News in Brief
Alabama: Alabama’s grossly overcrowded prison system was already facing lawsuits over poor medical treatment for prisoners when Pam Barrett of the Alabama Department of Public Health announced on August 13, 2014 that nine active cases of tuberculosis had been diagnosed in state prisoners. That number doesn’t sound high, but health officials said the outbreak was the worst the prison system had seen since 2009. All but one of the cases occurred at the St. Clair Correctional Facility.
Alaska: On January 30, 2015, two men who escaped from custody in separate incidents were both captured. Logan Austin, 23, walked away from the North Star Center halfway house on January 14, 2015, while 38-year-old Michael Bracht escaped a week later while in the custody of a third party, just hours before he was scheduled to begin serving a 32-month prison sentence on charges that included an armed standoff with police. Both men had been described by Alaska State Troopers as “dangerous” escapees.
Brazil: In the early hours of February 5, 2015, three women approached the Nova Mutum prison dressed in dominatrix costumes. They convinced the guards to let them inside, then drugged the men with spiked whiskey. Once the guards were incapacitated the women stripped them naked and handcuffed them; they then stole master keys and opened the cell doors. Twenty-eight prisoners escaped. The guards were arrested and face charges of facilitating a jailbreak and culpable embezzlement.
California: Prisoner Roberto Baldizon, 35, was found gravely injured in his maximum-security CSP-Sacramento cell on February 3, 2015; he had suffered stab wounds and died 32 minutes later. Baldizon’s cellmate, Antolin Cepeda, 37, was the primary suspect and prison staff found a contraband weapon at the scene. The area where the incident occurred was placed on lockdown pending an investigation, and the Office of Inspector General was notified. Cepeda was already serving a life sentence for first-degree murder, while Baldizon was serving 12 years.
California: An unnamed 58-year-old prisoner died on January 26, 2015 at the San Francisco County Jail No. 5 in San Bruno. According to reports, the prisoner refused to allow guards to search an envelope he was holding and a confrontation with multiple deputies ensued. Chief Deputy Kathy Gorwood, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, said she could not comment on the death due to pending investigations.
Canada: On January 19, 2015, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada jointly filed suit against the Canadian federal government over its use of solitary confinement in the country’s prisons. The landmark lawsuit will be the first time a court has considered solitary confinement as a national issue. The organizations claim that Canada’s solitary confinement policies are unconstitutional, lead to prisoner deaths, and discriminate against mentally ill and aboriginal prisoners.
China: In a rare move by the Chinese government, state media announced on February 17, 2015 that former death row prisoner Nian Bin would be acquitted and paid compensation of 1.14 million yuan ($182,000). Nian Bin, who served 8 years in prison, claimed that he was tortured by police before falsely confessing that he had poisoned two children in July 2006. Nian Bin’s acquittal resulted in calls for the abolition of the death penalty in China; human rights groups say China’s use of capital punishment exceeds that of any other nation.
China: A number of scandals have occurred in prisons in the Heilongjiang province over the past few years. The most recent, reported by the UK’s International Business Times on January 24, 2015, involved technology, sex and blackmail. Prisoner Wang Dong used a contraband smartphone to secretly film three women naked, then blackmailed them with the photos to secure money and sex. One of Dong’s victims was the wife of a prison official. The prison’s investigative report confirmed that guards had acted in collusion with Dong to carry out the blackmail scheme.
Colorado: On August 14, 2014, a Larimer County Sheriff’s Office jailer resigned after receiving a summons to appear in court to face charges of using excessive force against a prisoner. Simon Suarez had been under investigation since July 2014 and was placed on paid administrative leave. On October 1, 2014, he pleaded guilty to the class 2 misdemeanor of official oppression and was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation.
Florida: In a state where former felons wait up to five years after applying to have their civil rights restored, James Ridgely III caused quite a controversy when he decided to run for public office in Dania Beach. Convicted of trafficking in cocaine in 1989, Ridgely had served seven months in prison. Following his release he became a registered voter under the mistaken belief that his civil rights had been restored. Ridgely withdrew from the election on September 24, 2014. The State Attorney’s office considered filing criminal charges against him but eventually declined to do so.
Florida: According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, a wheelchair-bound prisoner posed no threat to guard Raymond Ferrio or any other staff when the prisoner was thrown to the floor and kicked so violently that his dentures shattered. Ferrio, 47, was fired in January 2015 after admitting that he was not justified in using force against the disabled prisoner. Ferrio explained his actions by saying he had been “caught up in the moment” after the prisoner planted his feet on the floor and refused to be wheeled to the infirmary. Ferrio will not face criminal charges.
