News in Brief
California: On April 21, 2015, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi announced that 30 body cameras would soon be deployed by jailers working within Jail No. 4. He said he hopes that the new equipment will emphasize transparency and accountability in his department, which has come under scrutiny as prisoners have raised allegations of “fight club” activity spurred on by guards. New policies are being created for the body cameras, such as when they should be turned on.
California: State prison officials announced on April 3, 2015 that a policy on segregating mentally ill prisoners would be changing. The policy will begin to shift disciplinary action for mentally ill prisoners from punitive measures to counseling, and is the latest change to result from a federal court ruling which held that taking punitive action against mentally ill prisoners violates their constitutional rights. “This is a very significant reform of the disciplinary process for prisoners with mental illness,” said attorney Michael Bien, who represents mentally ill prisoners in the long-running lawsuit. “What’s the point of punishing someone who’s psychotic?”
California: Two architectural engineering firms are being sued by San Bernardino County for alleged design flaws in the High Desert Detention Center expansion project. The county initially entered into a contract with Missouri-based HOK and Pasadena-based Jacobs Engineering Group, but claimed the design flaws could have significantly delayed the building project, resulting in higher costs. The county hired another contractor to fast-track the expansion and the project was completed on time. The lawsuit, filed on May 1, 2015, seeks $13.6 million in damages.
Colorado: A disturbance occurred at the Larimer County Jail on March 1, 2015 after a prisoner threatened to hurt himself or guards in a high-risk housing unit. Prisoner Steven McCranie, 27, attempted to spray an unknown liquid on a guard during regular cell checks and the facility’s Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) was called in to remove him from his cell. McCranie later removed a hidden piece of metal from his mouth and began to cut his arm, and SERT responded again. This time other prisoners began to bang on their cell doors and block their windows. One prisoner, Derrick Gaworowski, was charged with inciting the others; SERT eventually used pepperballs and a Taser to place him under control.
Colorado: On July 16, 2015, Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader said six jail guards were issued written reprimands for their roles in the death of prisoner Jennifer Lobato, who died while awaiting medical care for heroin withdrawal. One of the guards allegedly said “That’s why you shouldn’t do drugs” as Lobato suffered for hours before becoming unresponsive in her cell. Mark Silverstein, legal director for the ACLU of Colorado, said Lobato was denied necessary medical care. “Such callous and brazen misconduct merits more than a mild slap on the wrist,” he said in a statement.
Florida: Former Palm Beach County assistant state attorney Thomas Schnieders II, 49, was diagnosed with schizophrenia just seven months before he bludgeoned his elderly parents with a crowbar, mortally wounding his mother and forcing his father to play dead to survive the attack. Schnieders was apparently upset that his parents had scheduled an unwanted doctor’s appointment, and told his father he did not kill his mother “but only killed the demons in her.” On July 1, 2015, Schnieders was ordered held without bail to face charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder.
Florida: Audra West was arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest at a Fort Lauderdale bar in 2014. She said she began menstruating after being taken to the North Broward Detention Facility and asked Deputy Kristin Connelly for a tampon. Connelly refused, West cursed at her, and the deputy then inflicted a severe beating that was captured on surveillance video, which was publicly released on June 3, 2015. The video shows Deputy Henry Lawrence trying to block Connelly from getting to West, but she broke past him and, according to a witness, “grabbed [West] and started swinging her back and forth.” Although West ended up with a black eye and bruises, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office exonerated Connelly of using excessive force and dismissed an allegation of conduct unbecoming of an employee.
Florida: A Lake Mary attorney who had his law license for less than a year pleaded no contest on July 2, 2015 to conspiring to smuggle a cell phone into the Seminole County Jail for a client. Marlon Smikle, 29, received a probationary sentence of two years and agreed to stop practicing law for a year. He is the second attorney to face misconduct charges while working with prisoner Donald Heflin Mitchell, Jr. The first, Amy Newby of Jacksonville, is currently serving a 15-month federal prison term for fraud. Mitchell stated, “All the lawyers that have worked for me have worked for me with the understanding of the things that I need done when I need to have them done.”
Greece: On April 7, 2015, clashes erupted between Greek police and protesters that left nine people in custody and two police officers injured. Another 21 people were temporarily detained. The protestors were demonstrating for the closure of a maximum-security prison and the release of certain prisoners. Following a march, the protesters became violent, looting shops and burning at least two cars. Police responded with tear gas.
