Arizona: On December 3, 2015, Brama Koroma walked into a Westwood bar wearing a black-and-white striped Maricopa County jail uniform that he had purchased online. Krystina Smith was at the bar and thought it was a delayed Halloween costume. “He was acting normal,” she said. Phoenix police arrived at the bar and confronted Koroma after receiving multiple disturbance calls. He responded with threats that he would stab the responding officers and blow up the building. Police mistook Koroma’s handheld vaporizer for a hand grenade, and a physical altercation ensued. Koroma was arrested on two counts of aggravated assault, though at least he was appropriately dressed when he was booked into jail.
Arizona: The Associated Press reported on October 23, 2015 that it had obtained documents which confirmed Arizona officials were caught trying to illegally import a shipment of lethal injection drugs to be used in executions. In July, federal officials had confiscated $27,000 worth of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic no longer approved by the FDA for use in executions, from a British Airways flight at the Phoenix airport. Arizona Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder protested that action, saying, “The department is contesting FDA’s legal authority to continue to withhold the state’s execution chemicals.” Despite a pledge by state prison officials not to use the lethal injection drugs without court approval, the FDA has refused to budge.
Arkansas: A former prison chaplain turned himself in on December 21, 2015 to face 50 counts of sexual assault. Kenneth Dewitt, 66, is accused of coercing three female prisoners at the McPherson Correctional Facility to have sexual relationships with him. In 2013, while the alleged assaults were occurring, Dewitt received the Arkansas Department of Correction’s “Employee of the Year” award. All three victims described similar patterns to the sexual misconduct, which continued until Dewitt’s retirement from the prison system in 2014.
California: Defense attorney David Cohn, 51, admitted to altering a client’s psychological report to make it more favorable, and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years of informal probation on November 9, 2015. He also will be required to make a $10,000 donation to the Victim Witness Emergency Fund and pay a $1,000 fine. Cohn admitted that he tried to get a better plea deal for his client, Carmen Sanchez-Flores, by submitting the falsified document to Senior Deputy District Attorney Jess Rodriguez, then entering it as evidence when the case went to trial without informing the psychologist who prepared it. Sanchez-Flores was convicted and sentenced to 36 years to life in prison.
California: On October 19, 2015, a federal judge sentenced former DEA special agent Carl Mark Force IV to 78 months in prison and ordered him to pay $340,000 in restitution after the undercover officer pleaded guilty to stealing digital currency from both the government and the target of his investigation. Force had been assigned to investigate the black market website Silk Road, known for online illegal drug sales, but sold information about the investigation to Silk Road’s mastermind, Ross Ulbricht. He also extorted Bitcoin worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from Ulbricht. At sentencing, Judge Richard Seeborg said, “The extent and the scope of Mr. Force’s betrayal of public trust is quite simply breathtaking. It is compounded by the fact that it appears to have been motivated by greed and thrill-seeking, including the pursuit of a book and movie deal.” Ulbricht was convicted and received a life sentence in May 2015.
Canada: On November 13, 2015, The Canadian Press reported that approximately 30 pre-trial detainees had begun a hunger strike at the Calgary Remand Centre to bring attention to alleged mistreatment and unhygienic practices at the facility. The prisoners claimed they were allowed only one change of clothing per week, and also complained about small food portions that lacked protein. Unfair gang classifications and resulting restrictions on privileges were also concerns raised by the hunger strikers. Hersh Wolch, a defense attorney for one of the prisoners participating in the protest, said, “The one thing to be kept in mind is that you have people here who are presumed innocent.”
China: Gao Yulun and Wang Damin were sentenced to death on November 13, 2015 and Li Haiwei received a life sentence after the trio were convicted on murder and escape charges. Gao was already on death row and Wang and Li both faced assault charges when they killed a guard at a jail in Yanshou County and escaped wearing police uniforms. According to media reports, the escape made national headlines after police launched a massive manhunt. Jailbreaks are uncommon in China.
