PHOENIX -- Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said the Mexican Mafia is trying to take over his jail.
A whole floor at the Fourth Avenue Jail was placed under lockdown Tuesday night. The sheriff is exerting his authority in hopes of frustrating the Mexican Mafia, one of the oldest and most violent prison gangs in America.
"There is a culture in the jails with these guys," Arpaio said. "It's like they're going to be in here for the rest of their lives so they have to send some messages that they're running everything."
The sheriff's office claims fights have been on the increase. One major confrontation involved 25 black and Latino inmates. The violence reportedly was ordered by so-called "chieftains" of the Mexican Mafia.
"They just want to cause an uproar in our jail, probably because they have nothing else to do but to make plans to cause disturbances and are now bringing the racial element into the situation," Arpaio said.
According to the sheriff, the chieftains have given the word that Hispanic inmates should refuse being housed in the same cells as black prisoners.
Arpaio said chieftains are ordering racial attacks on black inmates as a means to engage detention officers. So far no detention officers have been injured and the sheriff means to keep it that way.
"This has happened in the past. We've always had these types of problems but we're a little more concerned today," Arpaio said. "It seems to be perpetuating itself into a more serious situation, especially when they begin threatening our officers."
The Mexican Mafia originated in California prisons. They are considered one of the most violent of prison gangs. Their motto is blood in blood out, which means you must kill to gain admittance while the only way to get out is to be killed.
According to the sheriff's office, most of the violence is occurring on the third floor of the jail so that entire block of 750 inmates is on lockdown. All privileges including canteen, visitation, phone and recreation have been suspended until further notice.
"I don't like these mafia guys thinking they run this jail," Arpaio said. "The sheriff's office runs the jail system and they better start getting that message."
Arpaio said the lockdown will remain in effect until he is satisfied the threat of danger no longer exists.
Approximately 1,800 male inmates currently are housed at the jail. The racial breakdown is as follows: 735 white, 556 Hispanic, 415 black, 79 Native American, 15 Asian and seven others.