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News in Brief

Arizona: On October 28, 2015, Maricopa County youth detention guard Patrice Dawson was arrested on felony charges of sexual misconduct. Dawson, who supervised juvenile offenders, was accused of having sexual relations with an underage prisoner; she was fired from the department after confessing to the relationship. In a statement, Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections officials said they “take the safety of our youth very seriously and enforce a zero tolerance policy for misconduct.”

Brazil: Around 40 prisoners fled from the Frei Damião de Bozanno jail in Recife after a bomb exploded and ripped a gaping hole in the external wall of the compound on January 25, 2016. Two escapees were killed and all but one of the others were quickly captured. The bold escape was caught on surveillance video footage, which showed a desperate surge of prisoners scaling a razor wire fence and running into the streets. A second mass breakout occurred earlier in the week in the same area, when 53 prisoners fled from the Professor Barreto Campelo prison near Recife.

California: Richard Alex Williams was acquitted of first-degree murder and attempted murder charges on November 2, 2015, but state prison and Sacramento County jail officials refused to release him after the jury’s decision. Williams had been transferred to county custody to await retrial but was still considered a state prisoner. When he was found not guilty, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation authorities demanded that he be returned to the state prison in Lancaster to be processed out, which can take up to seven days. “An acquittal is an acquittal,” said Williams’ attorney, Victor Haltom. “Richard is no longer supposed to be in anybody’s custody. It’s an unlawful detention and the height of bureaucratic absurdity, not to mention a terrible waste of the taxpayers’ money.”

California: Former prisoner Arthur Salgado filed a lawsuit against Santa Clara County, Dr. Sanjay Agarwal, and nurses Nancy Smith, Benedick Coronel and Liberty Forenza on January 18, 2016. The suit alleges Eighth Amendment violations and abuse of a dependent person, and claims medical negligence resulted in the amputation of Salgado’s right leg. He was serving less than a month at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas when a blister on his foot became infected. A diabetic, Salgado had experienced previous issues with foot wounds and repeatedly sought medical care. Eight days after reporting the blister, he was hospitalized and underwent four separate surgeries, eventually losing his leg below the knee.

California: Lawrence Phillips, a former NFL running back who was serving a 31-year sentence on multiple charges, was found unresponsive in his cell at Kern Valley State Prison on January 13, 2016. His death was ruled a suicide. Philips, 40, a member of the 1994 national champion Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, finished eighth in Heisman Trophy voting. He later played for the Rams, the Miami Dolphins, the San Francisco 49ers and two Canadian Football League teams. Phillips’ former coach at Nebraska, Tom Osborne, said he was saddened to hear the news about his former player. “I saw the potential,” he stated. “Lawrence obviously had some demons that were never completely put to rest.”

Canada: On January 7, 2016, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police charged a former guard at the Southeast Regional Correctional Centre in Shediac, New Brunswick with two counts of committing an indecent act. Christien Robichaud, 29, was fired in October 2015 after two female guards at the facility complained that he had masturbated in front of them. Robichaud appeared in court on January 14, 2016 and was ordered not to have any contact with the victims; he was expected to enter a plea at a later date.

Delaware: A crowd of around 40 protestors accompanied Jermaine Wright on a march from his home in Wilmington to his attorney’s office in the city’s central business district on January 15, 2016. Wright, who had been freed from Delaware’s death row in February 2015 after serving 24 years, was ordered back to prison by the state Supreme Court to face a retrial on murder charges from 1991. Earlier in the week, the high court had overturned a lower court’s decision to toss a videotaped confession from Wright that served as a linchpin for the state’s case against him. Wright’s attorney, Herbert Mondros, addressed the crowd, saying, “Jermaine Wright is an innocent man who has already spent more than 20 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. Today is the day he has to turn himself in and face the charges. We look forward to proving his innocence.”

Florida: On December 21, 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga granted a petition from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that would allow involuntary medical intervention and force feeding for seven detainees from Bangladesh who claimed they were at risk of being killed if deported. The detainees staged a hunger strike in protest, and had not eaten for three weeks. “We would rather die here,” said 21-year-old Abdul Awal. Dr. Dalian Caaraballo, a staff physician at the Krome Detention Facility where the men were being held, said they had each lost up to 15% of their body weight since beginning the hunger strike.

