News in Brief
Arizona: The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office announced on May 28, 2014 that it would not seek criminal charges against state prison guard Jesse Dorantes for the death of his K9 service dog, Ike, who was left in an unattended vehicle in the summer heat for seven hours. The DA’s office cited a 2007 case in which Chandler police officer Thomas Lovejoy’s K9, Bandit, was abandoned for over 13 hours and died due to heat exposure; Lovejoy was charged with but acquitted of animal cruelty. “We have even less favorable evidence now than what was presented in that previous matter,” said County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
Arkansas: On July 29, 2014, the Baxter Bulletin reported that Baxter County Quorum Court member Gary Tennison had proposed an ordinance that would change the uniforms worn by jail detainees from black and white stripes with flip flops to green scrubs and deck shoes. Tennison said the current striped uniforms were dehumanizing and contributed to recidivism. “The more you humiliate people, the angrier they become,” he toldthe Bulletin. Sheriff John Montgomery disagreed, claiming the current uniforms reduced potential hazards to the community. On August 5, 2014 the proposed ordinance was defeated in a 10-1 vote by the Quorum Court.
Australia: In July 2014, guards at a prison in Darwin noticed four obviously drunk prisoners fighting over a cell phone in the yard. An investigation revealed that the prisoners had, on several occasions, snuck out of their cells at night, climbed the fence and met with people outside the facility who provided them with alcohol and marijuana. At the conclusion of the nightly parties they would return to their cells. The prisoners were transferred to a higher security unit and are being considered for escape charges.
California: “Please leave a message at the tone.” That was the only response Holly Connolly received on July 17, 2014 as she frantically tried to reach someone at the federal Taft Correctional Institution to report her sighting of escapee Lionel Alvarez, who had walked away from the prison earlier that month. “I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it,” Connolly said. “I was astounded that one of their missing inmates [was found] and they didn’t even care enough to make sure they got me to a live person before that call ended.” It was unconfirmed whether the person she saw was actually Alvarez. The Taft facility is operated by a private contractor, Management & Training Corporation.
Colorado: On July 31, 2014, The Daily Beast reported that Nick Erker was attempting to convert an abandoned prison into an indoor/outdoor marijuana farm. The former High Plains Correctional Facility sits on 22.5 acres and boasts roomy indoor spaces that would be used for the pot-growing operation. Erker’s plans were put on hold after the Brush City Council approved a measure on August 25, 2014 to continue a moratorium on selling and growing marijuana until 2016. The council also refused to enact a measure that would have put the issue to a public vote.
Florida: Former Graceville Correctional Institution guard Rone S.C. Jones, 31, was arrested on June 16, 2014 for accepting cash from a prisoner in exchange for a cell phone. Jones’ former live-in boyfriend discovered pictures and data on her phone that suggested she was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a prisoner. He contacted prison officials, who discovered 814 phone calls, 579 text messages and 18 photos exchanged between Jones and prisoner Carl McNeil. A cell phone taken from McNeil was identified as one that had previously belonged to Jones’ 9-year-old son. Several Green Dot money transactions were also linked to McNeil and Jones.
Florida: On July 9, 2014, attorney Greg Lauer filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the family of a mentally-ill U.S. Army veteran who died on the floor of his Broward County jail cell after spending 155 days at the facility, most in solitary confinement. Raleigh Priester, 52, who was 6 foot, 2 inches, had withered to only 120 pounds. He weighed in at 240 pounds on the day of his arrest five months earlier. Priester’s family is suing the Sheriff’s Office, the jail’s health care provider and other defendants, alleging they ignored Priester’s glaringly obvious mental health and physical ailments and did not provide him with medication, treatment or adequate nutrition. Priester had been jailed for throwing a rock at a parking attendant who confronted him about trespassing.
Florida: Former Zephyrhills Correctional Facility guard Jerry St. Fleur, 26, pleaded guilty on July 10, 2014 to committing tax fraud by stealing prisoners’ identities. Investigators said St. Fleur had used DOC databases to collect prisoners’ personal information, then filed 182 tax returns seeking over $500,000 in fraudulent refunds. He was sentenced on October 5, 2014 to more than four years in prison and ordered to repay over $61,000.
Georgia: Christopher Alan Estes was released from the Cobb County jail on July 8, 2014, but because his personal clothing was “dirty and moldy” he decided to keep a jail-issued T-shirt. Estes was spotted wearing it in public a day later. He was arrested and charged with theft by taking for failing to return the shirt, and denied bond for violating the terms of his probation.
