California: Napa County jail prisoner Vernon Cannon, 29, was left in critical condition after wrapping himself in toilet paper and setting himself on fire using a spark from an electrical outlet in his cell on February 9, 2011. Cannon was a patient at a mental hospital before he was charged with assault and transferred to the jail. “People who are intent on hurting themselves can often be very, very creative,” stated Napa County spokesperson Elizabeth Emmett. Around 100 other prisoners were temporarily evacuated due to smoke from the fire. Cannon was hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns.
California: When Earl Lee Vogt, 29, arrived at the Lake County jail to begin serving his sentence, he brought a few recreational items along with him – a cell phone, an MP3 player, headphones, tobacco, some marijuana and $140 in cash. He managed to smuggle the items into the facility by hiding them in his rectum; the contraband was found during a strip and cell search after a guard smelled marijuana in Vogt’s cell. Vogt said he was not in any pain despite hiding the impressive amount of contraband in his rectum, though he reportedly stated, “My ass is bleeding.” In an unrelated incident, Karin Mackaliunas, arrested in Scranton, Pennsylvania on March 13, 2011, was found to have 54 bags of heroin, 31 empty bags, 8.5 prescription pills and $51.22 (including the change) concealed in her vagina.
California: State prisoner Caris Lynn McDougald, 25, pleaded guilty on March 25, 2011 to a felony charge of helping to set a fire at the California Institute for Men during an August 2009 riot at the facility. [See: PLN, March 2010, p.32]. A guard had previously testified that he saw McDougald add paper and other items to a fire that was started during the riot, which caused around $1.66 million in damage to the prison. The guard, Lee Rogers, said he could identify McDougald due to his “distinctive dreadlocks,” according to news reports. McDougald was sentenced on May 2, 2011 to six years in prison on the arson charge.
Canada: Phillip Vance, 53, already serving two life sentences, pleaded guilty to a manslaughter charge on March 29, 2011 for fatally poisoning another prisoner at Millhaven Penitentiary in Kingston. Vance committed the crime in July 1999, when he laced morphine capsules with cyanide and had them given to fellow prisoner Scott Barnett. Barnett collapsed in the prison yard after taking the capsules; he died the next day. Vance was charged with Barnett’s death more than a decade later after he made incriminating statements to an undercover officer who posed as a journalist. He received a 7-year sentence, to be served concurrently with his life sentences. Another prisoner, James MacLean, 34, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge for a separate, unfulfilled plan to kill Barnett.
Florida: Hernando County Detention Center nurse Catherine Marie Lape, 41, was arrested on March 23, 2011 and charged with taking prescription medication from the jail’s pharmacy. Lape was arrested on two counts of illegally introducing or possessing contraband in a detention facility; she is accused of stealing antidepressants, which she said she was going to give to a prisoner or prisoners. Upon being searched, two hydrocodone pills were found in her purse. Lape, who worked for Suwannee Medical Personnel, was a contract employee at the jail.
Florida: Although Volusia County jail prisoner Richard Blaylock had only 9 days left to serve on his 180-day sentence for grand theft, he decided to escape from a work crew on March 9, 2011. He remained free for about an hour before being captured, and was promptly charged with escape – a second-degree felony that can put him in prison for up to 15 years. “There was no indication that he planned this,” stated county spokesman Dave Byron. “There was no ‘Dear John’ note or anything that we found to indicate why he tried to escape.”
Georgia: When Rondreiecko Nash was informed by Clayton County officials that he had left-over funds remaining in his jail account following his release, he thought he was in luck. When he showed up to claim the funds, however, he was arrested on an outstanding warrant as part of a March 2011 sting operation. “[W]e’ll send this letter, ask them to come in and claim their funds and effectively arrest [them] at the same time,” said Sheriff Kem Kimbrough. Nash was jailed on an outstanding warrant for violation of his probation.
Illinois: Prisoners should be leery not only of law enforcement but also of people who falsely claim to be law enforcement. One unidentified Illinois prisoner learned that the hard way after paying more than $36,000 to Catherine Sims, 24, who posed as a DEA official and said she could reduce the prisoner’s five-year sentence. Sims, of Stockton, California, pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and falsely assuming the identity of a DEA agent on March 9, 2011. She is scheduled to be sentenced on June 10.
India: Six guards and more than 20 prisoners were injured during a brawl involving Maoist prisoners at the Midnapore central jail on March 22, 2011. The violent altercation reportedly began after prisoner Kailas Das complained of chest pains and died; he had been serving a four-day sentence. The Maoist prisoners claimed that Das had been beaten by other prisoners with the guard’s involvement, and attacked several of the guards they accused of being abusive.