Florida: Jo Ellen Marie Gardner, a 32-year-old employee of the G4S Youth Services-operated Fort Myers Youth Academy, was arrested on December 17, 2015 and charged with felony distributing obscene material to a minor. Gardner resigned at the onset of the investigation, which was spurred by the discovery of explicit text messages and nude photos of her on a cell phone owned by a former juvenile prisoner. Gardner initially denied any inappropriate behavior, but later admitted to kissing the teen and sending him the pictures and text messages. G4S is cooperating with the investigation, though a spokeswoman noted that the incident occurred after the juvenile had been released from the program.

Florida: On December 29, 2015, a former nurse at the Union Correctional Institution was arrested for falsifying or altering records and fraud in obtaining prescription drugs. Prison healthcare contractor Corizon fired Lloyd Collins in November 2015, according to records released by the Florida Department of Corrections. According to the arrest warrant, Collins “did knowingly cause a prescription for a medicinal drug ... to be falsely made or altered.” The criminal investigation was conducted by the FDOC’s Office of Inspector General with assistance from the State Attorney’s Office in the 8th Judicial Circuit.

Georgia: Andre Pope was working as a Bibb County jail guard when his childhood friend, Ashley Brown, was incarcerated at the facility while awaiting trial on a murder charge. That friendship led to Pope being sentenced on January 29, 2016 to a ten-year prison term, suspended to three years, for smuggling two cell phones to Brown. Brown gave one of the phones to gang member Deonte Kitchens, who used it from the jail to threaten witnesses and engage in a murder conspiracy. Had Pope not pleaded guilty, District Attorney David Cooke said he planned to re-indict the case and add charges against him for violating the state’s anti-gang laws. Pope was sentenced as a first-time offender and will not have a felony record if he successfully completes his sentence.

Georgia: On January 12, 2016, U.S. Attorney John Horn announced the indictment of 17 people for their participation in a large-scale methamphetamine distribution ring. Three prisoners were included in the extensive bust, accused of using contraband smart phones to traffic drugs, smuggle in contraband, steal identities and, in at least one case, arrange a violent attack on another prisoner suspected of snitching. According to the indictment, prisoners Francisco Palacios Baras, Johnathan Corey McLoon and Christopher Wayne Hildebrand managed a network of brokers, distributors and runners using phones inside their cells in separate facilities. The indictment marked the third time in four months that federal prosecutors accused Georgia prisoners of running criminal enterprises with contraband phones.

Israel: A mob of Israeli officials, including soldiers and prison guards as well as police in and out of uniform, lynched a 29-year-old Eritrean refugee on October 18, 2015, beating and shooting him to death as security video caught the entire incident. Haftom Zarhum was killed by the mob, who mistook him for a gunman who had opened fire on a bus station in Bir al-Saba. As the lynching was taking place the real gunman began shooting again, but the crowd continued to savagely beat Zarhum and blocked medical responders from treating his injuries. Despite the video evidence, only four Israelis were criminally charged in connection with the incident.

Louisiana: PLN previously reported on misconduct by two former police chiefs, Gregory Dupuis and Robert McGee, in the small town of Mamou. [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, p.63]. Both faced criminal charges for separate incidents in which they used stun guns on jail prisoners who posed no threat. Dupuis pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in federal prison in 2015, while on January 14, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Richard T. Haik, Sr. sentenced McGee to prison for one year and a day.

Maryland: Retired Charles County judge Robert Nalley faces prison time after pleading guilty on February 1, 2016 to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law. The charge came as a result of Nalley’s July 2014 decision to order a sheriff’s deputy to activate electric shock “stun cuffs” worn by a criminal defendant during a hearing when the man spoke out of order. Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein noted that, in the case of disruptive courtroom defendants, “force may not be used in the absence of danger.” The former judge is expected to be sentenced to the prosecution’s recommended one year of probation. The charge carries a penalty of up to one year of incarceration, one year of supervised release and a $100,000 fine.

Maryland: In a case that the sentencing judge compared to the wildly popular television show “Breaking Bad,” a former federal police officer pleaded guilty and received a three-year prison term for blowing up an illegal meth lab he was operating inside a federal science laboratory. Christopher Bartley’s defense attorney claimed during the January 8, 2016 hearing that Bartley was conducting an “unauthorized experiment,” and wasn’t manufacturing meth for his personal use. U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messitte told Bartley there was a “certain craziness” to the matter before handing down the sentence.

Michigan: The secretary of a Muskegon-area prison guard union was arrested on January 29, 2016 for embezzling nearly $36,500 from the organization. In August 2015, Kimberlee Hooker, president of the local AFSCME chapter, discovered funds missing from the union’s account. She confronted secretary Kimberly Lynn Gue, who tearfully admitted to a check cashing scheme. With the union’s approval, Hooker offered Gue a repayment plan to give her a chance to “make things right.” Police were notified when Gue failed to uphold her end of the arrangement. She faces a felony charge of embezzlement by agent or trustee, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to three times the amount stolen.

