California: On August 28, 2009, Jorge Zorrilla, 52, a vocational instructor at the San Quentin Prison for 23 years, was charged with smuggling heroin into the facility. Zorrilla was arrested and then released on bail. He resigned from his job and faces up to six years in prison if convicted.
Colorado: In July 2009, BOP officials at Florence ADX, the federal government’s supermax prison, announced that two of President Barack Obama’s books have been banned because they allegedly contain material “potentially detrimental to national security.” Prisoner Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, who is serving a 30-year sentence at ADX for joining Al-Qaeda and plotting to kill then-President George W. Bush, attempted to order Obama’s books, Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope. Citing guidance from the FBI, prison officials denied his request and banned the books.
Florida: On August 14, 2009, guards at the Brevard County Jail discovered a .38 derringer pistol in a legal mail package addressed to Justin Heyne, who was convicted of a triple murder and faces the death penalty. Officials say Heyne conspired with fellow prisoner Phillip McCullough to take him “hostage” so they could escape. Police have charged Heyne and McCullough, as well as two other people, Lamont A. Lewis and MuCullough’s wife, Arnesha, in connection with the escape plot.
Florida: On August 5, 2009, Jonathan Bleiweiss, 29, a Broward County sheriff’s deputy, was charged with a series of sexual crimes for assaulting undocumented immigrant men. Bleiweiss targeted illegal immigrants who feared reprisal and whose culture would discourage them from reporting sexual assaults. His targets were men between 17 and 30, mostly Latino. The charges include Bleiweiss performing oral sex on one man on at least four occasions. He ordered the man to comply or risk deportation. He also is suspected of intimidating at least eight other men into performing sex acts during on-duty traffic stops. Bleiweiss faces 27 charges, including false imprisonment and battery. Ironically, in March, Bleiweiss was the first openly gay Broward County deputy to be named employee of the year.
France: In June 2009, 196 French prisoners from around the country were allowed to participate in what was dubbed the Penitentiary Tour de France, a bicycling tournament with a 1,400 mile course that starts in Lille, passes through 17 other towns and ends in Paris. The prisoners were accompanied by 124 guards during the event. “This project aims to help these men re-integrate into society by fostering values like effort, teamwork and self-esteem,” said Sylvie Marion of the prison authority. “We want to show them that, with some training, you can achieve your goals and start a new life.” This type of program is not new to France and other parts of Europe, where officials have long had a correctional philosophy aimed at rehabilitating prisoners as opposed to the punitive mindset in the United States.
Illinois: On August 4, 2009, eleven prisoners were stabbed at Chicago’s Cook County Jail when a riot broke out during breakfast. Three of the prisoners required treatment at a local hospital; the rest were treated in the jail’s infirmary. No guards were injured and the cause of the riot was not reported.
Indiana: On July 12, 2009, Mark Booher, 46; Lance Battreal, 45; and Charles Smith, 48, escaped from the Indiana State Prison. The prisoners broke out by means reminiscent of the movie The Shawshank Redemption: They used tunnels under the Civil War-era prison that connected to sewer lines outside the facility. Prison officials believe they took money with them earned by illegally selling tobacco, drugs and cell phones while incarcerated. Three guards were placed on administrative leave for allowing the prisoners access to the tunnels. Booher, Battreal and Smith have since been captured and are serving the remainder of their sentences at other facilities.
Iowa: On July 24, 2009, Jim Trentin, 59, formerly a guard at the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institute, reported to jail to begin serving a 9-month sentence. Trentin was originally arrested in March 2008 on 22 counts of custodial sexual assault and six counts of delivering contraband, for giving prisoners tobacco in exchange for oral sex. The charges were reduced in October 2008 when he agreed to plead guilty to one count of delivering contraband and three counts of felony bail jumping. Trentin will serve his sentence in a work release program.
Kentucky: In December 2008, Shawn Freeman and Wesley Lanham, both former guards at the Grant County Detention Center, were found guilty of conspiracy to violate civil rights and obstruction of justice. The convictions stem from the guards placing a teenage boy in a cell with adult prisoners and telling them the boy would make a “good girlfriend.” The boy was raped repeatedly. Lanham was sentenced to 15 years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Freeman received a 14-year sentence with three years of post-release supervision.
Maryland: On September 2, 2009, former prison guard Jason Weaver, 36, was convicted of conspiring to commit assault in the beating of prisoners at the North Branch Correctional Institution. The jury acquitted Weaver of six counts of assault. Prosecutors contended that Weaver and five other guards beat six prisoners transferred to North Branch following a riot at the Roxbury Correctional Institute in March 2008. Three of the five guards were convicted of assault in separate trials and one was acquitted. The fifth guard has yet to go to trial. [See: PLN, Aug. 2009, p.20].