Iowa: Megan Cecil, 32, a former employee at the Burlington Men’s Residential Facility, received two two-year prison sentences, suspended to probation, on March 25, 2011. Cecil had pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual misconduct for having sex with a male prisoner in March 2010. As part of her sentence, she was also ordered to register as a sex offender.
Kansas: On February 25, 2011, Ellsworth Correctional Facility guard Travis Chambers, 25, was charged with eight counts of electronic sexual solicitation of a child. He had reportedly chatted online for months with someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl, who was actually a police investigator. Chambers was arrested at his home and his computer was seized as evidence. He was released from jail after posting a $50,000 bond.
Mississippi: Winona city employee Frederick Woods, 34, was arrested on March 11, 2011 after a guard at the Carroll-Montgomery Regional Correctional Facility noticed Woods engaging in a drug transaction with prisoner Eric Cox, 31. Woods was driving a van to pick up a prisoner work crew at the time of the incident; he was charged with introducing marijuana and cocaine into a correctional facility. City officials later learned that Woods was a former prisoner who had previously worked on the jail’s work crew himself.
Nepal: Police announced on March 11, 2011 that a hit man had entered the Central Prison in Kathmandu and shot and wounded Mohammed Yunus Ansari, a TV executive being held at the facility on counterfeiting and drug charges. The would-be assassin, Jasjeet Singh, was apprehended at the prison; he told police officials that he had been promised 1.5 million rupees (around $33,150) to kill Ansari. Singh had gained entrance to the facility by saying he wanted to visit another prisoner; he managed to smuggle the gun in despite being checked with a metal detector.
New Mexico: On January 20, 2011, former San Juan County Adult Detention Center contract food service worker Donald McDonald, 47, pleaded guilty to 21 felony counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count of tampering with evidence. McDonald was caught with hundreds of photos and videos depicting child pornography, including extreme content involving babies, preteens and bondage scenes. He was turned in by his wife, who later divorced him. McDonald was sentenced in March 2011 to six years with all but nine months suspended. He was also approved for work release.
North Carolina: Eric Lashawn Askew, 28, a sergeant at the GEO Group-operated Rivers Correctional Institution in Winton, turned himself in to the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office on March 9, 2011 to face charges of second-degree rape, assault and sexual battery. He is accused of sexually assaulting a female guard who works at the Rivers facility, and was released on a $25,000 secured bond the same day.
Ohio: Former Obetz police officer Vernon Wolford, serving a four-year sentence for sexually assaulting an intoxicated woman who was handcuffed and in custody, was granted early release on March 1, 2011. The sexual assault occurred in November 2009, and Wolford was sentenced in March 2010; he had served a year in prison prior to his early release. “The reason for this court allowing you judicial release is because you have had to be separated from the rest of the prisoners for the last year because you were law enforcement, and as such you were an undue burden to the entire citizenry that is paying for your incarceration,” said Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Julie Lynch. In other words, because Wolford was a former cop who had to be kept in protective custody, it was cheaper to just let him go. He must serve nine months on house arrest and will remain on probation for five years.
Washington: Former Kent City jail guard Michael Pickens, 42, was charged on March 1, 2011 with nine counts of theft for stealing funds from prisoners’ property. Surveillance cameras revealed that he was taking cash from lockers used to store prisoners’ personal belongings; the cameras were installed after prisoners complained they were missing money. Pickens was placed on administrative leave and later fired. Vermont: On January 26, 2011, the Vermont State Police announced that a former Vermont Corrections Department employee had been arrested on a felony charge of sexually exploiting a prisoner. Stephen E. Hoke, 68, who worked as a supervisor with the Vermont Probation and Parole office, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a female probationer under his supervision over a four-month period in 2008. Hoke resigned in late December 2010, soon after the investigation began. Yemen: Al Jazeera reported on March 8, 2011 that prisoners at the Sanaa facility were protesting in solidarity with outside demonstrators, calling for the removal of Yemen’s president, when security forces opened fire with tear gas and live ammunition. Three prisoners were reportedly killed and four injured, according to Sharif Mobley, a U.S. citizen held at the prison who contacted Al Jazeera by phone. “The main demand from the prisoners is they want justice and they want to be treated equally,” Mobley stated. “They complain that if you don’t have money and if you don’t have ties to strong tribes, then you stay in prison.”
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