Hawaii: Cancelled visitation is not an uncommon occurrence at prisons in Hawaii; it is so prevalent, in fact, that in 2007 a law was passed to ban prison officials from cancelling pre-scheduled “special visits” where families have traveled from another island. [See: PLN, Oct. 2007, p.34]. Regular weekend visits were not affected by the law, however, and on March 7, 2015 visitation was cancelled at the Kulani Correctional Facility in Hilo yet again – this time because the facility had been placed on lockdown after a prisoner refused to return to his minimum-security dorm. The incident was investigated and the lockdown lifted, and visitors were allowed to return the following day.
Hawaii: Early in the morning of April 25, 2015, four prisoners at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center rammed a piece of furniture into a door in their housing unit and attempted to escape. They never made it outside the perimeter of the prison and were restrained just outside their unit. Nonetheless, the facility was placed on lockdown.
India: An angry mob broke into a remote Nagaland state jail on March 5, 2015 and dragged a rape suspect into the streets, beating him to death before prison officials could intervene. The protestors had planned a public hanging, but the accused rapist instead died from injuries suffered during the attack. A police official said the suspect was an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant and that ethnic tensions between native Nagas and migrant Bangladeshis had grown volatile. Police deployed tear gas and used bamboo canes to disperse the crowd and recover the man’s body.
Ohio: On April 13, 2015, the ACLU announced a call for an independent investigation into conditions at the supermax Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. Around 40 prisoners at the facility had started a hunger strike on March 16, and five continued to refuse meals nearly a month later. The protest was meant to draw attention to recreation and programming restrictions imposed on supermax prisoners, who are confined to their cells for up to 23 hours per day.
Ohio: Disciplinary action was taken against four staff members at the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution on February 12, 2015 for their roles in allowing the escape of school shooter T.J. Lane and two other prisoners. Maintenance worker Dennis Barkimer received a two-day suspension for failing to secure items that the prisoners used to build a ladder. Another maintenance worker, Shawn Mowery, and Michael Laurita, a guard, were suspended for one day for policy infractions. Lastly, technician Robert Stippich received a written reprimand for failing to notify a supervisor of a broken security camera. The prison’s warden, Kevin Jones, had been demoted and reassigned to an operations support center in November 2014.
Oklahoma: Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill on April 17, 2015 that would allow nitrogen gas to be used as an execution method should lethal injection be ruled unconstitutional or execution drugs become unavailable. “The hasty manner in which this bill sped into law reflects the same lack of care with which Oklahoma has managed its execution process historically,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. The governor’s office said the first alternative for execution is lethal injection, followed by nitrogen gas, the electric chair and the firing squad. Nitrogen gas has never been used in an execution in the United States.
Massachusetts: On March 17, 2015, guards at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution worked quickly to contain an electrical fire in a third floor housing unit at the facility, garnering praise from Norfolk Fire Chief Coleman Bushnell. When firefighters arrived at the prison they discovered that the mostly-concrete structure was not burning and that guards with fire extinguishers and self-contained breathing gear had stopped the further spread of the blaze. “The level of training provided by the Department of Corrections for fire safety and emergency response once again proved its importance,” Bushnell said.
Massachusetts: Megan Patterson, a former Barnstable County jail guard, was found not guilty of engaging in sex with a prisoner. In her closing statement at trial in September 2015, Patterson’s lawyer, Camille Sarrouf, said that not one jail employee had witnessed the alleged sexual activity. The prisoner-victim testified that the former guard had offered him $10,000 to impregnate her; the jury did not buy the story and acquitted Patterson at the close of the four-day trial. The prosecutor’s case relied heavily on Facebook messages exchanged between Patterson and the prisoner following his release; however, Sarrouf noted that the messages only contained “some explicit posts about what she wants, not what she had.”
Michigan: Eleven “John Does,” all teen offenders charged as adults, have filed a pair of lawsuits alleging that they were forced into unwanted sexual acts through violence and threats from adult prisoners. On April 16, 2015, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office filed a brief arguing for the disclosure of the identities of some of the “Doe” plaintiffs. Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has long self-identified as an advocate for victims, came under criticism for his handling of the sexual assault-based case. “The restrictions on use of the plaintiffs’ names makes it difficult for our attorneys to conduct discovery, which is obviously essential to doing our job in uncovering information about the allegations,” a spokeswoman from Schuette’s office stated.