Colombia: On November 13, 2015, reports began to surface that approximately 300 imprisoned members of FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) had started a hunger strike to demand medical attention for jailed comrades suffering from open wounds, fractured bones and serious illnesses. The protesting FARC members were being held in 13 facilities across the country and claimed their fellow insurgents were injured in combat and had not received medical care since their detention. The hunger strikers demanded the release of the sickest prisoners, saying they were not fit for combat and no longer posed a threat to the state. Around 1,500 FARC members are reportedly imprisoned in Colombia.
Delaware: The state Department of Justice has declined to file charges against Sussex Correctional Institution guards responsible for the death of prisoner Ronald Shoup in 2014. In a 10-page opinion issued on December 15, 2015, Attorney General Matt Denn’s office said that while two autopsies found Shoup’s death was a homicide, it would be hard to prove criminal intent. Shoup died in February 2014 after he became combative and guards used a shield to hit him, then crushed his body by piling on top of him. His family has filed a civil rights suit and called for policy changes.
Egypt: On October 26, 2015, Reda Marey, a prisoners’ rights lawyer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, spoke out against new amendments to laws that he claimed would open the door to physical punishment of prisoners and provide legal cover for violence committed against prisoners by prison staff. “The phrasing is too vague,” he said. The amended laws also offer some improvements, including special provisions for prisoners who are pregnant or mothers of young children; however, Marey noted, “there are no guarantees that the positive aspects of these amendments would be actually implemented.”
Florida: A guard employed at the South Bay Correctional Facility, operated by The GEO Group, faces aggravated assault charges after pulling a gun on a woman who cut him off in traffic. Kevin Rogers was arrested on December 10, 2015, nearly two months after he threatened the woman and her child during a road rage incident. Rogers also worked on a temporary basis as the school resource officer at a local elementary school. His attorney said it makes no sense to believe Rogers was carrying a gun at the time of the alleged crime, as neither of his jobs allow him to have a firearm in his vehicle.
Florida: On December 11, 2015, a St. Lucie County sheriff’s detention deputy was arrested on three counts of sexual activity with a minor after a 17-year-old male victim identified him as the man he had met on a dating app for multiple sexual encounters. According to the arrest report, the victim admitted to Deputy Richard Akeem Henry that he had lied about his age when they become involved, and that Henry told him he had had sex with 17-year-olds before. Following his arrest, Henry was placed on unpaid administrative leave.
Florida: In July 2014, on-duty Pinellas County deputy Michael Szeliga showed up “staggeringly drunk” to accept an award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). On November 9, 2015, a 274-page Pinellas County internal affairs investigation was released which documented that incident. According to the investigation, the “wasted” Szeliga was intercepted by Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent before he entered the banquet area where 200 other invited guests had gathered. That led to “disrespectful” words and a call to Szeliga’s supervisor, who blocked the deputy’s entry to the ceremony. What punishment did Szeliga receive for disrespecting the MADD conference attendees and embarrassing his department? He was suspended for eight hours and ordered to write a letter of apology to Chief Vincent. The county also proceeded with a planned promotion for Szeliga, who is now a detective.
Florida: Patrick Rempe, 24, was high on the synthetic drug “flakka” on December 15, 2015 when he decided to visit some friends at the Indian River County Jail. He drove his car into the entrance of the building, then turned the vehicle around and crashed it into a nearby fence. Rempe was injured when he became entangled by razor wire as he tried to climb the fence to get into the jail. The sheriff’s office posted photos of Rempe’s damaged car and of Rempe trapped by razor wire on its Facebook page. “This is what drugs do to you,” said Indian River County Sheriff Deryl Loar. Rempe was charged with felony criminal mischief, aggravated assault and battery on a law enforcement officer, leaving the scene of an accident with property damage and driving under the influence.
