News in Brief
California: On June 24, 2014, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department identified two prisoners killed in an apparent homicide at U.S. Penitentiary Victorville. Brian Kountz, 24, and Robert Howard Ferguson, 49, were pronounced dead at the prison on June 21, 2014. The FBI is investigating their deaths. At least five prisoners, including Ferguson and Kountz, have died at USP Victorville within a nine-month period.
California: CSP Corcoran prisoner Richard Dupree filed a lawsuit on April 21, 2014 seeking over $2 billion from pop star Rihanna and her former boyfriend Chris Brown, music mogul Jay-Z and his superstar wife Beyonce, and rapper Kanye West for allegedly stealing song lyrics Dupree wrote while incarcerated. He claimed that the celebrities conspired with the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies to steal the lyrics of 3,000 of his songs – allegedly robbing him of “hundreds of millions, even billions, in the satellite organization.” Magistrate Judge Carolyn K. Delaney dismissed Dupree’s suit, which also demanded his immediate release from prison, in June 2014.
Canada: Three prisoners escaped from the Orsainville Detention Center near Quebec City by helicopter on June 7, 2014, but were captured 15 days later. Helicopter escapes, although dramatic, are not unprecedented. As previously reported in PLN, in March 2013 two prisoners at a Montreal-area facility climbed a rope into a waiting chopper but were caught later the same day with two accomplices. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.45]. In Greece, an Albanian prisoner, Alket Rizaj, twice escaped by helicopter from a maximum-security facility in 2006 and 2009. Another Greek prisoner attempted a similar escape in 2013 but was shot and the helicopter landed in the prison’s parking lot. In the United States, an unsuccessful helicopter escape occurred at a privately-operated civil commitment center in Florida in 2000. [See: PLN, Nov. 2000, p.7].
Connecticut: A sting operation resulted in the May 7, 2014 arrest of a guard at the Bridgeport Community Correctional Center. A woman posing as a prisoner’s girlfriend gave Joseph Trottman (Trotman in some news reports) marked cash and fake heroin to smuggle into the jail. He was found with the money in his pocket. Trottmann was charged with attempt to convey contraband into a correctional facility and attempt to distribute narcotics, and placed on administrative leave. Police said Trottman had confessed but added, “I’m not doing this ever again.”
Connecticut: On June 20, 2014, Superior Court Judge Brian T. Fischer imposed a nine-month sentence on Diaab Amin, 37, for what Fischer termed “a cowardly, unprovoked assault.” Amin, a New Haven Correctional Center guard at the time, had attacked prisoner William Laden, with whom he’d previously had a fight before Laden was incarcerated. Amin then falsely reported that Laden had threatened to kill him. A jury found Amin guilty of third-degree assault; Laden required medical attention for cuts and bruises sustained in the attack.
Delaware: Christopher S. Peck, 39, will spend three years in prison after being sentenced by Superior Court Judge T. Henley Graves on June 6, 2014. Peck, a former Sussex Boot Camp guard, had pleaded guilty to six counts of sex in a detention facility and one count of official misconduct for inappropriate physical encounters with female prisoners. [See: PLN, July 2014, p.56]. Peck’s attorney had asked the court for leniency, citing Peck’s enrollment in sexual addiction and post traumatic stress counseling. Judge Graves declined, saying, “It is not my intention to send a message to the correctional officers of Delaware that you can take advantage of a woman multiple times and there is no price to pay.”
Florida: Florida DOC guard Sean Hayes was arrested on June 8, 2014 following a road rage incident. He is accused of exiting his vehicle, approaching the driver’s side of another car and punching the other driver in the face. Hayes was taken to the Clay County jail on a battery charge; it is unknown how the arrest has affected his employment status with the Department of Corrections.
Florida: When Brevard County Judge John Murphy challenged public defender Andrew Weinstock to “go out back” during a hearing on June 2, 2014, Weinstock thought it would be to discuss issues that had arisen between himself and the judge. Instead, Murphy began throwing punches. Courtroom observers who could hear the altercation sat in uncomfortable silence, then applauded after deputies broke up the fight. In the aftermath, Judge Murphy, who had presided over criminal cases, returned to work after taking a four-week paid leave of absence, undergoing anger management counseling and apologizing for his behavior. He was reassigned to handle civil cases. Weinstock resigned in protest after Murphy returned to the bench.