Michigan: Sean M. Desjarlais, 44, pleaded no contest on March 26, 2015 to one count each of lying to a peace officer and attempted felonious assault. In exchange for his plea, Bay County prosecutors agreed to dismiss two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Desjarlais, a former Bay County jail guard, was accused of molesting a female prisoner after bringing coffee to her cell. While on his rounds the next day, Desjarlais delivered a camera to the cell, where the victim’s cellmate snapped racy photos of her and later returned the camera to Desjarlais. He resigned from the sheriff’s office shortly after he was charged.
Michigan: Wayne Lee Hoffman, 44, was sentenced on April 21, 2015 to nine months behind bars for his inappropriate behavior with female prisoners. Hoffman, a former Barry County sheriff’s deputy, was initially charged with two counts of gross indecency, first-degree obscenity and prostitution, accosting and soliciting. His plea deal reduced the charges to one count of gross indecency. He received credit for a single day spent in jail and will serve 18 months on probation following his release. “Up to the point we got the complaint, he was a good employee. We didn’t have any issues with him,” said Undersheriff Bob Baker.
Mississippi: Mississippi DOC officials announced on February 28, 2015 that an investigation had commenced into the death of a prisoner in protective custody at the State Penitentiary at Parchman. A fight between 25-year-old prisoner Willie Wallace and another prisoner left Wallace dead due to stab wounds. “We’ve got a public safety issue,” noted DOC Commissioner Marshall Fisher. Shakedowns were conducted at several state correctional facilities and scores of homemade weapons were recovered. “This is for the safety of the inmates and the safety of the staff,” Fisher said. “Any one of these shanks can translate into a homicide.”
Missouri: St. Louis City jailer Ciara Jones was charged on February 5, 2015 with contraband and sex crimes related to her inappropriate involvement with a prisoner. She faces three counts of having sex with a prisoner, each punishable by up to four years, plus three misdemeanor counts of delivering prohibited items to a prisoner. She admitted to smuggling two cell phones and a star-tipped tool into the jail. Jones is also accused of having had sex with a prisoner at least three times in various areas of the facility. City officials said procedures at the jail have been tightened to avoid similar incidents in the future.
Montana: On April 9, 2015, District Judge Loren Tucker sentenced former Jefferson County jail guard Rodney Mortimore to 20 years in prison for raping three female prisoners whom he coerced into sex with the offer of cigarettes. Mortimore, who had initially been charged with seven counts of sexual intercourse without consent, pleaded no contest to three of the counts. One of the prisoners filed a federal lawsuit against Jefferson County last fall, alleging the county’s failure to train Mortimore led to her rape. Under Montana law, prisoners cannot consent to sexual activity.
Nebraska: In October 2014, prisoner Stephen Cavanaugh filed suit against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, requesting “accommodated status” for his faith and its requirement that he wear religious clothing. Cavanaugh’s faith? The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, also known as “Pastafarianism.” Its religious regalia? A full pirate costume. Although this may seem like a joke, attorneys specializing in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) say Cavanaugh’s case may stand a chance. A current trend in the courts is to bypass an analysis of whether a prisoner’s claimed faith is actually a legitimate religion; once a prisoner has proven a “sincere” religious belief, the legal burden shifts to prison officials.
Nevada: The family of slain prisoner Carlos Manuel Perez, Jr. filed a lawsuit on April 7, 2015, alleging that he was killed as a result of guards staging a “gladiator-like scenario” at the High Desert State Prison which ended with a rookie guard firing four shotgun blasts to stop the fight. Perez died and the other prisoner, Andrew Jay Arevalo, was wounded. The suit names several guards, the state of Nevada and three high-ranking prison officials. The Clark County coroner released an autopsy report in March 2015 that ruled Perez’s death a homicide.
New Jersey: On March 13, 2015, autopsy results were announced in the jailhouse death of 27-year-old David Yearby. The cause of death was listed as “blunt force trauma to the head and neck.” Yearby, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was a pretrial detainee and had been at the jail only two days before he died. His relatives said he was pulled out of a cell at the Middlesex County Jail and placed in a restraint chair, suffering a cervical fracture to his spine. Responding to the autopsy results, his father, Terrence Rhodes, said “I don’t agree with the findings.”
