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News in Brief

Australia: An anal-retentive prisoner in the supermax unit at the Goulburn Jail claimed for 12 days that a metal object detected inside his body was a fragment of a surgical instrument, but his claims were proven false when his bowels finally moved on February 24, 2016 and produced a cell phone. Constantine “Kon” Georgiou, serving time for a triple murder, had a history of circumventing prison rules and at one point had maintained an active Facebook page using a contraband phone. He was placed in an isolation cell immediately after his productive bowel movement.

California: Nooshafarin Ravaghi, an English teacher at the Central Men’s Jail in Santa Ana, was arrested for her suspected role in helping three prisoners cut through steel bars, crawl through a plumbing tunnel and lower themselves down four stories using bed sheets to escape on January 22, 2016. Hossein Nayeri, 37, Jonathan Tieu, 20, and Bac Duong, 43, then kidnapped a taxi driver and fled to San Jose, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department Captain Jeff Hallock. After a week on the run, Duong freed the taxi driver and turned himself in. Nayeri and Tieu were captured on January 30, 2016. All three face felony escape charges in addition to their original charges. Ravaghi was released following her arrest due to insufficient evidence, but faces further investigation.

California: A Swiss couple, Patrick Chappatte and Anne Widmann, organized an art exhibition that opened in December 2015 at the University of Southern California. The exhibit, entitled “Windows on Death Row,” featured over 70 framed drawings and paintings created by death-sentenced prisoners across the country. Chappatte and Widmann said they hoped to reveal the humanity of condemned prisoners through their artwork. “Windows on Death Row” was scheduled to travel to North Carolina and Ohio after it closes in Los Angeles; the exhibition also includes anti-death penalty illustrations by professional cartoonists.

California: Former state prison guard John Smiley and his wife, Cynthia Biasi-Smiley, were convicted of attempted perjury in March 2012 in a workers’ compensation fraud case in which they attempted to claim work-related status for injuries John received when he was shot and paralyzed at a San Francisco sex club. [See: PLN, March 2013, p.29]. He was reportedly shot by the male partner of a woman he had sex with at the club, following a disagreement over his use of a condom. The Smileys faced another trial in February 2016, this time on multiple felony insurance fraud charges related to the same incident. Both were convicted and each was sentenced on March 4, 2016 to 240 days in jail and five years of supervised probation. They were also ordered to pay $38,206.70 in restitution to the State Compensation Insurance Fund.

Canada: Two men involved in an escape from a St. Jérôme, Quebec prison on March 17, 2013 joined four others who had previously pleaded guilty to participating in the plot. The daring escape via a hijacked helicopter was previously reported in PLN. [See: PLN, June 2013, p.45]. Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau, 39, and Billi Beaudoin, 29, admitted on January 12, 2016 to their involvement in the escape and will be sentenced in May. Crown prosecutor Steve Baribeau said he was satisfied with the guilty pleas, noting that the evidence against the two men was “overpowering and overwhelming.”

Connecticut: Citing research which indicates human brains are not fully developed until the age of 25, on December 17, 2015 Michael Lawlor, chief criminal justice advisor to Governor Dannel P. Malloy, announced that the state plans to convert one of its existing prisons into a specialty facility for 18 to 25-year-old males and would create a separate program for young prisoners at the women’s prison in Niantic. Connecticut’s prison population of 15,807 includes 3,092 prisoners in the targeted age range. DOC Commissioner Scott Semple said the plan did not require legislative approval and was intended to reduce recidivism among youthful offenders. “What I envision is that incident rates will go down systemwide,” he said. “It also gives us the greatest potential to reduce the recidivism rate in a large way.”

Delaware: The U.S. Department of Justice agreed to drop two sexual misconduct charges as part of a plea deal with the former security chief at the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution. Instead, Fred Way III, 51, pleaded guilty to four counts of official misconduct on January 11, 2016 after a 27-year-old female prisoner told officials that he had sex with her at least twice. Way was sentenced to serve 25 weekends in jail among other sanctions, but in early April 2016, Superior Court Judge Paul R. Wallace modified the sentence to a 7-day stretch in secured housing followed by home confinement after Way’s attorney reported death threats against his client during his first weekend in jail.

