News in Brief
Alaska: Two prisoners walked away from the GEO Group-operated minimum-security Northstar Center, a transitional living facility near Fairbanks, in separate incidents on October 2, 2015. Steven David Luten, 30, absconded at around 11:00 a.m. but was tracked by his footprints in the snow and recaptured nearby. Abel Aguilar, 27, fled the facility in a getaway vehicle around 11 p.m. the same day but was also quickly located and caught. Both men were charged with escape. There were at least five other walkaways from the Northstar Center in 2015.
Arizona: Maricopa County jail nurse Lytonya Hickbottom, 37, was arrested on October 6, 2015 after she admitted to passing nude photos of herself to her maximum-security prisoner-boyfriend, Ramon Cummings. She also posted $100 to Cummings’ prisoner account and agreed to smuggle drugs to him inside the Fourth Avenue Jail. The naked photos were found in Cummings’ cell. Detectives received a tip about Hickbottom’s relationship with Cummings, which was confirmed by monitoring phone calls between the two. Hickbottom faces an internal affairs proceeding and was fired following her arrest.
Arizona: Most people are anxious to get out of jail, but 29-year-old David Spurlock made concerted attempts to stay behind bars. Spurlock was originally arrested on methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia charges in late August 2015. According to news reports, when the court chose to release him on the same day, Spurlock refused to leave the jail. After officers removed him from the premises, Spurlock walked around the corner and attempted to steal a Maricopa County sheriff’s vehicle. He was quickly rearrested and jailed without bond.
Arizona: On September 1, 2015, at least 220 prisoners at the Kaibab and Coronado state prison units in Winslow became sick with a stomach ailment. A Department of Corrections spokesman, Andrew Wilder, said that as a precautionary measure all meals at the facility would be brought in from off-site and the housing units disinfected with bleach. Visitation was cancelled for the weekend and prisoner movement into and out of the facility was halted. Health officials later determined that the illness was caused by Salmonella-tainted salad served the day before.
Brazil: An unnamed prisoner was hospitalized on October 13, 2015 for surgery to remove a cell phone and two chargers from his stomach. The prisoner had been on a day furlough to celebrate National Children’s Day, one of the major Brazilian holidays. When he reported back to the Papuda Prison, a security X-ray showed that he had ingested the devices in an attempt to smuggle them into the facility. Prison officials said the prisoner would lose accrued benefits and face additional punishment.
California: The San Diego office of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency was hit with a scandal after complaints surfaced that an ICE supervisor was using government time and resources to recruit subordinates to attend “private sexual ‘swinger’ parties” at his home. In October 2015, the federal Office of Professional Responsibility began to conduct interviews with ICE agents named in an anonymous complaint. The complaint alleged the practice was coercive of subordinate employees and an abuse of authority, and claimed the recruitment for swinger parties had been going on for more than a year. The scandal is the latest involving the San Diego ICE office in the past year; other complaints have alleged employees were subjected to racial slurs, discrimination and retaliation by superiors.
California: On September 19, 2015, former Santa Barbara County jail guard Christopher Johnson was convicted by a federal jury on obstruction of justice charges, but acquitted along with his co-defendant, ex-guard Robert Kirsch, of assault charges for beating prisoner Charles Owens in 2013. Johnson and Kirsch’s first trial had resulted in a hung jury. The resolution of the federal criminal case does not mean the former guards’ troubles are now behind them, as similar state charges remain pending.
California: When Hugo Ernesto Castro walked into the Santa Clara County Jail on October 26, 2015 and confessed to killing his ex-girlfriend, he was informed that he was in the wrong place and told by a deputy to walk two blocks to the police station to surrender. Even though Castro handed over a note that revealed the location of the slain woman’s body, the deputy, who has since been reassigned, did not follow procedure and detain Castro or at least escort him to the police station. His ex-girlfriend’s body was found in the location that Castro indicated; he was arrested and then returned to the same jail he went to in the first place, to be booked.
Central African Republic: More than 500 prisoners escaped from the Ngaragba jail in Bangui on September 28, 2015 as the worst violence to hit the Central African Republic’s capital resulted in a death toll of 42. The United States condemned the unrest and pledged support to President Catherine Samba-Panza. “We fully support the efforts of the Central African and international forces to re-establish order and bring these perpetrators to justice,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. According to the BBC, the escapes occurred after a Christian militia group known as the anti-Balaka attacked the jail.