Georgia: Hundreds of immigration detainees staged a hunger strike in June 2014 at the Stewart Detention Center; the strike began when detainees refused to eat maggot-infested beans. In response, prison officials deployed pepper spray and placed the facility on 24-hour lockdown. The Stewart Detention Center is owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Detention Watch Network has named Stewart one of the 10 worst immigration detention centers in the United States.
Georgia: A guard at the GEO Group-run Riverbend Correctional Facility was arrested along with her boyfriend on April 16, 2014 after simultaneous drug raids on their homes uncovered crack cocaine, marijuana, hydrocodone and a stolen handgun. Tiffany Shanai Cheely and Arturo Lee Marshall were taken into custody by the Ocmulgee Drug Task Force and Milledgeville police following an “extensive investigation” into suspected drug activity. The Union Recorder reported in August 2014 that Cheely and Marshall were indicted on a combined 16 criminal counts.
Illinois: Andre Davis, 53, had served 32 years in prison for rape and murder before being exonerated by DNA evidence and released in 2012. On June 12, 2014 he was again charged with murder in an unrelated case. Police say Davis and an accomplice, Derrick Hilliard, shot and stabbed 19-year-old Jamal Harmon to death in a dispute over a dice game. Hilliard was allegedly the trigger man, and Davis is accused of helping load Harmon’s body into the trunk of a car and cutting his throat.
Iraq: Shi’ite government officials claimed 52 prisoners were killed by crossfire during an attack on a jail in Baqubah on June 16, 2014, but Sunni officials said the prisoners were executed by guards. The mayor of Baqubah, Abdullah al-Hyali, visited the morgue and saw that most of the victims, including his own nephew, had bullet wounds to the head. “He was severely tortured and his nails were extracted,” al-Hyali told Reuters. Local residents said most of the prisoners were being held on petty crimes; police officials contended they were terrorism suspects.
Kansas: Former Sedgwick County deputy David Kendall was sentenced on June 27, 2014 to two years’ probation after entering a no-contest plea to six charges related to sexual misconduct with a prisoner and one count of making a false statement. Kendall is also named in a civil suit filed by one of his victims against Sedgwick County and other defendants. [See: PLN, Feb. 2014, p.56]. On November 19, 2014, federal judge Carlos Murguia denied the county’s motion to dismiss, and the lawsuit remains pending.
Louisiana: On June 17, 2014, four deputies who were fired from the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office were arrested on charges of battery and malfeasance. Michael McSheffrey, 33, Brandon Gallien, 28, Adrian Theriot, 28, and Scarla Celestine, 33, were charged after an investigation determined that two of the deputies beat a prisoner in a jail cell in April 2014 while the other two watched and failed to intervene. The assault left the prisoner hospitalized for several days.
Mexico: Nearly 450 prisoners at the maximum-security Puente Grande prison experienced diarrhea and vomiting as a result of food poisoning in May 2014. Authorities said treatment had been provided by prison medical staff, but that doctors and paramedics from the Jalisco health department as well as municipal fire and rescue services from Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque were called in to assist due to the scope of the outbreak. “None of the [affected prisoners] is in serious condition, nor did any require medical transfer,” the state public safety office said.
Mississippi: Issaquena County Correctional Facility guards Karrell McCoy and Sammy Cubit were indicted on June 20, 2014 for engaging in a plot to smuggle phones, tobacco and drugs into the jail. Both were fired following their arrests. McCoy and Cubit are accused of bringing in 11 cell phones, 9 chargers, and tobacco and tobacco products while employed at the facility in December 2013. They allegedly placed the contraband inside jackets, which they gave to prisoners to deliver to various parts of the jail.
Missouri: The Iron County Jail is home to an old wing that people call a “dungeon,” and on June 19, 2014, Sheriff Roger Medley told county commissioners that he would close off access to that part of the facility when temperatures hit 90 degrees. “I just felt it was a risk we don’t need to be taking,” Medley said. “I don’t want to cause somebody to die or have a heat-related injury.” The section of the jail, which houses 12 prisoners, was built around the time of the Civil War and features thick limestone walls that heat up like an oven during the summer. The sheriff’s department will use a newer area of the jail and transport other prisoners to neighboring counties.
