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News in Brief

California: The Los Angeles Police Department arrested an 81-year-old African American man for going “off topic” while giving public testimony at a June 21, 2016 Police Commission meeting, dragging him from the podium. Tut Hayes spoke weekly at the Commission meetings and had previously been arrested under similar circumstances at a meeting presided over by Commission president Matt Johnson. Hayes’ supporters said he is a long-time fixture in Los Angeles and an expert on the topic of California’s Ralph Brown Act – which specifies the requirements of open meetings for local legislative bodies. In the nine months since Johnson became president of the Police Commission, six African American citizens have been arrested for exercising their free speech rights.

California: According to Lt. Tony Quinn at Folsom Prison, on July 7, 2016, two prisoners murdered a third by stabbing him to death with a homemade weapon. Guards fired rubber bullets and used pepper spray and pepper spray grenades to stop the attack; three guards were treated for injuries sustained while trying to intervene. Investigators said prisoners Rudy De Lossantos, 38, and Michael Robles, 33, are suspected in the slaying of 33-year-old Humberto Torres. All three were serving time for murder.

California: When the San Francisco County Jail couldn’t figure out where to house transgender prisoner Athena Cadence, she stopped eating. On August 3, 2016 she was taken to a hospital after a judge ordered her release; she had been on a hunger strike for two months. Like the vast majority of transgender prisoners, Cadence, a combat veteran, was housed according to her gender at birth. She said she began the strike in response to the discrimination and abuse she suffered due to her sexual identity. Eileen Hirst, chief of staff for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, said Cadence’s protest brought attention to the concerns of transgender prisoners at the jail. “An individual who feels strongly enough about the issue to have a hunger strike, who is very committed, and who is seeking social change – that has to be respected,” Hirst acknowledged.

Colorado: On July 31, 2016, the Kit Carson Correctional Center, one of three private facilities in Colorado run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), became the sixth prison in the state to close in the last decade. Governor John Hickenlooper’s office provided extra funds to the local community to mitigate the loss of 142 jobs and the loss of tax revenue from the facility. The governor said in a statement, “We are committed to assisting this community with the impact of this closure and identifying ways to replace the lost economic activity.” Christie Donner, executive director and founder of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, said she believes it is inappropriate to use prisons as a form of economic development. “We can’t prop up a prison simply because there are financial consequences if it closes. Society is evolving,” she noted.

Colorado: Tyler Tabor, 25, died on the floor of his cell in the Adams County Jail in May 2015 after suffering while violently ill and dehydrated from opioid withdrawal. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county and its medical contractor, Corizon Health, Inc., on June 22, 2016. Tabor’s family – who thought they were practicing “tough love” and believed Tabor would be safe at the jail during detox – argued his life could have been saved with the administration of IV fluids. Although autopsy reports found Tabor had died of “natural causes,” David Lane, the attorney representing Tabor’s family, said, “This to me is criminal[ly] negligent homicide.”

Florida: John Wesley Saatio escaped from the Houghton County Jail in Upper Michigan and fled to Costa Rica in June 2015. He was caught a year later, but also escaped Costa Rican custody. Authorities from the Central American republic recaptured Saaito several days later and he was extradited to the United States. While being transported back to Michigan, Saatio escaped yet again, this time from a private transport van while it was stopped at a rest area on Eastbound I-10 in Florida. Saatio was captured a day later on July 4, 2016; he was charged with escape and possession of a handcuff key. PLN has been a longtime critic of the private prison transportation industry. [See, e.g.: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.62].

Florida: Some people should think twice before posting on Facebook. Kenneth Lewis, a prosecutor for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, came under fire a second time for expressing his opinions inappropriately on social media. On June 17, 2016, the State Attorney’s Office suspended Lewis on suspicion of violating the agency’s social media policy for two objectionable Facebook posts. In his first posting, Lewis had described downtown Orlando as “a melting pot of 3rd world miscreants and ghetto thugs.” His second rant stated, “All Orlando nightclubs should be permanently closed. With or without random gunmen they are zoos; utter cesspools of debauchery.” In 2014, Lewis was ordered to take sensitivity training following an online post in which he wished “Happy Mother’s day to all the crack hoes out there.”

