News in Brief
Arizona: A prisoner serving time for gang- and drug-related offenses, as well as his attorney-wife, mother, sister, ex-wife and another woman have been indicted on more than 250 charges following a two-year investigation into the New Mexican Mafia prison gang. Angel Lopez Garcia is accused of being a gang leader who has, since at least 2007, directed drug sales, extortion, money laundering and gang violence from behind bars with assistance from the women named as co-defendants. His wife, Phoenix criminal defense attorney Carmen Fischer, and the four other women accused in the conspiracy, Rosio Robles Gonzales, Oralia L. Garcia, Tanya Garcia-Ochoa and Rosemary Ann Garcia, were arrested on October 4, 2013. Fischer pleaded guilty on March 31, 2014 and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Arkansas: St. Francis County deputies have filed a number of new charges against Jonathan Paulman, 22, who was in jail for burglary when he set fire to his cell on October 15, 2013. Paulman told jail officials that he had started the fire as a way to get out to attend his young son’s birthday party. He used a contraband cigarette lighter to torch a mattress, towel and laundry bag in the cell he shared with four other prisoners. Paulman told deputies that he planned to blame the arson on someone else. No one was injured in the blaze.
California: A licensed bail agent in Modesto was arrested on November 26, 2013 on various charges related to his soliciting gang members at the Stanislaus County Jail to carry out violent crimes, including murder. Praveen Singh, who is also known as “Prajeer Singh,” was arrested following a lengthy joint investigation by the Modesto, Turlock and Ceres Police Departments, Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department and Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.
Colorado: Former deputy Matthew Andrews initially pleaded not guilty to helping prisoner Felix Trujillo escape from the downtown Denver Detention Center. [See: PLN, Nov. 2013, p.56]. On November 22, 2013, however, he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant. “What you did is not only a dishonor to yourself but the whole sheriff’s department,” the judge told Andrews when he sentenced him on January 24, 2014 to the maximum six years in prison.
Delaware: State police announced on November 20, 2013 that Christopher Peck, a guard at the Sussex Correctional Institution, had been arrested and charged with sexual misconduct. Peck, 39, faces 11 counts of sexual relations in a detention facility. A 19-year-old prisoner reported that she had sex with Peck, and in the course of the investigation police learned that two other prisoners, aged 27 and 28, had also been victimized by the guard. Peck entered a guilty plea to six of the charges and was sentenced to three years in prison on June 6, 2014.
District of Columbia: Trey Radel – now known as the “Cocaine Congressman” – voted to allow states to drug test food stamp recipients. It turns out that he should have been the one tested for drugs. Radel pleaded guilty to buying cocaine in an FBI and DEA sting operation, and was sentenced in November 2013 to one year of probation and residential substance abuse treatment. According to the Associated Press, Radel’s guilty plea to the misdemeanor drug possession charge was the first by a sitting congressman in 31 years. Radel is fortunate to have been sentenced in D.C., where a special drug court handles certain drug offense cases.
Florida: Two Orange County jail guards were fired on October 11, 2013 after fighting on a charter bus while headed home from a charity event. Michael Dean and Donald Casey had been drinking when Dean thought Casey made comments about his girlfriend, also a jail guard. Investigators said Dean initiated the fight by throwing a punch, and afterward Casey threatened to stab him. The bus driver said all of the jail employees were “very drunk and very rude,” and had trashed the bus. Dean was reinstated to his job in January 2014 but demoted.
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 from jail. 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 drugs on October 22, 2013.
Idaho: The Idaho Department of Correction announced on November 13, 2013 that it was suspending visitation for all prisoners in Unit 2 at the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center after a prisoner tested positive for hepatitis A. Prison staff also suspended all prisoner transfers into and out of the facility while health care providers watched for more possible cases. Unit 2 prisoners were scheduled to receive hepatitis A vaccine and immune globulin as a precaution.
Illinois: Former Wills County courthouse bailiff Jerome W. Henry was sentenced in August 2013 to three years in prison for possession of child porn. On November 14, 2013, Judge Sarah Jones granted his motion to reconsider and resentenced him to 147 days in jail, three years’ probation, 130 hours of public service and $2,999 in fines and costs. The 130 hours of public service was later waived. Henry, 63, is registered as a sexual predator in the state’s online sex offender database.
Illinois: On November 26, 2013, Illinois DOC spokesman Tom Shaer said officials at the minimum-security Taylorville Correctional Center were trying to control an outbreak of a skin rash, with at least 17 prisoners reporting symptoms of intense itching. One prisoner was diagnosed as having scabies. One wing of a housing unit was placed on quarantine, and prisoners showing signs of the rash were isolated before being returned to a special quarantine room.
Iran: Reza Heydarpour, arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence on November 4, 2013, has not been heard from since being transferred to Evin Prison. Heydarpour was the physician who completed a report on the death of Internet blogger Sattar Beheshti, who died at Evin Prison in October 2012. Beheshti’s death was reported by many as the result of severe beatings and torture following his arrest for his online activities. In 2009, another Iranian prison physician, Ramin Pourandarjani, died under suspicious circumstances.
