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News in Brief

News in Brief

Alabama: As previously reported in PLN, former Clay County jail administrator Jeffrey “Scott” Cotney filed a lawsuit alleging defamation, slander, libel and other claims related to accusations that he had used his position at the jail to sexually abuse prisoners. [See: PLN, March 2014, p.36]. On November 27, 2013, a federal grand jury indicted Cotney on eight counts of deprivation of rights under color of law in connection with those same accusations. He pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced in May 2014 to four years in federal prison.

Albania: On November 23, 2013, seven prisoners serving life sentences for murder escaped from the Drenova Prison. Police described the escapees as armed and dangerous, and advised residents to remain behind closed doors. The neighboring countries of Greece and Macedonia also were warned of the escape, which involved the prisoners disarming a guard and fleeing by car during severe weather, resulting in a massive manhunt.

Arizona: On November 22, 2013, the Arizona Department of Corrections issued a press release describing the arrests of a former guard and an ASPC Winslow prisoner who had allegedly extorted another prisoner and his family. The scheme involved former guard Jordan Martie, who demanded protection money from a prisoner after he was threatened by Martie’s unnamed prisoner-accomplice. “This now-former officer betrayed his oath, compromised his position and placed many others at risk by allegedly engaging in criminal activity,” said ADC Director Charles L. Ryan. “I will urge that he and the suspect inmate be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Arizona: Pink underwear, horrendous food and around-the-clock holiday music are just some of the indignities faced by prisoners held in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County jails. In 2005, Arpaio ordered that holiday cheer be mandatory in all jail facilities by forcing prisoners and staff alike to listen to continuous Christmas melodies from Alvin and the Chipmunks, Elvis Presley and others. In December 2013, however, in response to complaints that the music was more irritating than joyful, Arpaio scaled back the holiday songs to two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening.

Australia: As Victoria’s prison population stretches its available bed space to the breaking point, authorities have come up with a solution. Fifty shipping containers were installed in December 2013 to house minimum-security prisoners at the Dhurringile prison in northern Victoria; Corrections Commissioner Jan Shuard said they were part of a larger plan to deal with unprecedented growth in the state’s prison population. The containers each house two men and are fully equipped with a toilet, shower, beds and cupboards. As of January 2014 over 50 low-risk prisoners had been moved into the shipping container-cells.

California: Every year since 1998, the Vietnam Veterans chapter at San Quentin has accepted donated toys for distribution to children visiting their incarcerated fathers around the holidays. In December 2013, San Quentin prison staff quashed the joy of gift-giving by not only limiting children to two toys each, but also taking toys back from some of the youngsters. Family members expressed frustration at the Grinch-like prison employees; San Quentin spokesman Sam Robinson confirmed that some toys had been confiscated from children, but explained that staff wanted to ensure fairness in the application of the two-toy policy to ensure that all children received toys.

California: At 11:39 a.m. on December 17, 2013, an oven explosion in the kitchen at the Santa Rita Jail critically injured one prisoner and wounded nine others. According to Alameda County Fire Department spokeswoman Aisha Knowles, six prisoners were treated at the jail’s infirmary while four were taken to local hospitals. One deputy was also treated for ringing in his ears. The Santa Rita Jail is the third-largest jail in California and serves as Alameda County’s main jail facility.

California: The Fresno Bee reported on December 14, 2013 that psychiatrist Pratap Narayan had been accused by the State Medical Board of negligence and incompetence while employed as a doctor at the Fresno County jail and, later, at Avenal State Prison. Dr. Narayan allegedly misdiagnosed mentally ill prisoners, prescribed medications without examining patients and recommended inadequate doses of psychiatric drugs. Narayan’s employment status at Avenal was under review after the Medical Board’s inquiry, according to Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for the state prison system. An amended disciplinary complaint was filed against Dr. Narayan in July 2014.