Georgia: On June 8, 2014, former guard Curtis Drakes was sentenced to two years in prison for selling cell phones to prisoners at the Mize Street Detention Facility in Pelham. “When Mr. Drakes smuggled cell phones into a secure detention facility, he not only violated his oath, he put the safety of his fellow guards, law enforcement officers, and potential witnesses in jeopardy,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Moore. “We don’t need people who are locked up using cell phones to conduct illegal business or intimidate witnesses in the community.” Drakes, who pleaded guilty, appealed his sentence to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals; however, the appellate court upheld the district court’s judgment in November 2014.
Georgia: Atlanta police responded to a domestic violence call at the downtown Ritz-Carlton hotel on August 9, 2014 and found an injured woman, Kelli Fuller, who claimed she had been assaulted by her husband, Alabama U.S. District Court Judge Mark Fuller, 55. Judge Fuller was charged with misdemeanor battery and spent the night in jail. He was relieved of his judicial duties shortly afterwards and accepted a plea deal that will expunge his record if he completes counseling. A special committee met in February 2015 to consider whether Fuller, who has been urged to resign, should be impeached.
Hawaii: PLN previously reported the arrest of Halawa Correctional Facility guard Mark Damas for smuggling meth into the prison. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.56]. On July 22, 2014, Damas appeared in court and changed his plea from “not guilty” to “guilty.” He admitted that he would meet outside parties to have “orders” from prisoners filled, then take the drugs to a drop point near the facility. Another person would place the drugs in a comment card box with a broken lock for distribution. “Ultimately he thought it was in his best interest” to plead guilty, said his attorney, Rustam Barbee. “The evidence in the case was pretty compelling in favor of the government’s case.” Damas was sentenced in November 2014 to 57 months in federal prison and four years of supervised release.
Illinois: Prosecutors announced in June 2014 that charges had been filed against a Cook County jail guard, a prisoner and the prisoner’s girlfriend in connection with a bribery scheme to smuggle contraband into the West Side jail. Guard Jermaine Hoskins is accused of receiving up to $250 each time he delivered the contraband items, mostly marijuana and tobacco, to prisoner Lawrence Pope. Pope’s girlfriend, Taveda Driver, 41, allegedly delivered the contraband to Hoskins. Hoskins pleaded guilty in January 2015 and was sentenced to 2½ years’ probation and 100 hours of community service.
Ireland: Warm summer weather provided an opportunity for prisoners to carry out a unique drug smuggling scheme at Dublin’s Wheatfield Prison. Drugs frozen inside ice cubes were catapulted from outside the facility onto netting designed to prevent the introduction of airborne contraband. The ice melted and the drugs fell through holes in the netting, whereupon they were collected by prisoners. On July 27, 2014 the Irish Mirror reported that a prison source said, “The ice cube method of drug smuggling has been around for a while now butthere has been a massive increase in its use in recent weeks due to the hot temperatures we have been having.”
Kansas: Former Sedgwick County jail guard David Kendall was arrested on multiple sex charges involving six different prisoners. [See: PLN, Feb. 2014, p.56]. On June 27, 2014, he was sentenced to two years of probation after pleading no contest to six counts of attempted unlawful sexual relations with prisoners and one count of making a false information. Kendall will be required to register as a sex offender and undergo sex offender evaluation to determine if he needs treatment.
Kansas: Jessica Wilmer-Davis, a former contract cook at the Grossman Center, a residential reentry facility in Leavenworth, was sentenced on July 17, 2014 to two years in federal prison for not reporting the escape of a prisoner with whom she had had an intimate relationship. Wilmer-Davis, 34, acknowledged in her plea agreement that she knew prisoner Joshua Spurgeon had left the center to avoid an upcoming drug test, and had seen him two days after his escape.
Louisiana: The U.S. Department of Justice announced on June 24, 2014 that Angola prison guard Mark Sharp, 33, had pleaded guilty to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law and one count of making a false statement to the FBI in connection with the beating of a prisoner and lying about it in a cover-up. The January 2010 beating incident involved prisoner Roy H. McLaughlin, Jr., who was severely assaulted after trying to escape. [See: PLN, Aug. 2014, p.46]. In January 2015, Sharp was sentenced to 73 months in prison. Two other Angola guards who witnessed the attack, Kevin Groom and Matthew Cody Butler, were sentenced to probation and fines. Another guard, Jason Giroir, received two years’ probation and was ordered to pay a $3,000 fine and $12,000 in restitution on January 29, 2015.