Florida: Workers at the Boca Raton headquarters of the GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison company, said they were “in fear for their safety” from the retirees, disabled persons and members of the general public who visit the office space that GEO shares with the Social Security Administration (SSA). GEO filed a lawsuit against its landlord, Canpro Investments, Ltd. in order to break its $350,000 per month lease on the office space due to what the company claimed was an excessive number of disruptive visitors at the SSA office. Canpro, in turn, filed suit against the federal government in an effort to evict the SSA, but that suit was rejected on a technicality. According to Robert Critton, GEO Group’s attorney, the company’s lawsuit against Canpro was settled under confidential terms in October 2015. There was no word on whether GEO employees are still in fear of the people who visit the SSA office.
Georgia: An attorney who formerly worked as a magistrate judge was arrested on September 24, 2015 after leaving her 2- and 3-year-old sons locked inside a car for over 30 minutes while she handled a case in court. An alert passerby notified a court officer that there were unattended toddlers inside a vehicle in the Riverdale Municipal Court parking lot. Kimberly Bandoh admitted that the children were hers after they were removed from the car and brought indoors. The children were unharmed and released to the custody of their grandmother. Bandoh was freed on bond.
Illinois: On September 2, 2015, prisoner Joshua Drinnon escaped from a private prison transport van at an I-80 rest stop about 50 miles east of the Quad Cities. He had been convicted of aggravated robbery and was being transported to California at the time he absconded. A two-day manhunt ensued, but the search was called off when authorities believed Drinnon had left the area. They were correct; on October 12, 2015, he was recaptured at a homeless shelter in Ashland, Oregon.
Illinois: The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals tossed a 2014 lawsuit filed by prisoner Jose Banks in connection with his attempted escape from the high-rise federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. The appellate court gave Banks “credit for chutzpah” for filing the $10 million complaint, but declined to find the government liable in enabling his breakout. In 2012, Banks and a cellmate fashioned a rope out of bedsheets and dental floss and rappelled down 17 stories. Banks claimed that he was traumatized and in fear for his life as he dangled on the side of the jail building. “No one has a personal right to be better guarded or more securely restrained, so as to be unable to commit a crime,” the Seventh Circuit wrote in its September 25, 2015 unpublished opinion. See: Banks v. United States, 615 Fed.Appx. 377 (7th Cir. 2015).
Indiana: Attorneys for former prisoner Chad Mitchell filed a civil lawsuit on September 15, 2015 claiming that Hendricks County deputy Kris Allen unnecessarily beat him, then tried to discourage Mitchell from filing a complaint. According to the suit, Hendricks County Sheriff David Galloway was also negligent in hiring Allen, who had been involved in a battery case in 1991. Allen was fired from his position with the sheriff’s department after video surveillance showed a handcuffed prisoner being restrained by two guards as a third struck him several times.
Kentucky: On October 26, 2015, a sergeant at the Montgomery County Regional Jail was arrested and charged with stealing over $1,000 from a prisoner. Samuel Garrison, 39, had had run-ins with the law before, facing six misdemeanor counts of theft by deception for bounced checks between 2002 and 2003. Jailer Eric Jones said he questioned Garrison about those convictions before hiring him, and that he had been a “solid” employee for four years. Garrison will now have to explain in court why he accessed the prisoner’s jail-issued debit card and took the money.
Louisiana: The former police chief of the small town of Mamou was sentenced on October 13, 2015 to one year in prison for illegally using Tasers on jail prisoners as a form of punishment. Gregory W. Dupuis pleaded guilty in April 2015 following a federal investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice also said that the town’s latest police chief, Robert McGee, had resigned after pleading guilty to a single count of violating an individual’s civil rights.
Louisiana: On October 21, 2015, the state Disciplinary Board agreed to penalize attorney James Mecca with a deferred one-year suspension after he was arrested for and admitted to bartering legal services in exchange for marijuana. The Board’s decision now heads to the Louisiana Supreme Court for approval. Mecca’s disciplinary agreement calls for compliance with a Lawyers Assistance Program-sponsored addiction treatment plan. The Board cited his remorse and progress in treatment as contributing factors to its leniency. Mecca testified that he had turned to alcohol and marijuana to cope with the death of his father, and that the “crap load of smoke” he had accepted from an informant who posed as a client was for his own personal use and not for distribution.
