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Inmate who was assaulted in Kern County jail has died

10-8-2014 California:

An inmate who was assaulted over the weekend in the Lerdo Pretrial Facility has died.

Christopher Earl Pettenger, 34, was assaulted by other inmates. He was found Saturday suffering from severe head injuries inside his cell, according to the Kern County Sheriff's Office.

The coroner's office released his name Wednesday, a day after he died at Kern Medical Center. An autopsy is scheduled.

Sheriff's office spokesman Ray Pruitt said he couldn't comment on suspects or a motive, citing the open investigation.

Pettenger was a registered sex offender who was the subject of multiple police alerts when he failed to contact his parole agent. ..Source,, by Staff

2 Lerdo inmates investigated for in-custody murder


Two inmates from Kern County's Lerdo Pretrial facility are under investigation for the murder of a fellow inmate, and the case is now being reviewed by the District Attorney's Office.

On Oct. 4, inmate Christopher Pettenger was found severely injured, and he died three days later. On Tuesday, Eyewitness News was told the two suspects in the death are Ismael Arsenio Leon and Gregory Reynoso.

Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt says his department cannot comment on the case, but he reported Pettenger, 34, had been found with serious head injuries. The coroner’s office ruled the cause of death was blunt force trauma, and called it a homicide.

About two months earlier, Bakersfield Police were looking for Pettenger. They said he was a sex offender, and hadn't checked in with his parole agent. Court records show he was picked up in early September, and pled guilty a couple days later.

Pettenger's record shows several parole violations earlier this year, and before that he had court cases for charges including drugs and burglary.

For the two suspects in his murder, court records show Gregory Reynoso pled no contest to a charge of assault in late August.

Ismael Leon had been arrested in January, accused of shooting a man to death. Court records show he was found guilty in late August, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The murder raises the question of violence in the county jail, and whether prison realignment has impacted that.

In October 2011, provisions of Assembly Bill 109 kicked in. That's so-called "prison realignment," which allows more inmates to be held at the county level instead of serving time in state prisons. The change was a way for the state to meet requirements to reduce the number of prisoners in state facilities.

At Lerdo, Lt. Gregory Gonzales says AB 109 has not resulted in more violence in Kern County jails, but it has changed the type of inmate they house.

"Currently today, 91 percent of the inmates in custody are felons," Gonzales told Eyewitness News. "Prior to realignment that was probably about 65 percent." Gonzales says they're also seeing more inmates with health problems. And more with mental health problems.

"About 54 percent of the inmates in custody have mental health issues," he said. "Prior to realignment that was about 23- to 24 percent." He says that increase is significant.

He said the jails saw a small increase in violence right after realignment started, but now it seems to go up and down by only 5- to 10 percent.

But, Gonzales says under realignment, the county jail is focused on getting inmates into programs, and that's showing positive results.

"We're seeing a shift of the programs actually having an influence." Gonzales said. "The inmates are actually appreciating the services that we're providing, and desire to participate in some of the programs."

Gonzales says realignment is here, and Kern County's trying to embrace the changes it requires. It's hoped the emphasis on programs for inmates will help steer them away from crime and return trips to jail.

As for the case of the murder in jail, sheriff officials say they can't comment on it. Asked about the suspect who had a 25-year sentence, Gonzales said inmates can end up staying in a local jail after a sentence like that, if they have other cases pending against them. He said that happens, especially with defendants on probation.

Pruitt said the two men being investigated in Pettenger's death are believed to be responsible, but he wouldn't discuss how they may have interacted. And, he said there could be additional suspects.

The case was sent to the DA's office Tuesday morning, where it's reported to be under review. ..Source.. by Carol Ferguson

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