News in Brief
California: On May 13, 2015, attorneys for Carlos Carasquilla and his wife filed a $15 million lawsuit against Tulare County alleging that guards opened a cell door to allow and encourage Carasquilla’s fellow prisoners to viciously beat him. Carasquilla had been jailed on a warrant for inappropriate contact with a minor – an offense that happened 12 years earlier and was only brought to light when the accuser was in her late 20s. Guards made it known that Carasquilla was a “child molester,” and 16 other prisoners attacked him on July 20, 2014. He received only minimal medical care at the jail after the beating, and later had to undergo surgery for facial fractures.
California: Unsanitary conditions at the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, from leaky pipes and rodent droppings to lack of hot water and improper food storage, were disclosed in a report obtained by Reuters news service on May 13, 2015. The 109-page report was part of a regular review of the 87-year-old-facility. State Senator Loni Hancock called for the closure of the prison, stating, “The report is shocking, talking about rats and cockroaches and standing water, wastewater not draining.” CDCR spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said that closing the prison was not an option because moving the prisoners to other facilities would violate a federal court order which disallows overcrowding.
California: On May 18, 2015, nearly nine months after an earthquake damaged parts of the Napa County Jail, forcing the relocation of dozens of prisoners, county officials announced that the jail would not reopen until about mid-2016. “The safety of our staff and inmates has always been and remains our top priority,” said Lenard Vare, director of corrections. “Non-structural damage sustained from the earthquake has created safety concerns and requires the movement of inmates from certain areas of the facility in order for the county to properly assess necessary repairs.”
Colorado: In July 2015, a judge quietly dismissed murder charges against prisoner Aaron Bernal after deciding that the state’s “Make My Day” law applies to occupants of a prison cell. Late last year another judge reached the same conclusion in the case of Bernal’s co-defendant, Antero Alaniz. Bernal and Alaniz killed fellow prisoner Cleveland Flood at the Sterling Correctional Facility, stabbing him 90 times after Flood entered their unlocked cell with bad intentions. Prosecutors openly worried that prisoners could use the law as a defense if they were to kill a guard inside a prison cell – which the law now considers a “domicile.”
Costa Rica: The term “jailbird” took on a new meaning after authorities discovered a pigeon that had been trained by prisoners to fly drugs over the fence at a Costa Rican correctional facility. When guards found the bird in August 2015, it was carrying 14 grams of marijuana and 14 grams of cocaine in a bird-sized fanny pack. This particular feathered friend’s life of crime has come to an end, however, as it is now being cared for at a local animal shelter.
Florida: A convicted felon was able to conceal his criminal record and identity for 17 years as he worked as a constable in Tennessee, then operated a prisoner transportation company known as United States Prisoner Extradition Service and Interstate Criminal Extraditions, all while on probation. Walter John Cassidy, 54, was so deeply embedded in his alias that prosecutors indicted him under his fictitious name of William James Cassidy. He was sentenced on May 4, 2015 to 12 years in federal prison on wire fraud charges, for operating his transport business under false pretenses. He was also accused of trading drugs and alcohol for sex with some of the female prisoners he transported.
Georgia: On May 4, 2015, the NAACP of Columbus released video of the July 2013 beating of diabetic prisoner Christopher Russell at the Muscogee County Jail. After Russell complained about not receiving his diabetic meals and snacks on time, two guards jumped him in an elevator, then 11 other guards joined in. Ironically, Russell was jailed on a probation hold despite the fact that his case had been dismissed two weeks prior to the beating incident. The NAACP called for the arrest and firing of the guard who instigated the attack, Deputy Anthony Ermi. Sheriff John Darr said that while Ermi had “acted unprofessionally,” he shouldn’t be fired. Another deputy involved in the beating, Anthony Merritt, was terminated.
Georgia: Capt. Daniel Johnson and Sgt. Shauntsey Kitchens were arrested on May 6, 2015, accused of having sex with female prisoners at the Emanuel-Swainsboro Women’s Facility. Georgia Corrections Commissioner Homer Bryson told reporters that an investigation had confirmed 10 victims, most from metro Atlanta. Johnson, whom Bryson said was the prison’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, faces nearly a dozen counts of sexual assault; Kitchens faces two.