Michigan: U.S. District Court Judge Paul Maloney dismissed a lawsuit filed by prisoner Iotonda Taylor against prison food contractor Aramark in December 2015. The suit claimed that food substitutions violated Taylor’s constitutional right to personal safety by causing a near-riot at the Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility on May 2, 2015. Prisoners were upset when Aramark ran out of waffles and served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead; Taylor claimed he was fearful that similar incidents would place him in harm’s way. In his 11-page order dismissing the case, Judge Maloney wrote, “While the situation may have been tense, Plaintiff fails to allege facts supporting his claim that he reasonably remains at substantial risk of serious injury from last-minute food substitutions.”

Michigan: On January 8, 2016, Michigan State Police confirmed that detectives had opened an investigation into a drug smuggling scheme at the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia. Although no criminal charges were filed at the time, an unnamed employee of food service contractor Trinity Services Group was fired. Police declined to release further information. Trinity Services Group took over food service at the prison after Michigan canceled its contract with Aramark following a slew of problems, including employee misconduct, maggot-infested serving lines and inadequate staffing. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.1].

Mississippi: Vasan Josea Oatis was employed by the Columbia Police Department when he had consensual sex with a female prisoner at the Marion-Walthall Correctional Facility in 2013. Oatis pleaded guilty to criminal sexual activity, and on January 31, 2016 he received a suspended five-year sentence. He will also serve a term of probation and is required to register as a sex offender. In addition to his law enforcement job, Oatis had served as the pastor of Walker’s Chapel Freewill Baptist Church since 2013.

Mississippi: Mississippi Department of Corrections officials announced on January 26, 2016 that a lockdown had been lifted at the South Mississippi Correctional Facility after an investigation into an attack on a prison guard. State officials offered no explanation as to the reason lockdowns were ongoing at two other facilities in the state. Bolivar County Regional Facility and Marshall County Correctional Facility are both operated by private contractors. Movement remained limited and privileges were suspended at the Bolivar County facility; the lockdown at Marshall County only applied to housing units Delta and Bravo.

New Hampshire: A former prison lieutenant pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in January 2016 and received a fine and two-year suspended sentence for slashing a prisoner’s shirt at a halfway house in Concord. Robert Gauthier was charged with three felonies for assaulting halfway house resident Roshun Austin by cutting a swatch of fabric out of his shirt and handing it to him to use as a cleaning rag. Gauthier was placed on paid leave at the time of the incident and later retired. Prosecutors were unable to sustain the felony charges because Austin absconded from parole and authorities could not locate him to testify. Two other guards, Gary Burke and Dennis Fitton, also were charged in connection with the incident but neither was convicted.

New Mexico: On October 20, 2015, a vehicle driven by an unnamed off-duty Corrections Corporation of America employee struck two off-duty CCA guards who routinely jogged together after their shifts ended at the Torrance County Detention Facility. Melvin Sharpe died from his injuries and the other guard was injured but expected to recover. Torrance County Sheriff Heath White said the driver had not been charged. “Right now we’re looking into a whole bunch of aspects of the investigation, so it’s still too early to say what direction we’re going,” he stated. CCA declined to comment.

New York: Jail nurse Chantiel Cox, 25, was charged on February 5, 2016 with promoting prison contraband and conspiracy following a six-week-long investigation into her smuggling activities at the Nassau County Correctional Facility. Cox faces seven years in prison if convicted of providing prisoners with synthetic marijuana and razors in exchange for cash. Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas told reporters, “It raises some serious concerns that need to be addressed about oversight at the jail and security at the jail. We have to make sure that visitors, correction officers, inmates are safe and that things like razor blades don’t make their way into the jail facility.”

North Carolina: On January 18, 2016, Wake County sheriff’s deputies charged 19-year-old John Gregory Crawford with obtaining property by false pretense, a felony. Crawford was incarcerated at the Wake County Jail in July 2015 when, the county alleges, he falsely translated information to a Spanish-speaking fellow prisoner and conned the man into giving him his Paytel account number and password. Crawford used that information to withdraw more than $3,100 from Rigoberto Estrella-Cruz’s jail account, then had a friend post his bond with the stolen funds. Crawford turned himself in and this time was held without bail.

