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Federal Guards in Inmate-Abuse Case

FLORENCE, Colo. (AP) — Seven federal prison guards — including five said to belong to a renegade group called ``The Cowboys'' — were charged with slamming handcuffed inmates to the ground, mixing waste into their food and threatening other guards.

Thursday's federal indictment said one handcuffed inmate was choked until his eyes bulged, and that another guard who criticized the abuses was told that his co-workers might not help him if an inmate attacked him.

Altogether, the indictment listed 52 incidents against at least seven inmates at the maximum-security U.S. penitentiary in Florence.

``The message here is that it doesn't matter who you are or what you do: If you violate someone's civil rights, you will be pursued and prosecuted,'' U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland said.

The Cowboys first came to light in July 1999, when a member testified that the group beat inmates in 1995 and 1996 for infractions as minor as kicking a door.

Then-Lt. David Armstrong named five of the guards indicted Thursday as members: Brent Gall, 32; Mike LaVallee, 33; David Pruyne, 35; Rod Schultz, 35; and Ken Shatto, 35.

Also indicted were James Bond, 37, and Robert Verbickas, 40.

All still work at the prison except Verbickas, who transferred to another federal facility, and Pruyne, who has left the federal prison system.

The seven have been ordered to appear in court in Denver on Nov. 16. If convicted, the seven would face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

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