Canada: On December 4, 2013, a Canadian court declined to address the case of two minimum-security prisoners who had petitioned to share housing as a same-sex couple at the Riverbend Annex in Prince Albert. The court instead decided that the prison’s grievance system was the proper channel for determining whether the couple should be allowed to share housing. Jean Richter and Leslie Sinobert are both serving life sentences at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, but were transferred to the Annex. The facility has individual units that can house between eight and 10 prisoners. In May 2014, prison officials denied Richter and Sinobert’s request on the grounds that Sinobert needs special mental health housing.

Colorado: Thomas Wierdsma, a senior vice president with The GEO Group, a private prison firm that runs several immigration detention centers, will not face charges for threatening to use his position to deport his Hungarian-born daughter-in-law. Last year a jury in a civil case awarded $1.2 million against Thomas and Charles Wierdsma, his son, for “outrageous conduct.” After Charles was arrested for beating his wife, Beatrix Szeremi, the elder Wierdsma attempted to evict Szeremi, who was in the United States legally, from the home she shared with Charles. He also tried to intimidate her into removing photos of her bruised face from her Facebook page. PLN originally broke this story in 2012. [See: PLN, March 2012, p.16]. On December 31, 2013, a spokesperson for the Boulder District Attorney’s office said no criminal charges would be filed against Thomas Wierdsma. The jury award in the civil case was later reduced to $12,000 due to a state law cap on punitive damages.

Florida: The Orlando Sentinel reported on November 24, 2013 that an investigation into the mistaken release of an Orange County jail prisoner resulted in disciplinary action against four jail employees. Officials found that Alice Rodriguez, Kimberly Howard, Lydell Andreas and supervisor Shunta Heath had violated policy by failing to double-check John Lanard Baker’s release paperwork. Baker was allowed to post bond and leave the jail when he was supposed to be returned to state custody. He remained free for nearly five months.

Florida: Assistant U.S. Attorney Malisa Chokshi said a former guard at the John E. Goode Pre-Trial Detention Facility received $110,000 in false tax refunds after filing over 50 fraudulent returns. Harold Bush Walbey III was arrested on December 12, 2013 and pleaded guilty to stealing prisoners’ names and Social Security numbers, ordering debit cards in their names, and filing income tax returns in 2010 and 2011 using the false identities. Walbey had worked for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office from 1992 to February 2013; he is scheduled to go to trial in November 2014.

Florida: Alexander Lansky, a property clerk at the Pinellas County Jail, admitted to having an addiction to prescription pills when detectives interviewed him following complaints from two prisoners who said their legally-prescribed painkillers were missing from their property when they were released. The sheriff’s office accused Lansky of stealing Vicodin, Percocet and morphine pills from five prisoners, and he was charged with five counts of grand theft and five counts of possession of prescription pills on October 22, 2013.

Illinois: Approximately one hour after speaking with his girlfriend in the visitors’ area at Stateville Correctional Center on December 12, 2013, 33-year-old prisoner Angel Garcia jumped to his death from a fifth floor housing tier. He was taken to Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center with serious head trauma and other injuries, and pronounced dead later that day. Garcia, who was not on suicide watch or classified as a mental health patient, was serving a 70-year sentence for murder.

Indiana: An Indianapolis security guard who called himself the “Night Lion” was found guilty on December 2, 2013 of 14 charges related to impersonating a police officer to coerce sex from prostitutes. At the time of the incidents, Nicholas Houston was employed as a guard by The GEO Group at a state facility in Plainfield. Prosecutors said Houston threatened the women with arrest if they refused to have sex with him. Deputy Prosecutor Rachel Jefferson told the jury that Houston, in his own words, said he “stalked his prey” and targeted young and vulnerable women.

Kentucky: In less than a week in December 2013, two former employees at the Blackburn Correctional Complex were arrested and charged with official misconduct and rape for engaging in illegal sexual relationships with prisoners. Jennifer Wiseman was charged on December 11, 2013 and Bernadette Luttrell was arrested on December 17, 2013. According to state prison officials, Wiseman worked as a guard and Luttrell was employed in the facility’s mattress plant.