Maine: According to an affidavit filed by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, on September 15, 2014, Knox County jail prisoner Briannah Parlin hid the drug suboxone inside the last book in The Hunger Games trilogy. Jail staff became suspicious when Parlin recommended the book to another prisoner but later said she hadn’t read it. When guards examined the copy of Mockingjay, they discovered a strip of suboxone hidden between pages that were stuck together with toothpaste. Parlin, 23, was charged with trafficking in prison contraband; she was sentenced in April 2015 to nine additional months in jail.
Michigan: In October 2015, state Department of Corrections officials in Lansing nixed the approval for a Vatican-sponsored program to bring an exhibit with the relics of a Catholic saint to the Macomb Correctional Facility. The remains of St. Maria Goretti, an 11-year-old Italian girl who was stabbed to death while fending off a sexual assault and who forgave her attacker, were exhibited to prisoners at New York’s Sing Sing prison in September and were scheduled to be shown at three Detroit parishes. Local authorities at the Macomb facility had initially agreed to participate in the exhibition, but the DOC cancelled those plans. “We decided not to go forward,” said DOC spokesman Chris Paulz. “We had concerns about security in the facility, and concerns about bringing such a venerated item into our facility, and keep it protected and keep our facility protected.” St. Goretti is the patron saint of crime victims and victims of rape.
Mississippi: On September 17, 2015, the Mississippi Supreme Court refused to reconsider its decision that Chancery Court Judge Talmadge D. Littlejohn, 80, had abused his contempt powers and deserved sanctions which included a 30-day unpaid suspension, a public reprimand, and the payment of a $1,000 fine and costs. Littlejohn had jailed Ronald Brooks for contempt in a child support case, even though Brooks had appealed the court order in question and posted a supersedeas bond. The state Supreme Court wrote that Littlejohn had “disregarded the clear language of a rule of court and decades-old precedent” and “refused to take responsibility for his misconduct.” The Court rejected lesser sanctions recommended by the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance, noting they were “not commensurate with sanctions imposed for similar misconduct in past cases.” Littlejohn died on October 26, 2015, shortly after his suspension ended.
New Hampshire: During a hearing on September 26, 2014, a federal prisoner housed at the Strafford County House of Corrections asked Judge Steven Houran for emergency relief from medical mistreatment at the jail. Luis Pavao, 60, said he is permanently confined to a wheelchair because jail medical staff refused to clear him for back surgery that would have preserved his ability to walk. He filed a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections seeking $16 million in damages for his loss of mobility. Attorneys for Strafford County said two doctors have declined to perform the surgery due to Pavao’s cardiac conditions, and that jail staff have “gone out of their way” to make him comfortable while incarcerated. “They are trying, and wishing, that I drop dead,” countered Pavao, who was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison in January 2015. His lawsuit was dismissed and the N.H. Supreme Court rejected his appeal in March 2015.
New Jersey: Mercer County spokesman Michael Boonin and Donna Leusner, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, both denied that a Mercer County jail prisoner’s mysterious illness was Ebola. In the early hours of September 3, 2015, the facility was placed on lockdown after a prisoner who had recently returned from Liberia began to experience medical problems. He was transported to a hospital in Trenton and the lockdown was lifted later that morning. Leusner asserted that “All prior reports concerning Ebola were completely false.” Boonin echoed the state official, saying, “No Ebola tests were ordered and none were warranted.”
New York: Eric Drake, a psychic from Texas, is suing the state of New York for $100,000, claiming he was not compensated for providing information that led to the capture of two high-profile escapees from the Clinton Correctional Facility. Drake’s lawsuit, filed on October 26, 2015, alleges that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo violated a “tweeted written contract” which offered a cash reward for information leading to the apprehension of escapees Richard Matt and David Sweat. Drake claimed that he called the governor’s office and provided predictions that were “right on point,” but that no one would tell him how to claim the reward. Matt was shot and killed by police on June 26, 2015 while Sweat was captured two days later near the Canadian border.
New York: On October 25, 2015, the anniversary of the day the first penitentiary was established in the United States, anti-prison activist and artist Lech Szporer donned a prison uniform and handcuffs and welded himself into a cage that was placed in front of the Manhattan Detention Complex. Szporer stated in a press release that he was “staging this disruption because the scandal of mass criminalization, incarceration, and neglect in America is horrific, inhumane, and an issue of grave urgency.” He refused to speak to passersby, instead handing out cards that read, “Hello my name is Lech Szporer. This is an art performance. Nothing against you but the system needs to change. I’m not talking without my attorney.” Three police officers with a saw removed Szoporer from the cage. They then exchanged his handcuffs with their own, and charged him with obstructing governmental administration, disorderly conduct, obstructing traffic and creating hazardous conditions.