Idaho: Shauna Lynn Kelly turned herself in and was booked into the Ada County jail on August 17, 2015 after a warrant was issued for her arrest. The former medical assistant at the Idaho State Correctional Institution is accused of having a sexual relationship with a prisoner in 2014. She was charged with a single felony count of sexual contact with an inmate, and faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Illinois: On May 4, 2015, Adolfo Davis, 38, became the first Illinois prisoner convicted and sentenced as a juvenile to life in prison without the possibility of parole to be resentenced since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to ban juvenile LWOP sentences. Judge Angela Petrone said Davis’ original sentence was the correct one and reaffirmed his LWOP sentence. She posited that he had grown into a dangerous and violent adult from a boy who took part in a double murder. Davis, initially sentenced at 14, is one of about 80 state prisoners who qualify for resentencing hearings.
Illinois: Between 7 a.m. on May 2, 2015 and 7 a.m. on May 3, 2015, 637 Cook County jail guards called out sick with what officials suspected was the “Pacquiao-Mayweather flu” – or was it the “Kentucky Derby flu”? “There was a historic sporting event taking place at the same time. It certainly raises that question,” said Cara Smith, executive director of the jail. The sick call-outs were more than double the total from other recent weekends and, according to Smith, would result in a “monster” overtime bill. The last major spike in sick calls for Cook County jailers occurred over the February 1, 2015 weekend, which featured both the Super Bowl and a blizzard. More than 950 guards called out sick at that time.
Kansas: On April 27, 2015, Koch Industries, Inc. announced its intention to stop asking job applicants if they have ever been convicted of a crime. The $115 billion corporation joins Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond with its decision to “ban the box.” This move fits into the billionaire Koch brothers’ larger push toward certain types of criminal justice reform. Koch Industries’ general counsel Mark Holden said in a statement that the company believes it “shouldn’t be rejecting people at the very start of the hiring process who may otherwise be capable and qualified, and want an opportunity to work hard.”
Louisiana: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the world’s largest for-profit prison operator, alerted the Louisiana Workforce Commission on May 5, 2015 that 252 permanent employee layoffs would be forthcoming as CCA was no longer able to fulfill its contract to operate the Winn Correctional Center. The state Department of Public Safety transitioned management of the 1,576-bed facility to another private company, LaSalle Corrections.
Louisiana: “I couldn’t do nothing but scream,” recalled Marcus Robicheaux as he described the horrific attack he endured at the Iberia Parish Jail. Robicheaux was singled out during a contraband sweep as he stood with his nose against the wall and his hands on his head in a rec yard. Suddenly deputy David Prejean jerked him from the wall and threw him to the ground. Prejean’s dog then attacked Robicheaux and the deputy joined in, kicking and stomping him. Video released to the public on April 30, 2015 disputed Prejean’s written report concerning the incident, triggering an FBI investigation into abuse at the jail.
Maryland: In 2012, Ronald Hammond appeared before District Judge Askew Gatewood in a Baltimore courtroom to face a minor marijuana possession charge. Judge Gatewood told prosecutors that “5.9 grams won’t roll you a decent joint,” and suggested that Hammond enter a guilty plea and pay a fine. That plea, made without an attorney’s advice, led to a 20-year prison term after Hammond was informed that his plea violated the probation terms of a prior conviction, and his suspended sentence was reinstated. On June 3, 2015, however, Hammond won an appeal to vacate his plea on the marijuana charge, opening the door for his possible release from prison.
Massachusetts: On May 25, 2015, Boston’s local CBS news affiliate reported on a unique program at the Western Massachusetts Correctional Addiction Center. Sheriff Michael Ashe, Jr. requires prisoners at the minimum-security substance abuse treatment facility to wear a shirt and tie from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Although the prisoners took some time to adjust to the new rules, both jail administrators and the prisoners themselves have seen positive results. “It makes you feel more successful,” said a 29-year-old prisoner named Andres. “Or like you’re working toward it, you know?” Jail officials noted that the program works as a counterpoint to policies designed to humiliate prisoners, citing as an example the pink underwear policy at Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jails in Maricopa County, Arizona.
Michigan: According to a lawsuit filed in April 2015, prisoner Aaron Henderson wrote in his own blood on an Allegan County Jail wall because he “feared for his life, fearing he was going to die in that jail, and hoped to leave traces of his own DNA so he could be tracked.” Henderson was being forcibly disrobed by guard Jacob Keola Kapanui, who kneed him twice in the head and smashed his face against a wall. The impact broke several of Henderson’s facial bones, but he was left without treatment for hours. The incident was captured on surveillance video and is being investigated by an outside agency, the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department.