Michigan: On December 5, 2013, Mary Lucas was identified as the Mason County jailer who was involved in an October 2013 assault on another Mason County jail guard. The Michigan Sheriff’s Association Missions Team turned over the results of its investigation into Lucas’ alleged misconduct to the Mason County Prosecutor’s Office. A warrant was subsequently issued and Lucas, 46, was charged with assault and battery. She was released on a personal recognizance bond and placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the case.

Michigan: Former Genesee County Sheriff’s Deputy Amy Rebecca Gatica, 35, was arrested and charged with more than two dozen crimes related to smuggling drugs into the county jail and using a private physician’s credentials to obtain prescription painkillers. On December 3, 2013, Gatica was ordered to return to court to face a preliminary examination after being denied admission to the county’s drug court program. At the time of her arrest, cocaine and other drugs were found during a search of her home and vehicle. On June 23, 2014, Gatica was sentenced to 18 months’ probation in exchange for pleading guilty to charges of cocaine possession and obtaining a controlled substance by fraud.

Minnesota: Angel Lynn Benjamin briefly escaped from MCF Shakopee on December 2, 2013 by running past the facility’s fenceless perimeter. Although she was captured 23 minutes later, the escape renewed calls for a fence to be installed at the prison. Shakopee Mayor Brad Tabke said requests for a fence have been unsuccessful during several sessions of the Minnesota legislature. Since 1995, seven prisoners have escaped from MCF Shakopee and 18 planned escapes were thwarted. In May 2014 the legislature finally passed a bill that includes nearly $5.4 million for a fence, although there is no timeline for its installation.

Nebraska: On December 2, 2013, thirty-three prisoners at the Nebraska State Penitentiary refused to return to their cells for several hours in protest of a policy that limits the number of prisoners who can be on the recreation yard at the same time. Trash can fires set during the protest were quickly extinguished, and some prisoners had to be moved to other locations due to the smoke. No one was injured and there was no major damage, but the prison was placed on lockdown while staff investigated the incident and prepared disciplinary write-ups.

New Jersey: A plea agreement has been reached in the case of John Follo, 50, a retired guard who monitored youthful offenders on home detention in Essex County. On December 2, 2013, Follo admitted in court that he was coaching a high school softball team during hours he had claimed to be on the job. He pleaded guilty to one count of tampering with public records, and prosecutors recommended that he serve three years in prison. Follo was a long-time county employee who served as president of the prison guard supervisors’ union.

New Zealand: On December 11, 2013, prison officials reported that a major riot had been caused by prisoners drunk on home-brewed hooch, and as a result removed alcohol-based hand sanitizer from all prisons and limited the amount of fresh fruit that prisoners can have. Chief Executive Ray Smith said the measures would not solve the issue of alcohol production, but would reduce the risk of prisoners being able to accumulate fruit. During the 10-hour riot, prisoners used sports equipment as weapons, set cell blocks on fire and broke into staff areas. Twenty-three prisoners face charges related to the disturbance.

North Carolina: Anita Kaye Vestal, 36, did it for love. The former Swain County jailer is accused of helping prisoner Jeffery Miles escape in March 2009 so the two could “be together.” [See: PLN, May 2009, p.50]. On December 2, 2013, prosecutors closed the state’s case against Vestal on charges of harboring an escapee, obstruction of justice and accessory after the fact to murder, and two days later the jury returned a guilty verdict. Vestal was sentenced to 34-41 months in prison. Miles and Vestal were the subject of a segment on “America’s Most Wanted” after the escape, in which Vestal provided Miles with the keys to a jail door and the outer fence that surrounded the facility. They were captured in Vallejo, California in April 2009.

Oregon: John Edward Sipple, 69, a retired Oregon Department of Corrections employee, was arrested on October 31, 2013 on six counts of first-degree theft related to approximately $35,000 in missing funds from the Inmate Welfare account at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem. Sipple had worked for the prison system for 29 years and was lauded in a performance evaluation for ensuring the funds were “used appropriately.” An audit earlier in 2013 revealed that approximately $26,000 was missing from deposits made by visitors for use of storage lockers. That investigation was closed when detectives could not uncover enough evidence to make an arrest in the theft. In May 2014, Sipple pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree theft; he was placed on three years’ probation and agreed to pay $31,729.38 in restitution. He had retired in 2012 and the guilty plea will not affect his state pension.