Florida: On January 8, 2016, Warden Russell Washburn told reporters that dozens of prisoners at the Corrections Corporation of America-operated Citrus County Detention Facility were suffering from a scabies infestation. Washburn said two housing units at the jail were affected and 40 prisoners had received medication to treat the outbreak. All prisoners were physically screened and their clothing and bed linens washed as a precaution. Scabies mites cause intense itching by burrowing beneath the skin and laying eggs, and spread quickly through skin-to-skin contact.

Florida: A jail guard walked into an interview room at the Broward County Main Jail on January 27, 2016 and found defense attorney Jessica Mishali bent over a table “engaged in what appeared to be sexual intercourse” with prisoner Ysreal Granda. Mishali was not criminally charged, but the incident triggered an emergency hearing before a Broward County judge who immediately banned Mishali from entry into Broward County’s five jail facilities. Mishali also faces disciplinary action from the agency responsible for regulating attorney conduct. “The Florida Bar was notified of the incident earlier today and is opening a file,” said spokeswoman Susannah Lyle.

Florida: PLN previously reported the indictment and “not guilty” pleas of former Coleman Correctional Complex guards William Houghton and Eddie Rodas-Castro, for civil rights violations stemming from the beating of a prisoner and subsequent attempts to cover up that incident. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.63]. On January 13, 2016, the Justice Department announced that both guards had admitted to wrongdoing and changed their pleas to “guilty.” Rodas-Castro faces a maximum sentence of one year in federal prison, while Houghton faces a maximum 3-year term. Their sentencing hearings have not yet been scheduled.

Georgia: A 72-year-old former teacher at the Calhoun State Prison received a light sentence of probation and community service on February 17, 2016 after confessing to smuggling six cell phones into the facility inside her underwear. Annie Mae Flood was pulled out of class while teaching reading and writing, and arrested at the prison near Albany in March 2015. Calhoun County Sheriff Josh Hilton said Flood’s motive was greed. District Attorney Joe Mulholland was frustrated by the lenient sanctions in light of widespread contraband smuggling by prison employees, though he said, “Because she didn’t have a record, the judge thought the sentence was appropriate.”

Georgia: On October 22, 2015, Saladin “Sal” Ghani was acquitted by a jury on charges of identity theft and fraud after a two-day trial, but he wasn’t in court to hear the verdict. Ghani, who faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted, had left the courtroom for a bathroom break and never returned. DeKalb County Superior Court Chief Judge Tangela Barrie ordered the trial to continue in his absence and immediately issued a bench warrant for his arrest. Ghani’s attorney attempted to reach him by cell phone, but only received a single text message in response that said “I am an innocent man.” Despite prosecutors’ suggestion to the jury during closing arguments that Ghani had fled the proceedings due to a “guilty conscience,” the jurors returned an acquittal after only 45 minutes of deliberation. Judge Barrie subsequently withdrew the bench warrant, but Ghani remained in hiding for nearly a full week until he heard about the verdict from a news report and contacted his lawyer.

Illinois: Previously, PLN reported the arrest and suspension of Decatur Correctional Center guard Timothy Ware. [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.56]. Ware was subsequently terminated from his job and convicted in December 2015 on seven felony counts of official misconduct for soliciting phone numbers from two female parolees, calling them repeatedly, and then lying to investigators about obtaining the women’s numbers and the nature of the calls. He was sentenced on February 6, 2016 to 30 days in jail, 2½ years of probation and 50 hours of community service. In March 2016, a jury awarded an unnamed former prisoner $1.5 million in punitive and compensatory damages against Ware for brutally raping her in a prison supply closet in a separate incident. He did not face criminal charges in that case.

