By Rigoberto Sanchez
Edwin Lima did not have to die - that’s the bitter truth.
The prosecution alleged at my trial for Lima’s death, that I pulled the trigger because he was engaged in an affair with my soon to be ex-wife, Sandra, but the circumstances were not that simple and straightforward.
I went to work as a correctional officer at the California Prison in Tehachapi in 2002. I performed various routing assignments in towers, housing units until 2010 when I was trained for the Elite Investigative Services Unit (ISU). My duties included investigating conspiracies to introduce drugs, cell phones, weapons into the prison, I processed crime scenes, such as riots or prisoner assaults on staff.
In addition to my official duties, I was elected by my coworkers to represent them in the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. I was honored that the officers I worked with each day trusted me to pursue their interests.
I sought employment as a correctional officer because the pay and benefits ensured my family’s well-being, but I also felt I was contributing in a small way, keeping neighborhoods safe.
Sandra and I married in 2003, she already had a five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.
We were blessed with another daughter, Marina, born with a heart defect. She was fitted with a pacemaker when only four days old. My heart broke when Marina passed away before her third birthday.
Sandra also became a correctional officer at Tehachapi, and with the exception of our tragic loss of Marina, we were raising Sandra’s children in a sanguine, suburban bubble until I became aware in 2011 that Sandra was engaged in an extra marital affair. We separated and I moved out.
Sandra’s daughter began to experience emotional problems. While Sandra and I communicated about the situation and possible solutions, we started to reconcile and reunited in 2012.
While working in ISU, I noticed a pattern, where Officers Escalante, Garcia, Lima and others were involved in one use of force incident after another. Correctional officers are allowed to use force to subdue prisoners, but the force must be appropriate to the situation. Their involvement in multiple incidents suggested to me there's officers’ use of force was excessive and not justified.
In 2016, I became aware that Sandra was engaged in another affair, this time with Officer Lima, who had been investigated for sexual harassment and excessive use of force. Sandra had also been investigated and disciplined, losing a percentage of her salary, for violation of the chain of evidence, suggesting she’d been involved in at least one cover up of excessive use of force. Each married to other people, Sandra and Lima lied about attending training to conduct romantic activities. Once again, Sandra and I separated and began divorce proceedings.
In early 2017, I was recalled to the person about 6:30 in the evening due to an alleged assault by a prisoner on staff incident. After picking up a crime scene kit, I reported to the facility lieutenant who informed me that a prisoner under escort from his housing unit to medical had attacked his escort officer in the rotunda of the housing unit.
I reviewed the incident reports and became suspicious. A rotunda where there are no video cameras and outside the view of cell windows is a favorite place for officers to administer rough justice. In addition, Lima, Escalante, Garcia, and Sandra had written reports as participants or responders.
I proceeded with the crime scene kit to the rotunda to process evidence and I observed obvious attempts by someone to clean blood from the walls. The scrubbing had left red smears. I refused to process sanitized evidence, but subsequently another ISU officer went along with the cover up and processed the tampered evidence.
Sandra had been the housing units control officer during the incident. The next day we spoke on the phone and she seemed nervous and evasive. She told me she had forgotten to secure the housing unit’s front door after the incident. She heard a noise, looked and saw Officer Escalante wiping up blood. She added quickly that the incident should’ve never happened. I could tell she was minimizing, a whole lot more had occurred then she was saying. I suspected officers had battered a prisoner. Although all incident reports are mandated to be completed before officers leave the prison, I urged Sandra to write a supplementary report. She didn’t respond, cut off the call, and did not correct her report, nor did any other officer.
I thought long and hard about going to the ISU sergeant, but all I really had was Sandra’s cryptic words she’d deny and long-gone blood smears.
Truthfully, I was also concerned with my safety, if you don’t go along, one day you may call for help and no officer will respond to save you from attempted assault or murder.
Still separated from Sandra, our divorce proceedings ongoing, she came to visit her daughter who was living with me, and removed framed photos of our deceased daughter, Marina. I phoned demanding their return and Sandra refused. I was emotional, irrational, angry, humiliated, hurt, and felt absolutely disrespected.
I had keys to Sandra’s, I foolishly went to retrieve the photos. Unknown to me, she had a doorbell camera. Although not at home, she could see me through the camera, screamed, threatened to phone the police, and I retreated hastily.
A homeless man had approached me at a gas station asking for work. I bought him a soft drink and gave him a few dollars. I drove him to Sandra’s and instructed him to remove the doorbell camera. I entered and took back Marina’s photos. In a comedy of fumbling false steps, the doorbell camera was dropped and returned to me by a seven or eight-year-old boy, who popped up out of nowhere during my hurried exit. Flustered by my ill-conceived, inept raid, I failed to retrieve the door keys from the homeless guy who apparently returned to ransack Sandra’s belongings.
A series of phone calls ensued between Edwin Lima and me. He threatened to harm my brother if I continued to question the use of force incidents involving him and his crew. I challenged him to schedule ring time, don boxing gloves and engage in a battle of the badges. He declined and offered to send me a video of him having sex with Sandra. He accused me of cheating on Sandra, which was not true, and then boasted when he was done with Sandra, he’d have sex with her daughter and sent me that video as well. I told him I was on the way over and dropped the phone.
Correctional officers have “carry permits” for firearms. Carrying a gun when I left home was as natural as packing my wallet.
Parking next to Lima’s truck, I drew my weapon thinking Lima would be armed as well and might ambush me. I saw Lima in the apartment window pointing a gun at me. I fired and he fell back behind window blinds where I couldn’t see him. I picked up a cinder block and threw it through the window which pulled down the blinds. I saw Sandra running from the room. Spotting Lima I fired at him until the gun emptied and locked open. As I reloaded, Sandra returned and pointed a gun at me. I fired, didn’t hit her, and she left the room again.
I left and eventually was arrested, stood trial, and sent to prison. This time wearing convict blue, not officer green.
Now each morning, I awake in a small cell, tight walls pressing in, and ponder the path that led to life in prison. Without trying to evade my own responsibility, I do believe if there wasn’t a culture of silence, cover up, corruption, and flat out lies, Edwin Lima would still be alive. Due to a lack of oversight by prison officials, failing to supervise and lending a blind eye to illicit behavior, an uncurbed Lima felt free to run rampant, engaging in decadent sexual harassment and sexual misconduct inside prison walls. Lima and his crew smuggled contraband, handed out rough justice, beat downs, to prisoners to intimidate or perhaps simply because they could, and no one stopped them. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, unchecked misuse of power leads to misdeeds.
At my trial, the judge, district attorney and my attorney forbade me from testifying about prison culture that would’ve provided context.
Only after Lima’s death did the California Department of Corrections send Investigators to Tehachapi, to find out what the hell was going on inside prison walls. A dozen correctional officers had their employment terminated including Escalante and Garcia. Much too late for Edwin Lima - that’s the bitter truth.
|Rigoberto Sanchez BH6209|
Pleasant Valley State Prison
P.O. Box 8500
Coalinga, CA 93210