News in Brief
Arizona: Ruth Alvarez was battling breast cancer when she was arrested and jailed in Maricopa County for working under a false identity and being in the country illegally. In an unprecedented plea deal, Alvarez was released on April 17, 2014 so she could continue the cancer treatments she had begun prior to her incarceration. Attorney Jose Peñalosa, who represents Alvarez, said the Maricopa County Attorney’s decision to release her was a rare humanitarian gesture. “It’s an exceptional case,” said Peñalosa, who noted it was the first of its kind he had seen in his 20 years of practice.
Arkansas: In an impassioned letter to the governor seeking a pardon, Kyle Beebe wrote, “Mr. Governor, I am asking for a second chance at life. I am asking for a second chance to be the man that I know that I can be.” Governor Mike Beebe – Kyle Beebe’s father – agreed on November 13, 2014 to pardon his son for a 2003 felony marijuana conviction. The governor told KATV reporters that he “would have done it a long time ago if [his son had] asked, but he took his sweet time about asking.” Governor Beebe said he has pardoned more than 700 felons, mostly nonviolent offenders.
California: On May 27, 2014, a riot erupted in the maximum-security recreation yard at Calipatria State Prison. The disturbance involved nearly 300 prisoners; 13 were injured and two guards were treated for heat-related illnesses due to the triple-digit temperature that day. Prison staff deployed pepper spray and fired warning shots and rubber bullets to quash the uprising – the same tactics that were used to stop another riot at Calipatria in 2012. [See: PLN, April 2013, p.58]. Officials said the cause of the ten-minute riot was under investigation.
California:PLN previously reported that former Santa Barbara County jail guards Robert Kirsch and Christopher Johnson had pleaded not guilty to state charges of assaulting prisoner Charles Owens. [See: PLN, March 2014, p.56]. On April 10, 2014, both men were also indicted by a federal grand jury for violating Owens’ civil rights under color of law. Johnson faces an additional obstruction of justice charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. It is unclear how the federal charges will affect the pending state case, which has not progressed beyond arraignment. Owens filed a civil suit against the County of Santa Barbara and the former guards on May 29, 2014, which remains pending.
Colorado: Rene Lima-Marin was 20 years old in 2000 when he was convicted of multiple felonies and sentenced to 98 years in prison. However, due to a clerical error he was released in 2008; he then went on to build a life, marrying and fathering two sons. The mistake was discovered in January 2014, and Lima-Marin was arrested and returned to prison to serve the remaining 90 years of his sentence. In a May 7, 2014 interview, his devastated wife said she believes that his years of law-abiding living on the outside showed that his time in prison was rehabilitative, and he should be freed. Lima-Marin’s story mirrors that of former Missouri prisoner Cornealious “Mike” Anderson (see below). Lima-Marin’s family has been in contact with the same attorney who successfully obtained Anderson’s release.
Delaware: Kenneth Abraham, a former Delaware state prosecutor, was sentenced to five years on a drug charge related to his cocaine addiction. He filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Lt. Michael Costello and Cpl. Daniel Mann had abused him by spraying him with pepper spray, knocking him to the ground and kicking him at the Sussex Violation of Probation Center in 2007. Abraham, who has since been released, claimed that he was subjected to the excessive force after he peacefully resisted an order to roll a log around a tree as a form of punishment. Deputy Attorney General Catherine C. Damavandi said in her opening argument that Abraham was “an inmate rebel without a cause” who was looking to start a fight. His lawsuit was dismissed by a jury on May 29, 2014. “I’m disappointed but not entirely surprised given the massive indifference toward prisoners, and that massive indifference is a massive mistake,” said Abraham, 67, who has become an advocate for criminal justice reform.
Florida: On May 27, 2014, Broward County Circuit Judge Lynn Rosenthal was driving her BMW to work when she was spotted weaving in and out of traffic on I-595. She drifted into the breakdown lane and hit a concrete barrier, then continued on to the judicial parking lot where she hit a sheriff’s patrol car and repeatedly struck the closed gate with her vehicle. She was arrested and charged with DUI, but invoked a statute that prohibits the release of photos of current and former federal prosecutors. Rosenthal was previously employed as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. After a public outcry, she revoked her request and allowed her mugshot to be published. Rosenthal told police she had taken the sleep medication Ambien the night before, and her breath alcohol test was negative. The DUI charge was reduced to reckless driving, and Rosenthal was sentenced to three months’ probation and 25 hours of community service. She was reelected to the bench in August 2014.
