CALDWELL -- On Tuesday, a judge sentenced a known gang member for two crimes he committed while in jail: Possession of a dangerous weapon and aggravated assault. 28-year-old Gabriel Torres was sentenced to five years in prison for each crime. The sentences will run concurrently.
In 2011, Torres was in the Canyon County Jail for a misdemeanor domestic battery charge. In July 2011, deputies found a spork in his cell that had been sharpened into a shank. A jury found Torres guilty of possession of a dangerous weapon by an inmate in February 2012.
A week after his conviction, prosecutors say Torres and five other known gang members from Sureno gangs attacked another inmate near the bathroom area in part of the jail. Canyon County Deputy Prosecutor Ellie Somoza says the victim was punched 30 to 40 times and also kicked. The victim had cuts on his head and a black eye.
Somoza says the victim was also a known Sureno, but he had expressed wanting to distance himself from the gang. She says that is part of what prompted the attack. In court, she said before the attack Torres questioned him about the gang issues and also about a recent sex offense charge the victim was dealing with.
Prosecutors say gang attacks in jails and prisons have increased in the last year.
"What we've seen is that the gangs, while they may be fractured on the streets, when they are in custody, they tend to unite under a common gang sign, gang identification," Somoza said. "They have turf issues, just trying to assert power and control within the prison and within the jails."
The state Criminal Gang Enforcement Act, which was passed in 2006, created stiffer penalties for gang members who engage in rioting. Somoza says prosecutors are getting aggressive in using the laws to crack down on inmate violence.
"We're certainly trying to use the tools that are available to us and the laws to address these incidents and let the inmates know that just because they're incarcerated doesn't mean they can get away with whatever they want," Somoza said.
Torres was initially charged with rioting, but in a deal, he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, which carries a lesser penalty and would be served concurrently to the felony weapons possession charge.