Louisiana: On January 22, 2016, New Orleans Sheriff Marlin Gusman ordered the transfer of about 140 pre-trial detainees and state prisoners to a facility nearly four-and-a-half hours away from their families and attorneys. The mass transfer was the second in five months; last year, Gusman sent 130 prisoners to the Riverbend Detention Center in East Carroll Parish. Although the sheriff said he had received notice from a court-appointed jail monitor that staffing shortages made for unsafe conditions at the New Orleans jail, the transfers drew intense criticism from Mayor Mitch Landrieu and a flurry of court filings by prisoner advocates. Attorney Katie Schwartzmann called the move an “unjustified burden for the inmates’ lawyers and families.”

Malawi: A group of prisoner-musicians from one of Malawi’s most overcrowded prisons received a 2016 Grammy nomination for Best World Music Album. The prisoners, however, were not allowed to leave Zomba Prison to attend the February 15, 2016 award ceremony in the United States. Acting Chief Commissioner of Prisons Little Dinizulu Mtengano founded the band in 2008 and suggested that the band members, who ultimately did not win the Grammy award, should be considered for presidential pardons. “At least we have put Malawi on the world map, and the best reward to them [the prisoners] is an amnesty to go home and enjoy with the family,” Mtengano said.

Mexico: International news video showed flames rising from the Topo Chico Prison in Monterrey, Mexico, the result of an overnight riot that began around midnight on February 10, 2016. Topo Chico houses rival members of the Zetas and Gulf cartels, and a clash between the two gangs erupted into one of the worst incidents of violence in the Mexican prison system’s recent history. At least twelve prisoners were injured and 49 others were hacked, beaten and burned to death as their families gathered outside the facility in search of news of their loved ones. A 2013 report by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission found that 65 of 101 prisons surveyed were effectively under the prisoners’ control.

Mexico: A 21-year-old woman who was imprisoned against her will at the Social Rehabilitation Center, or Cereso, in Ciudad Juarez, has applied for asylum in the United States. Mariana Ibarra Moran’s U.S. attorney said she decided to seek refuge after Mexican authorities refused to guarantee her safety when her kidnapping revealed corruption at the prison. On February 6, 2016, Ibarra Moran visited her former partner, Jesus Eduardo Soto Rodriguez, at Cereso, but was not allowed to leave after her conjugal visit because Rodriguez had bribed the guards to keep her there. She was finally released after her family went to the press. Her attorney, Carlos Spector of El Paso, said Ibarra Moran is “the victim of domestic violence in the prison, in collusion with Cereso officials,” and that he had not seen a stronger case for political asylum in his 25 years of practicing law.

Michigan: Former Eaton County booking deputy Allan Coker was arraigned on February 8, 2016 on one count of embezzlement by a public official after an investigation revealed he had stolen small amounts of cash from arrestees as they were processed into the jail. Sheriff Tom Reich said in a news release that his department had ordered an outside investigation in December 2015 after discovering discrepancies in prisoners’ deposits. Coker was initially placed on administrative leave, but resigned after admitting to policy violations. If convicted he faces up to ten years in prison.

Michigan: A former Kalamazoo County assistant prosecutor lost her law license and will serve jail time for a drunk-driving accident that seriously injured her and another driver. Paige Timmer appeared in court on September 28, 2015 after pleading guilty to one count of felony operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated causing serious injury. Kalamazoo County Circuit Judge Pamela L. Lightvoet ordered Timmer to wear an alcohol-monitoring device for four months and serve three years of probation. She will also pay more than $1,000 in court costs and fees, and serve jail time. The sentence was initially two months in jail, but Judge Lightvoet deferred Timmer’s reporting date until June 16, 2016. A hearing will be held to determine the actual length and conditions of Timmer’s incarceration.

