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News in Brief

Alaska: A former prison guard convicted of smuggling drugs into the Goose Creek Correctional Center was sentenced on April 24, 2017 to eight months in federal prison. Adam Jason Spindler, 33, pleaded guilty to one count each of drug conspiracy and possession of controlled substances with the intent to distribute. He was arrested after heroin and marijuana were discovered in a bag he tried to bring into the facility. Spindler later admitted to the FBI that he planned to distribute the drugs to a prisoner, Edward Wayne George. Spindler contacted George’s girlfriend, Taylor Marie Hunter, around 35 times, attorneys said, to coordinate the drug delivery; he was paid about $1,400. George was also charged, and in April 2017 was sentenced to 33 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Hunter was sentenced on May 15, 2017 to time served and three years of supervised release.

California: According to a February 9, 2017 statement from Madera County District Attorney David Linn, a Chowchilla prison guard whose one-year-old son was fatally shot by his three-year-old sister will face a felony count of manslaughter and two felony counts of child abuse, one involving each child. The District Attorney’s office alleged that Erica Bautista, a 16-year veteran guard, “willingly and unlawfully” kept a loaded gun where she knew or “should have known that a child was likely to gain access to the firearm.” Bautista’s son, David, died en route to a hospital after being shot by his sister, who is named as a victim in the criminal complaint. If convicted, Bautista faces more than 10 years in prison.

Colorado: Anthony Martinez, 40, a former prison guard at the Centennial Correctional Facility, pleaded guilty on April 27, 2017 to charges of second- and third-degree assault, as well as attempting to influence a public official. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail plus six months of probation and anger management classes. Martinez was accused of using excessive force against prisoner Shawn Lovett on September 11, 2014, when he was escorting Lovett to a new location. Martinez yanked Lovett’s leg restraints and shackles so violently that he jerked him completely off his feet, according to an affidavit in the case. In a report, Martinez claimed that Lovett had kicked him, striking his hand and wrist. Security video, however, disproved Martinez’s account.

Colorado: A Larimer County jail employee resigned after allegedly revealing a victim’s information to the suspect in a criminal case. Bethanie Williamson, 37, quit the sheriff’s office in February 2017 after 10 years on the job and was charged with a class-2 misdemeanor for committing a “computer crime.” The alleged incident occurred the prior month, when Williamson visited the Colorado courts website and found the contact information of a victim in a case involving a prisoner housed at the jail; according to the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, the prisoner was in the room when Williamson accessed the online data. The Sheriff’s Office said investigators contacted the victim and found the information obtained by Williamson was not used for any malfeasance.

Florida: More than 1,100 children, parents and grandparents visited the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office’s animal farm to hunt for more than 9,000 plastic eggs and visit with rescued sloths, alpacas and rabbits for an annual Easter celebration on April 11, 2017. The event was organized and facilitated by Monroe County jail prisoners. “A little bit of empathy for animals is a good thing [for prisoners] to learn,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Becky Herrin. The farm, which is home to 150 animals that include miniature horses, birds and a python, is open to the public twice a week at no cost or by donation. Many of the farm’s animals were formerly abused or abandoned, according to Herrin.

Florida: Leandre Bekencia, 24, a former South Bay Correctional Facility kitchen supervisor, was arrested on April 13, 2017 for allegedly helping a prisoner escape. Bekencia received a call from the prisoner – reportedly Antwan F. Anglin, then 27, who was serving time for selling cocaine – when he absconded after being transferred to the West Palm Beach Community Release Center in August 2015. She allegedly helped him obtain a hotel room. A judge set Bekencia’s bail at $15,000 and ordered her not to have contact with either Anglin or the South Bay Correctional Facility. She was placed on unpaid administrative leave the day after Anglin escaped, as officials began investigating reports that she was having an improper relationship with a prisoner.