Georgia: “It was like being in a bad dream, except you know you’re not dreaming,” said Timothy Johnson, referring to the 29 years he spent at the Georgia State Prison and Houston County jail after being maliciously prosecuted and intimidated into entering a guilty plea for a murder he did not commit. On November 9, 2015, Johnson filed a federal lawsuit alleging Warner Robins police officers and Houston County sheriff’s deputies had arrested him without probable cause in 1984. According to the suit, law enforcement officers extracted Johnson’s guilty plea by threatening him with the death penalty and filing false charges against his parents. Further, after his arrest, Johnson said he was removed from a solitary confinement cell and taken to a remote location where he was dangled from a bridge. Johnson’s conviction was overturned in 2006 by the Georgia Supreme Court; it took seven more years for his retrial, where a jury found him not guilty on all charges.
Georgia: In October 2015, a Chatham County Superior Court jury acquitted ex-deputy Jason Kenny of involuntary manslaughter, instead handing down a lesser conviction of cruelty to an inmate for Kenny’s role in the “sadistic” death of 21-year-old Mathew Ajibade. Ajibade died on January 1, 2015 in his cell at the Chatham County Jail shortly after Kenny shocked him four times with a Taser while he was immobilized in a restraint chair. On November 6, 2015, Judge James Bass sentenced Kenny to one month in jail, to be served on weekends, plus three years of probation. Two other jail employees, Maxine Evans and Gregory Brown, were also spared harsh sentences for their roles in Ajibade’s death; Evans received six years of probation plus 350 hours of community service, while Brown received a three-year suspended sentence. Ajibade’s cousin, Chris Oladapo, was critical of prosecutors over the case. “These three people are just pawns, and those in leadership who are most culpable will be left unpunished,” he stated.
Hawaii: The Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) has a recurring problem with bedbugs. On November 5, 2015, the Hawaii Department of Public Safety cordoned off Module 20 at the facility to conduct tent fumigation of the entire area. Up to 120 prisoners were relocated to the Laumaka Work Furlough Center while the three-day intensive treatment was completed. Director of Public Safety Nolan Espinda said the tenting was done as a preventative measure instead of waiting to see if spot treatments such as spraying and mattress replacements would work. The jail was last tented in May 2014.
Indiana: In mid-January 2016, the Indiana Board of Animal Health called on a work crew of prisoners from the Indiana Department of Corrections for the disagreeable, distasteful and potentially dangerous task of euthanizing 60,000 turkeys. Last year Indiana officials approved an emergency response strategy that calls for the use of prison labor in rural areas where workers are scarce and immediate manpower is needed. Workers from multiple state agencies joined the prisoners in donning hazmat suits after H7N8 bird flu was confirmed to be the cause of death for several hundred turkeys at a farm in Southern Indiana, requiring the extermination of the rest of the flock. The “depopulation” efforts began quickly and the birds were killed by mass suffocation using a government-approved foaming procedure. “This finding of highly pathogenic H7N8 is unique to Indiana and the nation,” noted Indiana state veterinarian Bret D. Marsh. Officials with the U. S. Department of Agriculture have said the virus has no known effect on humans.
Indonesia: On November 11, 2015, Indonesia’s top anti-drug chief, Budi Waseso, announced a proposal to build a special island prison for criminals sentenced to death under the nation’s tough anti-drug laws. Waseso’s plan includes stocking the island with man-eating crocodiles. The Guardian quoted him as saying, “You can’t bribe crocodiles. You can’t convince them to let inmates escape. We will place as many crocodiles as we can there. I will search for the most ferocious type of crocodile.” According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Waseso also suggested floating food packages to the island and leaving prisoners to mostly fend for themselves.
