News in Brief
Arizona: Sergio Aguilar, 51, incarcerated at the Towers Jail in Phoenix, died on November 4, 2014 following a fight among several prisoners that reportedly started over a commissary-related issue. The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said the incident was a “racially divided brawl” and Aguilar had been punched in the face. He was found unconscious and placed on a ventilator, then died several days later; he had been jailed on a probation violation.
Brazil: On October 14, 2014, at least six prisoners were tossed from rooftops and 12 guards taken hostage in yet another uprising at a Brazilian prison. No deaths were reported at the Guarapuava facility but at least eight people were injured; the riot began when about 40 prisoners overpowered guards while on a work detail. PLN has reported numerous times on Brazil’s troubled prison system. Severe overcrowding, bad food and poor treatment were cited as the reasons for the latest unrest.
California: Two men who worked as guards at the Salinas Valley State Prison were arrested on September 18, 2014 in connection with the death of a man they had fought outside a bar. Sergio Aranda and Travis Woolf are accused of voluntary manslaughter because the sheriff’s office could not prove that they intended to kill 54-year-old Alvaro Medrano in the clash outside the Elkhorn Bar.
California: On November 6, 2014, the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victims’ rights group, sued state officials in an attempt to end continued delays in the executions of death row prisoners. California has not put anyone to death since 2006 and the group contends that the legal challenges that have halted executions affect the families of victims. A federal judge in Los Angeles noted that more than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California in the last 35 years, but only 13 have been executed. Most California death row prisoners die of natural causes.
Canada: Threats from a violent drug dealer connected to the Hells Angels contributed to former Edmonton Remand Centre guard James Johnstone’s decision to smuggle drugs into the facility. On October 20, 2014, a judge ruled that Johnstone had been “under duress” and responded to his guilty plea with a reduced sentence of 12 months on house arrest and curfew requirements for an additional 12 months. Johnstone will also perform community service and undergo counseling for substance abuse and depression. He had faced 4 to 6 years in prison for his role in the smuggling scheme.
Florida: Former Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office jail guard Vantavia Jackson-Johnson was found guilty on August 15, 2014 of official misconduct, culpable negligence and accessory charges stemming from a 2010 incident in which she helped fellow guard Derrick Antonio Daniels cover up a fight he had arranged between two prisoners. Jackson-Johnson was sentenced in September 2014 to 90 days in jail. Daniels was convicted of official misconduct and culpable negligence for his role in allowing prisoner Taurus Turnquest into Lajuane Dunnaway’s cell, which resulted in Dunnaway being stabbed in the neck. Daniels’ sentencing was postponed but the presiding judge hinted that his sentence would be harsher.
Florida: A former worker at the G4S Youth Services-operated Okeechobee Youth Treatment Center was arrested on August 28, 2014, accused of having sex with a teenager held at the juvenile facility. Sara Erin Martin was identified by the 17-year-old as the staffer who gave him a $20 bill and had sex with him multiple times. The teen drew pictures of Martin’s tattoos as proof of his allegations. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice released a statement saying “no youth should ever be subjected to such abuse by an adult entrusted with their care and well-being.”
Georgia: Three Gwinnett County jail employees were arrested in separate incidents in a one-month period between October and November 2014. On October 10, 2014 a nurse employed by private contractor Corizon Health was arrested and charged with felony sexual assault against a person in custody. Cheryl Lynn Bates, 44, is accused of having multiple sexual encounters with a prisoner at the jail. Another Corizon nurse, Theresa Cathrina Smart, was arrested on October 31, 2014 on theft and illegal drug distribution charges. The third arrest came on November 5, 2014 when former deputy Lisa Ziglar was charged with sexual assault after her inappropriate relationship with a prisoner was discovered.
Georgia: Kodie Thomas Frank DiDiego and his mother, Denise Krieger, were two of at least 22 people charged in a fraud and racketeering case that authorities said could involve as many as 1,000 victims. Details about the scheme emerged during a July 2014 bond hearing. DiDiego and Krieger are accused of stealing credit card information and using it to deposit funds into the accounts of prisoners at the Bibb County jail in exchange for kickbacks. A judge denied DiDiego bond, and he pleaded guilty on March 16, 2015 to racketeering and violating Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act. He was sentenced to eight years in prison followed by seven years of probation; Krieger’s case remains pending.
