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News in Brief:

Alabama: In April 2009, two unnamed Walker County jail guards were suspended with pay pending an investigation into a female prisoner’s claim that she was raped by a male prisoner who had been temporarily transferred from state prison to the jail to attend a funeral. Sheriff John Mark Tirey said his office was investigating whether malfunctioning equipment or employee negligence was responsible for the male prisoner gaining access to the female prisoner’s cell. Tirey said he expects the male prisoner will be charged with sexual abuse.

California: On May 1, 2009, former jail guards Daniel Lindini, Roxanne Fowler and Ralph Contreras were scheduled to appear in court for a pretrial hearing on murder charges. They are charged with murder and related crimes after beating prisoner James Moore to death in the Bakersfield jail on August 15, 2005 while Moore was handcuffed and shackled. Contreras failed to appear at the hearing and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Lawyers for the three defendants asked for yet another continuance, even though the case has been rescheduled numerous times. Trial was set to begin on May 11.

Florida: On April 22, 2009, Gainesville resident Victoria Thorp, 19, was arrested after sneaking into a minimum secu-rity prison to have sex with her boyfriend. Thorp climbed through a window to have sex with Aquilla Wilson, 18, according to Police Lt. Wayne Ash. Wilson jumped out a window when authorities discovered the couple. “It appeared that she climbed through the window for a little tryst, and when they got caught, he left and left her there, “ Ash said. Thorp was being held at the Alachua County jail on charges of aiding a prisoner’s escape and introduction of contraband into a prison. Wilson remained at large while police continued to search for him.

Reunion Island: On April 27, 2009, Juliano Verbard, a religious cult leader and convicted child molester, escaped in a helicopter from the Domenjod prison on with two other prisoners. The other prisoners, Alexin Jismy and Fabrice Michel, are members of Verbard’s cult and his co-defendants. Unnamed accomplices boarded a tourist helicopter and hijacked it at gunpoint. The accomplices ordered the pilots to fly the chopper to the prison’s exercise yard, where Verbard and the other prisoners boarded. The helicopter then landed a few hundred yards from the prison and the men escaped in a wait-ing van. Authorities continue to search for them. This is the tenth helicopter escape from a French prison since 1996.

Idaho: In January 2009, a deputy at the Ada County jail mistakenly gave prisoners used disposable razors left in a storage area where new razors are usually kept. Jail officials are running blood tests on approximately 192 prisoners to determine whether any of them contracted diseases, such as hepatitis B. Jail spokeswoman Andrea Dearden said the tests were offered as a precaution; less than half of the unit’s prisoners took the test. The jail is investigating why the ra-zors were not disposed of properly.

Illinois: In late April 2009, federal authorities apprehended a man wanted on an outstanding warrant for sexual as-sault following a conviction in Sweden. The man, Jerry Pomush, was arrested at the Sheridan Correctional Facility where he worked as a drug and alcohol counselor. Pomush’s conviction stemmed from his assaulting a female prisoner while working as a prison guard in Stockholm, Sweden in 1999. He passed a background check prior to beginning employment at the Sheridan facility. Illinois officials blamed Sweden for failing to notify the United States about the warrant. Pomush awaits extradition to begin serving an 18-month sentence at the Swedish prison where he was once a guard.

Indiana: In November 2008, three men and three women were charged with escape for sneaking between cell blocks in the Greene County Jail to have sex with each other. Authorities allege the prisoners removed metal ceiling panels and used a passageway to meet for sex more than a dozen times in September and October 2008. Judge Dena Martin dis-missed the charges in one case because the prisoner did not actually leave the jail. Prosecutor Jarrod Holtsclaw said he expects the other charges will likewise be dismissed.

Louisiana: On April 23, 2009, Angelo Knighton Vickers, 47, a guard at the Terrebonne Juvenile Detention Center in Houma, was arrested and charged with two counts each of child molestation and sexual malfeasance in prison. Vickers allegedly gave teenage female prisoners various privileges, such as phone access and snacks, in exchange for sex. Floyd Wesley Howard and Darwin Jamal Brown, both guards at the facility, were arrested on identical charges. Another guard, Tiffani Denin Blakemore, was charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly threatening a teenage girl. All four have been fired. The allegations came to light when a former prisoner contacted officials to report she had sex with a guard while confined. Another girl made similar claims during the investigation, which is ongoing.

New York: On November 11, 2008, four guards at the GEO-owned Queens Private Correctional Facility were ar-rested and charged with use of excessive force and obstruction of justice. Marvin Wells, Stephen Rhodes and Kirby Grey allegedly beat a prisoner in April 2007 after he made derogatory comments about the appearance of female guard Krystal Mack. They then allegedly threatened the prisoner with death if he reported the beating. Other prisoners reported the vic-tim’s severe injuries. Wells, Rhodes and Mack also allegedly tried to cover up the beating by preventing other guards from reporting it. The four guards were indicted on November 24, 2008.