Libya: A Libyan security official who spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity said unknown gunmen had attacked the prison in Sabha on November 29, 2013 and succeeded in releasing 40 prisoners. The gunmen helped the prisoners escape by opening fire and threatening the guards; prison director Shaaban Nasr said scores of escapees later surrendered.
Montana: Former prison nurse Tisha Ann Brunell, 45, was facing 53 charges for engaging in sexual misconduct with a prisoner. [See: PLN, Sept. 2013, p.17]. A jury trial was held on March 22, 2014 and Brunell was found guilty of 48 of the charges. After she is sentenced, she faces another trial for trying to threaten a witness while she was out on bond.
New York: On November 7, 2013, prisoner Armando Ortiz was subjected to a random frisk search at the Marcy Correctional Facility and guards found a handmade sharp instrument attached to his prosthetic leg. A local prosthetics company called in to disassemble the leg found four more razor weapons and a small amount of Suboxone. Ortiz, who was serving 1½ to 3 years for attempted felony assault, faced disciplinary charges but no new criminal charges were filed.
North Carolina: Matthew Ethelbert Toney was fired and charged with a felony on November 22, 2013. Toney, a Durham County sheriff’s jailer since 1996, is accused of engaging in sexual activity with a prisoner; he posted a $30,000 bond following his arrest and was released.
Ohio: James Miracle was fired from his job at the Mansfield Correctional Institution on November 22, 2013. As a building construction supervisor at the prison he was required to properly supervise tools that were used during the July 2013 escape of prisoner James David Myers. Myers, who was serving a life sentence, used a pickax to break into a storage area to get three ladders, which he then used to climb over security fences. He was captured one day later by customers at a convenience store. Miracle also was accused of falsifying forms and forging signatures on maintenance inventories, which “compromised or undermined the security of the institution.”
Oklahoma: A former guard at the Corrections Corporation of America-operated Cimarron Correctional Facility was charged in November 2013 with bringing contraband into the prison. Alyson Frances Posey was approached by prisoner Reeco Cole, who told her that the father of one of her children, who was incarcerated at another prison, owed him money. She agreed to bring tobacco into the facility to pay off the debt, then began smuggling other contraband for cash payments. She also gave nude photos of herself to Cole. Investigators said Cole denied having any relationship with Posey.
Oklahoma: On November 23, 2013, Mayes County jailer Aaron Peters appeared in court to enter a not guilty plea to a charge of rape by instrumentation. Peters, 23, was assigned to supervise a female prisoner during her stay at a hospital. He allegedly entered the bathroom where the prisoner was showering and performed sexual acts on her; she subsequently passed out from the medication she was taking, and awoke to find Peters engaging in sex acts with her. The prisoner’s complaint interview was conducted while she was wearing Peters’ shirt; she had also stolen his handcuff key.
Oklahoma: The Associated Press reported on November 23, 2013 that seven state prisoners were hospitalized over a three-week period with symptoms of salmonella poisoning. Nearly 100 prisoners at the Eddie Warrior, Jim E. Hamilton, Joseph Harp and Bill Johnson correctional centers reported symptoms. Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said it was uncommon for so many prisoners to fall ill at different facilities. The state Department of Health is investigating the source of the outbreak.
Pennsylvania: After a traffic stop on November 11, 2013, John Vincent was arrested on an outstanding warrant. When he was booked into the Northampton County Prison, a strip search revealed that he had attached 18 packets of heroin to his penis with a rubber band. Vincent was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of heroin and providing false identification to a law enforcement officer. His bail was set at $50,000.
Pennsylvania: Six members of the group Citizens for Social Justice were told by Delaware County officials that they did not need a permit to peacefully protest across from the George W. Hill Correctional Facility. When the group gathered on November 5, 2013 at the Community Education Centers-operated prison to highlight issues of abuse and improper releases, they were met by a large show of force and told to move more than a mile away. “They had about 20 guards, K-9s, county police; it looked like a whole Gestapo troop,” said Pastor Keith Collins, one of the protest organizers. Collins said the group would like to meet with both CEC and the County Prison Board, and encourages the formation of a citizen advisory board to enhance accountability at the prison.
Texas: On October 31, 2013, fourteen former workers from the McConnell Unit were sentenced in federal court on racketeering and drug charges. Eleven other people also were convicted for their roles in the scheme. The large-scale criminal enterprise was uncovered when the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and federal agencies began investigating the McConnell Unit in 2009. The Aryan Circle and Mexican cartels were involved in the scheme, which included organizing drug deals outside the prison.
Texas: Among other responsibilities, former Winkler County Attorney Steve Taliaferro prosecuted misdemeanor cases. He resigned from his position and pleaded guilty on November 6, 2013 to solicitation of prostitution and official oppression. Taliaferro was audio-recorded propositioning a woman and telling her he would settle her case if she consented to having sex with him. Under the terms of his plea agreement, Taliaferro was ordered to serve 45 days in the Winkler County Jail.
