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News in Brief

Brazil: On September 15, 2002, the state of Sao Paulo closed the notorious Catandiru prison in Sao Paulo. The 46 year old prison had been Latin America's largest, with more than 8,000 prisoners held in a space designed for 3,250. Its long history of violence included a 1992 police massacre that left 111 prisoners dead, plus ongoing riots, hostage takings, escapes, murders and other events. Jesus Ross Martins, the prison's last warden said "Detencao [the prison] is like a person with so many illnesses that the only solution is to issue the death certificate."

California: In August, 2002, prisoners Nicholas Nabors, 25, and his cellmate, David Martinez, 31, allegedly got into a fight with prison guards Tom Case and Thomas Vazquez. Case had his jaw broken and sinus cavity damaged while Vazquez was stabbed in the head several times with a kitchen food utensil. After Martinez and Nabors were subdued other prisoners allegedly attacked Sergeant Michael Ayala and knocked him out. The incident occurred in the dining hall of the Lancaster State Prison near Los Angeles. The guards used tear gas and batons to subdue the combatants and other prisoners in the mess hall. The injured guards were treated at a local hospital and released. Media reports claim unspecified "new, tougher rules" at the prison sparked the incident. No injuries to the prisoners were reported.

California: In July, 2002, the state prison at San Luis Obispo became the third California prison to ban smoking.

California: On September 5, 2002, 300-400 Black and Hispanic prisoners at the North County Correctional Facility in Los Angeles brawled for 15 minutes before being subdued by guards. 26 prisoners were injured, including two with stab wounds.

Canada: After a female prisoner choked to death while eating another prisoner's vomit, officials at the Pine Grove Prison in Saskatchewan discovered that drug addicted prisoners were so desperate to get high that they would eat the fresh vomit of prisoners in a methadone treatment program as it contained enough methadone to get them high. The Spinal Tap type practice was first reported in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Dominican Republic: On September 20, 2002, prisoners at La Vega prison rioted when guards attempted to search their cells for weapons. The prisoners responded by barricading themselves in their cells and stuffing mattresses and bedding between the cell bars and setting them on fire. Twenty eight prisoners died, mostly from smoke inhalation, and 48 were injured. No staff was injured in the incident. The prison was designed to house 300 prisoners but held 691 at the time of the riot.

Florida: On August 28, 2002, Tim Jones, 22, fought with Victor Arellano, 30, over what to watch in the Pasco County jail's television room. Arellano won round one (he didn't want to watch tennis, Jones did). Coming back for the rematch, Jones was armed with a sharpened toothbrush and stabbed Arellano in the head with it, where it broke off leaving two inches embedded in his skull. Victory in the television room was short-lived as Jones was charged with aggravated battery for the assault. It is unknown if he actually got to watch the tennis game.

Florida: On August 29, 2002, Miami police arrested Fernando Emilio Sarmiento, 37, a probation officer in the Dade county Home Monitoring Release program (HMRP). A confidential informant claimed that Sarmiento took bribes in exchange for allowing HRMP prisoners to violate their probation. After paying Sarmiento a bribe, the informant was allowed to remove his ankle monitoring bracelet to import an alleged 100 kilos of cocaine, in exchange for promising Sarmiento three kilos of cocaine. Sarmiento was charged with armed cocaine trafficking, aggravated assault, bribery, perjury and traffic offenses for eluding police. Sarmiento, a reserve police officer, was in a police cruiser when police attempted to arrest them and he tried to elude capture.

France: On August 17, 2002, Ismael Barastegui Escudero, an alleged member of the Basque liberation group ETA, escaped from the maximum security Sante prison in Paris by switching places with his brother during a visit. The escape was not noticed by prison officials until August 22, 2002. The brother was being held for questioning.

Georgia: On June 27, 2002, a Macon jury ruled that Embrey Johnson, 62, a prisoner working on a local highway, was accidentally killed when he was struck by a car. The jury found the driver swerved to avoid hitting Johnson, but Johnson moved the same way and was hit.

Iowa: In July, 2002, eight people attending a court ordered substance abuse program for first offenders in Iowa City were arrested after being caught drunk or drugged in the class. Seven of the eight were underage as well.

