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News in Brief

News in Brief


District of Columbia: Before sending former jail guard Jonathan Womble to prison for just over three years on October 9, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton called Womble’s crime “reprehensible and one of the most serious anyone could commit.” Heroin, marijuana, and a cell phone and charger were some of the contraband that Womble had smuggled into the D.C. jail in exchange for cash bribes. [See: PLN, Sept. 2013, p.56]. Since 2010, 138 cell phones have been found in the D.C. jail – and staff corruption is apparently one way they are getting into the facility.

Dubai: According to a September 30, 2013 news report, prisoner Ayoub A.Y. was stabbed and beaten to death by a gang of multi-national prisoners who cut off his ear and his finger before killing him. On April 24, 2014 a special tribunal acquitted 18 of the prisoners accused of Ayoub’s murder. An unnamed 21-year-old police officer was fired in connection with the incident; he left a gate open as he ran toward the disturbance that allowed other prisoners to rush into the unit.

Florida: Guard Vincent Taylor resigned from his position at the West Tampa Detention Center on September 17, 2013 after he violated Department of Juvenile Justice policy when he brought his cell phone into the facility. Taylor allegedly allowed three juvenile offenders to use his phone to post pictures of themselves on Facebook. Another employee at the state-operated detention center, supervisor Charlie Whitehead, resigned in May 2013 for policy violations that included use of excessive force.

Florida: Two former state prison guards were arrested on September 25 and 26, 2013, and face charges of official misconduct. Erik Boe and Leon Brown were investigated after Ryan Anderson, a prisoner at a work release center in West Palm Beach, called 911 to file a complaint against them. They allegedly demanded that Anderson pay them to avoid being accused of selling drugs; he initially paid $370, but Boe and Brown told him they wanted more money.

Georgia: Channel 2 Action News confirmed on September 9, 2013 that an unnamed Fulton County Sheriff’s Office employee was disciplined following a prisoner’s escape from the North County Jail Annex in Alpharetta. A deputy was seen on surveillance video as the last person to handle an exterior door through which Michael Shawn Wilson escaped, and an investigation determined that deputies had put tape over the latches of certain locks, rendering them inoperable. Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard noted that concerns had been raised about door locks that could not be controlled remotely; he said he believed the problem had since been resolved.

Georgia: Dustin Blake Otwell, 31, a former jailer for the city of Smyrna, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he altered the personal property documents of an arrestee and stole the man’s money. Otwell was unaware that the arresting police officer had counted the $600 in cash while his patrol car’s video camera recorded. The former jail guard tried to blame the officer for the theft. The Associated Press reported on September 11, 2013 that a Cobb County judge had ordered Otwell to serve at least two years of his sentence.

Hawaii: According to an October 1, 2013 news report, 17 Hawaii prisoners were removed from the Halawa Correctional Facility and mainland prisons and transferred to federal custody after an investigation into bribery and corruption among prison guards and members of the USO Family gang resulted in federal indictments. Guards John Joseph Kalei Hall and Feso Malufau are accused of receiving thousands of dollars in bribes to smuggle cigarettes and drugs into the Halawa prison for distribution by gang members. The guards, who face multiple charges, both lost their jobs; Hall had already been sentenced to 13 months in federal prison. [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.56]. Around eight of the prisoners sent to the Honolulu Federal Detention Center to await trial later went on a hunger strike to protest poor conditions at the facility.

Illinois: Cook County Jail prisoner Roosevelt Gray, 26, collapsed on September 26, 2013 as he was being released after serving a two-day sentence for driving on a suspended license. Gray was alert when transported to a nearby hospital but died later that morning. The medical examiner’s office ruled his death was natural, resulting from pulmonary thromboembolism, deep vein thrombosis and obesity.

Kansas: On September 5, 2013, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter announced that an unnamed detention deputy had been arrested in connection with the theft and unauthorized use of a $50 debit card belonging to a prisoner who was transferred to a work release facility. The prisoner complained about the missing card and the ensuing investigation revealed surveillance video that showed a uniformed deputy using the card to purchase $50 worth of items at a store about eight hours after the prisoner had been moved. The deputy bonded out of jail and was placed on administrative leave.

Kentucky: Narcotics detectives from the Kentucky State Police arrested Donna S. Hunter, 60, on September 20, 2013. She was charged in connection with smuggling cigarettes and drugs into the Madison County Detention Center, where she worked in the facility’s kitchen. The investigation resulted in charges of promoting contraband, prescription substance not in proper container and trafficking in a controlled substance. Hunter pleaded guilty and was sentenced on April 3, 2014 to a year in prison.