Florida: According to a news release from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, on June 17, 2014, seven people were charged in connection with a scheme to smuggle a gun into the Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City. Prisoners Kirk Cartwright and Deshandre Billups, who shot themselves with the pistol, reportedly planned to sue the state for their injuries. In addition to the two prisoners, five other people, including Billups’ mother, were charged for their roles in the scheme.
Georgia: Former Troup County jail guard Angel Rafael Vargas, 40, was sentenced on April 18, 2014 to five years in prison followed by five years’ probation for smuggling marijuana and other contraband to a prisoner. Vargas pleaded guilty to three counts of furnishing prohibited items to an inmate, one count of bringing contraband into a jail and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He was also fired.
Georgia: Federal investigators are examining the antics of two prisoners at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta who posted live video shows from inside the facility via contraband smart phones. The prisoners, Cameron Braswell and Rex Whitlock, known as “Stackhouse” and “Boo,” openly used social media to show off their shoes, stamps and tattoos. Braswell and Whitlock face administrative sanctions and the possibility of more federal charges; their social media postings were first reported in May 2014 by Atlanta’s CBS46 News.
Georgia: On May 30, 2014, Fulton County Deputy Nakia Dorsey, 38, was indicted on two felony counts of false imprisonment, two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery and one count of simple assault. The charges stem from two incidents in which Dorsey, while supervising prisoners at the Fulton County Courthouse, took two women into private offices and fondled them.
Hawaii: Module 20 at the Oahu Community Correctional Center was closed from May 14 to 17, 2014 in an attempt to eradicate a bedbug infestation. The tenting operation was expected to cost around $12,000 and result in the temporary relocation of about 100 prisoners. “A great number [of prisoners] have been bitten, and we need to address this problem,” said Max Otani, a deputy public safety director for the Corrections Division.
Idaho: On April 11, 2014, Elmore County jail sergeant Tom Robinson was sentenced to 5 days in jail after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct for shoving a female prisoner into a wall, knocking her off her feet. The assault was recorded on surveillance video; former deputy Jason Mittleider reported the incident to jail supervisors, but his concerns went unanswered. He then took the issue up the chain of command and an investigation was finally launched. Mittleider was fired shortly after the investigation was completed, allegedly for using profanity in the jail, though he contended the firing was in retribution for being a whistleblower.
Indiana: Johnson County jail prisoner James Michael Wilkerson died on May 17, 2014, shortly after a suicide attempt in which he swallowed an unknown amount of toilet paper. Jail staff had spoken with Wilkerson only 10 minutes prior to finding him unconscious in his cell. He was taken to Johnson County Memorial Hospital, but died four days later. An autopsy determined that his death, ruled a suicide, was caused by asphyxiation due to a foreign object.
Italy: Under a new bill approved by Calabria’s Regional Committee on May l6, 2014, prisoners serving a sentence of six months or more would be eligible to receive sentence credit of 3 days for each book they read. According to Mario Caligiuri, Calabria’s regional culture official, “Reading is an extraordinary antidote to discomfort and promotes awareness and social and personal redemption.” Prisoners would be able to receive a maximum of 48 days credit over a one-year time period – the equivalent of 16 books in twelve months. The bill will be debated in the Italian Parliament.
Louisiana: Questionable contracts with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office resulted in charges against businessman Kendall Marquar; John Sens, the former purchasing director and fundraiser for the Sheriff’s Office; Col. Gerard Hoffman, the Sheriff’s former maintenance director; and another jail contractor, Richard P. Molenaar III. Marquar was sentenced on September 9, 2014 to home detention and electronic monitoring, and must pay $157,000 in back taxes to the IRS. Previously, Sens was sentenced to five years in prison for his part in bid-rigging and kickbacks, Hoffman received five years’ probation and fines, and Molenaar was sentenced to 18 months in prison and $20,000 in fines.
Louisiana: Police confirmed on December 31, 2014 that a man murdered in New Orleans the previous week was a former Orleans Parish Prison guard. Tyrell Sutherland, 29, had been sentenced in September 2014 to three years’ probation after pleading guilty for his role in a contraband smuggling scheme, in which he admitted to exchanging contraband cell phones and marijuana for cash. His attorney, Frank DeSalvo, said he hoped Sutherland’s murder was unrelated to the smuggling case.
