News in Brief
Alabama: Carbon Hill Mayor James “Pee Wee” Richardson, 61, was arrested on September 19, 2013 on multiple charges related to sexually abusing four prisoners at the city’s municipal jail; he was released eight days later after posting a $250,000 property bond. In addition to the criminal charges, Richardson faces a civil lawsuit filed by a former prisoner who claims he took her into his office and groped her. The civil suit includes 11 counts of alleged wrongdoing by Richardson or the city, and seeks compensatory, statutory and punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees.
Angola: A cell phone video, which went viral on the Internet, showed several Angola prison guards kicking prisoners and beating them with sticks, then laughing as they left them bleeding and crying on the floor. Amnesty International called the incident shocking and urged the government to prosecute the guards. In a rare reaction from one of Africa’s most authoritarian governments, on September 27, 2013, Angola officials suspended 16 prison guards and firemen in connection with the brutal attack. The prison’s director was among those suspended, and the Interior Ministry said criminal charges would likely follow.
Arizona: A Maricopa County jail employee was murdered in his driveway by a 15-year-old boy who police said was motivated by gangs, drugs and guns. The teen, identified on September 25, 2013 as Leonard Moreno, will be tried as an adult for the random shooting of Jorge Vargas, 27. Vargas was an eight-year employee of the sheriff’s Custody Support Bureau. Moreno’s mother and a friend also were arrested, accused of trying to dispose of evidence and helping him elude police.
Arkansas: On September 25, 2013, a man who escaped from a California prison in 1977 was taken into custody at his home in Jessieville, Arkansas, where he had been residing under an assumed name. Michael Ray Morrow scaled a fence at the California Institute for Men in Chino some 36 years earlier and was living as Carl Frank Wilson, a church-going grandfather. New technology was able to match Morrow’s fingerprints to those of his alias from a 1984 arrest. Morrow, now 70, was extradited to California.
Australia: A report issued on September 26, 2013 by the Independent Commission Against Corruption recommended prosecution for a Long Bay prison guard who showed up for tower duty while high on ecstasy, sold steroids to both prisoners and fellow guards, and lied to the commission about his conduct. Robert Di-Bona worked at the Special Programmes Centre at the prison. The commission also recommended that Di-Bona be fired.
California: Danne Desbrow will remember September 17, 2013 as a day with both good and bad news. First the bad: he was sentenced to 53 years to life in prison after being convicted of murder. Then the good: he got married ... by the same judge who had just sentenced him. Plus he got to eat a slice of wedding cake baked by San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cookson, though there was no honeymoon. Desbrow intends to appeal his murder conviction.
Canada: Canada’s most notorious prison, Kingston Penitentiary, officially closed its doors on September 30, 2013 after 178 years in operation. The shutdown was a money-saving measure. The prisoners at Kingston were all transferred to other facilities and the prison will begin offering guided tours as a fundraiser for the United Way. Sometimes called Canada’s Alcatraz, Kingston Penitentiary opened in 1835, before Canada was formed as a country.
Colorado: On September 25, 2013, a Pitkin County jailer obtained a restraining order against a prisoner who threatened her family. Deputy Deborah Kendrick sought the order to prevent Robert Rice from contacting her, her husband – who is a Pitkin County sheriff’s deputy – and one of their family members. Kendrick said Rice had told her, “When I get out of here, I’m going to hurt your family.” The order specified that Rice could have limited contact with Kendrick while he is incarcerated at the jail.
El Salvador: Six Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members were hanged during a riot at a juvenile rehabilitation center in Tonacatepeque on September 24, 2013 – El Salvador’s Prisoners’ Day. Two of the dead were minors and four were adults who had been sentenced at a younger age. Police believe the murders were carefully calculated gang killings. Prisons in El Salvador are notoriously overcrowded and violent as thousands of members of the country’s notorious MS-13 and 18th Street gangs await trial or serve their sentences. The two rival gangs signed a truce in March 2012 but there is fear it may be crumbling, with gang-related murders on the rise.
Florida: On September 26, 2013, Boyd Wallace Higginbotham, Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for the March 2008 stabbing death of fellow prisoner Steven Pritchard in the mess hall at FCC Coleman in Sumter County. A federal jury found Higginbotham guilty of first-degree murder. The men had been involved in an argument that escalated over several days until Higginbotham grabbed Pritchard around the neck and repeatedly stabbed him.
Florida: Tomoka Correctional Facility Major Shannon Wiggins, 44, was arrested on grand theft charges in September 2013. Wiggins, who worked part-time as a security guard at the Daytona International Speedway, was charged with stealing more than $100,000 worth of Speedway merchandise and selling it on eBay. A friend who was helping him sell the merchandise has not yet been arrested but is under investigation. Wiggins was placed on leave by the Florida Department of Corrections.
