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News in Brief

News in Brief

Arizona: Former state prison guard Robert Joseph Hamm, 34, was sentenced on September 9, 2013 to 11 years in prison for having a sexual relationship with a Tucson teenager. He had previously served a year in prison after pleading guilty in 2011 to having sex with the same girl, who was then 14 years old. [See: PLN, Feb. 2012 p.50]. Eight years of the 11-year sentence were for Hamm’s violation of his probation in the 2011 case. The girl’s parents had alerted the police after finding a diary describing her encounters with Hamm.

Arkansas: Faulkner County jailers Seth Ferguson and Christy Jordan were fired on September 22, 2013 after officials found they had failed to check the recreation yard every 30 minutes as required by jail policy on the day three prisoners escaped. A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said the two guards had been employed by the county for almost two years. Although the prisoners were later recaptured, Ferguson and Jordan failed to notice they were missing for at least 30 minutes.

California: On October 4, 2013, Timothy Michael Russell was found dead in his cell at San Quentin State Prison, the victim of an apparent suicide. Russell was on death row for murdering two Riverside County sheriff’s deputies in 1997; deputies James Lehmann, Jr. and Michael Haugen were gunned down while responding to a domestic violence call at Russell’s residence. He had been on death row for 14 years.

Cambodia: On October 10, 2013, floods from the Mekong River forced the evacuation of 842 prisoners at a provincial prison in Banteay Meanchey. In some places in the prison complex the water reached levels as high as prisoners’ necks, and part of the facility’s outer wall collapsed. Flooding is common in Cambodia between August and October; in addition to the prisoners, around 22,000 families were evacuated.

Connecticut: Prisoner Howard Cosby, serving 19½ years at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, enlisted the help of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in his efforts to receive a vegetarian diet as required by his Buddhist faith. Prison officials, who did not consider fish to be meat, had been serving Cosby seafood three times a week. In late September 2013, PETA received a letter from Deputy Warden Giuliana Mudano stating the prison would provide a nutritionally-adequate vegetarian substitute for Cosby whenever fish appeared on the menu.

Costa Rica: Costa Rican jails are overpopulated by 40% on average, and a San José judge, Roy Murillo, ordered that 370 prisoners at San Sebastian Prison be relocated or released because “overcrowding is unlawful and contrary to human dignity.” Following the September 24, 2013 ruling, the Justice Ministry began transferring prisoners to other facilities. Justice Carlos Chinchilla, president of the Penal Chamber of the Supreme Court, had publicly criticized Murillo’s order; however, the Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Delaware: On September 18, 2013, Vasilios Hantzopoulos, 47, a security officer employed by the Capitol Police, turned himself in to face charges of official misconduct and sexual relations in a detention facility. He is accused of having sex with a female prisoner in a holding area of the New Castle County courthouse in August 2013. The Delaware State Police had investigated the incident, resulting in the charges.

Florida: Joseph Jenkins and Charles Walker were captured on October 19, 2013 following their mistaken release from prison due to falsified court documents. The two convicted murderers were found at a Panama City motel and rearrested without incident. They were both serving life sentences, but participated in a forgery scheme that reduced their sentences to 15 years. PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel regarding the escape, saying, “As we incarcerate more people for life, we have to realize these people have nothing to lose.”

Florida: On October 10, 2013, Andre Darnell Burgess, 28, was described as “suicidal” following his disciplinary suspension for “conduct unbecoming” at his job at the Florida DOC’s Madison Correctional Facility. In a bizarre series of events, Burgess led troopers on a 30-mile high speed chase after his wife called police and accused him of getting drunk and then tackling and choking her. Trooper Ronald Evans discovered an intoxicated Burgess slumped over the steering wheel of his wrecked vehicle; Burgess drove away and was finally stopped after police bumped his car and it lost a rear wheel. He continued to fight while being arrested and booked, and was eventually placed in a restraint chair and spit hood. He faces numerous charges.

Illinois: Tony Henderson, 51, worked as a jail guard at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) for 16 years. On October 7, 2013, he showed no emotion when he learned he had to spend two years on the other side of the bars. Henderson was convicted of smuggling cigarettes and food into the MCC for bribes of up to $10,000. Judge Edmond Chang further ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine, saying Henderson had committed a “very serious breach of the public trust in a highly sensitive situation.” Henderson declined to address the court at his sentencing.

Illinois: On October 30, 2013, Michael Hart, a Skokie police officer, was charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct, both felonies, for shoving Cassandra Feuerstein into a jail cell after becoming irate with her during the booking process. Hart’s forceful shove caused Feuerstein’s head and face to slam into a concrete bench, fracturing her right orbital bone, opening a deep cut on her cheek and loosening several of her teeth. Feuerstein, who had been arrested for drunk driving, is pursuing a civil suit that further claims Hart filed a false report to cover up the incident. Hart resigned from his job in November 2013 and has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges.