Louisiana: As Tropical Storm Karen approached on October 4, 2013, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman transferred 432 prisoners from temporary tent housing to State Department of Public Safety and Corrections facilities. In a prepared statement, the sheriff said his office had also released 70 prisoners who were being held on minor charges in advance of the storm, and that the jail would stop accepting new prisoners for municipal or traffic violations. The Orleans Parish Prison had been severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. [See: PLN, April 2007, p.1].

Maryland: On September 9, 2013, Judge Jerome R. Spencer sentenced former Charles County jail guard Michael Anderson Hurd to a 25-year prison term, then suspended all but seven years of the sentence. Hurd had entered an Alford plea to one of six counts of child sex abuse and prosecutors dropped the remaining charges as part of the plea agreement. Following the sentencing, several people who identified themselves as fellow jail guards called the Maryland Independent claiming that Hurd was given preferential treatment. The anonymous callers alleged that Hurd’s family had close ties with Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey and expressed outrage that, as a result of that relationship, Hurd had been allowed to draw a paycheck while being held without bond and was allowed to resign instead of being fired.

Michigan: Kent County jail guard Jaclynn Rodriguez was fired on September 23, 2013 for “failure to pass probation” following an internal investigation into a September 2012 incident in which she was attacked by prisoner Willie Lee Wilson. Jail surveillance video showed Rodriguez being knocked to the ground and strangled. Several prisoners came to her aid, and Kent County Prosecutor Robin Eslinger said their actions had kept Wilson from killing Rodriquez. Wilson was found guilty of attempted murder as a result of the assault and sentenced to 80 to 160 years.

Mississippi: Two men have been sentenced for building a pipe bomb discovered in a car at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution. Scott Jenkins Waits and John Eric Harberson were indicted on June 25, 2013 for making and possessing a destructive device; they pleaded guilty the following month. Officials said the bomb was not intended for use at the prison. Harberson reportedly drove a woman to the facility to visit a prisoner, and forgot the pipe bomb was in the car. Jenkins and Harberson were each sentenced on December 18, 2013 to around 2½ years in prison.

Nebraska: Douglas County law enforcement officers opened an investigation in early October 2013 into allegations that two unnamed former guards, one male and one female, sexually assaulted prisoners at the county jail. Both guards resigned, as did a third who had been accused earlier in 2013. Female prisoners reported that the guards would act as lookouts for one another while they sexually abused them. Douglas County Corrections Director Mark Foxall called the allegations a “personnel matter,” but on October 25, 2013 the case was turned over to federal prosecutors.

New Jersey: Robert Pyott, 48, a guard employed at the Federal Correctional Institution at Fairton since 1995, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound outside the perimeter fence of the facility on September 21, 2013. Bureau of Prisons spokesman Eric Williams said Pyott’s body was discovered beside a vehicle shortly after 7 pm. The FBI and New Jersey State Police are investigating the incident, but no foul play is suspected.

New York: On October 6, 2013, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota announced new charges against Patrick O’Sullivan, 21, an accused rapist being held at the Riverhead Correctional Facility. While awaiting trial, O’Sullivan was accused of plotting the death of his victim by passing paper airplanes to a fellow prisoner that contained the victim’s name, address, a map to her home and instructions on how to dispose of her body. The prisoner who received the notes contacted authorities and was granted an early release in exchange for helping build a case against O’Sullivan.

North Carolina: Three former guards and two former prisoners at the GEO Group-operated Rivers Correctional Institution have been sentenced for their roles in a contraband smuggling scheme. [See: PLN, Jan. 2013, p.24]. Two of the guards, Raye Lynn Holley and Rhonda Boyd, were each sentenced to 20 months in federal prison on October 3, 2013, while a third guard, Rashonda Cross, received 45 days of intermittent confinement and 3 years’ probation on December 20, 2013. The two former prisoners, Roland Bazemore and Kenneth Dodd, received harsher sentences of 30 months and 37 months, respectively, for participating in the scheme, which involved smuggling cell phones and cigarettes into the facility.

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 remained with the van when they stopped after driving about a mile, and one called 911 to report the escape. The other two, Lester Burns and Michael Coleman, ran but were quickly recaptured. The van was operated by Prisoner Transportation Services, a private firm based in Nashville, Tennessee. The company declined to comment on the incident.

Pennsylvania: Anthony Todora, a former guard at the Northampton County Prison, was one of six guards who filed suit in 2005 raising claims of toxic mold exposure at the facility. Todora and another guard filed a second lawsuit three years later, alleging they had suffered on-the-job retaliation for their initial suit, including “ridiculous nitpicking disciplinary actions.” On September 20, 2013, Judge F.P. Kimberly McFadden granted summary judgment to the county in the second lawsuit. McFadden noted that Todora had a history of disciplinary problems prior to filing the original suit, and that he had shown no “matter of public concern” that would entitle him to First Amendment protections from retaliation.