Michigan: The death of a man jailed in Macomb County for owing $772 in unpaid traffic fines has spurred both an FBI investigation and a request from the American Civil Liberties Union for authorities to look into the sentencing practices that led to his incarceration. David Stojcevski died on June 27, 2014, 16 days after being booked into the Macomb County Jail to serve a 30-day sentence. He was found naked in an isolation cell and had lost 50 pounds at the time of his death. Stojcevski’s estate filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the jail and its private medical provider, Correct Care Solutions, in March 2015. Taking the position that Stojcevski’s sentence was illegal, the ACLU said in an October 19, 2015 letter that his death was an “incomprehensible tragedy.”
Michigan: Prisoners at the Kent County Jail were the beneficiaries of a computer glitch that caused a vending machine at the facility to give out around $500 in snacks over a weeklong period. The problem was discovered on November 5, 2015 after an accountant noticed discrepancies in commissary accounts. Kent County Undersheriff Michelle Young explained that when prisoners purchased multiple vending items, the machine only charged them for the first item and, in many cases, refunded money that had not been spent. Young said the prisoners will likely be required to pay back the funds.
New Hampshire: On November 12, 2015, prison cook Charles Hanson, 49, was arrested and charged with felony delivery of articles to prisoners. Hanson was caught trying to bring a large amount of drugs, valued at $67,000, into the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility in Berlin. According to state police, who did not identify the type of drugs Hanson allegedly smuggled, he became the subject of a “lengthy investigation” after a tip was received. State Police commander Lt. Gary A. Prince said more arrests may follow. Hanson was released on his own recognizance following his arrest; he had worked at the prison since 2004.
New Mexico: In a federal lawsuit filed on December 11, 2015, the family of Joseph Barela claimed that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) allowed Barela access to drugs and ignored signs that he was suicidal. Barela died in a solitary confinement cell at the CCA-operated Torrance County Detention Facility in 2013. His family alleges in the suit that the company failed to prevent Barela from obtaining heroin and didn’t provide proper psychiatric care before he hanged himself with a bed sheet.
New York: A high school teaching assistant from Syracuse was arrested on felony promoting prison contraband and misdemeanor drug possession charges after she attempted to smuggle cocaine and heroin into the Onondaga County Justice Center. Precious Worrell went to visit a prisoner at the jail on November 10, 2015 and was arrested after staff discovered four small balloon baggies of drugs concealed within her clothing. Worrell was jailed overnight and arraigned the next morning; her bond was set at $10,000.
New York: On October 6, 2015, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Eduardo Padro overturned the murder conviction of Johnny Hincapie and ordered a new trial based on testimony from witnesses who said Hincapie was not at the scene of the crime. Hincapie, who had always maintained his innocence, served 25 years after being wrongfully convicted for taking part in the subway robbery and murder of a tourist in 1990. His conviction was overturned following an investigation by York College journalism professor Bill Hughes and former State Parole Board Chairman Robert Dennison. Judge Padro initially ordered Hincapie to remain in custody at the Rikers Island jail with a $1 bond pending retrial, as he would face deportation if released.
New Zealand: Prime Minister John Key came under fire for appearing to make light of prison rape during an appearance on a radio show on December 16, 2015. Key played along with a request from the radio hosts to be locked in a cage. Once he was inside, host Tom Furniss dropped a bar of soap and asked Key to pick it up. Furniss then said, “You’ve got a pretty little mouth, Prime Minister,” referencing rape both in prison and as depicted in “Deliverance,” a 1972 movie starring Burt Reynolds. “The [Prime Minister] playing along with rape jokes makes it very clear how little regard he has for changing the law around sexual violence,” tweeted Deborah Russell, a feminist commentator.
Oklahoma: Prisoner Vincent “Venom” Delmarco Berry is facing an additional 20-year minimum sentence after being caught in October 2015 with a contraband cell phone at the CCA-operated Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing. He was charged with the felony offense on November 9, 2015. Even if convicted, however, that stiff sentence is unlikely to be a deterrent because Berry is already serving three consecutive life terms plus 60 years for his role in a 2008 quadruple drive-by shooting.