Texas: On November 6, 2013, an East Texas parole officer pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison for using his state computer to view child pornography. Barry Porter Griffith was arrested after Texas Department of Criminal Justice computer engineers detected an unusual amount of bandwidth being accessed by a system in Griffith’s office. Officials were able to remotely view the websites he was visiting and discovered the presence of child porn. Griffith also surrendered two personal computers that contained child pornography.
United Kingdom: The Ministry of Justice was fined £140,000 on October 22, 2013 after it emailed confidential personal information about HMP Cardiff’s 1,182 prisoners to families of other prisoners. A spreadsheet containing names, addresses, offense details, sentence length, ethnicity and release dates was mistakenly sent to three families, according to the Information Commissioner’s Office. “The potential damage and distress that could have been caused by this serious data breach is obvious,” said Director of Data Protection David Smith.
Utah: Former Salt Lake City Judge Virginia Ward, who had presided over countless misdemeanor drug cases, was sentenced on November 19, 2013 to 90 days in jail and three years of probation after pleading guilty to possession of Oxycodone with intent to distribute. Although Ward had initially faced up to 15 years in prison, her attorney said the sentence was “disappointingly harsh.” Courtroom observers thought differently; one man reportedly commented “slap on the wrist,” while another said, “I would have gotten the same sentence for a speeding ticket.”
Virginia: Sometime between September and November 2012, former federal prison guard Jeffery T. Jones accepted bribes of at least $1,500 to smuggle over a quarter pound of marijuana and at least 10 cartons of cigarettes into FCC Petersburg. He pleaded guilty to receiving bribes and providing contraband on November 12, 2013. Two prisoners at the facility, Alvin Dewayne Hall and Patrick Gregory, also pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the smuggling scheme.
Virginia: Following an internal affairs investigation, a former Henrico County Sheriff’s Deputy was arrested on November 21, 2013 and charged with three felony counts of carnal knowledge of an inmate by an employee. Jennifer Ann Baran, 33, resigned from the sheriff’s department in May 2012, when the investigation began. She is accused of having a sexual relationship with a prisoner at Henrico Jail West; the prisoner, who was not identified, was discovered with a cell phone that he then flushed down a toilet. A search of his cell revealed 25 handwritten love letters from Baran.
Virginia: Samah Yellardy died at the Powhatan Correctional Center on November 7, 2013. The prison did not notify his mother, who learned of her son’s death through posts from other prisoners’ families on Facebook. Janice Yellardly said several prisoners and even a guard who was on duty at the time her son died had contacted the family. “My son complained about his side, not his heart. It ain’t right. The warden told me he had a massive heart attack and I said no sir, my son did not have a heart attack. My son was 29 years old and had no medical problems.” She added, “They messed with the wrong one. If I have to fight until the day I die, I’m going to get justice for my son.”
Washington: On November 21, 2013, Sean Wright, 34, was charged with felony first-degree custodial sexual misconduct. The Snohomish County jail guard is accused of forcing a female prisoner to perform a sex act on him inside a broom closet. The incident was discovered during an unrelated investigation that found Wright had let several other women have time out of their cells or other privileges if they allowed him to watch them shower or change clothes.
Washington: Facing embezzlement and possible harassment charges, a 16-year veteran jail guard, Sgt. Bruce Benscoter, resigned on September 30, 2013 after being on paid leave for several months. Benscoter, 43, was the subject of separate investigations into improper financial dealings as a director of the Wapato Youth Athletics League and for improper sexual conduct with a former prisoner while on duty at the Wapato City Jail. Benscoter allegedly threatened two prisoners who cooperated in an internal investigation into the sexual misconduct allegations. He was charged in the embezzlement case with second-degree theft and misappropriation and falsification of accounts by a public officer.
West Virginia: Jason Noel Squires, a former federal prison guard, and his girlfriend, Nikole Monique Watkins, were both sentenced on November 25, 2013. Squires and Watkins raked in approximately $40,000 in cash payments from prisoners’ family members for tobacco that Squires smuggled into FCI Gilmer. Squires, 28, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and two years of supervised release, while Watkins, 24, received 12 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
Wisconsin: On October 22, 2013, criminal complaints were released by Racine County prosecutors that detailed allegations of sexual misconduct by two health care workers at the Racine Correctional Institution. Lisa M. Hawkins, 33, and Karina Herrera, 40, were both charged with felony sexual assault by correctional staff; Hawkins faces an additional charge of obstructing an officer and Herrera faces another felony count of delivering illegal items to an inmate. The women are accused of performing sex acts on the same prisoner at different times in the bathroom of the Health Services Unit at the facility. Because Hawkins worked for a private medical contractor, her defense attorneys argued she was not a DOC employee and thus did not meet the definition of “correctional staff.” Prosecutors disagreed, saying the statute also applies to contractors.
Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission released data in November 2013 that indicated a prison guard union had failed to reach the required number of member votes to remain certified. Collective bargaining restrictions instituted by Governor Scott Walker require members of public employee unions to vote annually on whether they want the organization to continue to represent them. A union representing about 7,000 prison guards failed to meet the 51% majority vote needed to retain its certification.
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