Florida: On five occasions in November and December 2014, Broward County Sheriff’s Office jailer Theodore Parrish was videotaped shoplifting from a Coral Springs Wal-Mart by failing to scan certain items as he used a self-checkout in the store. He was armed and wearing his sheriff’s uniform during two of the thefts. Parrish turned himself in and was arrested on December 16, 2014 after Wal-Mart notified authorities of the incidents. He is accused of stealing $176 worth of goods, including ramen noodles, eggs, bacon and a poinsettia plant.
Georgia: The top three medical officials at the Chatham County jail were fired from their jobs with private healthcare provider Corizon after reporting concerns about malpractice to the sheriff. On November 14, 2014, attorney Will Claiborne filed a lawsuit against Corizon on behalf of Betty L. Riner, Dr. Charles M. Pugh, Jr. and Lynn Williams, who claim that their former employer violated their First Amendment rights in retaliation for reporting perceived lack-of-care issues at the jail.
Georgia: Former Hall County jail clerk Trina Banks Burtch reported to the jail on November 24, 2014, not to work but to self-surrender on charges that she stole about $900 from prisoner accounts during her 7-year tenure at the facility. An investigation by the sheriff’s office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation resulted in 14 charges filed against Burtch, including transactions card theft and theft by taking. She was booked into the jail and released on $6,000 bond.
Georgia: On September 24, 2014, the Macon Telegraph reported that former prison guard Megan Deaton had entered a guilty plea to attempting to smuggle a cell phone to a prisoner at the Corrections Corporation of America-operated McRae Correctional Facility. Deaton, 23, was sentenced to 30 days and required to perform 60 hours of community service and complete a year of supervised release. “This defendant chose to place her own selfish interests above the safety of other [prison] employees and the public she was sworn to protect,” said U.S. Attorney Edward Tarver.
Hawaii: The state Department of Public Safety released disciplinary records on February 10, 2015 that revealed 18 prison guards were punished for misconduct in 2014, for offenses ranging from contraband smuggling to the mistaken release of a prisoner. Notably, the only guard fired last year was Mark Damas. PLN previously reported Damas’ arrest for taking bribes to smuggle crystal meth into the Halawa Prison and his subsequent guilty plea. [See: PLN, April 2015, p.63; Nov. 2014, p.56]. He was sentenced in November 2014 to 57 months in federal prison.
Hawaii: On February 3, 2015, just one week after being promoted, the state’s Deputy Director of Corrections stepped down and returned to her old job as the Department of Public Safety’s litigation coordination officer. Shelley Nobriga resigned after state Ethics Commission officials questioned her relationships with two men who worked with her – one her supervisor and one her supervisee. Nobriga had had children with both men and said of her decision to resign, “Basically, I felt [attacks on] my children and my relationships who created these children and I love my children.”
Illinois: A food service worker employed by a private contractor was escorted from the Rock Island County Jail and fired from her kitchen job on September 15, 2014, then arrested nine days later. Latisha M. Riste had been accused of carrying on a sexual relationship with prisoner Jesse J. McCray, who worked as a trustee in the jail’s kitchen. No disciplinary action was taken against McCray, but Riste was sentenced on December 4, 2014 to two years’ probation after pleading guilty to one count of public contractor misconduct.
Indiana: Public support for a jailhouse literacy program was evidenced by an impromptu social media fundraiser that brought in about $7,000. Indy Reads, a nonprofit organization, had been running a literacy program at the Marion County Jail but lost its grant funding, effectively leaving no alternative but to shut down its classes. Indy Reads has worked with 450 prisoners over the past three years, helping with their reading, writing and interpersonal skills; the idea is to help the students gain skills to make them more employable upon their release. The cash influx from the February 2015 fundraiser was expected to be a stop-gap measure until more permanent funding could be secured.
Indiana: Two Marion County jail guards were fired on August 15, 2014 amid allegations of financial misconduct and “fraternization” with female prisoners. Tonya Bradley, who had worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 14 years, was accused of misusing a prisoner’s food stamp card, while Marceline Daniel-Estil, a 9-year employee, was accused of lying about the sale of a prisoner’s car. Both investigations were turned over to the Marion County prosecutor’s office for review.