New York: Former Rikers Island jail complex guard Austin Romain was sentenced on October 13, 2015 to nearly 3½ years in prison after being convicted of smuggling marijuana and other contraband into maximum-security units in exchange for bribes. Romain and another Rikers guard, Khalif Phillips, were first charged in 2013 after a two-year investigation into an illicit contraband distribution ring at the jail. Phillips was sentenced to 36 months in prison on drug charges in September 2015. PLN previously reported Romain and Phillips’ bribery scheme. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.1].
Ohio: Warren County jail prisoner Terry Froman has filed at least 93 medical complaints and 59 prisoner requests during his year-long detention while awaiting trial on capital murder charges. Sheriff Larry Sims said jail staff had addressed Froman’s complaints on numerous occasions, and that the average prisoner only submits 10 to 12 complaints or requests during their jail stay. At a September 1, 2015 pre-trial hearing, Froman’s attorneys informed Warren County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Kirby that Froman was having “issues” with lack of medical care, availability of diabetic food and the need for better grooming opportunities. The judge instructed a deputy to alert jail officials to Froman’s complaints.
Ohio: On September 2, 2015, a Columbus FoxNews affiliate reported that four Franklin County jail employees, including a supervisor, were disciplined for mistakenly releasing a prisoner in June 2015. Quanetta James, serving time for theft and burglary, was supposed to have been transferred to the custody of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Instead, jailers set her free. The mistake went unnoticed for two months until ODRC officials called the jail looking for James. Sheriff Zach Scott said a criminal investigation was immediately launched, but no deliberate wrongdoing was found.
Oklahoma: Alyson Frances Posey, a former guard at the Corrections Corporation of America-operated Cimarron Correctional Facility, was sentenced on September 28, 2015 to five years’ probation after pleading guilty to smuggling contraband tobacco into the prison for prisoner Reeco Cole. Posey was ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and follow-up, perform community service, pay fines of $425 and maintain employment as conditions of her deferred sentence. She had reportedly also given nude photos of herself to Cole. [See: PLN, July 2014, p.56].
Oklahoma: Disgraced former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Ken Holtzclaw, 29, was convicted of 18 sexual crimes, including rape, following a six-week trial that ended in December 2015. He had targeted minority victims as young as 17 in impoverished communities. A report filed by his last victim, Jannie Ligons, resulted in an investigation and Holtzclaw’s prosecution. Initially released on house arrest, he twice violated the terms of his release conditions and his bond was revoked prior to trial. Holtzclaw was sentenced on January 21, 2016 to 263 years in prison.
Pennsylvania: Robert Wray, convicted of conspiring with a Lehigh County prison doctor to defraud government agencies, was sentenced on October 2, 2015 to four years in prison. The Utah man helped Dr. Dennis Erik Fluck Von Kiel evade medical school debt and income taxes through a series of limited liability companies. Von Kiel worked as a doctor of osteopathy for private prison healthcare firm PrimeCare Medical, Inc. from 2004 until his firing in 2013 due to the federal investigation. He was sentenced in April 2015 to 41 months in prison.
Pennsylvania: Corizon, one of the largest prison medical profiteers, was sent packing from its health care contract at the Allegheny County jail on September 1, 2015. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.20]. That same day, a group of protesters staged a demonstration in front of the jail to mourn the eleven people who had died during Corizon’s two-year management of healthcare at the facility. Before the vigil, activist Julia Johnson with the Allegheny County Jail Health Justice Project delivered a petition with more than 1,700 signatures calling for the resignation of Warden Orlando Harper for failure to uphold healthcare standards.
Rwanda: According to a September 3, 2015 report by Zeenews, an Indian website, the Gitarama Prison in Rwanda is quite possibly the most dangerous in the world. In a living nightmare for the estimated 6-7,000 prisoners held at the facility, which was designed for 600, lethal fights are frequent. Reports state that at least 7-8 prisoners die each day, and there have been reports of cannibalism. Most of the prisoners are barefoot and suffer from gangrene due to standing room only conditions on the wet and filthy ground. Prisoners receive one meal a day; one prisoner was quoted as saying, “This is not a prison, it is a tomb.” Human rights organizations have condemned the abysmal conditions at the facility, to no avail.