Michigan: Criminal defense attorney Clarence K. Gomery was jailed on July 14, 2014 after a hit man he had hired to kill rival lawyer Christopher Cooke instead contacted the police. Gomery is accused of plotting the murder-for-hire against Cooke, who was representing Gomery’s former business partner in collecting a $314,000 judgment that had been awarded against Gomery for fraud and malpractice. Cooke called the revelation that he was the target of a murder plot an “extraordinary surprise.” Gomery pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 6 to 20 years in prison on March 5, 2015.
Michigan: The popularity of the television show “Orange is the New Black” has contributed to Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel’s decision to change the attire of jail prisoners. Orange jumpsuits seem to have become “cool” in the public’s eyes, and free-world citizens are wearing them to malls and other public places, he noted. On July 21, 2014, Sheriff Federspiel announced that he had begun purchasing black and white horizontally-striped uniforms for jail detainees to avoid confusion between members of the public and prisoners on work release.
Michigan: Former Kent County assistant prosecutor Mark Richard VanderMolen, 61, represented himself when he appeared before a judge on July 16, 2014 and pleaded not guilty to charges of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and assault with intent to commit sexual penetration. He is accused of groping and sexually assaulting a woman who met him at a dance event and returned to his home with him. VanderMolen later changed his mind about self-representation and hired a criminal defense attorney; in September 2014 he rejected a plea bargain for a maximum two-year sentence.
Mississippi: On June 15, 2014, power was lost at the Yazoo City Correctional Complex. Electricity was quickly restored to the complex except for the Yazoo City Low Federal Prison, which houses more than 1,700 prisoners. That facility remained without power until June 25, 2014; electrical engineers described the problem as an “unexplained power surge.” At least two prison employees were treated for heat-related medical emergencies, apparently due to the lack of air conditioning.
Mississippi: A fight broke out on July 10, 2014 at the privately-operated Walnut Grove Correctional Facility. When the melee ended, nine prisoners were treated for cuts and stab wounds and the facility was placed on lockdown. Five days later, four guards were suspended. Prison officials suggested that the disturbance occurred after the arrest of a man who was trying to smuggle drugs and cell phones into the prison by throwing contraband-stuffed footballs over the fence. Walnut Grove has a long history of problems, though Management & Training Corporation (MTC), which took over operation of the facility in 2012, claimed it had “made great progress in creating a safer environment for offenders and staff.”
Mississippi: On July 24, 2014, three guards were moving a prisoner to a solitary confinement unit at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility when the prisoner pulled a homemade knife and stabbed one of the guards in the back. As the guards tried to control the prisoner using physical force and pepper spray, another prisoner approached and stabbed a second guard in the arm and back. The third guard received a small cut to his hand. In 2013, the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit that called conditions at the privately-operated MTC prison “barbaric.” [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.24]. The names of the guards and prisoners involved in the incident were not released.
Missouri: Buchanan County Drug Strike Force officials set fire to more than 600 pounds of marijuana on July 29, 2014 after prisoners on a jail work release crew found the pot in a roadside ravine. Strike Force Commander Mike Donaldson said the drugs had a street value of more than $1 million.
Missouri: Four guards at the medium-security Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center were arrested in June 2014 in separate incidents involving assaults and sexual abuse. Guard Shawna Barton was allegedly impregnated with twins following an inappropriate sexual relationship with prisoner Deshay Trotter. Guard Jerry Morgan is accused of using excessive force by choking a prisoner and pushing him against a wall, while guard David Shipley faces a felony charge for punching a restrained prisoner in the face. Guard Charles Thomas also faces excessive force charges for striking a prisoner and asking other staff members not to report the incident.
Missouri: Prisoner Cyprian Adoh was found injured and unresponsive in his cell at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield; he died as a result of his injuries on July 23, 2014. Adoh was serving a 70-month sentence for health care fraud, and his death was investigated as a homicide. In August 2014, fellow prisoner Jerry Scott Hill, 43, was charged with murdering Adoh by hitting his head against a wall, causing a fatal brain injury.
Nebraska: Michael Weichman, a former maintenance worker at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women, pleaded not guilty on June 23, 2014 to sexual assault of a prisoner. According to court documents, Weichman denied allegations that he had been involved inappropriately with the prisoner; he described the relationship as “playful” but not sexual. Weichman resigned after being suspended without pay.