Georgia: Harry Randall Withers, incarcerated at the Cobb County jail, was indicted on October 9, 2014 after he claimed that he had been exposed to the Ebola virus shortly before being locked up. Withers, who was booked on a drunken driving charge, told jail officials that he had been in Africa; however, a check of his passport revealed that he had not left the United States since 2005. Withers was charged with three counts of making false statements; his lies had caused a portion of the jail to be shut down. He pleaded guilty in December 2014 and received a 10-year suspended sentence.
Hawaii: At an October 9, 2014 trial, details about the inner workings of the Hawaiian “USO Family” gang emerged as attorneys for former Halawa Correctional Facility guard Feso Malufau defended him against conspiracy charges. Malufau, 55, was accused of smuggling cigarettes, drugs and other contraband into the facility, but defense counsel Barry Edwards maintained that Malufau had been framed. Prosecutors claimed Malufau had “traded his integrity for cash.” The jury sided with the state and found Malufau guilty; he was sentenced to 97 months in prison on February 11, 2015. PLN previously reported Malufau’s indictment. [See: PLN, May 2014, p.56].
Idaho: Former jail janitor Brandon Salvensen will serve 20 days in the Mini-Cassia Criminal Justice Center in Burley, where he had been previously employed, after accepting a plea deal on October 7, 2014. Salvensen was accused of moving a female prisoner into an area out of camera range, then touching her sexually. Cassia County Magistrate Judge Blaine Cannon imposed a sentence that included 180 days in jail with 160 suspended, a $1,000 fine, supervised probation, restitution and court costs. As part of the plea bargain, Salvensen’s felony charge of sexual conduct with an inmate was reduced to misdemeanor battery.
Illinois: Football player, longtime prosecutor, school board president, sports broadcaster, university educator – and murderer? The Associated Press reported on October 12, 2014 that Quincy native and well-known local personality Curtis Lovelace was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of his first wife. Lovelace is accused of killing 38-year-old Cory Lovelace on Valentine’s Day in 2006. He claimed that his wife had been sick for several days and he returned home after taking his children to school to find her dead. A coroner’s inquest was inconclusive, and the case was never closed. Police enlisted two pathologists who determined that Cory Lovelace had been suffocated.
Illinois: In April 2012, Lake County officials hired an attorney to investigate whether misconduct or neglect by jail staff had contributed to the death of prisoner Eugene Gruber, 51, who died on March 3, 2012, several months after a violent altercation with guards left him paralyzed due to a broken neck. [See: PLN, Oct. 2013, p.32]. His death was ruled a homicide and the county settled a civil lawsuit filed by Gruber’s family for nearly $2 million. Two guards, Rodney Holmes, 44, and Robert Schlesser, 49, were indicted on official misconduct charges on October 30, 2014, accused of paralyzing Gruber while attempting to book him into the jail.
Illinois: Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart held a news conference on October 21, 2014 to detail the arrests of jail guard Jason “Murda” Marek, three prisoners and the prisoners’ girlfriends in a unique plot that smuggled marijuana, tobacco and booze into the Cook County Jail. Pearlisa “Wang Wang” Stevenson, the girlfriend of prisoner Thadieus “Weasy” Goods, allegedly made sandwiches that were hollowed out to conceal the contraband. She then delivered the sandwiches to Marek, who brought the contraband into the jail for resale to prisoners at up to five times street value.
Kentucky: On October 20, 2014, James Johnson, a former guard at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women, was sentenced to seven years of probation and a diversion program but received no prison time for sexually assaulting several prisoners. Johnson admitted to the misconduct and accepted a plea deal on charges of official misconduct, sexual abuse and trafficking in a controlled substance. Investigators said he supplied the prisoners with drugs prior to abusing them.
Maryland: Latiqwa Mayes, a 20-year-old Baltimore woman, received six years in prison on November 2, 2014 for contributing to the death of Donald Robinson. According to news reports, Robinson had previously assaulted a friend of Mayes and she was unhappy with the punishment he received. In retaliation, when she spotted Robinson walking down the street in September 2013 she began to scream, “He raped me! He’s a sex offender!” An angry mob led by Mayes’ father confronted and beat Robinson. He was able to escape but died several hours later from his injuries, which exacerbated a pre-existing medical condition. Mayes’ father, Willie Mayes, was sentenced to 10 years in prison with 8 years suspended.