Pennsylvania: Two maintenance workers at SCI-Laurel Highlands, Harold Maust and Stephen Toth, were charged with using prisoner labor to perform personal repairs and spending state funds to buy personal equipment and supplies. However, on September 23, 2013, Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser dropped all charges against both men. Maust’s attorney said he was happy the charges were dropped, while Toth’s lawyer plans to file suit against state prison officials for the “totally unwarranted” charges. A prison spokesperson said an internal investigation would continue into the allegations.

Pennsylvania: Kevin William Small was incarcerated at SCI-Huntingdon when he perpetrated a tax fraud scheme that netted him an additional 135-month federal prison term to be served after completing his state sentence. In January 2012, once his state sentence had expired, Small forged a document that vacated his federal sentence. He was released and remained free for two months before being arrested. U.S. District Court Judge Gene E. K. Pratter was not amused, and on September 30, 2013, Small received a five-year prison sentence for charges related to his escape.

Rhode Island: Adult Correctional Institution guard James Petrella was arraigned on October 2, 2013 following his arrest on three counts of delivering a controlled substance. Petrella allegedly sold Oxycodone and Clonazepam to an undercover detective on three occasions in September 2013. A search of his home by Rhode Island State Police revealed four firearms and an assortment of prescription medications. Petrella’s bail was set at $20,000 with surety; he failed to post bond and remained in custody.

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, while a fourth, John Timothy Spears, was arrested in February 2014 for having a sexual relationship with a prisoner. The facility is operated by LaSalle Corrections.

Texas: Jose Rodriguez, 37, ran from the Nueces County Courthouse while being moved to the jail on September 27, 2013. 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, but officers broke the windows. Rodriguez now faces a long list of charges.

Turkey: Security forces searched for eighteen members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who escaped from a Turkish prison on September 25, 2013. The prisoners had been convicted or charged with belonging to the PKK or helping militants; they escaped by digging a 230-foot tunnel, police said. The PKK has been fighting for autonomy for the southeastern region of Turkey for three decades, and the conflict has killed more than 40,000 people.

United Kingdom: Officials at Ford Open Prison objected to some prisoners’ alternative to eating meals in the dining hall or purchasing food from the canteen. Apparently the grounds of the facility were overrun by thousands of wild rabbits, and prisoners had started killing them and cooking the meat in microwaves. Prison officials announced a “bunny boiling ban” in September 2013, saying killing and eating the rabbits was causing “distress to staff members.”

United Kingdom: Brixton Prison made headlines when celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey helped prisoners set up the “Bad Boys Bakery,” which now provides cakes to national coffee chains. On September 23, 2013, it was announced that the prison would expand its culinary program to include a 100-seat restaurant, open to the public and fully staffed by prisoners. The Clink Charity plans to make Brixton the home of a third training restaurant in the organization’s award-winning program to equip prisoners with skills to help them secure post-release employment.

Venezuela: In the notoriously crowded Sabaneta prison in the western city of Maracaibo, a clash in an ongoing gang war left at least 16 prisoners dead, government officials reported on September 17, 2013. When armed police stormed the facility following the riot, they were surprised to find that prisoners were keeping a menagerie of exotic animals. According to La Verdad, a regional newspaper, the animals included an ocelot, raccoons, macaws and several caimans. More than a dozen farm animals were also recovered, as well as a large number of purebred dogs such as mastiffs, Siberian huskies and Yorkshire terriers.

Vermont: Windsor County State’s Attorney Michael Kainen called his September 2013 plea deal with former prison guard Leanne Salls “an exercise in prosecutorial discretion.” Initially charged with sexual exploitation of an inmate, Salls became pregnant and gave birth as a result of her relationship with an unidentified prisoner. “This is a single mother who has a child,” said Kainen. “I wasn’t comfortable making her a rapist.” Salls ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of prohibited acts and received a one-year deferred sentence.

Wisconsin: Former Black River Correctional Center sergeant Gregg R. Twesme, 47, pleaded guilty on September 13, 2013 to two misdemeanor counts of fourth-degree sexual assault. Twesme used his position to take sexual advantage of two male prisoners, telling one victim he would have him sent to a maximum-security facility if he reported the incident, according to the criminal complaint. Black River Superintendent Dave Andraska said Twesme was no longer employed at the prison; it was unclear whether he quit or had been fired.



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