Maine: A two-hour, 10-minute video documented a disturbing incident involving Maine Correctional Center prisoner Paul Schlosser III, who was pepper sprayed under a spit mask while immobilized in a restraint chair. He was not allowed to wash his face for 24 minutes after the assault, which occurred in June 2012. In mid-May 2014, Schlosser filed suit against the guard who sprayed him, Capt. Shawn Welch, who was suspended for 30 days following the incident. Once the video was released, an internal affairs unit was created at the request of state lawmakers and new policies were instituted to improve guards’ responses to prisoners who self-injure and spit at staff members.
Mexico: On May 26, 2014, three prisoners, all linked to Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, escaped through a 470-meter-long tunnel that was apparently dug from outside the prison. Nine guards were arrested as accomplices to the escape and another 50 placed under investigation. The prison is in Culiacán, the capital of the northwestern Sinaloa state, which is a regional hideout for many of Mexico’s top drug kingpins.
Missouri: Cornealious “Mike” Anderson’s story began with his conviction for taking part in a 1999 Burger King robbery. He was sentenced to 13 years but wasn’t ordered to report to prison when his appeals ran out, though he tried to surrender. While he remained free he started a family, ran construction businesses, volunteered at his church and coached his son’s football team. The error was discovered at the expiration of his original sentence, and Anderson was arrested by U.S. Marshals. On May 5, 2014, state court judge Terry Brown released Anderson from custody, granting him 4,794 days time-served credit for the time between his conviction and his July 2013 arrest. “I believe continuing to incarcerate you serves no purpose, would be a waste of taxpayer dollars and punish a good man,” Brown stated.
Nebraska: A former employee of the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women walked into the public lobby of the facility on May 26, 2014, demanded entrance, then shot herself in the chin with a .22 rifle when her request was denied. Robin K. Staehr, 50, had resigned from her job in 2005, but staff recognized her. Staehr, whose injuries placed her in critical condition, was believed to have been intoxicated at the time of the bizarre incident. No criminal charges were filed.
New Jersey: On April 17, 2014, the Cumberland County prosecutor announced that three civilians, a county jail guard and a prisoner were formally charged following an investigation into contraband smuggling at the facility. Guard Joshua Minguela was arrested in January 2014, while jail prisoner James McNair was arrested in February 2014. Civilians Susan Leahy, Matthew Leahy and Jose Morales were all arrested between February and April 2014; the trio provided prescription drugs and cash in exchange for Minguela’s cooperation in taking contraband into the jail.
New York: An internal investigation resulted in five Greene Correctional Facility guards being placed on administrative leave in mid-May 2014. The guards were accused of opening cell doors to expose prisoners to attacks from other prisoners, as well as encouraging or even forcing fights among prisoners. The guards were also accused of placing plastic bags over the heads of some prisoners to dissuade them from reporting the incidents. The misconduct is alleged to have taken place in the “S-200” special housing unit at the facility.
New York: On November 8, 2014, a group of protesters, including former prisoners, gathered near the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City to call for reforms at the facility. The protesters claimed that they had witnessed harsh conditions and illegal activities inside the jail, and criticized reports of deaths, neglect, abuse and corruption, as well as the use of solitary confinement. Frank Sha Francois of the New Black Panther Party, who was among the protesters, said he was severely beaten while incarcerated at Rikers in 1991.
Ohio: In April 2010, Richard Humphrey, 26, was sentenced to 29 months in prison for selling pirated movies. Imagine his disgust when, while incarcerated at a facility in Lorain County for an unrelated offense, he was shown pirated movies by prison staff. On May 16, 2014, Lorain Correctional Institution Warden Kimberly Clipper said officials were investigating whether staff members brought unapproved movies into the facility. “How do you expect someone to be rehabilitated when there’s authority figures that are running those institutions that are copyright infringing?” Humphrey said.
Ohio: A counselor at the CCA-operated Northeast Ohio Correctional Center was indicted on June 4, 2014 for allegedly performing sex acts on a prisoner at the facility. Nicole White, 34, was charged in federal court with sexual abuse of a ward. The investigation that preceded the indictment was conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General and the Bureau of Prisons.
Oregon: Matthew Joseph Medlin had served 272 days and had six more to go when he scaled the fence at the Columbia River Correctional Institution on April 30, 2014. His short taste of freedom ended when a guard on an unrelated assignment spotted him about 12 hours later. Medlin was taken into custody at a Jack in the Box restaurant a few miles from the facility. An investigation determined that prison officials did not follow all notification procedures when the escape was discovered; in response to the incident, eight broken video cameras were replaced and additional barbed wire was installed.
