and a good person and he loved his family. We will miss him.

Sukey Lewis: According to Takis, even while that whole investigation was going on, neither CDCR nor the FBI told Price’s family exactly how or why he died. A lawsuit filed by the Price family says that Steele is the one who called Price’s sister to say that Price was dead, but it alleges in that phone call he said that Price’s cellmate caused his injuries. We can’t confirm that this call happened, but it doesn’t make sense that Steele would cover up the incident, because he didn’t just take Price’s statement, he also attended his autopsy and he told prison officials he believed officers were responsible for Price’s death. But one way or another, according to Price’s nephew, the family didn’t know that officers were to blame until six years later, in 2022, when Pacheco pled guilty for his role in Price’s death.

Sukey Lewis: At the sentencing hearing, Julie tells me Pacheco also spoke.

Julie Small: The judge asked Pacheco if he had anything to say for himself, and he said, um, he said, “I am very remorseful. I apologize.” It was very short and he choked up in the middle, and that’s all he said.

Sukey Lewis: Then it was time for the judge to issue his sentence…

Julie Small: Then the judge said, “This is a very difficult decision for the court.”

Sukey Lewis: … 12 years in federal prison.

Julie Small: When the judge said he was gonna be sentenced to, you know, twel- over 12 years, um, it was the daughters, I believe, who started weeping. You know, and his wife, of course, just looked stricken.

Sukey Lewis: The lawsuit filed by Price’s family is ongoing.

Pacheco’s partner also took a plea deal. She was sentenced to two years in federal prison, but her lawyer said she is currently serving her time in transitional housing rather than in federal prison. Their supervisor, the sergeant who altered their reports, was convicted of conspiracy and falsifying records in a federal investigation. She is set to be sentenced on March 18th.

[Somber music]

At that supervisor’s trial, in December of 2023, prosecutors played the video of Sergeant Kevin Steele standing at Price’s bedside taking his testimony. Without that recording, it is unlikely anyone would ever know what happened to Price. He died the next day. Without that recording, only the officers’ version of the story would have survived. But as the video played in court, no mention was made that the man who made this video and so many others like it was no longer alive—because Steele did not survive to see that justice was served in this case. He died by suicide about a year before Pacheco’s sentencing, on August 20th, 2021.

[Phone ringing]

A couple days after Joel Uribe gave me his mom’s phone number, I called her back. It was dark outside and after 7:00 at night, and I was sitting in my home office with the phone plugged into my recorder.

Juana Lopez: Hello?

Sukey Lewis: Hi, Ms. Lopez?

Juana Lopez: Yeah, now I’m home. I was just coming from work, yeah.

Sukey Lewis: You’re home. All right.

The fact that Sergeant Kevin Steele had spoken to her and stayed in touch with her seemed like another important clue about who Steele had been.

Okay, so your son gave me your phone number. And, is it okay if I record this conversation?

Juana Lopez: Uh, yeah.

Sukey Lewis: That’s okay? Okay, thank you.

Juana Lopez immediately struck me as an impressive woman. She’s an audit inspector and she loves her son fiercely, but she is also a hard-ass. When he went to prison, she told him…

Juana Lopez: I am not gonna play around. One tattoo goes on your face, I will stand strong on my word, I will not come and see you. And the reason is because you don’t know how much you’re hurting me.

Sukey Lewis: Joel didn’t listen. Lots of people get face tattoos in prison.

Juana Lopez: Oh no, I am not a joke. I am your mother.

Sukey Lewis: She hasn’t seen his face in over 12 years, but they’re still close. They talk on the phone all the time. And after he wound up in the hospital, she says they filed a lawsuit, but it hasn’t gone anywhere.

Juana Lopez: No, and it is very, very frustrating, very frustrating. The only good thing that kept me going, there was this officer. His name is Mr. Steele. I would keep touch with him, but, um, I haven’t called him lately. It’s usually at, um, Christmas, you know, “Merry Christmas or you, how are you doing? How is Joel doing?” If it wasn’t for him, my son wouldn’t be alive today.

Sukey Lewis: Really? Wow.

Juana Lopez: Mm-hmm. He was the one that, uh, seek medical attention for him. I think he was one of the reasons that he helped him transfer.

Sukey Lewis: Oh, he helped him to go to a different facility?

Juana Lopez: Yeah, mm-hmm. Yeah.

Sukey Lewis: Uh-

Juana Lopez: And I, I’m very appreciative of Mr. Steele.