Pakistan: On November 29, 2013, over a dozen female prisoners at a jail in Lahore were rushed to a hospital when they became sick after eating food contaminated by a lizard that fell into the cooking pot the day before. Chicken curry prepared in the pot was being served to the prisoners when the incident occurred; according to news reports, authorities stopped serving the food when the women began to get sick. Deputy Inspector General of Police and Prisons Malik Mubashar said an investigation had been launched into the food poisoning incident.

Sweden: In early November 2013, a Swedish prisoner escaped to go to the dentist because he “just couldn’t stand” the pain from a toothache he had complained about to prison officials for four days. The unidentified 51-year-old prisoner had been sentenced to one month behind bars and was scheduled to be released the day after he escaped. He surrendered to police once his tooth had been treated. According to news reports, the escape resulted in his sentence being extended by one day.

Syria: The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported in December 2013 that six prisoners froze to death at the Aleppo Central Prison. The facility houses over 4,000 prisoners and is often plagued by attacks from opposition groups in addition to very cold weather. Previously, 10 other prisoners at the facility had died due to freezing temperatures. Some 50,000 people in the war-torn nation struggle with the cold, and at least 16 children have died due to the frigid weather.

Texas: According to a November 20, 2013 report by ABC TV affiliate KTRE, former Angelina County jailer Stevon Eugene Crowder, 53, was indicted on three felony charges and eight class A misdemeanors for sexually harassing and abusing female trustees who worked for him in the jail’s kitchen. The prisoners and one of their family members filed a complaint that led to an investigation by the Angelina County Sheriff’s Office; interviews were conducted with prisoners in Angelina County and at Texas Department of Criminal Justice facilities in Henderson, Coryell and Burnett counties. One of the prisoners said Crowder had treated them like “pieces of meat.”

Texas: On November 11, 2013, Michael Logan Brown was fooling around with some friends and got his hand stuck in a set of handcuffs. Finding himself without a key, Brown decided to visit the local police station. That might have been a good idea had he not had a small amount of marijuana in his front pocket or an outstanding warrant for criminal mischief. He did, however, and Brown traded the handcuffs for a jail cell and now faces two misdemeanor charges.

Texas: A former guard at the privately-operated Jack Harwell Detention Center was among at least five employees arrested in October 2013 during an ongoing investigation into improprieties between staff and prisoners at the facility. Melissa Suzanne Corona was indicted on March 20, 2014 on a charge of improper sexual activity with a person in custody. According to an affidavit, Corona had sexual contact with a prisoner at the facility on at least two occasions.

Virginia: A former probation officer with the Virginia Department of Corrections was indicted by a grand jury on September 3, 2013 on drug, sex and bribery charges. Meaghan Fields, 29, was employed at the VDOC’s Staunton office from October 2010 through September 2012. On January 27, 2014, she entered Alford pleas to two counts of felony carnal knowledge for having sexual encounters with a probationer. “I will not tolerate actions by those in positions of power which would erode the public’s confidence in our criminal justice system and our government as a whole,” said Attorney General Mark Herring.

West Virginia: Former Clay County Sheriff Miles Slack has his ex-wife to thank for being placed on probation after she made an emotional appeal for leniency as Slack was being sentenced on federal wiretapping charges. In an attempt to monitor his then-wife’s activities, Slack had surreptitiously installed a keystroke logger on the computer she used at her job in the Clay County magistrate court’s office. At Slack’s December 19, 2013 sentencing hearing, U.S. District Court Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr. considered letters of support and a 700-signature petition when imposing a sentence of 1-2 years’ probation and a $1,000 fine. Slack, who could have faced up to five years in prison, resigned from the sheriff’s office in September 2013.


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