Georgia: Attorneys successfully argued for the release of an indigent woman in late-term pregnancy who was jailed for owing $4,613 in fines. Citing the 1983 case of Bearden v. Georgia, attorneys Sarah Geraghty and Ryan Primerano with the Southern Center for Human Rights claimed the court did not inquire into 21-year-old Kiana Adams’ financial circumstances and ability to pay the fines she owed before revoking her probation. Geraghty and Primerano wrote that being jailed was “grossly disproportionate” to the severity of Adams’ offenses, and that having to give birth while incarcerated constituted cruel and unusual punishment. On May 20, 2016, Muscogee County Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan, Jr. signed a consent order to release Adams, stating she was “an indigent pregnant woman who is unable to pay the amount set for her release.”

Indiana: Rodney Miller admitted to absconding from the Henryville Correctional Unit in December 2015, but, despite indisputable facts, on July 1, 2016 a jury found him not guilty of the charge of felony escape. Surveillance video captured Miller leaving the facility and he was found 90 miles away from the prison with his girlfriend, who was later charged in connection with the escape. In court, Miller’s attorney explained that his client had absconded to try to prevent his girlfriend, who was pregnant with his child, from having an abortion. The jury accepted Miller’s defense of crime under duress after only 30 minutes of deliberation.

Indiana: Two groups of ordinary people agreed to give up their freedom to participate in two seasons of an experimental reality TV show on the A&E network called “60 Days In.” The volunteers went undercover as prisoners inside the Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville, Indiana; their true identities were concealed from both prisoners and jail staff on the premise that a TV show was being filmed about first-time prisoners. Several guards were fired due to corruption exposed by the program. A&E paid the county $60,000 to make the series, and Sheriff Jamey Noel told Business Insider on March 10, 2016 that the money would be spent on improved training, a body scanner and an updated camera system at the jail.

Kansas: On July 5, 2016, a part-time Cowley County transportation guard let prisoner Trevor Michael Long, 20, out of a transport van twice – and Long ran away twice. The first time the guard caught up with him and convinced him to re-enter the van. The second time that Long fled, after the guard had removed his handcuffs, he was not captured until the next day. Once apprehended, Long was booked into the Butler County Jail for aggravated escape.

Kansas: In May 2012, Rachel Hammers, a 32-year-old widowed mother of four, died inside the Douglas County Jail due to seizures caused by alcohol withdrawal, despite the fact that she had anticipated going through withdrawal and sought medical attention prior to being booked into the jail on a parole violation. Her father, Joe Harvey, filed a $1.35 million lawsuit against the county and more than a dozen other defendants, claiming six points of fault that led to his daughter’s death. On August 22, 2016, medical experts testified as to the possible cause of Hammers’ death; a jury trial in the case is scheduled for October 23, 2017.

Kansas: Marc Buckner, 46, smuggled tobacco into the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth in exchange for over $200,000 in bribes over the course of a decade, according to a June 8, 2016 indictment. Prosecutors had indicted Buckner previously on a similar count but a federal judge dismissed the charge. His indictment is the second time in the past year that a Leavenworth guard has been charged with bribery for smuggling tobacco; former guard Michael Harston pleaded guilty in May 2016 for a similar conspiracy. Additionally, seven people were charged earlier this year in connection with an elaborate smuggling scheme at the CCA-operated Leavenworth Detention Center. Prisoner Karl Carter allegedly made nearly $16,000 in six months from distributing drugs inside the CCA facility.