Ohio: reported on January 6, 2016 that six prisoners at the nonprofit Oriana House residential treatment center were transported to an Akron-area hospital after a suspected overnight drug overdose. Officials from Oriana House said two of the men were treated and released and the other four held for evaluation. According to authorities, synthetic marijuana was the suspected source of the overdose. Treatment center staff responded to the incident by searching the facility, conducting pat-downs and restricting resident movement. “Like many jails and prisons that have recently reported overdoses, Oriana House is a community-based program and is not immune to drugs getting into our facilities,” said Bernie Rochford, Oriana’s executive vice-president.

Oklahoma: A former guard who worked for The GEO Group for more than 16 years filed suit against the company claiming he was improperly fired for complaining about an assault against a prisoner at the Lawton Correctional Facility. Leo “Allen” Ziembovic said in the lawsuit that he reported an incident in which a fellow guard repeatedly punched a prisoner in the face while the prisoner was restrained by several other guards. Two months after Ziembovic’s report was sent to a local prosecutor and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, The GEO Group placed him on unpaid suspension. He was formally terminated in January 2015. Ziembovic’s lawsuit, filed in November 2015, seeks compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees. “The termination of the plaintiff was retaliatory and in violation of Oklahoma’s constitution and clearly established public policy,” the complaint states.

Oklahoma: Former prison guard Megan Ann Hood, 25, was arraigned on January 11, 2016 on a felony charge of smuggling cell phones into the Corrections Corporation of America-operated Cimarron Correctional Facility. According to a police affidavit, Hood had triggered a metal detector at a security checkpoint as she reported to work. When confronted, she admitted that she had two cell phones concealed inside her body. She told police that she was to receive $2,000 for the contraband and that she had previously delivered another phone to a prisoner at the facility. If convicted, Hood could face a sentence of 20 years to life.

Pennsylvania: PLN previously reported that former Chester County Prison guard Douglas A. Keck pleaded guilty to six felony drug charges after he was caught smuggling numerous types of drugs into the facility. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.63]. On January 27, 2016, Keck’s family tearfully testified to his “hardworking and loving” character before Judge Anthony Sarcione sentenced him to two-to-four years on four counts and one-to-three years on two other counts. “As a result of his greed, this correctional officer is going from guarding inmates to being an inmate,” remarked Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan.

Romania: While some prisons in the U.S. discourage prisoners’ expressions of creativity, Romania has had a law on the books since 2006 that grants prisoners 30 days off their sentences if they write and publish a work of literature or science while incarcerated. On January 12, 2016, Justice Minister Raluca Pruna announced that the law was being amended by emergency decree because so many prisoners had taken advantage of the program. Pruna told a news conference that “According to prison administration figures, the number of books published by detainees went from one a year between 2007 and 2010, to 90 in 2014, and 340 last year.” Anti-corruption prosecutors are investigating whether some of the prisoners used ghost writers.

Russia: In January 2016, reported that a journalist’s project called “Russian Ebola” had uncovered evidence of several prisoners dying each month at police stations and detention centers. Maria Berezina’s investigation found that 197 prisoners had died in police custody in 2015 alone. More than 100 of those death reports list “sudden deterioration in health conditions” or “unknown circumstances” as the cause of death. Another Russian blogger, Oleg Kashin, wrote that the prisoners’ deaths were a “strange epidemic” deserving of greater attention.

Russia: The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation announced on January 14, 2016 that charges had been filed against one of the nation’s top prison officials for allegedly, and literally, stealing a 30-mile stretch of road in the Komi Republic. Alexander Protopopov is accused of dismantling and removing more than 7,000 concrete slabs from the highway and selling them to a commercial company for personal profit. The highway building materials were worth around 6 million rubles – approximately $79,000. Protopopov faces up to 10 years in one of his own prisons if convicted.

Tennessee: Knox County jailers beat and kicked a mentally ill prisoner for nearly 24 minutes according to a graphic video released on January 18, 2016 by WBIR 10 News. The video contradicts statements made by the guards in the aftermath of the November 2014 incident. Two months after the beating, guard Nick Breeden was fired and guards David Sparkes and Chris Fustos were suspended. Jesse Rudd, another jail employee, also resigned amid the investigation; an internal review found the guards had used “techniques that violated policy.” Attorneys for prisoner Louis Flack filed a $5 million federal lawsuit against the county, the sheriff’s office and six jailers in November 2015. The suit remains pending.