Kentucky: In July, 2002, federal Bureau of Prisons officials announced that the Big Sandy Penitentiary in Inez, built on top of an abandoned mining site, is sinking. The phenomenon is common in mining areas which is why local people do not build on top of mines. The sinking prison has already had a guard tower tilt and a building sink. Federal officials claim ignorance of the cost to repair the problem, assuming it can be repaired. The prison has already cost $170 million to date.

Louisiana: On August 21, 2002, Kenneth Cotton, 43, a prisoner at the Wackenhut run Allen Correctional Center in Kinden escaped from the Rapides Regional medical Center where he had been sent for surgery. Cotton overpowered the female Wackenhut guard who was escorting him and took her pistol and escaped. 38 hours later, Cotton was found by police hiding underneath a house in Alexandria. Police shot and killed him after he allegedly pointed a gun at them.

Louisiana: On June 26, 2002, James Woodham Jr. 28, a former guard and dog handler at the Vernon Correctional Facility in Leesville, was charged with stabbing two prison bloodhounds to death. Woodham was charged with two counts of killing a police animal. Prosecutors claim Woodham was angry at being fired by the prison for unspecified misconduct.

Missouri: In January, 2000, Kansas City federal judge Howard Sachs ordered the release from federal prison of Reynaldo Tovar Valdivia after Tovar won an appeal that he had been subjected to an illegal search. Tovar had originally been sentenced to ten years in federal prison after pleading guilty to possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute. Despite the release order, Tovar remained in prison. In March, 2002, Tovar wrote to Judge Sachs "I would like to humbly request that this court makes an order invalidating my conviction." Upon receiving the letter, Judge Sachs issued a new order and Tovar was released from prison on April 4, 2002. Both judge Sachs and Tovar's appeal lawyer, Larry Pace, believed Tovar had been released by the BOP in 2000 after the Eighth Circuit ordered his release by the trial court. Court and BOP officials claim not to know what happened to the original order and Tovar did not explain why he waited two years to contact the court.

Missouri: On June 27, 2002, Michael Kempker II, 20, who was serving a sentence of house arrest after pleading guilty to murder, called the Jefferson City sheriff's to see if he could return to jail. Apparently Kempker was having problems with his family and feared they would escalate.

New York: On July 31, 2002, John Amitrano, 45, the former chief cook of the Nassau county jail was sentenced to five months in jail, five months home detention and two years of supervised release and $42,000 of restitution after pleading guilty in April, 2002, to federal charges of taking kickbacks from jail food suppliers. Amitrano admitted he accepted kickbacks from Nick Penachio Co. for food the jail paid for but which was never delivered. Amitrano resigned his job of 20 years as head cook in October, 2000, in the midst of the state and federal corruption investigation into government food suppliers in the New York City area.

North Carolina: On August 30, 2002, Lee County Assistant district attorney William Huggins Jr., 45, was charged with soliciting the murder of his wife Cathy. Melissa Davis, 34, was arrested on unrelated charges of obtaining property by false pretenses stemming from threatening her separated husband, Randall Butler, a local sheriff's deputy, with his service pistol. Attempting to cut a deal on those and domestic violence charges, Davis made the accusation against Huggins. Huggins admits to discussing Cathy's murder with Davis but claimed it was not serious. Huggins had given Davis a pistol used in a 1996 murder case he had prosecuted. After his arrest Huggins was fired as DA and resigned his other job as head of the county Democratic Party.

Oklahoma: On September 5, 2002, Thomas Hawkins, 23, a guard at the Avalon Correctional Services run Turley Correctional Center in Tulsa, a halfway house, pleaded no contest to second degree rape on charges that he had sex with an unidentified female prisoner at the center.

South Dakota: On July 1, 2002, Neil Ambrose, 22, was electrocuted when a clean up truck hit a power line. Ambrose, serving a two year sentence for burglary, was helping with storm clean up on a farm as part of a prison work crew near Sinai. Ambrose died at the scene.

Texas: On April 10, 2002, a U.S. marshals van ran down an embankment near Pecos, killing two prisoners and injuring 12 other occupants. The van was carrying 13 prisoners and two marshals.

Texas: On August 9, 2002, Jesse Taylor, 24, a guard at the Stephens county jail in Breckenridge was charged with helping jail prisoner Christopher Vuicich, 27, escape by leaving two jail doors open and the jail elevator keyed to be used.

Washington: On July 18, 2002, 38 prisoners in the segregation unit of the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla were treated for food poisoning. This was the second outbreak of food borne disease at the prison in 2002.

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