Indiana: A man who escaped from the federal prison camp in Marion, Illinois in October 2000 is headed back to prison. Donald E. Bruce, 75, was deemed suspicious by an Oakland City police officer, and a background check revealed he was an escapee. When confronted, Bruce acknowledged that he had escaped, but said he wanted to spend time with family members before turning himself in. He had over nine years remaining on his initial prison sentence for a meth distribution conspiracy. He pleaded guilty to the escape charge in September 2013 and faces more prison time.

Iowa: On November 8, 2013, Chief Deputy Don Phillips of the Wapello County Sheriff’s Office was among the witnesses at the second trial of former jail guard Seth Techel, accused of the shooting death of his pregnant wife, Lisa Techel, and her unborn child. Phillips testified about his interview with a former neighbor of the Techels who had complained about the sheriff’s office’s failure to investigate reports of vandalism on his property. Techel’s defense attorneys argued that the neighbor, Brian Tate, who died in September 2012, was a more likely suspect in the case. Techel’s first trial, held in March 2013, ended in a mistrial; the second trial also resulted in a mistrial and a third trial is scheduled for July 14, 2014.

Kansas: In September 2013, Harlan Hurst, a convicted burglar, was the first person featured on a Facebook page for missing parolees maintained by the Kansas Department of Corrections. Officials hope that social media will help find people who abscond while on parole. Each week the Kansas DOC will post information about one of approximately 170 parolees who are on the run; spokesman Jeremy Barclay said Facebook was a useful tool for locating parole violators.

Maryland: A deputy sheriff and a jail guard from Prince George’s County were indicted on October 10, 2013 for beating a prisoner who was being processed into the county jail. At one point they forced the prisoner into a search room to continue the assault, closing the door in an attempt to conceal the beating. Deputy George Rogers and jail guard David Nkemtitah were both charged with misconduct in office; Rogers also faces a charge of second-degree assault.

Mexico: PLN has frequently reported on violence in prisons in Mexico, and on October 26, 2013, Mexican officials released information on yet another incident. Seven prisoners died in a riot at a facility in the Gulf Coast city of Altamira, about 300 miles south of Brownsville, Texas. Nine prisoners who used makeshift knives to kill the victims and injure two other prisoners were accused of starting the riot.

Michigan: On October 30, 2013, Jonathan Kermeen, a nine-year employee of the Ottawa County Jail, was suspended following accusations of inappropriate sexual contact with two female prisoners. He was fired in November 2013, then arrested and charged with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Over the course of several months, Kermeen called the victims out of their cells and kissed and fondled them. He told investigators that he stopped the inappropriate contact after he believed someone had witnessed the incidents. Kermeen pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced on March 10, 2014 to 5-15 years in prison.

Missouri: Keith Conway, 49, the former mayor of Kinloch, submitted falsified pay stubs to get out of a halfway house where he was living after serving time in federal prison. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced on December 16, 2013 to six months for the fraud. In 2011, Conway had received 21 months in prison for spending city money on a $9,000 delinquent federal tax bill. He also used the stolen funds to pay personal utility bills and buy plane tickets, Caribbean cruises and train trips.

Montana: Judith A. Bird, who worked as a counselor at the Montana State Prison at Deer Lodge, was publicly reprimanded by the Board of Social Workers and Professional Counselors on November 7, 2013 for shredding prisoners’ mental health requests without responding to them, and for disclosing confidential information about prisoners without their consent. Bird had been fired in March 2012 following an internal investigation conducted by the Montana DOC; she told prison officials that she had responded to the mental health requests verbally. In addition to the reprimand, she was ordered to complete remedial education classes on ethics.

Nevada: An unnamed prisoner who was receiving medical treatment at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center was shot and injured by a Washoe County sheriff’s deputy on October 20, 2013. The deputy was also injured in the incident but the reason for the shooting was not disclosed. As per protocol for an officer-involved shooting, an outside agency – the Sparks Police Department in this case – will conduct an investigation.

New Jersey: Members of the New Jersey Law Enforcement Supervisors Association announced on October 26, 2013 that a “majority” of prisoners at Bayside State Prison in Maurice River Township were reportedly staging a hunger strike to protest sub-par food served by private contractor Aramark. New Jersey DOC spokesman Matthew Schuman refused to confirm the hunger strike, but said the department plans to address the prisoners’ grievances. According to Aramark’s website, the company provides food services at more than 500 correctional facilities.

