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News in Brief

Arkansas: In early January, 2003, Little Rock district court judge Rodney Owens, 55, resigned from the bench a day after he qualified for a state pension. Owens was convicted in July, 2002, of registering a motor home at a fictional address in Oregon to avoid paying state sales tax in Arkansas. As part of the conviction he was fined around $10,000, including penalties and taxes. Owens had fought efforts to remove him from the bench until he qualified for his pension after being a judge for ten years.

Arkansas: On November 12, 2002, federal prison guards Shannon L. Hendrikson, 36, and Charles Troup Jr., 25, were arrested and charged in St. Francis county district court with two counts of possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute near a school. Both men were employed as prison guards at the Forrest City Federal Correctional Institution. Local police, postal inspectors and the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector general were involved in the investigation and arrest. Police recovered 2.2 grams of cocaine and 40 grams of marijuana during the arrest.

Florida: On December 11, 2002, James Barrow, 58, a guard at the Okaloosa county jail in Crestview was arrested on three counts of battery after being charged with groping the breasts of two female jail prisoners. He was scheduled to retire in February, 2003, after 17 years employment as a jail guard.

Florida: On December 11, 2002, Pinellas county jail guard Robert M. Strand, 34, was arrested and charged with two felony counts of sexual performance by a child after police found images of children having sex with adult men on Strand's home computer. Strand resigned as a guard on December 12 after being released on bond from the jail where he had been employed.

Florida: On November 12, 2002, Sarasota jail guard Robert Barlow resigned his job after an internal investigation revealed that while at work he had cruised Internet porn sites to look at naked prepubescent girls on three days and adult porn sites on another 14 days. Barlow did not face criminal charges because he only viewed the images and did not download them to the jail's computers which would constitute possession, which is illegal. Five other jail employees were disciplined or resigned for viewing adult porn sites on the Internet while on duty. Jail commander John Davenport stated any employees who viewed porn at work would be fired. "We do not need officers such as these who have total disregard for our rules and regulations and I do not want such working in the jail under my command," he stated.

Georgia: In June, 2002, an investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution revealed that between January 1, 2001, and May, 2002, 365 state prisoners were caught with marijuana, nine with cocaine or other drugs and two with drug pipes. The state Department of Corrections referred 37 of the marijuana cases for prosecution. The remainder were handled internally. By contrast, 11 visitors and nine guards were criminally charged with smuggling drugs into state prisons during the same time period.

Guatemala: On December 23, 2002, prisoners at the maximum security Pavoncito prison near Guatemala City seized control of portions of the prison demanding improved visiting and dismissal of abusive guards. Eighteen prisoners were killed and 30 seriously injured in two days of rioting. During negotiations with prison officials, rebelling prisoners captured Julio Beteta, a gang leader who controlled drug and weapons distribution in the prison. Beteta was decapitated by other prisoners and his head paraded around the prison. Members of one gang also rounded up fourteen injured members of another prison gang, doused them with gasoline and set them on fire. All 14 died. Riot police stormed the prison and regained control, killing another two prisoners.

Iran: On December 30, 2002, an electrical fire in a cellblock at the prison in Gorgan, the capital of Golestan province, killed 27 prisoners and injured 50.

Liberia: On December 24, 2002, president Charles Taylor announced he would free all murderers and pretrial detainees to celebrate Christmas. The amnesty does not affect rapists, prisoners of war or captured rebels. Liberia has been wracked by a bloody civil war since the early 1990s.

Louisiana: In August, 2002, the state supreme court fired Orleans Parish judge Sharon Hunter for "woefully inadequate" administrative abilities. In removing Hunter from the bench, the Supreme Court held "the risk of further harm to the judiciary and the general public should she remain on the bench is too great." Hunter's failure to produce trial transcripts for appellate review led to the vacating of 29 felony convictions, including six life sentences, because it violated defendants' right to judicial review of their convictions. Hunter herself had been held in contempt in one incident for not producing the transcripts in one case.

Massachusetts: On December 18, 2002, a Suffolk county grand jury charged Ricci Degaetano, 35, with faking an injury in a 1997 slip and fall while he was employed as a guard at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater. Degaetano collected more than $82,500 in workers compensation claims when he said he was too injured to work. After the 1997 incident Degaetano returned to work as a guard in 1998, but four months later claimed he was injured in an altercation with a prisoner. This time he stayed off work for three years, collecting workers compensation the entire time. In the meantime, while on leave for the 1997 injury, Degaetano had opened a karate school, Complete Karate, in Swansea where he was the head instructor. He showed up for work at the karate school everyday. Degaetano is charged with two counts of workers compensation fraud and larceny by false pretenses.