Massachusetts: Three guards employed at the Bridgewater State Hospital were fired on September 25, 2014 after an investigation determined they were responsible for the restraint-related death of schizophrenic prisoner Joshua K. Messier, 23, in 2009. [See: PLN, May 2014, p.53]. The firings of Derek Howard, George A. Billadeau and John C. Raposo are in addition to the resignations of DOC Commissioner Luis S. Spencer and an assistant deputy commissioner. The State of Massachusetts and MHM Correctional Services, a private company contracted to provide medical and mental health care at Bridgewater, settled a lawsuit filed by Messier’s family for $3 million in March 2014.
Michigan: Timothy Bernhardt, a former Kent County jail sergeant, pleaded guilty to maintaining a drug house on October 20, 2014. Bernhardt, along with fellow guards Brian Tennant, Todd VanDoorne and Michael Frederick, was charged with marijuana-related felonies after evidence was discovered indicating the guards had possessed weed-infused butter. Bernhardt and Tennant each pleaded guilty, agreeing to give up their law enforcement careers and testify against the other guards. Tennant was sentenced to five years’ probation while Bernhardt passed away on November 16, 2014, just weeks before his scheduled sentencing. VanDoorne and Frederick are appealing a judge’s decision that their interrogation and a search without a warrant were proper.
Mississippi: A photo of prisoner Trilando Johnson posted on Facebook sparked both a criminal and internal investigation at the troubled Hinds County Detention Center. Johnson was featured in the photo eating a turkey leg from the Mississippi State Fair. Hinds County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Othor Cain told the Clarion Ledger on October 8, 2014 that jail officials were aware the tasty treat had been smuggled into the facility, but no charges have been filed pending the outcome of the investigation. Authorities suspect a jail employee provided Johnson with the turkey leg.
Myanmar: Myanmar’s Ministry of Information announced on October 7, 2014 that President Thein Sein had pardoned more than 3,000 prisoners in honor of a full moon festival in the predominately Buddhist country formerly known as Burma. Information minister and presidential spokesman U Ye Htut said the president made his pardon decision based on humanitarian grounds. Any prisoner who had served at least one year and had less than six months remaining to serve was eligible for release.
New Hampshire: On October 31, 2014, Seth Mazzaglia, who is now serving a life sentence for murder, pleaded guilty to attempted escape charges and was sentenced to an additional 3½ to 7 years in prison. Mazzaglia apparently hatched the escape plot while incarcerated at the Strafford County jail awaiting trial on the murder charge. He enlisted the aid of his cellmate, Ryan Bachman, whom he entrusted to obtain guns, two getaway cars, small explosives and a boat to leave the United States. According to Bachman, who testified for the prosecution, Mazzaglia also told him to buy drugs for resale to help fund the escape. Bachman said he didn’t want to tell Mazzaglia the plan wouldn’t work. “I was in there with someone who was clearly psychopathic,” he said. “I am not going to tell a crazy person they are crazy when I have to share a cell with them. That’s just not smart.”
New Mexico: Convicted of second-degree murder for the stabbing death of fellow prisoner Adam Avalos, Dominic Martin Montoya, 38, was sentenced on October 27, 2014 to 26 years in prison to be served consecutively to a 57½-year sentence for a previous homicide. Montoya maintained that he had blacked out during Avalos’ murder and raised an insanity defense to the killing, during which he cut off Avalos’ right ear.
New York: A fire that broke out in the laundry room of the Cayuga Correctional Facility on October 19, 2014 resulted in the evacuation of 117 prisoners. Of those, 59 were displaced from their dorm units and had to be placed in alternative housing due to smoke damage. The prisoners were able to return to their units the next day; the cause of the fire is being investigated.
Nigeria: Over 2,000 prisoners have escaped from Nigerian prisons and jails over the last five years. Most of the escapes have occurred amid attacks on the facilities by Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group. Nigerian Prison Services data revealed that the country’s prisons and jails hold around 57,000 prisoners. In one attack on November 1, 2014, 145 prisoners escaped from a facility in Nigeria’s Kogi state. Boko Haram also claimed responsibility for an attack on the same facility in February 2012 which freed more than 100 prisoners.