Louisiana: Jamie Myers, 34, and Donna Scott, 24, both scheduled a visit with 25-year-old prisoner Brenton Morris at the Washington Parish Jail on January 26, 2015. The women were placed in the same visitation booth but began to argue. The altercation turned into a hair-pulling brawl, with Myers eventually brandishing a box cutter and slashing Scott across the face and ear. Guards separated the women; Scott was arrested on a charge of disturbing the peace and Myers faces charges of aggravated battery and introduction of contraband.
Maine: On January 23, 2015, a jury acquitted former Maine State Prison captain David J. Cutler after contrasting testimony was presented at a trial to resolve excessive force claims made by prisoner Renardo Williams. Williams filed a federal lawsuit against Cutler, alleging he had used excessive force that was racially motivated. PLN reported Cutler’s arrest and the fact that Williams met with the NAACP to secure legal representation for his suit [see: PLN, July 2013, p.56], but trial testimony revealed that Cutler had never used racial slurs against Williams. Cutler was fired in 2013 and another prison official, Michael Reynolds, was demoted for filing a false report related to the incident.
Maine: Former Knox County jail guard Adam Grierson was sentenced on August 25, 2014 to 15 months in jail with all but 60 days suspended and two years of post-release probation. A second guard, Richard S. Wellington, was sentenced on January 16, 2015 to 5 years in prison with all but 1 year suspended. PLN previously reported Grierson and Wellington’s arrests in separate sexual assault cases. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.56].
Michigan: On April 8, 2015, LWOP-sentenced murderer Steven D. Sandison was sentenced to a second term of life imprisonment for the killing of 67-year-old Theodore Dyer at the Saginaw Correctional Facility. Sanderson, 51, politely explained to Chief Circuit Judge Fred L. Borchard the events leading up to Dyer’s death. Sandison told the judge, “The reason I killed him was because he was a child molester.” When asked by his own defense attorney if he had, in fact, killed his cellmate, Sandison replied, “Oh sure. Oh sure, of course.”
Mississippi: A nurse who worked for a privately-contracted medical provider at the Raymond Detention Center was arrested on January 5, 2015 for smuggling cell phones and other contraband into the facility. Hinds County Sheriff’s spokesman Othor Cain said Katherine Kelly, 33, admitted to providing the contraband to a number of prisoners, who verified the allegations. Hinds County Sheriff Tyrone Lewis said more arrests were possible.
Nebraska: The Lincoln Journal Star reported on March 7, 2015 that Michael D. Brown, a 19-year-old defendant facing a long list of burglary and theft-related charges, escaped not once but twice from the Sheridan County Jail in Rushville. Both times, however, Brown was quickly recaptured by authorities after leaving a digital trail in the wake of his Facebook use. A tipster told police that Brown was using the social media site, and they arranged for a subpoena and an online investigator to track him down. “I’ve found a lot of people through Facebook, but this might be one of the first times in which we used it to locate a suspect who escaped,” said Monty Lovelace, a Nebraska State Patrol investigator. Brown now faces two felony escape charges in addition to his original 20 charges.
Netherlands: On March 2, 2015, the UK’s Independent reported that crime rates in the Netherlands have fallen and judges have begun to favor non-custodial sentences, leaving Dutch authorities with an unusual problem: there are more guards than prisoners. In order to save jobs and utilize empty prison beds, the Dutch have struck a deal with Norwegian prison officials for Dutch prisons to house prisoners from Norway. They have a similar arrangement with Belgium, which has sent 500 prisoners to serve time in the Netherlands.
New Jersey: PLN previously reported the arrest of Middlesex County Adult Corrections Center assistant director Derik Stevens, who pleaded guilty on February 10, 2015 to witness tampering and obstructing the administration of law in a plea agreement that dropped more serious charges against him. [See: PLN, April 2012, p.1]. Stevens had been accused of interfering in the investigation of his alleged sexual assault on a female prisoner. The guilty plea netted Stevens a probationary term of 5 years, the permanent loss of his job and a ban on holding any other public office. According to a news release from the Middlesex County prosecutor’s office, Stevens also pleaded guilty to creating a false government document in a second, unrelated case.
New York: On February 28, 2015, prisoners at the Anna M. Kross Center at the Rikers Island jail complex rushed to assist a female guard who was attacked in an observation booth and nearly raped by a convicted sex offender. Court documents say 290-pound child rapist Raleek Young pulled down his pants and started choking the guard while he masturbated. As the assault was occurring, other prisoners broke into the Plexiglass-enclosed booth and subdued Young until guards arrived. Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association president Norman Seabrook confirmed that the attack took place and prisoners helped to stop it.