Louisiana: Devontay Jenkins was shackled at the ankles and his hands were bound to a belly chain when he slipped away from guards after asking to use a portable toilet and climbed onto the roof of the now-shuttered Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) on July 5, 2016. During an hour-long standoff, authorities pleaded with Jenkins not to jump. He eventually complied and came down on his own. Jenkins was taken for a medical evaluation and will likely face additional charges. According to Katie Schwartzmann with the New Orleans office of the MacArthur Justice Center, “The incident demonstrates a lack of control that threatens [the] safety of people housed at OPP and our broader community.” New Orleans has since replaced OPP with a new jail complex, which has also been the subject of controversy and criticism.

Maryland: On June 30, 2016, retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Martin Welch ruled the man at the center of the popular podcast “Serial” should receive a new trial. Adnan Masud Syed, 35, has spent 16 years of a life sentence in prison for the 2000 murder of his former high school girlfriend. Judge Welch held that Syed’s trial attorney failed to properly challenge testimony in the case, saying the attorney’s performance “fell below the standard of reasonable professional judgment.” At a news conference, Syed’s current lawyer, Justin Brown, said he “fully expects” the state to appeal the judge’s decision; he was correct and the state appealed on August 1, 2016.

Mississippi: According to a nine-count indictment unsealed in June 2016, state prison guards Lawardrick Marsher, 28, and Robert Sturdivant, 47, kicked and beat a prisoner, identified as “K.H.,” at the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman while a third guard, Deonte Pate, 23, helped cover up the assault. If convicted, each of the three guards faces up to five years in prison on conspiracy and false statement charges, and up to 20 years on false reporting charges. Marsher and Sturdivant also face a maximum sentence of 10 years for use of excessive force.

Mississippi: Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith is accused in a six-count affidavit of illegally advising or defending people charged with crimes. The third-term DA was arrested on June 22, 2016 following a joint investigation by the FBI and Attorney General Jim Hood’s office. All but one of the six counts are related to a single individual, Christopher Butler, who Smith allegedly assisted without attorney-client privilege. Smith and others in the community have claimed the arrest was politically motivated, as several employees in the Attorney General’s office have connections with Smith’s political rivals.

Nebraska: Two prisoners escaped from the Lincoln Correctional Center on June 10, 2016 by hiding in the back of a laundry truck. One of the escapees, Armon Dixon, 37, was apprehended the next day in a storm sewer; earlier, he had allegedly assaulted two women in a nearby home. Dixon pleaded not guilty to an escape charge on September 6, 2016. The second escapee, Timothy Clausen, 52, eluded police for five days until a Crimestoppers tip led to his capture in Omaha. Both were transferred to the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution pending the disposition of new charges.

New Jersey: Nickoy Ellis, a senior guard at the Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility, was indicted on April 5, 2016 on official misconduct, bribery and money laundering charges in connection with a smuggling scheme to bring contraband into the facility. His stepfather, Kingsley Ellis, was also indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges. Both are accused of involvement in a plot to deliver synthetic marijuana, tobacco and other contraband to young prisoners in exchange for payments from the prisoners’ family members. The smuggling operation was uncovered by a joint investigation by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office Bureau of Professional Standards and the New Jersey Department of Corrections’ Special Investigations Division.

New York: A physician’s assistant who worked for Rikers Island medical contractor Corizon Health must defend against a lawsuit filed on July 3, 2016, in which three women prisoners claim he plied them with food, tobacco and other contraband in exchange for sex. Sidney Wilson is accused of bringing Popeye’s Chicken, gum, candy and even a sex toy into the jail, as well as prescribing drugs, which he traded with the prisoners for sex acts. According to the suit, Wilson “repeatedly raped, sexually assaulted and abused” the women over a two-year period. The prisoners also allege that Wilson told them he loved them and put money on their jail accounts. In September 2015, The Intercept published a feature article that first exposed the allegations subsequently raised in the women’s lawsuit.

New York: On the same day that news broke about a contraband scheme at the Rikers Island jail complex [see: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.63], a photo surfaced on Facebook of a group of imprisoned West Brighton Crew gang members making hand signs as they were being transported from Rikers to a court appearance. According to NYC Department of Corrections officials, a friend of one of the prisoners uploaded the photo, and jail staff discovered the post on May 19, 2016. It was not clear who took the picture or how it was transferred to the friend for uploading. Around 165 contraband cell phones have been confiscated by NYC DOC staff since 2011; a dozen were found between January and April 2016.