Michigan: On March 7, 2015, the Midland County Sheriff’s Office announced that it had entered into a contract with LexisNexis to provide a digital computer-assisted law library using three computers at the county jail. Sheriff Scott Stephenson explained, “Typically we get a few different grievances a week that we don’t have a law library. That takes up time and costs money.” The LexisNexis contract passed unanimously at a board of commissioner’s meeting; the monthly fee will be $425 during the first year and $437.75 the second year – a small price to pay to ensure that prisoners can exercise their constitutional right of access to the courts.
Michigan: Former Oakland County sheriff’s deputy Garry Jackson was sentenced on February 13, 2015 to 86 months to 15 years in prison for the forcible sexual assault of a female prisoner at the county jail. The victim had died of a drug overdose in August 2014, but her family was in attendance at Jackson’s sentencing. Her father made a statement during the hearing, saying, “what hurts the most is [she] was assaulted in a place where she should have been most protected, and by a guard named Garry Jackson who was supposed to be upholding the law.”
Minnesota: PLN previously reported on the from-behind-bars tax fraud scheme conducted by prisoners Tanka James Tetzlaff and Tony Terrell Robinson at the Faribault Correctional Facility. [See: PLN, May 2015, p.63, Dec. 2014, p.46]. Both men have now been sentenced for their roles in the fraud. Tetzlaff, 40, was sentenced on April 29, 2015 to an additional 88 months in federal prison, while Robinson received an 84-month sentence on January 20, 2015. Three co-conspirators, who were not incarcerated at the time of the fraudulent scheme, have pleaded guilty.
Missouri: On September 1, 2015, Jeff Mizanskey was released from prison after serving 20 years of a life-without-parole sentence for a marijuana-related offense. Mizanskey, 61, was the only Missouri prisoner serving such a sentence. After years of lobbying by his family and drug war activists, which included a petition campaign that reached nearly 400,000 signatures, Governor Jay Nixon announced in May 2015 that he would commute Mizanskey’s sentence, making him eligible for parole. Mizanskey’s LWOP sentence as a nonviolent offender was not unique; a recent report issued by the ACLU estimates that 3,278 people nationwide are serving life for non-violent crimes.
Nebraska: Michael Weichman, a former maintenance worker at the state women’s prison in York, was sentenced on April 27, 2015 to one-to-two years in prison with credit for four days time served, for sexually assaulting a prisoner while employed at the facility. Weichman, 47, resigned last year after another prisoner notified officials of the sexual misconduct; he had described his relationship with the 38-year-old prisoner as “playful” but not sexual. He has since appealed his sentence.
Nebraska: On May 10, 2015, an estimated 100-200 prisoners at the maximum-security Tecumseh State Correctional Institution took control of a death row unit, setting fires and assaulting two guards. One prisoner was shot in the leg and another was injured by a rubber projectile. The next day, as prison officials regained control of the facility, two prisoners – Donald Peacock and Shon Collins – were found dead. The Nebraska State Patrol is investigating the incident.
Nevada: Until about a year ago, newly-released prisoners from the Nevada Department of Corrections were able to obtain driver’s licenses by simply presenting their DOC ID and expired license to the DMV. But on May 23, 2015, the Nevada Appeal reported that a glitch in the rules had put an end to that practice. Under current DMV rules, former prisoners must now present all of the same documents required under the Real ID Act, unless their driver’s license is still active. Religious leaders, court officials, DMV officials and the DOC have all agreed to work together on a solution to ease re-entry for affected former prisoners.
New Mexico: A Bernalillo County Juvenile Detention Center guard was arrested on May 6, 2015, accused of child abuse, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and conspiracy. According to detectives, Rachael DeSantiago promised a juvenile offender “something in return” for attacking another girl in a detention facility bathroom that DeSantiago was supposed to be watching. The conspiring juvenile said she hit the other girl at least 15 times in the head and face. An internal investigation was opened and DeSantiago was placed on administrative leave.
New Mexico: On April 17, 2015, eighteen current and former prisoners at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center filed a lawsuit against the jail and healthcare providers San Juan Regional Medical Center and Correctional Healthcare Companies, Inc., alleging “severe and deliberate indifference” to their medical needs that resulted in pain, physical injury and impairment. The suit, which could become a class-action if more prisoners come forward with similar claims, seeks monetary damages as well as court-ordered changes in the jail’s policies and procedures, supervision and training, and contractual payments for medical services. Correctional Healthcare Companies has been acquired by Correct Care Solutions, a Tennessee-based company that provides medical services to detention facilities in 37 states.