Michigan: PLN’s December 2015 cover story, “Aramark’s Correctional Food Services: Meals, Maggots and Misconduct,” detailed widespread misconduct by Aramark employees at Michigan prisons. One such case involved Michael R. Young, an Aramark supervisor at the Kinross Correctional Facility who was charged with a felony for soliciting a “hit” on a prisoner at a different facility. Young was convicted of solicitation to commit assault with intent to cause great bodily harm; he was sentenced on February 4, 2016 to two to five years in prison.

Montana: On December 15, 2015, Montana state prisoner Michael McAlpine died in the infirmary at MSP Lewistown after an extended illness. McAlpine, 51, became the sixth state prisoner to die during a six-week period. Prison officials had previously announced the deaths of prisoners Robert Neil Moore, 80, Donald Richard Roeder, 71, Andrew Charles Sunday, 75, Vincente Gutierrez, 62, and Ronald Dewey White, Jr., 36. Their deaths also were attributed to extended illnesses.

New Jersey: A Hudson County jail guard, a prisoner and the prisoner’s mother were arrested on January 16, 2016 and accused of plotting to smuggle unidentified contraband into the Hudson County Correctional Facility. Prisoner Nefta Simon, 32, and his mother, Elizabeth Simon, 50, face multiple charges for arranging payments to guard Isakova O. Sealy. In exchange, Sealy agreed to bring prohibited items into the jail. Sealy was charged with official misconduct, conspiracy to commit official misconduct and a pattern of official misconduct.

New Jersey: On February 1, 2016, Camden County Department of Corrections sergeant John Stinsman, 43, was charged with one count of official misconduct, aggravated assault and simple assault for kicking and stomping a subdued and handcuffed prisoner at the Camden County Jail in October 2015. The assault was reported after a “routine review” of jail surveillance video revealed that the incident had been captured on camera. Prosecutors said the video footage contradicted Stinsman’s report concerning the incident. He posted $50,000 bail and was released from custody while the charges remain pending.

New Mexico: Gary Borja, a former prisoner at the Otero County Prison Facility, was sentenced on February 23, 2016 to 151 months in federal prison for his participation in a methamphetamine and heroin smuggling scheme. Former guard Luis Delgadillo, two civilian women and two other prisoners have pleaded guilty in the drug smuggling conspiracy; four of those defendants received prison terms ranging from 30 to 84 months, while the remaining defendant, Nancy Salas, has not yet been sentenced.

New Mexico: A guard staffing crisis in state-run prisons is at a “breaking point,” according to New Mexico Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel. Statewide, one in three guard positions is vacant, with two prisons understaffed by around 50%. Marcantel linked the staff shortages to low pay, saying, “Based on current rates for officer compensation, the Corrections Department cannot adequately compete in the current job market, losing almost every officer it recruits within 36 months.” On February 8, 2016, Marcantel announced the NMDOC would eliminate prison visitation days one week out of every month to give overworked guards “a break.”

New York: According to a report released in February 2016 by the National Registry of Exonerations, a record 149 people were found to be wrongfully convicted and incarcerated in 2015. Included in that total were three men who were cleared on December 16, 2015 of their participation in an arson fire that killed a mother and her 5 children in 1980. William Vasquez, 70, and Amaury Villalobos, 66, appeared before Justice Matthew J. D’Emic in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, accompanied by the widow and daughter of their co-defendant, Raymond Mora, who died in prison in 1989, to have their convictions vacated. Prosecutors recommended dismissal of the convictions based on recanted testimony from a single witness and new scientific developments in arson investigations that further ruled out the men’s involvement in the crime.

New York: On February 6, 2016, authorities from the City of New York Department of Investigation arrested Rikers Island guard Nicole Bartley, making her the 26th city corrections employee since 2014 to face job-related criminal charges. Bartley, 30, attracted the attention of a drug-sniffing dog when she reported to work at the George R. Vierno Center. Although no drugs were found on her person, a search of her home uncovered 70 grams of marijuana. Prosecutors said the drug was meant for a Rikers prisoner with whom Bartley had been having a sexual relationship. She was suspended and charged with third-degree rape, sexual misconduct, official misconduct, promoting prison contraband, criminal possession of marijuana and attempted promoting prison contraband.