Nigeria: Two high-ranking officials associated with the Ogwashi-Uku Prison were each sentenced to three years behind bars for stealing over 27,000 liters of fuel from trucks that were parked in the custody of the prison service. On February 25, 2015, Justice C. O. Ogisi handed down the prison terms to Diete Wure Wisdom and Ayamede Peter. Prosecutors alleged the men had taken and sold the fuel, then refilled the tankers with water.
North Carolina: A medical examiner’s report released on March 2, 2015 confirmed that a prison guard who died in a drunk driving accident had a 0.24 blood alcohol level – three times the legal limit of 0.08 – at the time of the fatal crash. According to the Charlotte Observer, William R. Womack, Jr., 61, was not scheduled to work at the Lanesboro Correctional Institution on the day he died. Keith Acree, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety, said officials had no reason to believe Womack was traveling to or from the prison at the time of the 100-miles-per-hour single-vehicle accident.
Oklahoma: On January 19, 2015, prisoner Jimmy Fields escaped from the J.H. Lilley Correctional Center in Boley. Fields’ escape was the sixth from the facility in only a two-week period. Sean Wallace, executive director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, said the problem is due to budget cuts and resultant understaffing at the prison. “I was told not long ago that the officers there had gone to a mandatory six-day work week,” Wallace said. “They clearly have staffing problems. I think that’s just what it is.”
Oklahoma: According to an August 24, 2014 news article, two prisoners at the James Crabtree Correctional Center filed similar but separate lawsuits claiming overcrowding and understaffing at the facility endangers not only prisoners, but also guards and other staff. Stephen Craig Burnett’s suit calls for the court to order population limits along with a mandatory ratio of guards to prisoners. Wade E. Edwards’ complaint claims that DOC Director Robert Patton made a “purely economic decision” when he decided to move prisoners from county jails into state facilities. The OK DOC declined to comment on either of the pending cases.
Pennsylvania: In August 2014, Lancaster County officials began to phase in new, supposedly suicide-preventing bunks in the county lockup. The bunks are designed in a way to inhibit the ability of prisoners to hang themselves; however, 23-year-old prisoner Zachary Kiefer was still able to hang himself with a bed sheet on December 27, 2014. His family removed him from life support less than two weeks later. On January 27, 2015, just weeks after Kiefer’s suicide, two guards were fired following an internal investigation that included video evidence, but Lancaster County officials declined to provide further information.
Pennsylvania: On March 5, 2015, Dr. John DeGhetto, regional medical director for Corizon Health, addressed the Allegheny County Jail’s oversight board in an attempt to salvage the contract between the private medical provider and the county jail. He explained changes to the company’s plans for psychiatric staffing at the facility after the security clearance for the jail’s only full-time psychiatrist, Charolette Hoffman, was revoked. Mel Packer, a member of the newly-formed Allegheny County Jail Health Justice Project, said the prisoner mortality rate at the jail was double the national average under Corizon’s contract. He called for the county to terminate its agreement with Corizon, saying, “It’s the right thing to do.” In May 2015, Allegheny County decided to cut ties with the company.
South Carolina: Lee Correctional Institution chaplain Joseph Boutte was arrested on October 2, 2014, accused of attempted contraband smuggling. Boutte was trying to bring a Yamaha keyboard into the prison, but a routine X-ray of the instrument revealed cell phones and tobacco secreted inside. Prison officials also said a search revealed just under half-a-pound of marijuana inside a tape-wrapped tube in Boutte’s car. His bond was set at $10,000.
South Carolina: A news release issued by U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles on February 9, 2015 revealed the sentencing outcome of FCI-Bennettsville guard Charlotte McLaughlin’s guilty plea to bribery charges. McLaughlin received 13 months in federal prison and a 3-year term of probation for taking bribes to smuggle contraband tobacco and cell phones into the facility in 2012 and 2013.
South Carolina: Brenton Lee Doyle was sentenced on January 20, 2015 to 15 years in prison for his role in a unique smuggling scheme at the Lee Correctional Institution. He was convicted of attempted contraband smuggling and marijuana possession after he tried to fly a drone over the 12-foot-high razor wire fence at the facility. The drone crashed and was found in the bushes near the prison. Doyle was sentenced to 10 years on the contraband smuggling charge and 5 years on the drug possession charge.