New York: More than 12 alibi witnesses said Richard Rosario was over 1,000 miles away from the scene of the brutal murder of Jorge Collazo, but his defense attorneys didn’t do enough to track them down. Released after serving over 20 years of a 25-to-life sentence after being wrongfully convicted, Rosario stunned Bronx Supreme Court Justice Robert Torres at a June 24, 2016 hearing when he insisted that the charges against him not be dropped until he was fully exonerated. “I’ve been in prison for 20 years for a crime I didn’t commit,” Rosario said. “My family didn’t deserve this. I didn’t deserve this, and nor does the family of the victim.”

Oklahoma: Catherine Lee Freeman was on a ventilator for three days and a feeding tube for two weeks after Tulsa jail staff denied her prescribed medication, and she suffered seizures and a heart attack when she went through withdrawal. The responding emergency medical personnel exacerbated Freeman’s injuries when they tore her esophagus while trying to insert a tube to help her breathe. On July 1, 2016, Freeman’s attorney filed a lawsuit against six defendants: former Sheriff Stanley Glanz, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners, Armor Correctional Health Services, the Emergency Medical Services Authority and American Medical Response of Oklahoma. The suit seeks more than $200,000 in damages.

Oklahoma: John Scott Floro, a 6’7”, 220-pound guard at the CCA-operated Cimarron Correctional Facility, was arraigned on June 20, 2016 on a child sexual abuse charge. Floro is accused of forcing his victim, a 6-year-old male relative, to perform oral sex on him. During questioning, Floro “did not appear bothered or disgusted by the questions; he calmly denied them,” according to Cushing police officer Rachel Hentges. Floro was employed in the military before taking a job with CCA.

Oklahoma: Prisoners at the Dick Conner Correctional Center were forced to use buckets of water to flush toilets, and issued bottled water to drink, after a water main break at the facility. Showers were available with limited water pressure until service was restored on July 2, 2016. Interim Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh blamed the breakdown on infrastructure problems at the aging prison, which opened in 1979. “I think in a lot of respects we’re not even in the 20th century,” Allbaugh said. “We’ve got facilities that are over 100 years old here. We have locks and doors that don’t work.”

Oregon: Portland Books to Prisoners is a small, all-volunteer chapter of the nonprofit Books to Prisoners organization based in Seattle, Washington. On May 2, 2016, the Portland group posted on its website a letter it had received from private prison giant The GEO Group, requesting a donation of books for its library at the Arizona State Prison-Phoenix West facility. According to the letter, The GEO Group – which took in around $1.84 billion in gross revenue last year – has no budget for library books. Despite the absurdity of the corporation’s claim of a lack of budgetary resources, the Portland Books to Prisoners chapter generously donated a small box of books to the underfunded GEO prison library.

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia officials prepared for the arrival of protesters at the Democratic National Convention by announcing, then on June 24, 2016 retracting, a plan to re-open the notorious Holmesburg Prison to house arrestees. According to Philadelphia Prison System spokesperson Shawn Hawes, there was enough space in city jails to accommodate the anticipated arrests of protesters. When Philadelphia hosted the Republican National Convention in 2000, around 400 protesters were arrested. Holmesburg was officially decommissioned more than 20 years ago, in 1995; it was the site of a1973 riotin which the warden and deputy warden were killed. The notorious, century-old prison was also the site of “medical experiments” conducted on primarily African American prisoners between 1951 and 1974. [See: PLN, Mar. 2008, p.1; Mar. 1999, pp.3,6].