France: On September 25, 2013, Sabrina Bonner, 25, and her boyfriend, prisoner Lionel Barthelemy, 31, each received 20-year sentences for raping Bonner’s 4-year-old son in 2010 in the visiting area of the Toul detention center. Behind visitation room windows covered with black trash bags, as is standard practice in French prisons for privacy, Bonner blindfolded the boy, made him kneel on a chair and held him by the arms as Barthelemy raped him. Bonner then returned with her son for a second visit, knowing that he would be raped again. A lawyer representing the child said he intends to initiate legal proceedings against the prison.
Hawaii: Two Oahu Community Correctional Center guards, Kevin Ignacio and Ismael Castro, face trial over allegations that they beat prisoner Jeffrey Diaz bloody in October 2012. Ignacio is accused of repeatedly punching Diaz in the head and face, while Castro was caught on surveillance video kicking him in the head. On September 17, 2013, Judge Patrick Border expressed his displeasure when the two guards failed to appear with their attorneys at a hearing to combine their criminal cases.
Illinois: When Cook County jail guards told prisoner Jeremiah Harris to pack up to go home on September 16, 2013, he told them to “quit playin’.” Harris, 25, who had been serving a 12-year sentence as a habitual criminal and was being held at the Cook County jail for a court appearance, became the third person in 2013 to be mistakenly released. Earlier that year, prisoners Steven Robbins and Steven Derkits were erroneously released by jailers.
Indiana: Prisoners at the Delaware County Jail are adjusting to frosted windows in their cells, which let sunlight in but prevent unauthorized communication with the outside world. The windows have been a source of concern in the decades since the jail was built, because prisoners sometimes expose themselves or make obscene gestures to passersby on the street. Sheriff Mike Scroggins told reporters on September 3, 2013 that the “fix,” a coating of paint applied to the windows, had cost around $91.
Kansas: Ness County Jail escapee Benito Cardenas, Jr., 38, apologized to his victims and law enforcement officials before being sentenced in back-to-back hearings for a two-day crime spree that occurred after he cut through four bars at the jail in August 2012. After escaping, Cardenas stole a van, burglarized a residence and accosted two women before surrendering to officers. He was sentenced on September 24, 2013 to 151 months in prison on two counts of aggravated burglary and a single count of aggravated escape, to be served consecutive to his life sentence on unrelated charges.
Kentucky: Prisoner Ashley Marler, four months pregnant, escaped twice in the same week. She failed to return to the Fayette County Detention Center from a medical pass on September 16, 2013, and was arrested the next day and charged with escape. On September 24, 2013, Marler was taken to the same medical clinic. She reportedly left her clothing behind, climbed into the ceiling and fled wearing only a towel and white t-shirt. She was recaptured two days later.
Kentucky: Former FCI Ashland guard James Lewis and Cindy Gates, the girlfriend of a prisoner at the facility, both pleaded not guilty in September 2013 to charges related to smuggling contraband into the prison. Gates’ boyfriend, prisoner Gary Musick, was accused of participating in the scheme by telling Gates and Lewis what items to procure and directing other prisoners to sell the items. The contraband included marijuana, tobacco, cell phones and sexually explicit photos.
Louisiana: On September 19, 2013, Floyd Tillman, 26, pleaded not guilty to attempted second-degree murder after ramming the gates of the state penitentiary at Angola with his car, while guards opened fire on him. Tillman had taken his daughters, ages 8 months and 2 years, from Terrebonne Parish. He then drove to the prison and argued with guards about taking a tour. After being told many times there were no tours that day, he began ramming the gate. It is anticipated that Tillman’s defense attorney will seek a mental health evaluation for his client.
Michigan: An attorney representing Oakland County jail guard Garry Jackson told a judge on September 16, 2013 that Jackson vehemently denied having sexual contact with a female prisoner in a broom closet while on duty at the jail. The incident was discovered after other prisoners started talking about a sexual relationship between Jackson and a 24-year-old prisoner. Although the investigation revealed that the sex was consensual, Jackson was charged with three felony counts of criminal sexual conduct; he was released on $10,000 personal bond and ordered not to have contact with the female prisoner.
Myanmar: On September 13, 2013, a riot at Nine Mile Prison in Kawthaung Township resulted in the death of one prisoner and injuries to seven others. The incident was sparked after Warden Saw Hla Chit ordered prison staff to beat and kick prisoners Ye Ko Hlaing and Htun Htun in retaliation for their participation in a fight. Officials cut the power lines to the facility in an attempt to disperse the rioters, but gunfire broke out shortly after the prison went dark. The prisoner who died, identified as Htay Nge, and the other casualties suffered gunshot wounds.
New Jersey: Bobby Singletary, 55, a former guard, was convicted on September 27, 2013 of smuggling heroin and marijuana into the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, a facility for sex offenders. A prisoner who was tried with him was acquitted of all charges. Jurors heard how Singletary had prisoners pay for drugs by wiring money to outside accomplices; he was found guilty of conspiracy, official misconduct and bribery.