New Jersey: On July 28, 2014, Cumberland County jail warden Bob Balicki announced that a scabies outbreak at the facility had claimed two more victims, in addition to 11 other prisoners who had been successfully treated. The two newly-infected prisoners were placed in quarantine and four housing units were disinfected. The New Jersey Department of Health provided guidance to the jail on how to control the outbreak of scabies, which is caused by mites.
New York: A highly-respected principal at a Brooklyn public school was removed from her position after being arrested on July 21, 2014 for allegedly trying to smuggle heroin and prescription drugs into the Coxsackie Correctional Facility. Sadie Silver and her partner, Michael Acosta, had a 10-year-old child with them when they attended a pre-arranged visit with a prisoner at the facility. Silver and Acosta both face charges of promoting prison contraband and criminal possession of a controlled substance, plus a misdemeanor charge of endangering the welfare of a child.
New York: On June 21, 2014, the Associated Press reported that the power plant that supplied electricity for executions at Sing Sing is being considered as a location for a museum dedicated to the infamous prison. Several defunct correctional facilities are home to prison museums, such as Alcatraz and Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, but the proposed exhibit area at Sing Sing would be located at an open and active prison. Those who support the project say a Sing Sing museum could attract up to 250,000 visitors a year.
Ohio: Judge Keith M. Spaeth upheld an arbitrator’s recommendation on June 26, 2014, ordering Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones to rehire jail guard Joshua Bowling. Bowling, who had a history of disciplinary infractions, was fired after he allowed his ex-felon cousin to move in with him. Bowling filed a union grievance and an arbitrator recommended a two-week suspension instead of termination. The sheriff declined to accept that recommendation and appealed Judge Spaeth’s ruling, and Bowling remains unemployed pending the outcome of the appeal.
Oklahoma: For nearly two weeks in June 2014, prisoners at the Oklahoma County jail were served only sandwiches due to a sewer line collapse that left the facility’s kitchen out of service. A volunteer organization, Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief, stepped in to provide two hot daily meals to the prisoners. That was the second time the disaster organization had provided meals; in 2010, a different sewer line collapsed that also rendered the jail’s kitchen inoperable.
Oklahoma: On July 11, 2014, former CCA Cimarron Correctional Facility guard Malinda Gayle Canaday was sentenced to one year of probation on a charge of committing an act resulting in gross injury offensive to public morals. Canaday, who was also identified by the surnames “Dunn” and “Frisbie,” had originally been charged with sexual battery of an inmate. She admitted having twice had sexual contact with a prisoner in addition to other inappropriate behavior.
Oklahoma: In the early morning hours of June 23, 2014, twenty-eight prisoners rioted at the Lincoln County Jail, resulting in employees calling 911 for help. The riot was believed to have started after jail officials confiscated contraband tattoo equipment and placed the prisoner tattoo artist in segregation. The disturbance was quelled after 27 minutes, and damage to the facility was estimated at $2,000.
Oregon: A former nutrition services manager at the Donald E. Long Juvenile Detention Home was taken into custody on August 7, 2014, accused of misusing public funds of over $16,000. Davia Nemkevich, 42, allegedly carried out “a pattern and practice of misuse” on a county procurement card, county equipment and other county resources. Nemkevich was charged with official misconduct and theft.
Oregon: On July 28, 2014, Washington County civilian jail worker Jill Curry was arraigned on 28 counts, including first-degree custodial sexual misconduct, first-degree official misconduct, second-degree custodial sexual misconduct and identify theft. She is accused of having had sex numerous times with a 25-year-old prisoner and using a false name to send him letters and money. Curry pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 50 months in prison on March 16, 2015.
Pennsylvania: Camp Hill State Correctional Institution prisoner Lance P. Greenawalt was convicted of solicitation to commit murder on July 11, 2014 for a murder-for-hire plot against Adams County Judge Michael A. George. Greenawalt testified in his own defense that the plot was just “trash talk” and he never really meant for a murder to occur. The judge was one of three people that Greenawalt allegedly took contracts out on with his cellmate, Timothy Bryce, who was an informant. Greenawalt was also convicted in the two other murder solicitation cases, and received sentences totaling 40 to 98 years. Judge George had previously sentenced Greenawalt to 4½ to 13 years in prison on a burglary charge.
