Smashes, Thrashes N Hits
Sheriff's department probing alleged jail beating of former Kiss guitarist
On April 9, after a nine-month grand-jury investigation into the gruesome murder of John Chamberlain, an inmate awaiting trial for possession of child pornography at Theo Lacy Jail in Orange, acting Orange County Sheriff Jack Anderson suspended five deputies at the jail and invited the FBI to investigate whether inmates' civil rights had been violated.
Two months later, Anderson is on his way out the door—soon to be replaced by Sandra Hutchens, Orange County's first female sheriff—and it's unclear how far that investigation has gone. Two of the suspended deputies told grand jurors that Kevin Taylor—the guard who allegedly outed Chamberlain as a “child molester” to the nine inmates currently facing murder charges in the fatal October 2006 beating—had routinely allowed inmates to be assaulted for violating jailhouse rules.
Both Susan Kang Schroeder, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, and John McDonald, a sheriff's department spokesman, confirm that at least one case is being actively investigated: that of former Kiss guitarist Mark Leslie Norton, who served two weeks at the jail in September 2006 for possession of drug paraphernalia and attempted destruction of evidence. Norton died of what the Orange County coroner ruled was a drug-related brain hemorrhage in April 2007.
Better known by his stage name, Mark St. John, Norton was housed in Theo Lacy a few weeks before Chamberlain's murder. As the Weekly previously reported (see “Theo Lacy Unmasked,” April 7), jail records show that Norton told guards he'd stolen crackers from another inmate and was “in fear for his safety” before being moved to another location inside the jail. Although the files don't mention Norton ever being assaulted or seeking medical treatment, Jared Petrovich, a shot-caller for white inmates (who are known as “Woods”) now facing trial in Chamberlain's murder, told the Weekly he and another inmate informed Taylor they were going to arrange to have Norton assaulted for the theft and that Taylor approved of their plan—offering them sack lunches in return for carrying it out.
“He [Norton] got beat up pretty bad,” Petrovich claimed in that story.
The other inmate Petrovich was referring to, a Woods shot-caller who preceded Petrovich in that role and left Theo Lacy shortly before Chamberlain's murder, is now in federal custody. In a letter to the Weekly, he asked not to be identified by name but confirmed Petrovich's story about St. John.
“Kevin Taylor told me personally that St. John was caught steeling [sic] from another inmate in D barracks and needed his ass kicked,” the inmate wrote. “So just so we are clear, a theif [sic] is a 'house' [i.e., inmate] issue, so everybody gets to take a shot, so over the next couple of hours, wave after wave of inmates beat that dude while Deputy Taylor sat in the bubble. Whether he watched or not, I don't know. But he sure as hell knew what was happening. . . . After Mark St. John was beaten, we were rewarded with a whole milk crate of sack lunches.”
Three additional sources—two friends and one relative of Norton's—confirm that Norton was indeed attacked while behind bars but offer a different explanation for why it happened.
One of those sources, a family member speaking on behalf of Norton's parents, refused to comment for this story except to confirm that Norton had been assaulted at Theo Lacy and that the family had retained a lawyer who had contacted the DA's office. “We referred it to the sheriff's department, and my understanding is they referred it to the FBI,” Schroeder says.
“We received the information from the DA's office, and it's actively under investigation by the department,” McDonald confirms.
Another source, Norton's ex-girlfriend, who asked to remain anonymous, also confirms Norton had been badly beaten, adding that she believes the incident was responsible for his untimely death several months later.
“I . . . will testify under oath to the fact that he was severely beaten at Theo Lacy,” she said in an e-mail. “I personally went to the facility a few days before he was beaten to visit him, and he told me that he feared for his life. I didn't take it serious[ly] until the day he was released and I went to visit him and was heartbroken to see him beaten to the point that I didn't recognize him.”
While Norton was still behind bars, but before the assault, the woman claims, Norton told her he had “snitched” on a drug dealer several years earlier, and that if his identity as a snitch became known inside the jail, he was certain to be attacked. “He had a friend there who heard deputies saying he was a snitch,” she said in an interview. Norton told her he'd been attacked by as many as 20 inmates, who stabbed him with pencils and beat him. “He was never the same, even after he healed on the outside,” she wrote in the e-mail. “He was hurting on the inside. He often had severe headaches and body aches and many times said it was due to the beating. I wanted him to see a doctor on many occasions, but he had no medical insurance.”
The woman claims that despite the coroner's official ruling of his death as a brain hemorrhage due to a drug overdose, she was with him the night before he died and he wasn't taking drugs. She is convinced the bleeding was caused by his assault at the jail several months earlier. “He did not die from an accidental overdose,” she wrote. “I was the last person to see him alive.”
Another friend of Norton's who asked to remain anonymous confirms that Norton had snitched on a drug dealer several years ago after being arrested for possession of methamphetamine. He claims that the arresting officer was a Garden Grove cop who happened to be a former high-school classmate of Norton's. “He had been busted once, and then got caught again, and he rolled over on some guy,” the friend claims. “Everybody knew he rolled on somebody. His name went around the jail: Mark Norton; if he ends up here, he's going to get his ass kicked.”
According to the source, Norton never talked about his experience behind bars but seemed to be “on autopilot” after his release, clearly lost in his drug addiction. “He would invite anybody but a cop in uniform to party at his house,” the friend says. “He sold all his outfits, everything but the gold record. At the end, he was mowing lawns, doing roofing. He was so desperate for dope.”
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).