New York: Ooops! Tompkins County jail prisoner Alanson D. Burlingame told authorities that a mistake was made when he accidentally had marijuana mailed to him at the jail. He said he had intended to have the package of contraband sent to him after he was transferred to the state prison system, instead. It’s not clear who sent the package to Burlingame, but he was charged with second-degree promoting prison contraband and arraigned on August 4, 2015.
New York: In April 2015, prisoner Joseph Williams sued the Onondaga County jail for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Williams, who is deaf, claims that the lack of sign language interpreters at the facility prevented him from participating in important educational and rehabilitative programs. His suit also seeks more access to a TTY phone so he can contact his lawyer, who said Williams’ lack of phone privileges was “tantamount to denying him his constitutional right to counsel.”
New York: On May 8, 2015, Rodney Calloway, 26, was stabbed to death by another prisoner, Michael Head, during a fight at the Attica Correctional Facility. Prison officials believe that Calloway expected trouble on the yard; a small, sharp weapon was found in his mouth after his death. Officials at both the Attica prison and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision declined to comment on the incident, only confirming that Calloway had died.
New Zealand: Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga is welcoming a decision by British prison operator Serco to install phones and computers in every standard cell in its new South Auckland prison at Wiri, which opened on May 8, 2015. The phones will be used for pre-arranged family calls and counseling appointments, but cannot accept incoming calls. The computers will be used by prisoners to manage their family visits, book appointments and order food, and to take advantage of educational opportunities. Serco Asia-Pacific operations manager Scott McNairn said the technology was part of a “responsible prisoner” approach, aimed at giving offenders the education and skills they require to get jobs, homes, a driver’s license and other things they need to live a law-abiding life following their release.
Ohio: On May 4, 2015, Jeffrey Paul Ingram, 28, and his wife Roseanne filed a civil rights lawsuit claiming Mahoning County jail officials failed to protect him from a suicide attempt. Jeffrey tried to commit suicide in November 2014 by hanging himself with a bed sheet; he was rescued and placed on suicide watch, but released the next day into the jail’s general population. Six days later he again tried to harm himself by jumping from the top tier of a pod to the floor below. He suffered a catastrophic injury and paralysis. The suit claims that Jeffrey was seen leaning against the railing of the top tier, but jail staff failed to stop his suicide attempt.
Pennsylvania: An attorney for the family of a woman murdered by an escapee from the Armstrong County jail has hired a private investigator to look into security lapses which allowed prisoner Robert Crissman to simply walk away from the facility on the morning of July 30, 2015. According to statements obtained by the investigator, Crissman and two other prisoners were assigned to deliver breakfast trays as part of a trustee program and were doing so unsupervised. Shortly after he absconded, Crissman went to the home of a friend where he beat and strangled 55-year-old Tammy Long to death before leading police on a chase. Crissman, who was in jail for nonviolent offenses, is now charged with murder as well as theft of a gun, two trucks and a TV set, plus aggravated assault on a police officer.
Pennsylvania: Federal officials confirmed on August 18, 2015 that three staff members were stabbed by a prisoner at the U.S. Penitentiary Canaan. Investigators said the prisoner used a homemade weapon to attack an employee in the dining hall, and two other guards were stabbed after they stepped in to assist. All three were treated and released from a hospital. The FBI is investigating the incident and the facility was placed on limited operations status pending an internal review.
Russia: A May 6, 2015 riot that occurred at a facility for prisoners suffering from tuberculosis left one prisoner dead and fifteen others injured, eight seriously. During the uprising about 100 prisoners set fires, smashed security cameras, broke furniture and attacked other prisoners. A website that reports on prison abuses, Mediazona, said sick prisoners were being forced to work up to 12 hours a day. A state-appointed rights commission was quoted as saying the prisoners had complained in the past about “unlawful” actions by prison authorities.
Tennessee: Every fire unit in the city of Manchester was dispatched to quell an intentionally-set blaze that forced the evacuation of the old Coffee County jail on May 12, 2015. No one was injured, but the resulting damage left the facility uninhabitable. Female prisoners were relocated to a new jail about three miles away. The fire was reportedly started because prisoners were upset with the ongoing jail-move process.
