The John Chamberlain Jail Killing: Another Defendant's Account

A harrowing exclusive interview with Michael Garten, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the jailhouse-beating case

It's been more than four years since dozens of prisoners at Theo Lacy Jail in Orange assaulted John Chamberlain, a Mission Viejo software engineer, in the bloodiest behind-bars killing in Orange County history. Nine inmates were charged with the Oct. 5, 2006, crime; in the past two weeks, three of those defendants—Michael Garten, 25; Christopher Teague, 34; and Jeremy Culmann, 27—pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Although prosecutors agree that all three men landed only a few punches on Chamberlain—who had been awaiting trial for possession of child pornography—Teague and Culmann each received a sentence of 15 years, while Garten received 20.

Why the disparity? "Garten was present for everything that happened, from beginning to end," explains Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh. "He saw the victim deteriorate, and to us, it places more culpability on him than Teague and Culmann, who were involved in the beginning but could say that when they left, Chamberlain wasn't in bad shape."

If it's true that Garten witnessed the entire attack, then perhaps he'd be in the best position to account for the most enduring mystery of the slaying: Just how, exactly, did the inmates charged with killing Chamberlain come to believe that he was a "chester," jailhouse slang for child molester, and thus warranted a brutal beating?

Two defendants still facing murder charges, Jared Petrovich and Stephen Carlstrom, have asserted in previous interviews with the Weekly ("I Lit the Fire," April 4, 2008, and "Murder? Are You Crazy?" Aug. 20, 2010) that Deputy Kevin Taylor exposed Chamberlain's status to them just hours before the attack. Taylor denied those allegations before invoking his Fifth Amendment rights and refusing to cooperate with investigators. He no longer works for the sheriff's department.

In an exclusive interview with the Weekly, Garten not only provides the fullest account of Chamberlain's murder that has emerged from any witness, but he also claims he personally overheard Taylor ordering the attack.

Garten, a drug dealer, had been inside Theo Lacy's F-West barracks for five months when the attack against Chamberlain took place. He shared a bunk with Petrovich, who happened to be the "shot-caller," or leader, of "the Woods," jail slang for white inmates.

On the day of the killing, Garten was working out next to Petrovich when Carlstrom, the Woods "house mouse," or messenger, told Petrovich that a deputy wanted to talk to him.

"Jared went out, and when he came back, he was red in the face," Garten recalls in an interview last week at the Orange County Men's Jail. "There was a shift in emotion. And then there was a lot of whispering going on with the [Woods] hierarchy. I asked Jared what was going on, and he blew me off."

But in line on the way to the chow hall, Garten says, Petrovich whispered to him that Taylor had asked him to step outside the dormitory to witness a conversation between himself and Deputy Jason Chapluk about how Chamberlain was a child molester and how the inmates of F-West needed to "clean house."

The attack, Petrovich told Garten, wasn't supposed to take place during dinner, when there would be too many other guards present who could intervene, but afterward, during the evening day-room hour, when prisoners could relax, watch TV and play cards.

On the way back to their barracks, Garten, who was in line behind Petrovich, saw Taylor sitting on a folding chair just outside the door. "Make sure you take out the trash next day room," Garten remembers Taylor telling Petrovich.

When the day room opened that evening, a "small group" of inmates—Garten refused to mention them by name—enticed Chamberlain to go downstairs. They led him to a blind spot where deputies in the guard station couldn't see what was happening. "I was supposed to monitor the situation," Garten says. "I was not supposed to go anywhere and, when it was over, to take him to the shower, and then the day room." Garten adds that Taylor had instructed Petrovich to ensure nobody hit Chamberlain "above the neck or below the belt" and that it was his job to make sure that order was obeyed.

The prisoners began interrogating and hitting Chamberlain, who at first insisted he'd been arrested for violating probation. But after several minutes of being punched in the chest and torso, he tried to claim he'd been busted for urinating in a park. "To us, that meant he was probably holding his dick in his hands while he was looking at kids," Garten says.

After 10 to 15 minutes of being worked over by about half a dozen white inmates, the punishment was over. But then, without explanation, Garten says, Chamberlain got to his feet and announced, "I like children that are undeveloped." He then held his hands up to his chest in a lewd gesture.

"At that point, his life was over," Garten says. "There are images I will never forget: punching, kicking, stomping, spitting. People were tossing him from side to side. He probably hit his head on the bunk a few times. People were yelling at him, 'I have kids; how can you do this? You sick motherfucker!'"

Garten watched as groups of three to five inmates took turns pummeling Chamberlain for 20 seconds at a time for the next half an hour, with dozens of white and Latino prisoners queued up outside the door for their chance. Some stripped off his clothes; others urinated on Chamberlain and threw hot water on his face. Chamberlain never screamed, in part because for much of the time, he was choking from the water being forced down his nose and throat.

The attack only ended when an inmate whom Garten refused to name jumped up and down on Chamberlain's head two or three times in a row. "That was it for him," Garten recalls. "It was one time too many. The eyes went back; the breathing got weird. You saw his chest go up and down and stop. If it's possible to see someone take their last breath, that's what it was."

When they realized Chamberlain was dead, the inmates jumped up in front of the guard station, where deputies, including Taylor and Chapluk were watching television. "When he came out, Taylor said something—I can't remember exactly what, but it was like, 'You guys went too far,'" Garten recalls. "Did he want Chamberlain beaten up? Yes. Dead? No."

Perhaps the most hideous aspect of what happened is that the attack on Chamberlain wasn't that unusual, according to Garten. "It was just an accident that he died," he insists. "Beatings happened in there every single day. I've seen one guy's nose fill the whole floor up with blood."