Ohio: On October 6, 2014, about 100 prison workers picketed at the headquarters of the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. The workers claimed that staff shortages, poor quality privatized food service, overcrowding and breaches in security contributed to a prison environment that was “more dangerous than ever,” according to Ohio Civil Service Employees Association chapter president Phil Morris. Prison officials responded to the protest by releasing a statement saying the agency’s goals are identical to those of the union, “which is to operate safe and secure prisons.”
Ohio: Former Fairfield County Clerk of Courts Deborah Smalley was sentenced on September 29, 2014 to serve 18 months in the Wheeling Street Jail after entering a guilty plea to theft in office and attempted theft in office. Smalley will also pay restitution and serve three years of post-release supervision; she will not be eligible for early release because she had served as a public official, and will also never be able to hold public office in Ohio again. Smalley’s husband, David, pleaded guilty to two felonies in connection with the theft and received 90 days in jail.
Ohio: In December 2014, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction scrapped a program in which a $170,000 balloon-shaped unmanned drone, called an aerostat, was used to provide outdoor surveillance at the Warren and Lebanon Correctional Institutions. Prison officials announced that the test program had determined the drones’ cameras were not strong enough to provide the quality of security needed for prison surveillance. The department is working with the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop new outdoor security systems for Ohio prisons.
Pakistan: On September 29, 2014, Ecumenicalnews.com reported that a Christian pastor, Zafar Bhatti, was shot and killed by a jailer who also wounded Bhatti’s death row cellmate, Muhammad Asghar. The unnamed jail guard was arrested for the attack. Bhatti, who, along with Asghar, was accused of blasphemy, had received death threats from both prisoners and guards. In Pakistan, blasphemy accusations often result in lynchings, and attorneys who represent blasphemy defendants are sometimes attacked.
Pennsylvania: The closure of the State Correctional Institution at Cresson will cause local residents to incur a sewer bill increase because the prison is no longer paying its share of the community’s bill. Council President Joseph Pupo said residential area customers could face an increase of $20 to $25 per month. A meeting was held on November 13, 2014 to discuss the further impact of the prison closing.
Pennsylvania: Daniel Miller, a guard at the Indiana County jail, was charged with four counts of invasion of privacy for focusing the jail’s video surveillance system on showering female prisoners. The charges were announced by authorities on October 3, 2014. Miller is accused of spying on at least four prisoners; his misconduct was discovered when a review of the video footage revealed that the cameras were not trained on the proper areas of the jail.
Romania: On October 22, 2014, a court froze the assets of Alexandru Visinescu, a former Romanian prison commander. Visinescu is charged with torturing and killing 12 political prisoners during Romania’s communist era in the 1950s and 1960s. The court seized Visinescu’s apartment, one-third of his pension and his investments to pay potential damage awards to the families of his victims. The 89-year-old insisted that he was only following the orders of his long-dead superiors and was not guilty of the accusations. [See: PLN, Feb. 2014, p.56].
Russia: Another incident of a cat being used to smuggle contraband into prison has been reported in the city of Ukhta in the Komi Republic in northwest Russia. The cat, with two cell phones and a SIM card attached to its back, was caught by prison officials who suspect it was sent by a recently-released prisoner. This was at least the third case of a feline being used to smuggle contraband, including drugs, into Russian prisons. [See: PLN, Dec. 2013, p.56].
South Africa: A juvenile prisoner died and another was hospitalized after a fire broke out at the Barberton juvenile facility on October 25, 2014. Correctional services spokeswoman Sarie Peens said 19 young offenders were in a single cell when the fire started. She added that the prisoners apparently set the cell on fire, and an investigation was pending.
Texas: On July 30, 2014, CBS 11 reported that Denton police officials had admitted wrongdoing and fired jail guard Darius Porter for injuring prisoner Jason Bishop with an unauthorized leg sweep during a takedown. Police spokesman Ryan Grelle said the department decided to release video of the incident because “we wanted to show the public what happened.” However, he also added, “this case is closed.”
Texas: Licensed vocational nurse Tyson Earl Amstutz, who formerly worked at the Parker County jail, was sentenced on August 26, 2014 to 20 months in state prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing two female prisoners. Amstutz admitted to bringing the women to the medical unit and improperly touching them as jail staff waited outside the door. According to a statement, 43rd District Judge Craig Towson said he was troubled that Amstutz had tried to lay the blame for his sexual offenses on one of his victims.