North Carolina: Just say no to “Spice.” In an increasingly common occurrence, several prisoners were hospitalized after overdosing on synthetic marijuana known as Spice. This time, eight prisoners at the Harnett Correctional Institution in Lillington were sickened after ingesting the drug on January 16, 2016. Of those transported for medical treatment, four prisoners were admitted to the hospital, three received extended emergency room treatment and one was returned to the facility. The incident is being investigated by prison officials as well as the Lillington Police Department.

Ohio: On November 7, 2015, a group of four men awaiting execution in the “5A” supermax unit at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown began a hunger strike to protest a policy instituted by Warden Chris LaRose that limited prisoners’ property, including books and music. Prisoners Keith LaMar, S.A. Hasan, Jason Robb and James Were maintained that the property restrictions were arbitrary and removed items crucial to their survival in the sensory-deprived supermax environment. After nine days of fasting, prison officials granted the prisoners’ reasonable demands and the hunger strike ended.

Ohio: Former Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail guard Carl H. Durst, 49, avoided prison time after an audio recording of him engaging in a sex act with a prisoner was found to be questionable and the victim refused to cooperate with the investigation. Durst was allowed to enter a guilty plea to a reduced charge of gross sexual imposition instead of third-degree felony sexual battery. On February 22, 2016, Athens County Common Pleas Court Judge George McCarthy imposed a five-year community supervision sentence with an underlying 18-month prison term if Durst violates the conditions of his probation. He must also register as a sex offender every 90 days for the next 25 years.

Ohio: Darek Lathan was serving a 17-month sentence at the Correctional Reception Center in September 2015 when a guard denied him bathroom privileges while he was suffering from intestinal distress. The denial caused him to lose control of his bowels in the presence of a number of other prisoners. Lathan filed a $2 million civil rights lawsuit claiming he suffered “harassment, embarrassment, riddiculing (sic) and emotional distress” due to the incident. On January 7, 2016, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge David E. Cain dismissed Lathan’s suit as frivolous with a bit of frivolity of his own. The order of dismissal was in the form of a 5-stanza poem that concluded: “Neither runs nor constipation / Can justify this litigation / Whether bowels constrict or flex / De minimus non curat lex.” That last line is Latin for “the law does not concern itself with trifles.”

Pennsylvania: For SCI-Pine Grove prisoner Gregory Rouzer, the third time wasn’t the charm. Rouzer, who is serving time for the attempted murder of Randy Walters in 2008 and for a murder-for-hire plot against Walters in 2009, was charged on February 19, 2016, along with his girlfriend Laraine Patterson, for trying to arrange yet another hit on Walters. An undercover state trooper using the alias “Joanie Pepperoni” accepted $1,000 of an agreed-upon payment of $5,000 from Patterson, and continued the ruse until the couple was arrested a month later.

Pennsylvania: Six former Philadelphia-area prison guards who were busted in separate incidents in an FBI sting operation have begun to face justice. Former guard Dupree Myers, 27, entered a guilty plea to drug and extortion charges on March 28, 2016 for smuggling OxyContin pills into the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. George Kindle, 29, was sentenced on February 11, 2016 to four years in prison for bringing OxyContin and cellphones into the House of Corrections in Holmesburg. Three other former guards have also pleaded guilty as a result of the sting. Marc Thompson, who was employed at the House of Corrections, John Wesley Herder, who worked at the Curran-Fromhold facility and Joseph Romano, a former guard at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, all await sentencing. The sixth guard, Bryant Fields, who worked at the Detention Center, is awaiting trial.

Russia: On January 15, 2016, Russia’s Ministry of Justice announced a bizarre new rule for prisoners at pre-trial detention centers: Detainees now face punishment for swearing while incarcerated. The prime target of the ban is a decades-old prison-based slang known as “fenya,” which has migrated from prison vernacular to the general Russian population. The new policy follows President Vladimir Putin’s widespread ban on profanity in Russian TV, film, theater and newspapers, and an existing ban on cursing by prison guards. The announcement was unclear as to what sanctions prisoners would face if they continued to use profanity.