Tennessee: On October 14, 2015, Criminal Court Judge Seth Norman delayed sentencing 36-year-old Mary Williams on theft and official misconduct charges until he could determine whether she had the ability to repay the $216,000 she stole. Williams had worked for the state Department of Correction between 2010 and 2014 at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville. During her tenure as a clerk overseeing prisoner trust accounts, Williams made false deposits into prisoners’ accounts and then wrote checks to be deposited in outside bank accounts she controlled. Judge Norman directed Williams’ attorney to draft a payment plan to review at a later court date.
Tennessee: Sumner County jail prisoner Paul Smith, 21, was charged on October 29, 2015 with making a false report after telling guards that his cellmate had forced him to perform a sex act. According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, jailers saw two prisoners engaged in sexual activity; they were separated, and Smith claimed that he had been assaulted. An internal investigation, however, determined that the sexual activity was consensual. Smith was formally charged while still incarcerated at the jail, where he was being held for failure to appear and a probation violation.
Texas: A federal grand jury indicted Leticia Martinez Garza on October 14, 2015 for having sex with a federal prisoner while she was employed by the GEO Group at the company’s privately-managed Val Verde Correctional Facility. Garza had worked as the supervisor of laundry, property and supply services at the prison. She is accused of having a sexual relationship with a prisoner between May and September 2014; if convicted, she faces up to 15 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.
Texas: Harris County jail guard Tronoski Jones died of a heart attack on August 20, 2015 during an altercation with a combative prisoner at the 1200 Baker Street Jail. Jones’ death was due to natural causes, according to the coroner’s office, but the incident is being treated as a homicide investigation. A Sheriff’s Department spokesman said there was no indication of outward injury from the altercation with the prisoner, who was not identified. Jones, 26, had been a jailer for almost four years.
Texas: Although former judge Tim Wright asked for “compassion and understanding” when he was sentenced on August 14, 2015, his guilty plea to illegal gun dealing netted him 18 months in federal prison and three years’ probation. Wright, who had served as a Court-at-Law Judge in Williamson County, blamed the possible onset of dementia for his decision to sell some 60 guns without a federal firearms license. Dozens of those weapons were smuggled into Mexico by two of his buyers. According to the indictment filed against Wright, ATF agents confronted him about proper licensing and he agreed to stop selling firearms until he had a license. He later completed ATF forms falsely stating he was the actual buyer of two guns intended for others. Wright resigned from his position on the bench and voluntarily surrendered his law license.
United Kingdom: On September 30, 2015, Stephen Hargreaves, 53, was found guilty in absentia of three counts of sexual assault against two young men after refusing to attend his own trial. Court Recorder Ian Lawrie justified holding the trial in absentia because Hargreaves wouldn’t leave the Exeter Prison where he was being held without having a cigarette; he claimed jail staff had violated his human rights by refusing him tobacco. Hargreaves will soon have to adjust to imprisonment without a nicotine fix, as government officials have announced that smoking will be banned in all U.K. prisons in 2016.
United Kingdom: Douglas Ward, 26, missed four roll calls each day when he escaped from the North Sea Camp Prison in Lincolnshire, but prison officials did not notice his absence. His escape might have gone undiscovered even longer were it not for Facebook. After Ward left the prison he checked into a luxury hotel with his wife. During their two-day stay, the couple made some complaints to the hotel manager, who became suspicious. He checked Facebook, found that Ward’s status was listed as a “serving prisoner” and then alerted authorities. On September 30, 2015, Ward was sentenced to an additional 15 months in prison for the escape.
Virginia: Jamycheal Mitchell, a mentally ill 24-year-old, was arrested in April 2015 for stealing about $5 worth of snacks – a Snickers bar, a 2-liter Mountain Dew soda and a Zebra cake – from a 7-Eleven. He was jailed on a $3,000 bond. Unable to make bail and adjudicated incompetent to stand trial, Mitchell was ordered to the care of “qualified staff” at Eastern State Hospital. He was never transferred to the hospital, however, because no beds were available. On August 19, 2015, Mitchell was found without a pulse in a feces- and urine-contaminated cell at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail. He had lost nearly 40 pounds since his arrest and one of his legs was swollen to an “elephant-like” size. Despite the overwhelming evidence of neglect, Mitchell’s death was ruled to have resulted from “natural causes.”