Texas: Two prisoners and a former pharmacy technician at the Federal Correctional Institution in Bastrop pleaded guilty to their roles in a bribery scheme, according to a statement issued by U.S. Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr. on May 7, 2015. Eric Renaldo Telles, the ex-prison worker, entered a guilty plea to one count of receipt of a bribe by a public official, and prisoners Shanon E. Frank and Mattheu Ellis Jones each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to bribe a public official. According to court records, Frank and Jones paid as much as $2,000 for Telles to smuggle contraband – including watches, nutritional supplements and muscle shirts – into the prison over an eight-month period.
Texas: On August 20, 2015, surveillance video was publicly released which showed the vicious beating of a college student by a Washington County jail guard. Gregory Webb had been booked into the jail after he was found in possession of marijuana during a traffic stop, and got into a verbal confrontation with Deputy Christopher Kulow. Webb was placed in a restraint chair by Kulow and another guard; Kulow was videotaped kicking the chair on its side, getting on top of Webb and punching him in the face. Kulow admitted that he thought the video camera was broken when the assault took place. He was found guilty of official oppression for violating Webb’s civil rights and sentenced on October 1, 2015 to one year in jail.
Texas: Guards Fernando Robles and Rolando Castro were fired in April 2014 for allegedly beating a prisoner at the El Paso County Jail Annex. On April 21, 2015, an arbitration hearing gave the men their jobs back, plus back pay for the year they were out of work. The former guards were represented by an attorney from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) union, who was able to cast doubt on the validity of a polygraph exam used as justification for the firings. The El Paso District Attorney’s office dropped all charges against Robles and Castro shortly before the arbitration decision.
United States: The Society of Professional Journalists announced on April 23, 2015 that its Sigma Delta Chi Award for digital video had been won by the Center for Public Integrity’s documentary film “Time is Money.” As part of the Profiting from Prisoners series, the 23-minute documentary revealed how a growing web of prison bankers, private vendors and corrections agencies profit off prisoners by shifting costs to prisoners’ families. Dating back to 1932, the Sigma Delta Chi Awards honor significant contributions to journalism.
Utah: In 2013 at the Purgatory Correctional Facility, three female prisoners were threatened with “hell” in jail if they refused the sexual advances of former guard Steven Garrett Thayer. Thayer was sentenced to 90 days in jail for custodial sexual misconduct in early April 2015, and a lawsuit was filed by the prisoners he had abused. The suit alleges that “Thayer’s threats and coercion were malicious and sadistic, and served no penological purpose, but merely the satisfaction of his own sexual and emotional gratification.” Sheriff Cory Pulsipher and Washington County are named as defendants in the lawsuit. PLN previously reported Thayer’s firing. [See: PLN, Sept. 2014, p.56].
Virginia: Corruption at Virginia’s only privately-operated prison, the GEO Group’s Lawrenceville Correctional Center, has resulted in indictments against 13 current and former law enforcement officers for their involvement in a large-scale interstate cocaine and heroin distribution operation that authorities announced on April 30, 2015 was actually an FBI sting. Two GEO guards, Lann Clanton and Alphonso Ponton, were suspended without pay. Prosecutors said the defendants transported fake drugs along the I-95 corridor; the indictments were issued out of North Carolina.
Washington: An unnamed Franklin County woman filed suit on May 10, 2015 against the county for failing to protect her from a predatory guard, Justin T. Husom, who raped her while she was in custody at the Franklin County jail. “Rumors of Mr. Husom’s sexual misconduct were rampant throughout the jail, but jail supervisors failed to take adequate steps to protect [the woman] from Mr. Husom’s repeated sexual assaults,” said attorney Jeff Kreutz. The victim had previously filed a $1.5 million claim with the county that went unanswered. “This is the next step in trying to right the wrong that was done to our client,” Kreutz stated. Previously, PLN reported Husom’s arrest, conviction and sentencing. [See: PLN, Jan. 2015, p.56].
Washington: On August 20, 2015, officials at the Spokane County jail confirmed that the FBI was investigating a possible escape attempt by prisoner James Henrickson. Jail staff had noticed a 100-foot bed sheet rope dangling from a broken fifth-floor cell window, and placed the facility on lockdown. Henrickson and another federal prisoner were moved from the cell and questioned, but it was unclear whether one or both were involved. Prosecutors allege that Henrickson had on multiple occasions tried to recruit other prisoners to assist in an escape attempt.
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