New York: Grammy-winning singer John Legend announced on April 13, 2015 the formation of the multiyear FREE AMERICA initiative, a campaign to end mass incarceration. “We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country,” Legend said in an interview. “I’m just trying to create some more awareness to this issue and trying to make some real change legislatively.” He added, “[W]e’re not the only ones. There are senators that are looking at this, like Rand Paul and Cory Booker, there are other nonprofits that are looking at this, and I just wanted to add my voice to that.”
New York: Joanne Squillace, an attorney representing a group of 19 prisoners, claimed her clients were sickened by meatloaf containing rat poison while imprisoned at the Rikers Island jail complex. On April 28, 2015, Squillace announced that laboratory tests had confirmed the presence of Brodifacoum, an anti-coagulant rodenticide, in a sample of the meatloaf that had been preserved by one of the prisoners. In a lawsuit filed in March 2015, the prisoners alleged they had suffered vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding after eating the tainted meatloaf. They also said they did not receive proper medical treatment.
New York: New York University issued a press release on March 2, 2015 to announce a $500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to fund an initiative called the NYU Prison Education Program (PEP). Through the program, prisoners at the Wallkill Correctional Facility will be allowed to enroll in college courses that lead to an Associate of Arts degree from the university. “Supporting high quality, postsecondary education programs in prisons is vitally important and will contribute in many ways to renewing communities, strengthening families and breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty,” said Douglas E. Wood, a program officer at the Ford Foundation on Higher Education for Social Justice.
North Carolina: On April 7, 2015, the state Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Health Service Regulation released a report on its investigation into the suicide death of 38-year-old Steve Ross at the Jackson County Jail. The report cited the county for three violations of jail regulations and ordered Sheriff Chip Hall to submit a corrective plan. A separate investigation into Ross’ death is being conducted by the N.C. Bureau of Investigation.
North Carolina: Robert Ellis Fleming, a Lee County jail guard, was arrested on April 21, 2015 after being linked to four prisoners caught with cell phones in the county jail. Fleming, 35, was charged with providing a prisoner with contraband and receiving a bribe; his bond was set at $50,000. Another unnamed guard was fired but not criminally charged.
North Dakota: On January 2, 2015, authorities announced that a criminal investigation was underway into the death of prisoner Dustin Irwin, 25, at the Ward County Jail. Irwin was pronounced dead three days after being booked into the facility, where he presented with symptoms of continuous vomiting and hallucinations. The Department of Corrections (DOC) investigation deemed Irwin’s medical care “grossly inadequate,” and ordered the sheriff’s department to make changes. The DOC has hired a full-time monitor to evaluate Ward County’s compliance with the order.
Oregon: Preliminary results were released on April 1, 2015 from an Oregon Department of Justice investigation into Edwin Mays’ death due to a methamphetamine overdose at the Deschutes County Adult Jail. Surveillance video showed Mays, 25, struggling in his cell for nearly three hours while jail guards watched a football game; they waited nearly two hours to call 911 after Mays was found lying in his cell. Mays’ half-brother, Adam Davenport, who had been arrested with him, said “I told the officer, ‘Hey look man, he’s not faking it.... There’s something really wrong, he needs to go to the hospital.’” Mays died later that night; his family is in the process of filing a lawsuit.
South Carolina: On December 17, 2014, Judge Carmen Mullins exonerated 14-year-old George Stinney, who had been executed seventy years earlier for murdering two young girls with a railroad spike. Stinney, who was black, was the youngest person in modern times to receive the death penalty. His trial by an all-white jury lasted just three hours and it took only 10 minutes to reach a guilty verdict. There was no appeal and Stinney was electrocuted around three months later. Judge Mullins found “fundamental, Constitutional violations of due process” in the case. The victims’ families opposed the posthumous exoneration.
South Dakota: Douglas Ipsen, 29, was sentenced on August 17, 2015 to an additional 20 years in prison for strangling his cellmate, Kent Davidson. Ipsen had been serving a life sentence for murder, and in his defense claimed that the asphyxiation death of his cellmate was an act of assisted suicide. Davidson’s death in September 2014 was the third killing at the Jameson Unit of the South Dakota State Penitentiary. Prisoners Andrew Young and Steven Heckle were both murdered by fellow prisoners in July and August 2002, respectively.