Pennsylvania: PLN previously reported the arrest of former private prison guard Winlaw Muzirwa, who was charged with fatally shooting his wife in December 2012. [See: PLN, April 2013, p.58]. Muzirwa, 39, later pleaded guilty and was sentenced on May 30, 2014 to 12½ to 25 years in prison. After the crime, Muzirwa had walked into a police station in bloodstained clothing and admitted to shooting his wife, Daisy Jambawo, in the face and back. According to an affidavit of probable cause, Jambawo told Muzirwa to “act like a man” just before he shot her. Muzirwa had been employed by private prison company Community Education Centers.
South Carolina: On May 22, 2014, Richland County jail guard Valshawn Frazier turned herself in after it was discovered that she had sold a cell phone and charger to a prisoner for $125. She was charged with misconduct and subsequently fired. State lawmakers have introduced a bill that would make introduction of contraband into a penal facility a felony offense.
Tennessee: State prison guard Kenyetta Foxe faces termination and a felony charge for having a sexual relationship with a prisoner at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville. According to a TDOC spokesperson, Foxe had been hired in February 2013. After her May 12, 2014 arrest, local television station WSMV reported that she had also carried on relationships with prisoners through online social media such as Facebook and Instagram.
Tennessee: Rutherford County jail guard James Vanderveer, who is Sheriff Robert Arnold’s nephew, had been forced to resign after a DUI arrest but was rehired and on the job on December 9, 2013. Video evidence shows that on that date Vanderveer sprayed pepper spray under the spit mask of prisoner Demario N. Harris while he was secured in a restraint chair, then left Harris struggling, convulsing and screaming for help for over an hour. Vanderveer received a written reprimand for “Disproportionate Use of Force”; he remains employed by the sheriff’s office. On November 26, 2014, Harris filed a federal lawsuit over the incident.
Texas: Former FCI-Big Spring prison guard Matthew Castaneda will be serving time in prison himself. On June 9, 2014, he was sentenced to six months in federal prison followed by six months of home confinement for his role in a bribery and contraband scheme. According to court documents, Castaneda would accept monetary bribes from a prisoner’s wife to smuggle cell phones and other contraband into the facility. He was convicted of one count of making false statements.
Turkey: On April 13, 2014, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ announced that Turkey would be establishing “pink wards” – specialty prisons for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) prisoners. Prisoners who declare an alternative sexuality will no longer be housed in segregation or general population. According to Ministry of Justice data from April 2013, eighty-one prisoners had openly identified themselves as LGBT. More recent statistics were not available, but it is considered likely by the Ministry that the current number is much higher.
United Kingdom: Four prisoners who practice the UK’s seventh most popular religion – Jedism, after the rebel heroes in Star Wars – plan to sue the prison system for religious discrimination, The Daily Mail reported on April 24, 2014. One prisoner, whose opinion was published in the magazine Inside Time, wrote, “This is an example of the kind of intolerance and religious bigotry faced by members of our faith on a daily basis, both within the prison system and without.” Another prisoner stated that if it’s acceptable to be a pagan, then it “should be alright” to be a Jedi. As for their lawsuit? May the force be with them.
Utah: On May 23, 2014, Judge G. Michael Westfall sentenced a woman who filed false rape charges to a suspended sentence of zero to five years in prison, ordering her to serve 30 days in jail and 36 months on probation, pay more than $26,000 in restitution and write three letters of apology. Sarah Elizabeth Rutz, 27, had reported that she had been raped while jogging, and collected payments from the Office for Victims of Crime. Investigators later discovered that semen collected as evidence in the case matched a man with whom Rutz had had a consensual sexual encounter.
Virginia: William A. Coles, Jr., 49, a former Piedmont Regional Jail supervisor, was convicted on May 22, 2014 on several federal charges, including bank fraud. Coles and his wife, Sybil, convinced workers at the jail that Sybil could use little-known loopholes to obtain higher tax refunds. The Coles then collected fees for filing the false tax returns. Sybil Coles was sentenced to 5 years in prison in early May 2014, while William Coles was sentenced on September 10, 2014 to 50 months in prison and two years on supervised release. He was also ordered to pay over $1 million in restitution.
Wisconsin: A fistfight broke out on April 22, 2014 at the Sauk County Jail between an unnamed prisoner and Sasha M. Perry, who was serving time for child abuse and other charges. The fight started after a Bible study session held in the women’s unit. Several prisoners reportedly became upset that Perry had focused the religious gathering on herself and not on the scripture; she then attacked a prisoner who had flipped her off and called her a derogatory phrase. If convicted of the Bible study assault, Perry could face up to six years in prison.
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