Mississippi: On December 15, 2002, Hinds County jail prisoner Jimmy Jordan, 40, escaped from a Jackson hospital where he was being treated for injuries he sustained in a fight in the jail. He escaped by running away naked. Jordan was arrested the next day while walking alongside a highway. "We don't know where he got the clothes," Rick Seavey, a police commander said. Jordan was originally awaiting trial on methamphetamine charges.

New Mexico: On December 6, 2002, a carbon monoxide leak at the Torrance County Detention Facility in Stancia left one prisoner hospitalized and eight employees who came to his aid injured. The jail is operated by for profit Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). A CA spokeswoman said the leak occurred from a boiler in a dry storage room near the jail kitchen. The leak left the 1,000 bed jail without a kitchen for a day. CCA responded by first buying sandwiches for the prisoners from a local business, then buying breakfast at a local McDonalds for the jail population. The unidentified prisoner collapsed while in the storage room, overcome by carbon monoxide fumes.

New York: On December 18, 2002, five guards at the Auburn State Prison were attacked while searching prisoners' cells for weapons. Two guards suffered minor hand injuries. The prison was locked down for a search on December 17 when a prisoner infected with HIV and HCV bit a guard on the face.

North Carolina: In August, 2002, Richard Heldreth, 48, was charged in Davidson county with solicitation to commit murder. Heldreth was employed as a guard at the Davidson Correctional Center in Lexington. Before becoming a DOC guard in 2000 he had been a sheriff's deputy and a policeman. Prosecutors claim that Heldreth attempted to hire an unidentified prisoner to murder his ex wife's boyfriend. The prisoner, who was due to be released a few days later, promptly reported the solicitation to police.

Pennsylvania: On December 10, 2002, a federal grand jury in Philadelphia indicted John Fidler, 56, the director of the Berks County Prison Society on charges of wire and mail fraud. Fidler was charged with overpaying himself $383,000 in illegal bonuses between 1997-2001 and covering it up by inflating the salary of other employees and creating ghost employees. The Prison Society provides bail money for pretrial detainees as well as services for prisoners and their families. Fidler had headed the agency since its founding in 1975. The kickbacks essentially doubled his salary.

Pennsylvania: On January 9, 2003, DNA evidence exonerated Wade Deemer, 41, of raping an 18 year old woman who had identified him as having raped her. The news came too late as Deemer had used his shirt to hang and kill himself in a jail holding cell on August 24, 2002. Deemer suffered from bipolar disorder and his family was not notified of his arrest until after he killed himself.

Texas: in December, 2002, Robert Will II, a death row prisoner convicted of killing Harris county sheriffs' deputy Barrett Hill, 38, in 2000, was sued by Hill's family for $10 million in assorted damages. They are represented by counsel for the Harris County Deputies Organization. Judge Kenneth Wise granted the plaintiff's motion to enjoin Will "from use or enjoyment of any and all funds contained in his inmate account." Burt Springer, plaintiffs' counsel, said: "We don't want him to be able to buy a stamp to mail a letter to his mama. It's not vindictiveness - it's justice." Apparently justice is in the eye of the beholder.

Texas: On November 20, 2002, Billy Wayne Wallace, 55, was sentenced to life in prison in Ft. Bend County for slashing a prison doctor's throat during a medical exam at the Jester 3 prison in Sugarland in March, 2001. The doctor suffered superficial wounds. Wallace was convicted of aggravated assault in the attack. Wallace was already serving a 30 year sentence for indecency with a child.

Vermont: In August, 2002, the Department of Corrections announced it would stop renting apartments for prisoners to live in while on furloughs from prison. At one point the DOC rented 90 to 100 apartments across the state that prisoners could live in for up to one month while they found housing of their own. The program was eliminated to save $42,000 a year.

Virginia: In December 2002, 21 people found not guilty by reason of insanity for committing misdemeanors were released from state mental hospitals after being detained for years. Before the state law was changed in July, 2002, people found not guilty by reason of insanity for committing misdemeanors could be held in mental hospitals indefinitely, i.e., for the rest of their lives. Thirty eight people are affected by the new law.

Washington: On November 22, 2002, Pierce county prosecutors announced they would not charge David Wrathall, a resident at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island with raping another resident at the SCC in April, 1999, because the three year statute of limitations had expired. Wrathall admitted to the rape while undergoing sex offender therapy at the SCC. SCC houses sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences and are deemed to be "sexually violent predators."

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