Ohio: On October 25, 2013, Michelle Vining, a former guard at the Lucas County jail, pleaded guilty to two counts of dereliction of duty, a second-degree misdemeanor. Her plea agreement, in which she received probation, agreed to resign from her job and forfeited her sport utility vehicle, included the dismissal of felony charges for aggravated trafficking in drugs and illegal conveyance of drugs into a government facility. Also charged were former prisoners Jesse Perez and Salina Perez. Both were scheduled to appear in court, but Jesse Perez failed to appear after posting bond and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Ohio: A prison guard has resigned after the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction found falsified logs that purported to document security checks on death row prisoner Billy Slagle, who committed suicide in his cell on August 3, 2013 – just three days before his scheduled execution. [See: PLN, March 2014, p.56]. No charges are planned against 19-year-old former guard Clay Putnam. Another unnamed guard was placed on leave while the state investigates discrepancies in an electronic log that documented how often checks were performed on Slagle prior to his suicide. Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty had supported Slagle’s request for clemency, which was rejected by the parole board and governor.

Oklahoma: On September 24, 2013, eight prisoners escaped in a transport van when guards left the keys in the vehicle while they took a sick prisoner to a hospital. Six of the prisoners stayed with the van once they stopped after driving about a mile, and one of those prisoners called 911 to report the escape. The other two, Lester Burns and Michael Coleman, ran but were quickly recaptured. The van was being operated by Prisoner Transportation Services, a private firm based in Nashville, Tennessee. The company declined to comment on the incident.

Pennsylvania: A dispute with a guard over toilet paper led to aggravated assault charges against Dauphin County prisoner Sakeem Lamar Gray, 21. On September 30, 2013, Gray had toilet paper hanging in his cell in violation of prison rules. When Gray ignored a guard’s order to take down the paper, the guard entered the cell and removed it himself. Gray then attacked the guard and bit him on the arm. According to court records, Gray, who is required to take medication, was serving time for a previous aggravated assault charge.

Pennsylvania: Convicted rapist Omar Best, 36, was charged in October 2013 for attacking a 24-year-old civilian prison clerk and raping and choking her unconscious in her office at SCI-Rockview. The clerk, Belinda Croft, blew an emergency whistle but guards did not respond; officials gave no explanation for a 27-minute delay before Croft was found by other staff members, but a guards’ organization blamed understaffing for the incident. The all-female clerical staff was subsequently moved from the prisoner housing unit to an administrative section of the facility. In April 2014, Croft filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections; Best was convicted of rape and assault on May 20, 2014 and is scheduled to be sentenced in August.

Tennessee: On October 24, 2013, Courthouse News Service reported that Shirley Vineyard, 61, had filed suit against Knox County Sheriff Jimmy Jones and guards at the Knox County Detention Center for failing to help as she was beaten with her own cane by another jail visitor. The incident, which was captured on video surveillance cameras, occurred as Vineyard visited her son at the jail on January 2, 2013. Anna Sharday Nicole Caswell, who was not named in the lawsuit, attacked Vineyard after claiming that she was in her “spot” at the visiting booths. Jail officials did not intervene to stop the assault and subsequently refused Vineyard’s request for an ambulance.

Texas: In September 2013, McLennan County sheriff’s deputies arrested Regina Antoinette Edwards and Dorothy Pennington, both guards at the privately-operated Jack Harwell Detention Center, for engaging in sexual misconduct with prisoners. The incidents, which were discovered on recorded cell phone calls, allegedly occurred between 2011 and 2013. Pennington pleaded guilty to a charge of improper sexual activity and was sentenced to five years’ probation in January 2014. A third guard, Sherry Lynn Haynes, has been charged with smuggling cigarettes into the facility.

Texas: Retired state district judge Terrill L. Flenniken was sued by the Texas Center for Defense of Life, an anti-abortion group, for ordering a 15-year-old girl to continue residing with her grandmother and the grandmother’s boyfriend, convicted sex offender Edward Clinton Lee. The suit, filed on October 8, 2013, claims that the couple was trying to force the girl to have an abortion after she became pregnant by her teenage boyfriend, and that the placement with her grandmother was improper because Lee was making sexual advances toward the girl. Three school officials, also named in the lawsuit, were criminally charged after they failed to report the girl was being sexually abused. Six months after Judge Flenniken’s placement ruling, Lee sexually assaulted the girl and shot and killed her grandmother. Flenniken retired from the bench in December 2012; Lee pleaded guilty to rape and murder charges and is serving life without parole.

Texas: On September 27, 2013, Jose Rodriguez, 37, ran from the Nueces County Courthouse while being moved to the jail. He first tried to carjack a utility truck but the driver fought back. Next, while TV news crews videotaped, Rodriguez jumped behind the wheel of a police cruiser, found the keys were not in the ignition, then jumped out and headed for another police car. He locked the doors to keep officers out, but they broke the windows. Rodriguez now faces a long list of charges.

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