Texas: The Associated Press reported on September 6, 2014 that an investigation into cell check logs at the Smith County jail had led to the resignation of four guards and the placement of three others on leave. The Texas Rangers led a criminal probe and the Sheriff’s Office of Professional Responsibility conducted an internal review into allegations that jail staff customarily falsified log data over a five-year period and said they had checked cells when they had not.
United Kingdom: On July 21, 2014, a prisoner at HMP Nottingham, just days before his release date, gouged out his own eyes in protest of overheated conditions at the prison. Officials said several prisoners had staged protests to demand relief from high temperatures inside the facility, but that no other prisoners contributed to the act of self-harm. The country’s Independent Monitoring Board had criticized HMP Nottingham for poor conditions that could lead to “more prisoner disruption and a further reduction in already low staff morale.”
Utah: Teresa Lee Cope, 34, a former program director at the Birdseye Residential Treatment Center, was sentenced on October 10, 2014 to 320 days in jail for sexually abusing a 15-year-old male resident. The crimes occurred between April and May at the facility, which is described as a program for youth with “sexual behavioral problems and pornography addiction,” as well as during off-site activities. Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon said investigators found evidence in Cope’s home that supported the teenager’s claims of abuse.
Vermont: Vermont DOC officials confirmed in late September 2014 that 13 state prisoners were being held in solitary confinement at the CCA-operated Florence Correctional Center in Arizona for their roles in an uprising on August 22, 2014. Prisoners’ rights advocates in Vermont have long been critical of the state’s use of out-of-state private prisons to house state prisoners. CCA did not initially report the incident to Vermont authorities but later confirmed both the disturbance and the placement of the prisoners in segregation. In May 2015, state officials announced the contract to house prisoners in out-of-state facilities was being shifted from CCA to the GEO Group.
Washington: A guard at the Federal Detention Center, SeaTac was placed on administrative leave after fellow members of the Tiger Mountain (formerly Fraternity Snoqualmie) Family Nudist Park turned him in to authorities for disseminating child pornography using the Park’s computer network. According to an October 2, 2014 news report, William Cline, 43, admitted to downloading the child porn; he claimed he had been depressed and hoped to get himself arrested. The fate of Cline’s job depends on the outcome of the state criminal charges he now faces.
Washington: On September 26, 2014, 19-year-old Rhyan Vasquez was rebooked into the Marysville City jail on escape charges in addition to his previous robbery charges. Vasquez had walked away from the facility on September 22, but jail officials failed to notice his absence for two full days. The escape was discovered when Vasquez’s attorney visited the facility and asked to see him.
West Virginia: Jeffrey S. Walton, 48, was sentenced on July 31, 2014 to 10 months in prison for abusive sexual contact with a female prisoner. The former work supervisor at the Federal Prison Camp at Alderson had pleaded guilty to touching the breasts of the unidentified prisoner.
Wisconsin: On September 26, 2014, former guard Andrea L. Teschendorf was sentenced to seven months in jail for having a sexual relationship with a work release prisoner from the John C. Burke Correctional Center. Teschendorf pleaded no contest in May 2014 to one count of sexual assault. According to the charges, a prisoner was seen leaving a work site and entering a vehicle similar to Teschendorf’s; the prisoner later told detectives that he and Teschendorf had a sexual relationship. When Teschendorf was interviewed, she said she knew she shouldn’t have done it but “couldn’t stop.”
Wisconsin: At a hearing on October 1, 2014, Circuit Judge Daniel Lee Konkol refused to order a prosecutor to carry out plea negotiations with a former Milwaukee County jail guard charged with sexually assaulting a prisoner. The victim, a then 20-year-old pregnant prisoner, filed a civil suit against guard Xavier Thicklen, Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. and Milwaukee County. A federal judge suspended the lawsuit until the criminal charges against Thicklen were resolved. Thicklen had offered to plead guilty to felony misconduct in public office, but received no response from the district attorney.
Wisconsin: The federal government paid more than $100,000 in fraudulent mileage claims filed by former FCI Oxford electronics technician Christopher A. Seifer. On September 19, 2014, Seifer was sentenced to 15 months in prison, three years of supervised release and $80,000 in restitution payable to the U.S. Department of Labor. He had suffered an on-the-job injury and claimed the trips were to health clubs for physical therapy. A jury found Seifer guilty of filing 1,380 false mileage claims. Court records confirmed that he does suffer from physical ailments from the injury.
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