Sukey Lewis: I realize as she’s talking that Juana doesn’t know yet that Steele passed away. Did you hear that he had died?

Juana Lopez: Who?

Sukey Lewis: Mr. Steele.

Juana Lopez: No.

Sukey Lewis: Yeah. I’m really sorry to be telling you that.

Juana Lopez: He… They, uh, that’s, uh, foul play. Foul play, honestly. He- And I was gonna… Oh, wow.

Sukey Lewis: Yeah.

She immediately suspects that he was killed, but I have to tell her that seven months after he moved to Missouri, he actually took his own life.

Juana Lopez: [Sobs]

Sukey Lewis: He, um, um, he, he committed suicide they say.

Juana Lopez: No, no. [crying] No, he was a very sharp, was, he was very, very… Uh-uh. I cannot accept that. I cannot accept that, none. I mean, I knew him talking to him like I’m talking to you.

Sukey Lewis: Yeah.

Juana Lopez: But with him, I felt a comfort. He goes, “No, Ms. Lopez, you don’t worry about your son. I am here. I am here.”

Sukey Lewis: Oh, wow. Um, I’m really sorry I, I had to-

Juana Lopez: Oh, wow.

Sukey Lewis: I had told your son and I thought he might, might have already told you. I’m really sorry to be giving you this information in this way.

Juana Lopez: Oh, wow. He was, he was a true officer. When did this happen?

Sukey Lewis: Um, about a year ago.

Juana Lopez: Ugh. Oh, wow. Ugh. Ugh. I know the torment he went through.

Sukey Lewis: Yeah.

Juana Lopez: Oh, wow. They took a little angel. So please get to the bottom of this. Everybody needs justice, especially him.

[Guitar picking music]

Sukey Lewis: I will do my best.

Juana Lopez: Okay, you have a good night, and I’m gonna, I’ll stay in touch.

Sukey Lewis: You too. Okay, stay in touch, sounds good.

Juana Lopez: And… O- Okay.

Sukey Lewis: Thank you so much.

Juana Lopez: You’re welcome.

Sukey Lewis: Bye.

[Theme music]

Coming up next time, Val Senior tells us about the project Steele was working on when he died.

Valentino Rodriguez, Sr: How to Kill a Cop.

Julie Small: That’s the name of his book?

Valentino Rodriguez, Sr: The title is How to Kill a Cop.

Julie Small: I’m assuming it would be like, “This is how you demoralize a cop. This is how you undermine. This is the pattern.”

Valentino Rodriguez, Sr: Exactly. The pattern.

Sukey Lewis: And finally, we learn what was in the black drug bindle that Mimi found in their home when they were ripping out the carpets after Valentino died.

Julie Small: Did you share the email?

Sukey Lewis: I am just sending it to you now. I have not opened it yet.

Julie Small: Thank you.

Sukey Lewis: And we finally get in touch with someone who was close to Sergeant Steele.

His big question for me was, which side of the blue line are you on?

[Credits music]

You’re listening to On Our Watch, Season Two: New Folsom, from KQED. If you have any tips or feedback about the series, you can email us at onourwatch@kqed.org. You can also leave us a review in Apple Podcasts. The series is reported by me, Sukey Lewis, and Julie Small. It’s edited by Victoria Mauleón. It’s produced and scored by Steven Rascón and Chris Egusa. Sound design and mixing by Tarek Fouda. Jen Chien is KQED’s director of podcasts and executive produced the series. Meticulous fact checking by Mark Betancourt. Additional research by Laura Fitzgerald and Kathleen Quinn, students in the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Special thanks to Rahsaan Thomas of Ear Hustle, Sandhya Dirks of NPR, KQED Health Correspondent April Dembosky, and to our in-house counsel, Rebecca Hopkins. Original music by Ramtin Arablouei, including our theme song. Additional music from APM Music and Audio Network. We got tremendous support from David Barstow, Chair of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and graduate students Elizabeth Santos, Cayla Mihalovich, Julietta Bisharyan, William Jenkins, Armon Owlia, Vera Watt, and Junyao Yang. Thanks also to UC Berkeley’s Jeremy Rue, Amanda Glazer, and Olivia Chu for their data analysis.

The internal records highlighted in this podcast were obtained as part of the California Reporting Project. Funding for On Our Watch is provided in part by Arnold Ventures and The California Endowment. Thank you to our Managing Editor of News and Enterprise, Otis R Taylor, Jr., Ethan Toven-Lindsey, our Vice President of News, and KQED Chief Content Officer Holly Kernan. Thanks for listening.

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