Pennsylvania: Former Luzerne County Correctional Facility work-release counselor Louis Elmy, 52, was arrested on June 9, 2016 and charged with extorting money and drugs from prisoners in exchange for privileges. Elmy immediately agreed to plead guilty and serve at least a five-year prison term for a federal charge of possessing a firearm in furtherance of selling crack cocaine. No plea bargain was made for the extortion charge. According to prosecutors, Elmy allegedly cut and pasted judges’ signatures to create fraudulent court orders so he could grant special privileges to prisoners in exchange for bribes. He had worked for the county for almost 20 years, had been the president of the Wilkes-Barre Area School Board and made an electoral run for the Wilkes-Barre city council.

South Carolina: On June 23, 2016, The Marshall Project published an interview with former prisoner Desmond Metcalf, a.k.a. Yung Real. Metcalf was one of seven state prisoners disciplined for producing a rap music video while incarcerated at the Kershaw Correctional Institution. [See: PLN, Dec. 2014, p.56]. Public records requests revealed that the prisoners involved in creating the video with a contraband cell phone were punished with a combined 20 years in solitary confinement and loss of visitation, commissary and phone privileges. Metcalf said during the interview, “The investigators asked us: ‘Why did you do it?’ And I thought, what do you mean? We’re rappers! Of course we want exposure.”

South Carolina: According to sheriff’s deputies, Charleston County Detention Center jailer Milton Lee Parish Judge, 27, resigned on June 3, 2016 and was arrested 17 days later after being accused of selling contraband cell phones to a prisoner. Detectives identified Judge as a suspect and said they had evidence indicating he provided the prisoner with two cell phones and chargers in exchange for $300. Judge was charged with possession of contraband; his bond was set at $10,000. He had been employed as a guard since May 2014.

Texas: Three prison units in coastal Brazoria County were evacuated due to expected historic floodwaters from the nearby Brazos River on May 29, 2016. Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said prisoners were transferred by bus from the Terrell and Stringfellow Units in Rosharon to other facilities. Prisoners at the low-security Ramsey Unit trusty camp were moved to the main prison building. Approximately 2,600 prisoners were evacuated in advance of the rain-swollen flood conditions, according to Clark.

Texas: On May 17, 2016, John Earl Nolley was released on bond after spending almost 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Attorneys from the Innocence Project worked on Nolley’s case for 10 years until a judge agreed in April 2016 to have DNA evidence from the crime scene retested using more modern technology. The results conclusively ruled out Nolley as a suspect. Innocence Project attorney Barry Scheck had also worked with Tarrant County’s Conviction Integrity Unit to have the case reviewed for suspected false testimony. Although Nolley was allowed to walk free from the courtroom with his family, he was not exonerated. “The investigation continues and sometime in the upcoming months we hope to have a final conclusion in innocence and exoneration. We are not there yet,” Scheck stated.

Texas: A woman who was booked into the La Joya City Jail on a misdemeanor probation violation has claimed she was subjected to an “all-night invasion” by a police dispatcher, who sexually abused her and made her perform oral sex. The woman, identified as Autumn Renee, alleged that jail supervisors saw video surveillance footage of the extended sexual assault that occurred on May 29, 2014, but refused to take her to a hospital or provide medical care and instead offered her a taco. She filed suit in May 2016 and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages against her assailant, Felipe Santiago Peralez III, and several government officials and agencies for bad faith and infliction of emotional distress, as well as violations of the Prison Rape Elimination Act and her Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Peralez pleaded guilty to charges related to the sexual assault in October 2015 and was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

United Kingdom: Transgender prisoners at HM Prison Littlehey will now be able to shop in their own store for items traditionally provided for women. The Equalities Team at the facility set up a shop where prisoners can browse through catalogs and place orders for clothing and makeup. The Littlehey facility, located in Cambridgeshire, houses only male sex offenders, but a group of six prisoners who identify as female meet regularly at the store. A report by the Independent Monitoring Board, a prison watchdog group, found that the transgender prisoners’ chief complaints centered around hair dye, makeup and showers. On July 3, 2016, a Ministry of Justice spokesman stated: “There are strict rules in place to ensure transgender prisoners are managed safely and in accordance with the law. We are reviewing our guidelines to see what improvements can be made to the way they are managed in custody.”  

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