Pennsylvania: On July 17, 2014, Lehigh County Common Pleas Judge William Ford dismissed contempt-of-court charges issued by District Judge Wayne Maura against 18-year-old Adam Dennis. Dennis had appeared at a court hearing before Maura wearing sagging pants; the judge issued the contempt citation and a $50 fine for Dennis’ choice of apparel. Defense attorney Kimberly Makoul cited a previous Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that held a failure to stand when a judge enters the courtroom does not support a criminal contempt conviction.
Philippines:Demands for larger cells, air conditioning and free wi-fi access were at the heart of a hunger strike staged by tens of thousands of Filipino prisoners in June 2014. The nationwide protest began when prisoners learned of demands being made by two ousted senators who were imprisoned in corruption scandals. “If our leaders can demand better conditions in their jail cells – or bungalows – why can’t we?” the hunger strikers asked.
Tennessee: On July 16, 2014, a fleet of school buses arrived at the Grundy County jail to begin the temporary evacuation of prisoners from the facility due to major electrical problems. Approximately 73 prisoners were transported to various other jails. An inspection by the Fire Marshal, conducted after two prisoners were shocked, found the facility had exposed electrical wiring and natural gas lines. The Fire Marshal gave jail officials two weeks to make improvements.
Tennessee: A 19-year-old woman was indicted on July 11, 2014 for filing a false report claiming she was raped at the Putnam County jail. Lacee Smith reportedly told her boyfriend that she had been sexually assaulted prior to her release from the jail on a DUI charge. Investigators reviewed surveillance video and determined that no assault had occurred. Smith later admitted she had fabricated the story to get attention from her boyfriend.
Texas: On July 19, 2014, a roof collapsed in a dayroom at the Management & Training Corporation-owned Diboll Correctional Center in Lufkin. According to a report in the Lufkin Daily News, 20 prisoners were injured by falling debris. One was airlifted to a hospital more than 100 miles away, ten were transported to local hospitals and the other nine received minor injuries. Warden David Driscoll said the roof collapse was likely caused by heavy rainfall over a two-day period. The minimum-security facility, which houses over 500 prisoners, is less than 20 years old.
United Kingdom: Several well-known musical artists, including David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway, and singer-songwriter Billy Bragg signed an open letter on April 29, 2014 protesting a ban on steel-string guitars in the UK prison system. “As musicians, we are concerned to hear that the use of steel-strung guitars is being prohibited in prisons,” the open letter read. “We believe music has an important role to play in engaging prisoners in the process of rehabilitation.” Prison officials ended the ban on steel-string guitars in July 2014, according to news reports.
Washington: On July 11, 2014, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes apologized for violating workplace rules by bringing legally-purchased marijuana into his office. Holmes was seen taking the pot into his workplace after his purchase of the drugs was previously covered by the news media. “Not only are controlled substances (like marijuana) banned from City offices, City employees cannot possess them while on City business,” Holmes wrote. “When I brought the unopened marijuana to City offices – trying to keep up with a busy schedule – I nonetheless violated the City’s rules.”
West Virginia: Federal prisoner Kevin Marquette Bellinger, 33, was convicted on June 16, 2014 of murdering another prisoner at USP Hazelton. Video surveillance footage showed Bellinger and his co-defendant, Patrick F. Andrews, confronting and stabbing prisoner Jesse Harris in a corridor at the facility in October 2007. Bellinger was serving a life sentence at the time of the murder; on October 8, 2014 he was sentenced to life without parole for killing Harris. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Andrews.
West Virginia: On June 10, 2014, former Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins was sentenced to 12 months and a day in prison for staging a vehicle accident and fabricating a report to Nationwide Insurance. The disgraced sheriff, who pleaded guilty to felony mail fraud, must also pay $8,262.65 in restitution for the fraudulent insurance claim. Hawkins had previously faced a scandal and legal action in 2013 after being accused of using his position to sexually assault five young women, but was elected to a second term as sheriff nonetheless.
Wisconsin: Lori A. Larue, a former employee of a food service contractor at the Dodge County Jail, pleaded guilty on June 9, 2014 to one count of second-degree sexual assault. A second felony count was dismissed. An investigation determined that Larue, 46, had been carrying on sexual relationships with two prisoners in the jail’s kitchen. She initially claimed that she had been assaulted by one of the prisoners but was too afraid to report the incident; however, evidence of the inappropriate relationships came from jail phone transcripts which indicated Larue had made at least 50 sexually explicit calls to the prisoners. She was sentenced in November 2014 to seven months in jail and five years’ probation, and will have to register as a sex offender.
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