The F-West barracks, he explains, were known as Theo Lacy's "problem-solving" ward. Any inmate who stole behind bars, was awaiting trial for sex crimes, or had pissed off the guards would eventually be sent to F-West, where Taylor and Chapluk would reward inmates for punishing the offender. "I've seen Taylor and Chapluk pay people to do this with day room [privileges], extra clothes, sack lunches" Garten asserts.

Garten says he's relieved he won't spend the rest of his life in prison and excited he'll likely be free in three to six years, given time served, assuming he behaves himself behind bars. He regrets his role in the attack and feels some responsibility for what happened. But, he says, at the time, he felt like he had no choice but to participate. "The deputies used the hierarchy to do their dirty business," he says. "It's like a gun to your head. You see a guy bleeding like a fountain a few times, and you'll do whatever they ask."

 

 

This article appeared in print as "‘Images I Will Never Forget’: A defendant in the John Chamberlain case provides the fullest account yet of OC’s most brutal jailhouse killing."

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21 comments
The Gimp
The Gimp

Just how, exactly, did the inmates charged with killing Chamberlain come to believe that he was a "chester," jailhouse slang for child molester, and thus warranted a brutal beating?_____________________

There is the answer to the true culpable party in this individual's death. No one likes a child molestor, but that's not the point. This is America, and these these badged thugs need to be held accountable. There is a thin line between the deputies and the inmates they are responsible for. The deputies in charge that evening should be sent away for life, or better yet be sent to Death Row. They should be above the riff-raff that inhabit the jails they supervise. We expect this behavior from inmates, but these deputies literally have the responsibility of the inmates lives. Abusing or neglecting responsibility like this should reap harsh penalties. There should be zero mercy for these badged thugs, since they show zero mercy to those they are responsible for.

Get a new D.A.
Get a new D.A.

Let's see, Taylor gave the order, and Taylor was the one let it happen, and he was caught on camera backdating the log book.

Yet T-Rack doesn't think it will stick?

beizhua
beizhua

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 Orange County Jail
Orange County Jail

It was not easy to kill a fellow human being, even when the law re- quired it.Make some religious act.So you can change your attitude it's a good way to make life worthy.

Wish you good luck from.http://www.orangecountyjailinfo.com/..

pecker
pecker

I spent some time in there 13-14 years ago and this is exactly what it was like. If Chamberlain did say that, he intentionally committed suicide. The outcome was absolutely predictable, so the sentencing of the tools he used to kill himself was a bit harsh.Stay out of jail, kids.

Shaniquadonk
Shaniquadonk

Where are Taylor and Chapluk now? Parking lot attendants? Mall Cops? I'd love to know.

ashface2323130
ashface2323130

@Shaniquadonk Chapluk was given immunity and still works for the OCSD. Taylor? Who knows... Hopefully a fry cook at McDonald's...

Beautyfire2
Beautyfire2

chapluk is currently back with orange county sheriffs department, pretty sad they put a murder back into being a deputy at orange county jail

joseph
joseph

We'll never really know exactly what happened . This guy's not telling it straight either . probably was one of the attackers who made that statement and gesture , that would be more likely .

Big Mike
Big Mike

Funny how Garten and the others keep adding things to their stories....It's also funny how they lied through the first two or three of their four interviews and it now appears he lied and omitted some info in the fourth.

Scumtracker
Scumtracker

What a bunch of loser scum. Lock all of them up for life, including the low and high level staff who can be implicated. Thanks OC Weekly for staying on top of this

Ageofknowledge
Ageofknowledge

This was an interesting and well written article on a real case relevant to OC.

Maybe someday they'll lose their pro-Hispanic bias (guys, once you separate out the Hispanics from the white population and include the illegals, Hispanics are close to being the majority race in this state and shortly will be) and show what some of the Hispanic gangs are doing at OC jail. Like the Hispanic gang member that copped to 29 murders on one of those Lockdown shows on cable recently.

ashface2323130
ashface2323130

@Ageofknowledge That guy was white, not hispanic. Jeremy Bowles.

russ
russ

The gang member who "copped" to 29 murders? Yeah and we all believe him. He's trying to get the death penalty, so he has a nice, comfy life on death row. Nothing more, nothing less. He's making those career dead jail deputies look stupid.

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Talk about a non-sequitor...we go after ALL criminals and gangs, regardless of race. You can look it up.

LoLa Sanchez
LoLa Sanchez

Hey Gustavo!!Hope fully tou get arrested someday and get taken care of,,,,bitch,,,

Clawy
Clawy

I find this article and the whole situation that took place very disturbing. First, I highly doubt Chamberlain stood up and said, "I like children that are undeveloped." Who would say that after getting the shit kicked out of em?! Why would he instigate? And if the OCDA is not filing charges against Kevin Taylor, it just goes to show how corrupt this city county is becoming. I think child molesters are disgusting and deserve to be locked up for good, but Mr. Taylor needs to be right there with em for ordering the hit.

Fuck you Kevin Taylor!

pecker
pecker

I've seen sick people do this, so I don't have any question that Chamberlain did. They acted as if by confessing to us it excuses them of their guilt or their responsibility; only thing is I'm not a priest, and being confined with violent crazy people makes me nervous. Leave Kevin Taylor out of it. Fuck you John Chamberlain! Hope you like Hell! Stomp Tricky Dick for me, tell him Henry's on his way!

Ageofknowledge
Ageofknowledge

I have to agree with you Clawy. The OC Weekly did a good job of reporting this and that is a hole that doesn't make sense. Could it have happened? Sure. Is it likely? No.

 
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