New Hampshire: A former office administrator at the Rockingham County jail will serve 2 to 6 years in prison for using her position to falsify timesheets for her husband, who was employed as a guard. Anne Marie Nelson, 55, pleaded guilty on June 23, 2014 to two counts of felony theft by deception. Police say Nelson altered her husband’s timesheets to reflect shifts he had not worked, which netted around $37,000 in fraudulent payments. She was also ordered to pay restitution.
New Jersey: A $100,000 unemployment benefit fraud scheme resulted in charges against five former state prisoners and three of their wives, the state Attorney General’s office announced on June 10, 2014. Most of the prisoners were serving time for DUI convictions when they applied for and began receiving unemployment benefits. Their wives contributed to the fraud by calling in or using the Internet to certify that the men were “physically able to work” and “available to go to work immediately,” when they were in fact incarcerated. Each of the eight defendants faces 3 to 5 years in prison plus fines of up to $15,000.
New Mexico: On June 19, 2014, for the second time in four months, a Metropolitan Detention Center guard was arrested and charged with sexual abuse of female prisoners. Andres Verdugo was placed on administrative leave with pay. Among the complaints against Verdugo were allegations that he asked female prisoners to wear tighter uniforms, watched them shower and change clothes, gathered them outside their cells to discuss why a derogatory term for the female anatomy was offensive, and promised a prisoner a job reassignment if she would do 10 naked jumping jacks. Another prisoner was allegedly raped in a closet. Verdugo is accused of telling prisoners he would “feed [them] to the pigs” and “make [them] disappear” if they reported the abuse.
New Mexico: Justin Romero, a guard at the Rio Arriba County jail, resigned on June 23, 2014 after being suspended without pay following his arrest for vehicular homicide and resisting an officer. Romero, 26, was under the influence of alcohol at the time of a vehicle accident that killed Leo Gurule, 23, and Carlos Archuleta, 45. Jail officials said Romero was off duty when the accident occurred. He had previously been charged with possession of an open container of alcohol in June 2013, but that charge was dismissed.
New York: An anonymous tip led to a 17-month investigation into time card falsification by staff at the Livingston County jail. Nine employees resigned from their positions on or before June 6, 2014 after being arrested and charged in connection with a shift-swapping scheme. It was considered normal and accepted for staff members to exchange shifts, but these employees had presented time cards for shifts they did not work, and in some cases paid each other cash in return for working shifts they did not record. “I am personally offended by lack of oversight and accountability on the part of the jail administration, and believe much of the blame should fall on them,” stated Livingston County District Attorney Gregory McCaffery.
New York: Betsy Kennedy-Scholl, a former Southport Correctional Facility civilian employee, was arrested on June 19, 2014 on two counts of third-degree rape and four counts of third-degree criminal sexual acts. She is accused of having multiple sexual encounters with a prisoner while employed at the facility. Under state law, a prisoner cannot consent to sexual contact.
New York: The closure of 15 state prisons and labor contracts without raises led to the June 6, 2014 ouster of Donn Rowe, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA). A top union official, Vinny Blasio, described the fallout from the closures and contract issues as a “perfect storm” for Rowe being voted out of office. The NYSCOPBA represents around 26,000 members from several law enforcement agencies, but is primarily composed of workers in the state’s prison system.
Ohio: Defense attorney Philip Cramer allegedly slipped prescription painkillers to his incarcerated client, Joseph Frowine, during a meeting at a Franklin County jail annex. Deputies saw Cramer pass something during the meeting and found drugs, including oxycodone, when they later searched Frowine. Cramer was arrested on May 28, 2014, and both he and Frowine were charged with illegal conveyance of oxycodone into a detention facility.
Ohio: A mental health and addictions counselor who worked for private medical contractor NaphCare was sentenced to five years in prison on June 23, 2014 for multiple counts of sexually abusing at least seven female prisoners at the Hamilton County Justice Center. Richard Anderson, 56, admitted to touching the prisoners, but claimed he was driven by his “impulsive sexual behavior.” Anderson’s misconduct was not new; he had left at least two previous jobs after being caught in sexual-related activity. Judge Jerome Metz decided to run Anderson’s sentences concurrently rather than consecutively because one of the prisoners he had victimized did not want him to suffer a longer prison term. Anderson must register as a sex offender upon his release.