Tennessee: Gang tensions at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville erupted during a “severe” staff shortage on July 24, 2015. Eight prisoners were stabbed during the melee, which occurred despite a prisoner’s warning letter sent to a local newspaper that foretold of gang violence due to staffing issues. The TDOC issued a statement which confirmed that nearly one-third of Northwest’s population is gang-affiliated. The staffing problem developed shortly after TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield changed guards’ work schedules from a traditional 40-hour week to a 28-day rotation schedule.
Texas: Former Fannin County transport deputy William Clifford Isaacs, Jr. pleaded guilty in June 2014 to “deprivation of rights under color of law” and was sentenced to three years in federal prison for having oral sex with two female prisoners. Four months later, on October 8, 2014, a federal lawsuit was filed by one of three prisoners against Isaacs, Fannin County, private jail operator Community Education Centers, Inc. and former supervisor Greg Garrison. The suit alleges that failure to train and supervise, as well as negligence on the part of the defendants, allowed the sexual abuse to occur. The case remains pending. See: Thomas v. CEC, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Tex.), Case No. 4:14-cv-00648-ALM.
Texas: On April 24, 2015, two guards and four supervisors at the Harris County Jail were fired in connection with the mistreatment of a mentally ill prisoner who was locked in a cell filled with trash and bugs. An additional 29 jail employees received suspensions ranging from one to 10 days. It was revealed that staff were aware of the conditions in prisoner Terry Goodwin’s cell, yet left him in the filth regardless. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are investigating the incident.
Texas: Dallas County opened a window into the way it handles jail deaths when it presented the father of prisoner Brian Hunter with a bill for $1,040 for Hunter’s ambulance ride from the jail to a hospital. According to an April 27, 2015 news report, the hospital also hit Hunter’s family with a $3,477 bill for the time it took to pronounce him dead – which was less than 30 minutes. The bills are less of a concern to the family than the circumstances surrounding Hunter’s death. A police investigation cleared jail staff of any wrongdoing.
United States: According to a report released on March 9, 2015 by the International Centre for Prison Studies, the United States incarcerates nearly 1/3 of all female prisoners worldwide. Women represent 8.8% of the American prison population, while women are incarcerated in China at the rate of 5.1% of that nation’s overall prison population. The U.S. out-jails Russia as well; only 7.8% of Russia’s prison population is female. The report found that 625,000 women and children are being held in lockups worldwide, and that the female prison population continues to grow on five continents.
Utah: On April 22, 2015, an autopsy report was released that found the in-custody death of Christopher Lee Lucas, 25, was a homicide. Lucas had been involved in an altercation with another prisoner at the Utah State Prison in September 2014. Guards deployed pepper spray to break up the fight, and Lucas collapsed as he was escorted from the cell. He was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Four guards were placed on administrative leave in response to the incident, but returned to their jobs after an investigation determined their use of force was appropriate.
Washington: A female pretrial detainee at the Snohomish County Jail was denied medical attention and gave birth to a baby boy in a toilet in her cell. The unnamed prisoner sued the county on April 8, 2015. She claimed that as she labored and bled, jail medical staff told her to lie down and use a feminine hygiene pad. Her attorney estimated that she suffered without medical care for three to four hours before giving birth. A jail spokeswoman told a different story, though, saying that staff had monitored the woman throughout the day and that she was in labor only 20 minutes. Both the woman and her attorney said they hope the lawsuit will result in jails doing more to protect and assist pregnant prisoners.
Washington: Larry W. Fields died of a heart attack 15 months after his release from prison in 2013, but on January 2, 2015 his family filed a lawsuit against the State of Washington Department of Corrections. Fields’ family alleges that the DOC took matters into its own hands when calculating his release date, and had kept him behind bars for 10 months longer than his court-ordered sentence. The suit claims Washington officials had already been warned by the courts about the DOC’s practice of making sentences consecutive rather than concurrent. The family’s attorney said it is difficult to determine how many other prisoners may have had their sentences improperly adjusted in a similar manner.
Washington: On April 21, 2015, Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond was fined $100 for refusing to let a sex offender awaiting sentencing leave the jail as part of a work release program. A Superior Court judge had ordered Raymond to release Jeffery C. Sivonen to his management job at a local shopping mall, but the Sheriff said the jail’s criteria for work release programs exclude sex offenders. Raymond paid the fine out of his own pocket, saying “Work release is a privilege, it is not court mandated. Before I allow them to pull high-risk offenders out of my jail, I’ll shut it down.”
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