Oklahoma: On October 8, 2015, the Oklahoman reported that an autopsy had revealed the use of an incorrect drug during the execution of prisoner Charles Frederick Warner on January 15, 2015. According to the coroner’s report, potassium acetate was used as the final drug administered to stop Warner’s heart rather than potassium chloride as required under Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ protocol. “It is imperative that the attorney general obtain the information he needs to make sure justice is served competently and fairly. Until we have complete confidence in the system, we will delay any further executions,” Governor Mary Fallin said in an email to the Oklahoman.
Pennsylvania: Allegheny County jail guard Joshua Reber was arrested as he arrived for work on December 2, 2015 and charged with felony institutional sexual assault. County police said two female prisoners had confirmed allegations that each had been involved in a sexual relationship with Reber. Both women were held in Pod 4D, where Reber was assigned, and each reported receiving special privileges in return for the sexual activity. Reber was fired following his arrest.
Pennsylvania: Prisoners at the Lackawanna County Prison are being offered $3.00 per day to work as “tier walkers” – trustees who help to ensure their fellow prisoners do not commit suicide. Since the program’s inception in November 2015, 78 prisoners have served to fill in the gaps between guards’ routine checks in units where a rash of suicides occurred between June and October 2014. “They walk around to the other cells and make sure everybody is OK. It’s just a little peer assistance,” said Warden Robert McMillan. “If somebody is walking around, it gives them someone to talk to if they’re in the cell alone.... It occupies their time.” Commissioner Patrick O’Malley, who was previously a guard at the Lackawanna facility, said he proposed the “tier walker” system after a similar program had been successful following a previous series of suicides. “It’s another set of eyes,” he stated. More than one in five prisoners at the county prison – 205 of about 957 – reportedly received psychiatric services in November 2015.
Philippines: On October 8, 2015, a second fire in two years ravaged the Leyte Regional Prison in Leyte province, destroying a maximum-security dormitory and killing ten prisoners. Bureau of Corrections spokesman Robert Olaguer said the fire may have been caused by faulty wiring installed after the building had previously burned in 2013. Leyte Prison is so notoriously overcrowded and has such poor conditions that the Bureau of Corrections website admits the prison is “often below par” compared to other facilities. Olaguer released no other details about the fire and said a senior prison official would investigate.
Russia: Video surveillance footage surfaced in December 2015 that showed guards at a prison in the city of Yelets abusing a prisoner by smashing a cell phone against his head with a mallet. The prisoner is seen with the phone balanced on his helmeted head. A guard approaches, then smashes a wooden mallet down onto the phone, shattering it. The prisoner is seen clutching his head in agony while surrounding staff members laugh. The video was turned over to local police, who warned prison officials that such brutality must cease. The main suspects were suspended from their jobs after admitting to the abuse following an internal probe.
Tennessee: On December 10, 2015, a prisoner at the privately-operated CCA Silverdale Detention Facility in Chattanooga was charged with sexually assaulting two fellow female prisoners. Nichole Jackson, 22, allegedly put her gloved hands inside the genitalia of the other women, saying she was searching them for hidden contraband tobacco. The prisoners said the incidents happened inside a restroom at the facility and that Jackson had threatened them with violence. The Chattanooga Rape Crisis Center examined the women and found evidence they had been sexually assaulted.
Tennessee: PLN previously reported that a Tennessee woman, Dallas Archer, was discovered to be concealing a loaded gun in her vagina when she was booked into the jail in Kingsport in 2014. [See: PLN, Jan. 2015, p.56]. On November 20, 2015, Archer, now 21, was sentenced for bringing contraband into a penal facility. She will serve three years in prison, plus two years of probation and community service. Archer’s attorney, Daniel Cantwell, told reporters he still has no idea why his client was packing heat in her privates. “I have never got an answer for that. I don’t know. I think it’s just because she was high,” he said.