New Mexico: Former Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega was on the payroll of the local Juarez Cartel at the same time he collected a $40,000 annual salary for his public position, according to testimony in federal court on September 25, 2013. A witness stated that Vega received $2,000 a month plus bonuses from the cartel for performing background and license plate checks, buying military gear and allowing cartel members to use official vehicles. Vega’s wife is Assistant U.S. Attorney Paula Burnett; she has not been charged with any crime.
New York: As part of a September 30, 2013 plea bargain, prison guard Aaron A. Netto, 36, agreed to resign from his position at the Riverview Correctional Facility. He was charged with possessing property stolen from several construction sites. In addition to resigning, he faces up to three years’ probation and will pay $1,600 in restitution. Netto entered an Alford plea, meaning he did not admit to the allegations but pled guilty to avoid the possibility of being convicted at trial.
Ohio: On September 18, 2013, three Ohio Department of Youth Services guards were arraigned on charges of assaulting a teenager at the Scioto Juvenile Correctional Facility. Though details of the incident were at first sketchy, guards Laurel Jeffreys, Nathaniel Strong and Antonio Keith were identified as the suspects who allegedly beat the unnamed 15-year-old. The state’s Youth Services agency was recently named in a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report as among the worst in the nation for rape and sexual assaults of juvenile prisoners.
Oklahoma: According to court documents, Shealane Fields, a corporal who was fired from her job at the Logan County Detention Center on September 24, 2013, is accused of committing several felonies for prisoner Daniel Clark, with whom she developed a relationship. Fields allegedly smuggled contraband into the jail for Clark, including tobacco, a lighter, a flat blade screwdriver, crazy glue and a cell phone. Investigators also found 49 love letters, including one where the couple planned a tryst in a medical cell and another where they talked about a plan for Clark to walk out of the jail.
Oklahoma: Tulsa County jail guard Cory Laddel Jones, 22, was arrested on September 21, 2013 on charges of bringing contraband into the facility for a $100 payment. The arrest report said a prisoner told jail officials that Jones was paid to smuggle packages he obtained from a woman he arranged to meet at a convenience store. Jones was jailed on more than $25,000 bond.
Pennsylvania: On September 17, 2013, Warden John Walton of the Westmoreland County Prison announced a new policy instituted by the facility’s contract healthcare provider that requires all female prisoners to submit to pregnancy tests. The policy was created after an unidentified prisoner lied about not being pregnant and not being addicted to drugs. In order to protect the well-being of their unborn children, pregnant prisoners will receive obstetrics care and be weaned off drugs. Four percent of female prisoners at the Westmoreland County Prison were pregnant in the first nine months of 2013.
Pennsylvania: During a preliminary hearing on September 27, 2013, details emerged about why a Bucks County prison guard fired two gunshots in the direction of an acquaintance, Pearson Crosby, following an early morning altercation in June 2013. Anthony Pekarski, 26, free on $50,000 unsecured bail, was charged with simple assault, reckless endangering, disorderly conduct and possession of a weapon. He admitted firing the shots because his girlfriend, who had been sitting beside Crosby in the backseat of Pekarski’s car, had an “uncomfortable look” and he wanted to scare Crosby away.
Saudi Arabia: On September 25, 2013, a prisoner returned after a 24-hour family visit wearing an explosive belt and threatened to detonate it, taking 200 prisoners hostage in the process. Prison officials in Madinah said the man was not mentally ill and made no demands during the six-hour standoff. According to a prison source, Saudi media reports about the incident were not accurate; the man had a gun as well as explosives. There were no reports of damage or casualties.
South Carolina: Tyheem Henry, convicted as the ringleader of a 2011 mob beating, was serving a 15-year sentence at the Lee Correctional Institute. On September 8, 2013, the website Charleston Thug Life published Facebook postings Henry had made using a contraband cell phone, prompting a shakedown at the prison. Henry was charged with disciplinary violations, placed in segregation and lost good time credits and canteen, telephone and visitation privileges.
South Dakota: Robert Corsini was serving a seven-day jail term with work release after being caught in two separate online prostitution stings. In court on September 10, 2013, a judge found it “implausible” that Corsini had invited yet another prostitute he found online to meet him at his home while he was on work release. Judge John Schlimgen sentenced Corsini to 90 more days in jail – this time without the option of work release.
Tennessee: Hawkins County jail guard Scott Winkle “laid hands” on a prisoner while walking him back to a cell following a disturbance. Although the physical contact did not rise to the level of assault and no criminal charges were filed, Winkle was fired on September 19, 2013 for violating county regulations. He had recently attended a training session on appropriate physical contact in response to a February 2013 staff-on-prisoner assault incident. In that case, jailer Roy Junior Mathes was charged with misdemeanor assault.