Russia: A transgender woman was able to circumvent Russia’s ban on same-sex marriage when she wed in a “two-bride” ceremony last year because she still has male genitalia, but was not able to avoid serving time in an all-male prison for that same reason when she was sentenced to a jail term for a driving violation and prosecuted on a drug-related charge. Dmitry Kozhukov, also known as Alina Davis, asked to be sent to a women’s facility but her request was quickly denied. A judge also rejected her request to be housed in a single cell if sent to a men’s prison. On February 17, 2016, Davis, who looks like a woman, was assigned to a 5-person cell at a men’s jail in the city of Egoriesvsk.

Texas: U.S. Attorney John M. Bales announced that Lakista Lashau Davis, 44, a former contract nurse at the Beaumont Federal Correctional Complex, had been sentenced to 36 months in federal prison by U.S. District Court Judge Thad Heartfield on January 21, 2016. According to court records, Davis conspired with a prisoner to smuggle heroin into the prison complex in exchange for a payment of $5,000. Davis had previously pleaded guilty in August 2015 to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin.

Texas: On January 12, 2016, Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamereau fired deputy Erik Montez after he admitted to raping a female prisoner in a transport van in the county jail’s parking lot. Montez was arrested and charged with felony sexual assault and violating the civil rights of a person in custody. Pamereau called Montez’s alleged actions “a disgrace,” and said that investigators are trying to determine if he victimized other women during his nearly six-year employment at the jail. Montez confessed after video surveillance supported the victim’s allegations.

Texas: A former judge who appealed a public admonition from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct was instead hit with the more severe sanction of a public reprimand by the special court that reviewed her case. “The violations, when considered in the aggregate, warrant the greater sanction,” the court ruled on October 21, 2015. In analyzing complaints against Dallas County Criminal Court Judge Etta Mullins, the court found that evidence proved Mullins had treated lawyers and criminal defendants with disrespect, failed to follow the law by inserting herself into recusal proceedings, and failed to follow the law by requiring criminal defendants to make payments for costs and fees before she would accept their plea deals. Mullins lost her re-election bid and stepped down from the bench at the end of 2014.

United Kingdom: On January 9, 2016, private prison operator G4S suspended seven guards at the Medway Secure Training Centre who were accused of punching and slapping teens at the 76-bed facility that houses 12-to-18-year-olds. The company announced the suspensions after undercover reporters from BBC Panorama revealed that they had been secretly filming in the juvenile facility. “These allegations are extremely concerning, not least because only eight months ago G4S was subject to a damning report from Ofsted into another of its child jails, Rainsbrook,” said Andrew Neilson, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

United Kingdom: A government spokesman announced on January 18, 2016 that nine participants in an Isle of Wight jail program called Transgender Pathway had been approved to receive sex change operations and hormone treatment at a cost of around £100,000. The nine transgender prisoners, who passed rigorous entrance tests for the program, already dress as women and are allowed to purchase beauty products. According to the unidentified spokesman, “The Prison Service has guidelines so they can live as women as far as is ­allowable under the conditions. They have the same rights in that respect as members of the public.” Each of the nine prisoners will be eligible for transfer to a women’s facility upon completion of their sex realignment surgery.

Wisconsin: On January 23, 2016, Governor Scott Walker ordered the Department of Corrections to change its disciplinary policies following a DOC decision to issue a slap-on-the-wrist punishment to a Stanley Correctional Institution supervisor. Patrick Lynch, 46, had been employed by the prison system since 2008 and had no other disciplinary record when he was involved in a drunk-driving accident and found to be in possession of marijuana. He was convicted on charges related to that incident but prison officials chose to issue only a written reprimand, causing an outcry from guard union officials who said lower-ranking employees would have been summarily fired in a similar situation. 

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