Texas: Three former guards at the LaSalle Corrections-operated Jack Harwell Detention Center were indicted on charges that they altered jail records to cover up their failure to perform cell checks in the hours surrounding the suicide death of prisoner Michael A. Martinez. Former guards Michael Wayne Crittenden, 24, Milton Edward Walker, 33, and Christopher David Simpson, 24, were arrested in November 2015 after video surveillance revealed they did not conduct mandatory rounds to observe prisoners who were known to be mentally ill or suicidal. Each faces a charge of felony tampering with government records; if convicted they could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Texas: In a San Antonio courtroom on October 26, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia openly scolded the warden of a facility run by private prison operator The GEO Group over accusations that prisoners were not receiving adequate health care. “Your company gets millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars and we should get quality care,” Judge Garcia sternly noted as he announced that a hearing would be held to answer questions about medical care at the Central Texas Detention Facility. The warden had admitted that a doctor was only available at the prison Monday through Thursday. The day before Judge Garcia’s tirade, federal judge Fred Biery had lashed out at the same GEO-run facility, saying he believes some of the problems are because the prison is privately-operated.
Texas: Former probation official Selena Ball was sentenced on November 12, 2015 to eight years in prison for helping to operate a drug trafficking ring within the Dallas County Jail. Ball had pleaded guilty in April 2015 as one of 11 people indicted in connection with the large cocaine distribution operation. Prosecutors said Ball was assigned to electronically monitor a probationer, but instead became romantically involved with him and failed to report his violations. The probationer also pleaded guilty in the drug trafficking case.
United Kingdom: An Oakwood Prison guard who plotted with a prisoner to smuggle in the steroid-like substance creatine for £300 was sentenced on November 14, 2015 to a year and nine months in prison himself. Matthew Taylor, 23, an ex-Royal Marine, had worked for private prison operator G4S for three years. He conspired with “career criminal” Mark Clarke to contact Donna Duffus, Clarke’s partner on the outside, to arrange the exchange of money and contraband. The plot never materialized, but Taylor’s calls to Duffus were recorded and used as evidence of the conspiracy. Clarke received a 30-month sentence for his role in the smuggling scheme, while Duffus was sentenced to a 12-month community order.
United Kingdom: Legendary musician David Gilmour, most well known as the lead singer and guitarist for the band Pink Floyd, drew inspiration for his fourth and latest solo album from his experience as the parent of an incarcerated son. Although Charlie Gilmour served only four months behind bars, the elder Gilmour said, “Visiting your child in jail and seeing him in a prison grey tracksuit is not an experience I would ever recommend for any parent. I can only describe it as deeply depressing.” The album’s title track, entitled “Rattle that Lock,” features the voices of The Liberty Choir – a group of soon-to-be released prisoners from Wandsworth Prison. As of October 6, 2015, the album was ranked number one on the UK music charts.
United Kingdom: A former guard at Addiewell Prison is facing jail time after being caught trying to smuggle a cell phone and drugs into the maximum-security facility in her vagina. Alison McGuire had previously quit her prison job to marry convicted armed robber James McGuire after she became romantically involved with him. During a visit with her husband, guards noticed she was walking oddly. A drug-sniffing dog alerted to her crotch and she was transported to a hospital for an internal examination. On the way to the hospital, Alison admitted that she had the phone and £800 in cannabis resin inside her body, and asked for the police car to be stopped because she was in discomfort and needed to remove it. She was sentenced on December 21, 2015 to a year in prison.
Virginia: Frank E. Blake, Jr. claimed he didn’t realize he was committing a crime, but on December 15, 2015 he received a five-year sentence for bigamy after two of his wives visited him while he was jailed on an unrelated charge. When the women tried to visit Blake it was discovered that he had not divorced his second wife before marrying his third. Further investigation determined that he didn’t divorce his first wife before marrying the second one, either. Blake was ordered to serve 18 months in prison with the remaining 3½ years suspended; his attorney said he has mental health and substance abuse problems.
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