Taiwan: On February 11, 2015, six prisoners at the Kaohsiung city jail stormed a weapons storage room and seized four rifles and six handguns, taking three guards hostage in the process. They later agreed to release the guards in exchange for two senior prison staff members. That led to an overnight standoff between the prisoners, who were demanding to be released due to unfair trials, and prison authorities. Later in the second day all six prisoners committed suicide; the hostages were not harmed.
Tennessee: The investigation of a widespread contraband smuggling scheme at the Carter County jail resulted in charges for a former guard and nine other people, WCYB News 5 reported on March 6, 2015. The guard, Kenneth Turner, Jr., was charged with introduction of contraband into a penal facility and official misconduct. Adam Hannon, Brandon Rutledge, Ashlee Elizabeth Rutledge, Jeremy Cole Hall, Clara Rickisha Oliver-Hall, David Tyler Livingston, Tara Nichole Nidiffer, Ralph Wayne Whitehead and Bertie Nellie Hodge were also arrested in connection with the smuggling plot.
Tennessee: On January 26, 2015, the Tennessean newspaper reported that approximately 90 prisoners at the Metro Criminal Justice Center in Nashville had begun exhibiting symptoms of gastroenteritis over the previous weekend. Several of the prisoners were transported to Metro General Hospital, but were soon returned to the facility. The Metro Public Health Department collected stool samples, which were forwarded to the state Department of Health lab for testing. Kitchen staff initiated a plan of action to manage potential concerns about food service operations.
Texas: PLN reported in August 2014 that private prison guard Melissa Suzanne Corona had been indicted for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a prisoner. [See: PLN, Aug. 2014, p.56]. On January 26, 2015, Corona pleaded guilty to those charges. The former Jack Harwell Detention Center guard was sentenced to 3 years of probation and a $750 fine for her misconduct. Investigators said Corona kissed the prisoner at least 10 times, had improper clothed contact with him, and eventually entered his cell and performed sex acts on him.
United Kingdom: Six prisoners were sentenced for their roles in a 9-hour riot that broke out at HMP Oakwood, a private prison operated by G4S. On January 4, 2015 prisoners took over two levels of the facility, causing damage estimated at £171,000. Critics of the private prison company said G4S understaffed the sometimes violent wing with undertrained guards, and that on the night of the riot only 2 guards were assigned to supervise 59 prisoners. Ministry of Justice representatives said the staffing levels were “comparable” to those in public jails when the incident occurred.
United Kingdom: Despite concerns that a landmark ruling which banned smoking in prisons and jails would result in unrest by prisoners, a judge determined on March 5, 2015 that the UK’s smoking ban in public places did, in fact, apply to correctional facilities under the Crown’s supervision. Mr. Justice Singh declined to appoint an effective date for the ban to be implemented due to the strong probability of an appeal by the Justice Secretary. The ruling was a victory for HMP Wymott prisoner Paul Black, who had sued to protect his fragile health from secondhand smoke.
Utah: Julio Guerrero was allegedly beaten to death by his cellmate, Mario Antoine Lucero, 33, at the Utah State Prison. The February 10, 2015 murder was initially believed to be due to stabbing, but an autopsy revealed that Guerrero died from blunt force trauma and asphyxiation. Lucero was serving 15 years to life for another beating death that occurred in 2013; Guerrero was imprisoned for a parole violation. In June 2015, Lucero was charged with first-degree felony murder for killing Guerrero.
Vermont: On November 18, 2014, the Vermont State Police arrested William Savaria III on a single felony charge of sexual exploitation of an inmate. The 29-year-old guard had been investigated for having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a prisoner at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. Savaria made his first appearance in court the following day and entered a plea of not guilty.
Virginia: A bill passed by a broad majority of lawmakers calls for keeping pornography out of the hands of state prisoners. Delegate Joe Morrissey, a former constitutional law professor, voted against the bill on February 4, 2015, telling reporters that the measure won’t survive legal challenges. Morrisey might have a unique interest in supporting porn for prisoners: at the time, he was serving a six-month jail term for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Morrissey was allowed to participate in a work-release program so he could serve in the General Assembly by day and return to jail at night.
Virginia: Lt. Steve Elbert, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, said in a February 9, 2015 news release that the sheriff denied claims that police detectives had been blocked from accessing the jail to carry out an investigation into a prisoner’s death. Prisoner Natasha McKenna, 37, was taken off life support after suffering a medical emergency shortly after being Tased. Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid said in a statement that her office anticipated “a prompt and comprehensive investigation.” On April 28, 2015, the state Medical Examiner declared that McKenna’s death was an accident.
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