Ohio: According to a June 5, 2014 federal indictment, Chillicothe Correctional Institution prisoner James Jeremy Savage prepared and filed at least 99 bogus tax returns for fellow prisoners, netting about $148,300 in fraudulent refunds. The prisoners gave commissary items to Savage, who used their prison identification numbers as apartment numbers in the tax documents’ return addresses. Savage pleaded guilty to one count of filing false tax claims in October 2014; he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Oklahoma: On June 12, 2014, former detention officer Jose Botello, 29, and former detention deputy John Jacobson, 29, walked out of a courtroom as free men after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial on assault and battery charges. Botello and Jacobson had been accused of assaulting prisoner Cortez Meadows and causing injuries to his head, shoulders, wrist and back. Special Judge James Croy reviewed video surveillance footage and determined that the guards were merely doing their job when dealing with Meadows, who was uncooperative. Both had been fired following their arrests; it was not reported whether they will be reinstated.
Oklahoma: A former nurse at the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing was charged on July 1, 2014 with sexual battery of an inmate. Kristi Anne Tate, 44, was not arrested but instead was mailed a letter notifying her of the felony charges and instructing her to appear in court or a warrant would be issued for her arrest. The Cimarron Correctional Facility is operated by CCA.
Oregon: John E. Sipple showed up for court with a restitution check in the amount of $31,729.38 and received three years’ probation for skimming funds from a prisoner welfare account. A former recreation manager at the Oregon State Correctional Institution, he pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree theft in late April 2014. Sipple devised a scheme in which he would take pre-issued checks intended for food and other items for prisoner activities, then purchase less than the amount of the check and pocket the difference. [See: PLN, Jan. 2015, p.44]. He had been placed on administrative leave but retired from his job and will retain his pension benefits.
Oregon: On June 19, 2014, prisoners were removed from the recreation yard when a hot air balloon made an emergency landing in the parking lot of the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. The pilot, Randall Fuehrer, is the owner of a business that offers balloon flights and flight training; he blamed low fuel and high winds for the airborne emergency. Vicki Reynolds, a Coffee Creek spokeswoman, said “The parking lot is far enough from the main facility that we felt confident in assuming this wasn’t an inmate escape attempt.” There were no injuries to either Feuhrer or his two passengers.
Pennsylvania: Eileen DiNino died alone in her cell at the Berks County Prison on June 7, 2014. The unemployed mother of seven was serving a 48-hour sentence for failing to pay truancy fines of approximately $2,000. A private company, PrimeCare Medical, Inc., provides health care services at the jail, and medical staff had seen DiNino for “discomfort and some difficulty breathing” but returned her to her cell. She was found unresponsive later the same day and pronounced dead at a local hospital. State police announced on September 4, 2014 that an autopsy had determined DiNino’s death was due to natural causes and no criminal charges would be filed.
South Carolina: A man who admitted to strangling a fellow prisoner to death at the Charleston County Jail will face felony charges of assisted suicide. Michael Bixby confessed to choking Matthew Lee Glidden, but claimed he was helping Glidden kill himself. It was unclear from police statements how it was determined that Glidden actually wanted Bixby to help him die. Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, Washington and Vermont, but usually requires a physician’s approval and is typically carried out via a lethal dose of medication rather than strangulation. Bixby was charged in May 2014; he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Tennessee: Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth announced on June 6, 2014 that an internal investigation had led to the suspension of two deputies, policy changes and additional training for court security personnel after a prisoner was left overnight in a holding cell at the Bradley County Courthouse. Nathaniel Caldwell was in court on a probation violation warrant, but deputies left him handcuffed in the holding cell where he had been placed in the afternoon. He was discovered by court employees who arrived for work the next day. Sheriff Ruth and Chief Deputy W.G. Campbell extended an apology to Caldwell and his family.