Massachusetts: On the evening of July 28, 2009, Christine Callahan, 43, was arrested by Quincy police for possessing eleven oxycodone pills for sale. She had her 11-year-old daughter in her vehicle with her at the time. This was not Callahan’s first run-in with the law. In 2002, she was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 2½ years in prison for giving a prisoner heroin when she worked as a guard at the Norfolk County Jail. That prisoner, Anthony Marchetti, 34, died of an overdose on May 7, 2002.
Mexico: On August 14, 2009, nineteen people were killed and twenty-six were injured during a two-hour riot at the Gomez Palacio town prison in the state of Durango. Local and federal security forces stormed the facility wearing bullet proof vests and carrying machine guns. A crowd gathered outside the prison, and some people reportedly threw sticks at the troops.
New Jersey: On September 2, 2009, Roy Solomon, 33, formerly a guard at the Southern State Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty to smuggling cocaine and a syringe to an unnamed prisoner. The prisoner was not charged. Solomon had been on unpaid administrative leave since April; his sentencing is scheduled for November 13.
New Mexico: On August 11, 2009, guard Juan Ramirez, 29, and three prisoners, Robert Grado, 21; Luis Garcia, 22; and George Milanez, 25, all were charged with false imprisonment, conspiracy and aggravated battery for attacking prisoner Avery Hadley, 47, at the Metropolitan Detention Center. Hadley was in a segregation cell when Ramirez opened the door so the other prisoners could attack him. Hadley was beaten a second time by another guard, Roslyn Juanico. That assault nearly killed him and he now requires around-the-clock care. Juanico has been charged with attempted murder.
New York: A state audit released on August 11, 2009 found that 11 prisoners had collected unemployment benefits while incarcerated. Auditors recommended that the state Department of Labor recover all inappropriate payments and assess penalties. They also suggested the Departments of Labor and Corrections work together to find out how prisoners were certified for unemployment benefits, and to share information, including a monthly report of prisoners’ names and Social Security numbers, so it doesn’t happen again. Both agencies promised to make the needed changes.
Ohio: On July 23, 2009, Ryan D. Hunt, 27, a former probation officer with the Drake County Jail, was charged with rape for assaulting a woman in late June. He had resigned from his position on July 2 after being placed on administrative leave.
Ohio: Summit County sheriff’s deputy Joshua Griffin, 26, was charged with five counts of felony perjury and one misdemeanor count of falsification on September 2, 2009. The charges stem from Griffin’s testimony during an investigation into the death of prisoner Mark McCullaugh, Jr. McCullaugh died in August 2006 following an altercation with jail guards in which he was placed in restraints, injected with sedatives, Tasered and pepper sprayed. Griffin was released on a $5,000 bond and placed on administrative leave.
Pennsylvania: In July 2009, 42-year-old Colleen Tupi, formerly a nurse at the SCI Greensburg prison, was fired and charged with institutional sexual assault for performing sex acts on an unnamed prisoner when she was supposed to be checking his blood pressure. Authorities say Tupi also brought the prisoner candy and cigarettes, and used an alias to deposit $595 into his trust account over a two-year period.
Texas: On August 27, 2009, Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law Judge Donald W. Jackson was charged with misdemeanor official oppression. The charge stems from Jackson, a 17-year veteran of the bench, allegedly offering to help a young woman get a case dismissed in exchange for her agreeing to have a relationship with him that was “more than a one-night stand.” The woman, Ariana M. Venegas, 27, who had been charged with DUI, is now cooperating with authorities. Jackson was released on $1,000 bail.
Texas: On May 22, 2009, two Gregg County Jail guards, 20-year-old Gracie Carrillo and 25-year-old Yvonne Oliver, were arrested and charged with facilitating the escape of two prisoners who broke out of the jail on May 19. The prisoners, Desmond Dewayne Jackson, 27, and Bruce Danjuane Kelly, 22, were both quickly captured. Kelly was caught as he stood beneath a nearby carport just hours after the escape. Jackson was arrested the next day when police stopped a van he was riding in. Jail officials have not disclosed how the guards facilitated the escape, but said policies have been changed to prevent similar occurrences. Both women are being held on $175,000 bail.
Uruguay: On August 24, 2009, prisoners at the Comcar prison in Montevideo set fire to several mattresses. The fire spread quickly throughout the small facility, killing five prisoners during the blaze.
Wisconsin: On July 17, 2009, at approximately 10:30 p.m., 24-year-old Michael Lozano was traveling in a van from a work release program at the Kenosha Correctional Center to a nearby meatpacking plant where he worked the graveyard shift. The van lost control, rolled on its side and Lozano was ejected. He died at the scene. Nine other van passengers were injured, and three were taken to a hospital. The cause of the accident is under investigation.
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