Tennessee: On January 25, 2016, the grand jury in Morgan County handed down indictments against five people in two separate cases involving mistreatment of prisoners at the Morgan County Jail. Guards Joe D. Shoffner, Jr., Garren Austin Luke Cooper and Michael Alan Lloyd were booked into the Roane County Jail on assault charges stemming from the improper restraint of a jail detainee on December 12, 2015. In the second case, guard Denny Hughett was arrested on charges stemming from his encouragement of and failure to intervene in a November 2015 jailhouse fight. Prisoner Samuel Jennings was charged with aggravated assault for his role in the latter incident.

United Kingdom: Private prison operator G4S defended its policy of installing phones in prisoners’ cells at HM Prison Altcourse in Fazakerley after prisoner Daniel Truelove made a call claiming to be with the terrorist group ISIS and threatening to blow up Liverpool’s Lime Street railway station. Truelove admitted to making the calls as a prank and pleaded guilty to the bomb hoax. On January 2, 2016, G4S warden Dave Thompson said, “In line with many prisons across the country HMP Altcourse is moving to install telephones into prisoners’ cells as evidence suggests it supports the rehabilitation and resettlement on their release.” The company stated it had no plans to discontinue the program.

United Kingdom: The U.K.’s Independent reported on January 29, 2016 that guards at HM Prison Holme House are being affected by secondhand smoke from prisoners’ use of the legal synthetic cannabis drug known as “spice.” Andy Baxter, chairman of Holme House’s Prison Officers’ Association, told reporters that guards had become disoriented after inadvertently breathing spice smoke. “They report feeling dizzy, getting quite a blinding headache,” he said. “A couple of them have been quite hysterical, their emotions run away with them.” The government has proposed a ban on legal synthetic highs, which manufacturers currently market as incense, salts or plant food.

United Kingdom: Prosecutors claim prisoner Ryan Camfield, 24, told a female guard “I’m kidnapping you” before he lunged at her and trapped her inside his cell. The court heard how the guard feared for her life as she pressed her non-functional emergency call button. On December 29, 2015, Judge Mark Bury sentenced Camfield to three more years, saying, “You clearly have a sexualised attitude towards women in uniform and an extremely violent behaviour. I’m satisfied you intended to cause serious sexual harm or serious physical harm.” Camfield had 41 previous convictions and was moved to Hull Prison’s high-security H-Block after verbally and physically assaulting both male and female guards 13 times in a three-month period.

United States: In March 2015, Aramark, one of the largest providers of privatized correctional food services in the U.S., announced a plan to improve the lives of roughly 750,000 individuals per year. No, Aramark did not pledge to improve the lives of 750,000 prisoners who eat the company’s meals; rather, its new corporate goal is to improve the lives of chickens from which its egg products are procured. In a press release, Aramark touted its partnership with the Humane Society of the United States to ensure that by 2020, only eggs from cage-free hens will be served to the caged people the company feeds. “I hope that this transition goes better than the services they are providing in prison systems,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “They received a lot of bad press ... this is probably an attempt to better their reputation.”

Utah: The Deseret News reported on January 15, 2016 that Davis County expected to save nearly $400,000 by using prisoner labor to perform renovations at the county jail. Project foreman Bracken Ricketts said about 40 prisoners will participate in the project, which involves removing older vinyl flooring and repainting the jail in fewer colors. One of the prisoners who was chosen to participate in the project saw benefit in the activity. Jessy Spruell said that the work assignment was “almost a form of meditation” and a break from the monotony of imprisonment.

Washington: According to a February 4, 2016 news report, a former Yakima School District special education teacher pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle contraband to a prisoner at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Celah Laree Wales, 38, was sentenced to three months in jail and cannot have contact with any incarcerated person for a five-year period. Wales had been closely observed during her visit with prisoner Matthew Carter due to a tip received by prison staff that she might be trying to pass contraband. Guards saw her spit “several small objects” into a clear juice bottle and pass it to Carter, who drank it. Carter was confronted and placed in a “dry cell,” where several colored balloons containing pills and marijuana were eventually collected from his feces.

Wisconsin: On January 7, 2016, Sheboygan County Sheriff Todd Priebe defended his decision to hire ex-prisoner Rafael George Macias as a sheriff’s department radio technician after questions were raised in the community about the appropriateness of a convicted felon working for a law enforcement agency. Macias, now 59, had earned an associate degree as a radio technician while serving 13 years in prison for a murder he committed at age 20. Following his release, Macias worked on the sheriff’s radio system as a contractor for 10 years prior to being hired by the department in 2011. “The thing about it is, I’ve always had respect for law enforcement,” he said. “This is my way of paying back society. I’m still paying it back by using my skills to maintain the radio system that protects the public.” Sheriff Priebe added, “As far as I’m concerned, he’s a success story.” 

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