Texas: An investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice led to the arrests of two former Big Spring Correctional Center guards and their subsequent guilty pleas in June 2014. Frederick Hernandez, 45, and Christopher Moore, 42, had falsified safety check logs on the night that prisoner Luis Bent committed suicide in his cell in a Special Housing Unit in 2012. Two other former Big Spring guards – James McKinnon, 22, and Jamie Navarette Salgado, 24 – had previously pleaded guilty to charges related to their roles in the same incident. Hernandez and Moore were sentenced on September 19, 2014; Hernandez received 10 months in federal prison, while Moore was placed on probation for three years. The Big Spring facility is operated by the GEO Group.
Texas: A new computerized records system was intended to ease the sharing of information between Dallas police and the District Attorney’s office, but on June 12, 2014 The Dallas Morning News reported that “hiccups” in the system resulted in the untimely release of three arrestees. Police Major Scott Bratcher, who was overseeing the rollout of the new records system, said “user error” was to blame for the snafu. He also said errors in the system had caused the department to return over 600 reports to officers for correction. A task force was formed to seek out and rearrest the prisoners who were mistakenly released.
United Kingdom: The Daily Mirror reported on May 10, 2014 that after several prisoners at HM Prison Brixton in London appealed drug tests in which they had tested positive for opiates found in heroin, the prison’s governor, Edmond Tullett, also tested positive for the same substance. The prisoners, who all adamantly denied taking drugs, blamed poppy seeds from bread purchased at the facility’s canteen for causing false positives. In response to the complaints, Tullett ate the bread and submitted to a drug test; his positive test results placed the prisoners in the clear. Poppy seeds are known to mimic opiates in preliminary drug tests.
United Kingdom: Officials at HMP Haverigg in Cumbria, England will pay a hefty bill of approximately £80,000 after replacing all the locks at the 644-bed facility. On May 6, 2014, prison staff lost the keys to the cells due to “human error,” according to the Ministry of Justice. The prisoners, all low-risk offenders, were inside their cells when the keys went missing and were not suspected of involvement in their disappearance. A prison spokesman confirmed that the keys were found shortly after the locks were replaced. No staff members were disciplined as a result of the incident.
Uruguay: On May 13, 2014, authorities disclosed some details about a fraud scheme involving a Uruguayan prisoner who hacked into a cell phone belonging to U.S. Ambassador Julissa Reynoso. The identity of the prisoner was not revealed and Reynoso downplayed the importance of the stolen data. Police did not say how the hacking was accomplished, but noted the prisoner was being investigated for other fraud schemes carried out behind bars. Officials at the U.S. Embassy declined to comment.
West Virginia: Prisoner Zachary Matthew Lawson, 19, was attacked and choked into unconsciousness by four prisoners at the Western Regional Jail in Barboursville, while four guards were accused of allowing the assault to occur. Lawson was facing charges of sexual abuse involving a 12-year-old boy. In an indictment unsealed in April 2014, the prisoners who attacked Lawson – Steven Lee Adkins, Jr., James Dennis Galloway, James Roy Michael Keeney and Jared Harris – were charged with attempted first-degree murder and conspiracy, while the four guards – Steven D. Adkins, Jeffrey Winkle, Benjamin Browning and John Bruhin – were charged with aiding and abetting attempted first-degree murder. The charges against the guards were later dropped, according to a January 2015 news report.
West Virginia: The Wood County Prosecutor’s office announced on June 5, 2014 that charges had been filed against six juvenile offenders involved in a riot at the Lorrie Yeager, Jr. Juvenile Center in Parkersburg. The two-hour riot in February 2014 resulted in injuries to a guard and caused over $40,000 in damage to the facility. The juveniles – four boys and two girls – face multiple charges that include attempted escape and felony destruction of property. Four remain in the juvenile justice system but were transferred to other facilities; one was moved to the custody of the Department of Health and Human Resources, and another has since been released.
Wisconsin: About 490 prisoners at a jail in Brown County were trapped in their cells between June 17 and 19, 2014 due to a computer glitch that left guards unable to open and close electronic locks at the facility. Officials said the prisoners were not in danger due to the malfunction, as the locks could still be key-operated and a mass release function was available in case of a fire or other emergency. “You try to keep the inmates and their families informed, and you make your apologies, but it’s just like everything else: things break down,” said jail Lt. Phil Steffen.
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