Oklahoma: In April 2009, two female prison guards were strip searched by investigators looking for Indian Brother-hood tattoos, an American Indian prison gang. In the first incident, the guard acknowledged having tattoos but denied that any of them signified the Indian Brotherhood. A female investigator asked the guard to lift her dress above her head. In the second incident, the guard had to remove her jeans for an investigator. No Indian Brotherhood tattoos were found. Scott Barger, deputy director of the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said the union believes the incidents vio-lated Department of Corrections policy regarding strip searches of employees. “We don’t feel like the policy was followed,” he stated. Jerry Massie, a DOC spokesman, said the agency had performed a preliminary inquiry and found “no indication of a strip search “because the guards volunteered to expose themselves. “It was appropriate,” Massie said. No further investigation is planned. The irony of the guards’ complaint is that they most likely conduct far more invasive searches of prisoners on a regular basis, and would certainly turn a deaf ear to any complaints about their conduct.

Peru: On April 7, 2009, former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, 70, was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to 25 years in prison by a three-judge court in Lima. The conviction stems from killings carried out by army death squads during Fujimori’s presidency from 1990-2000. Fujimori was found guilty of giving political cover and leader-ship to the death squads during the height of Peru’s fight against insurgents. The trial focused on two death squad inci-dents: one in November 1991 in which 15 people – including an eight-year-old boy – were shot dead at a barbecue in a Lima suburb, and another in July 1992 where nine university students and their professor were abducted and shot in the capital. Throughout the 16-month trial – which was the longest and costliest in Peru’s history – Fujimori maintained his innocence. The trial represents a landmark case because it is the first time a Latin American head of state has faced trial in his own country for human rights violations.

Rhode Island: On April 27, 2009, Daniel Cooney, director of the controversial Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility, was fired by Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau. The jail has been under scrutiny since ICE prisoner Hiu Lui “Jason “ Ng died last year from late-stage cancer that went undiagnosed. ICE removed all 153 of its prisoners from the facility follow-ing Ng’s death. The jail relies heavily on government contracts, so the removal of ICE prisoners seriously affected its prof-itability. Cooney was fired for comments in a newspaper interview that stirred additional controversy and undermined the jail’s ability to secure a new contract with ICE. When questioned about conditions at the jail by a Providence Journal re-porter, Cooney stated he was “looking at it like I’m running a Motel 6 ... I don’t care if it’s Guantanamo Bay. We want to fill the beds.” Despite Cooney’s firing and assurances from the mayor that jail conditions would improve, his comments prompted the Rhode Island ACLU to lobby the state’s congressional delegation to oppose placement of ICE prisoners at the facility. Other human rights groups held a protest outside the jail following Cooney’s termination.

Syria: In December 2009, riots broke out on two separate occasions at Sednaya prison, located in Northwest Da-mascus. The prison is run by military intelligence and holds hundreds of Islamist activists opposed to the current secular Syrian regime, many of whom have never stood trial. Human rights advocates claim that Syrian security forces killed ap-proximately 25 rioters and buried their bodies several months later under cover of darkness at cemeteries throughout Damascus. According to civilians who witnessed the burials, Syrian officials used heavy machinery to dig the graves, which were then filled with bodies that had been stored in refrigerators since the riots. “The reports we have received sug-gest that yet more prisoners were killed during a second outbreak of rioting at Sednaya prison last December,” said an anonymous Syrian human rights activist. “The high number of deaths is indicative of the Syrian authorities’ heavy-handed treatment of detainees.” New York-based Human Rights Watch recently reported that many prisoners had not seen their families in more than a year even though they had not been officially charged with a crime. Syrian officials have refused to discuss the reports, and access to the prison is severely limited by security officials.

Texas: Former Montague County Sheriff Bill Keating died of a heart attack in his home in Forestburg on April 30, 2009. In February, a federal grand jury had returned a 106-count indictment against Keating and 16 other defendants. The indict-ment charged Keating with official oppression and sexual assaults against female prisoners during his tenure as sheriff from 2004 to 2008. In one instance, Keating coerced a woman into performing oral sex on him by promising not to arrest her after deputies found drug paraphernalia in her house. Also indicted were several jail guards, mostly women, who were charged with various offenses involving sex or drugs and other contraband. Several prisoners also were charged. Keating had pleaded guilty to a civil rights violation and was expected to be sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on June 22.

Washington: Former King County jail employee Lynita Regis was surprised when she went to an ATM on May 12, 2009. When she was previously employed at the jail she had access to the jail’s bank account. When she opened a new personal account, the bank mistakenly gave her access to more than $271,000 in jail funds. Although broke and facing eviction, Regis reported the error to the bank, which immediately corrected the mistake. Regis said she was tempted to spend the money but decided to “do the right thing.” Perhaps she didn’t relish the idea of being a prisoner at the jail where she had previously worked.

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