Three African-American inmates were charged with the murder of a white prison guard, John Vincent Mills, at “California’s Soledad Prison” on January 16, 1970. George Jackson, Fleeta Drumgoole, John Clutchette, known as the The Soledad Brothers, were said to have murdered the police guard in retaliation for the shooting deaths of three black prisoners by another prison guard during a fight while the men were out in the yard.
George Jackson met W.L. Nolen through the Black Panther Party in Soledad State Prison in 1969. They were transferred together to the O-Wing, along with Drumgoole and Clutchette, which was considered the worst part of the center.
During this time in the O-Wing, Jackson reportedly said, “the strongest hold out no more than a couple of weeks.” It destroys the logical processes of the mind, a man’s thoughts become completely disorganized. If a white man left “max row,” he was ruined for life, but no black man left walking. He either left on the meat wagon or crawling and licking at feet.”
In letters Jackson wrote from the jail, he described the attitude of the staff as defensive and hostile, allegedly out of pure malevolence. His written account of day-to-day life at the center was used by the Soledad Brothers Defense Committee.
The prison yard riot occurred on January 13, 1970. Various prisoners were allowed out onto the yard for recreation. The men, who consisted of 14 black inmates and 2 white inmates from maximum-security, had not been outside for several months.
Officer Opie G. Miller watched over the inmates, who was considered to be an expert gunman who was armed at the time. A fist fight broke out and Miller opened fire on the prisoners, he reportedly never fired a warning shot. During the incident, three black inmates were killed: W.L. Nolen, Cleveland Edwards, and Alvin Miller. A white inmate, Billy D. Harris, was injured in the groin by Miller’s fourth shot and ended up losing a testicle.
After the incident, thirteen black prisoners started a hunger strike in order to force officials to investigate what happened that day. On January 16, 1970, a Monterey County grand jury convened, then exonerated Miller in the deaths with a ruling of “justifiable homicide.” No black inmates were permitted to testify, including those who had been in the recreation yard during the shooting.
The final ruling on the case was heard by the inmates on the prison radio. Thirty minutes later, V. Mills was found dying in the prison. He had been beaten and thrown from a third-floor tier in the Y-Wing, which was George Jackson’s cellblock, to the television room below.
On February 14, 1970, after prison officials investigated Mills’ death, George Lester Jackson, Fleeta Drumgoole, and John Wesley Clutchette were indicted for first-degree murder. Jackson was killed in 1972 by a guard after starting a riot. After Jackson’s death, on March 27, 1972, the two surviving Soledad Brothers were acquitted by a San Francisco jury of the original charges of murdering a prison guard on the grounds that the state had failed to completely prove its case.