The attack of a corrections deputy by inmates has led Humboldt County Sheriff Billy Honsal to call attention to the impacts of the state’s public safety realignment and increasing crime and gang activity.
Honsal held a press conference in a Sheriff’s Office conference room on August 11 following what was described as the assault of Corrections Deputy Dillon Huffman two days prior. The attack took place at about 7:20 p.m. when Huffman was doing routine cell checks in the county jail’s maximum security unit.
Huffman, who has been working as a correctional deputy for almost a year, was checking cells when he was “lured over to a cell” that housed inmates Lorence Bailey and Jonah Little, said Honsal.
“Bailey and Little asked Huffman to come inside, to check out some things that they had, some art,” he continued. “There was no kind of confrontation and there were no prior acts of violence between Huffman and these inmates – there was no reason for alarm.”
Huffman opened the cell door and was “pulled into the cell” when the assault was launched. Huffman managed to radio for aid as the assault continued outside the cell and “fought for his life” in the 34 seconds it took for other deputies to respond, Honsal said.
He believes the inmates were “prepared to fight” and “knew exactly what they were going to do – it was calculated, they drew him in and punched him numerous times.”
When correctional deputies responded, “The inmates immediately fell to the ground and surrendered.” They were restrained and transported to the jail’s secured housing area.
Huffman was taken to the hospital, where he was treated and released for facial injuries.
The inmates will be charged with several felonies, including assault on a peace officer and violation of probation with a gang enhancement, said Honsal.
Video of the incident was taken on a jail security camera and was shown to reporters during the press conference.
Honsal described the assault as being indicative of the “new reality of our correctional facility” since the state’s 2011 passage of the AB 109 public safety realignment law. The law redirects non-violent, non-sexual felony offenders from the state prison system to county jails and provides funding for rehabilitation services.
Honsal said the law’s immediate impact is a change in the county jail’s atmosphere. “It has become more and more violent since AB 109,” he said, adding that “the stats speak for themselves.”
He said that in 2013, five correctional deputies were assaulted. There were two assaults on jail deputies in 2014.
In 2015, when AB 109’s implementation was in swing, there were 36 assaults and there were 27 in 2016. So far this year, there have been 22 assaults, including four attacks requiring some level of hospitalization.
“This is the reality,” Honsal said. “On a good day, we have 20 correctional deputies that are assigned to 400 inmates,” he added, saying that about 20 percent of inmates show “unpredictable behavior on a daily basis and it is becoming an increasingly difficult job to do.”
Honsal offered a blunt assessment of the accused attackers. “These guys are straight-up thugs – that’s the only way to describe them,” he said. “It’s thugs that do this kind of stuff.”
During a question and answer session, Honsal said the Sheriff’s Office believes that Bailey and Little are “part of a gang” and he thinks the motive for the assault is “furtherance of their gang.”
Bailey is in jail on a murder charge, Honsal continued. “He is likely going to prison and a lot of times, these guys like to set the tone before they go to prison – ‘Hey, this is the kind of badass I am, I took on a correctional deputy so don’t mess with me when I go to prison.’”
Honsal said Little is in jail for a probation violation and would have probably been sent to prison for it in the times preceding AB 109.
In response to the escalating assaults on deputies, training will “focus more on defensive tactics,” said Honsal.
The county’s forthcoming jail expansion project, which is funded through AB 109, will help reduce the facility’s overcrowding impacts by adding 44 beds, he said in response to a question.
A full video of the press conference was taken by Oliver Cory and is posted on the Redheaded Blackbelt blog, which is administrated by Southern Humboldt resident Kym Kemp.