Florida: The state’s House of Representatives issued a posthumous apology to Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas – also known as the “Groveland Four” – on April 18, 2017, about 70 years too late. “As a state, we’re truly sorry,” Rep. Chris Sprowls said to the families of the four black men, after lawmakers unanimously voted to exonerate them of raping a 17-year-old white girl in 1949. Thomas had been caught by a posse and shot 400 times; the other three were convicted, and one was later shot and killed on his way to a retrial. “The memories can’t be erased, the pain they’ve endured can’t be fixed, but today we have an opportunity to provide closure to these families in the form of an apology,” stated Rep. Bobby DuBose, who sponsored the bill that called for their pardon. The state Senate echoed the apology on April 27, 2017, and Governor Rick Scott is expected to sign off on the pardon.

Georgia: On April 11, 2017, three former federal prison guards who stomped, kicked and beat Christopher Varner – a BOP prisoner serving life for murder, armed robbery and burglary – were sentenced to terms of probation. The federal sentencing guidelines called for prison terms of 97 to 120 months, but prosecutors agreed to limit the potential sentences to 40 months for John Williams, 24 months for Antonio Binns and 36 months for Justin Washington. All three pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court to one count of deprivation of rights for the severe beating of Varner at the Augusta State Medical Prison on February 13, 2014. Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Clark played a video recording of the beating, which showed all three guards had repeatedly punched, kicked, stomped and used a baton on Varner after he was handcuffed. Williams, Binns and Washington each received five years’ probation and were ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.

Illinois: After nearly 23 years behind bars, Roberto Almodovar was released from prison on April 13, 2017 after a Cook County judge tossed out Almodovar’s double-homicide conviction. Almodovar and co-defendant William Negron were convicted in 1995 of two murders that occurred the year before, based almost entirely on testimony and reports from now-retired Chicago police Detective Reynaldo Guevara, who allegedly beat, coerced and framed innocent defendants in dozens of investigations. Attorneys for both Almodovar and Negron argued their clients deserved a new trial, which prosecutors opposed. The office of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced it no longer was “in the best interests of justice” to proceed with the case, and Judge James Linn subsequently dismissed the convictions. Negron remains imprisoned on a separate murder conviction that also dates to the 1990s.

Illinois: A 12-count complaint filed by two teenage prisoners against the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, the Fox TV network and the hit show “Empire” was allowed to proceed in April 2017, when a federal judge refused to dismiss the proposed class-action suit. The prisoners, who filed the complaint on behalf of themselves and others at the juvenile facility, claimed that corrections officials had placed them on lockdown to accommodate the taping of “Empire” and that they were deprived of education programs, recreational activities, the library, the infirmary and the chapel for days. Sick call requests were ignored and family visits were eliminated, they alleged, and mentally ill prisoners were psychologically harmed by the lockdowns. Federal judge Amy J. St. Eve ruled that the teenagers had “plausibly stated” a claim and, “in fact, [the] plaintiffs’ allegations regarding the denial of access to the infirmary and the rejected sick-call requests – alone – state an actionable claim.”

Indiana: Joshua Devine, incarcerated at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, died on April 8, 2017 due to a fire he allegedly set himself, prison officials said in a news release. Devine, 30, who was serving a 16-year sentence for attempted robbery, died in the blaze, according to Superintendent Ron Neal. Guards were called to a fire in Devine’s cell in B Cell House, according to the release, and staff said they attempted to perform CPR on him. He was later declared dead; the incident is under investigation.

Iowa: Jennifer Wierson, a former jail clerk who admitted to misappropriating thousands of dollars from the Scott County Sheriff’s Office, was sentenced on April 10, 2017 to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay nearly $200,600 in restitution. She also must serve three years on supervised release. Wierson pleaded guilty last September to theft from a program receiving federal funds.

Iowa: Pottawattamie County Sheriff Jeff Danker said Wesley Williams Correa-Carmenaty, 24, shot two sheriff’s deputies, killing one of them, and escaped from the Pottawattamie County jail by stealing a transport van and crashing through the gates. Correa-Carmenaty then attempted to take a pickup truck and shot the driver, but continued on in the jail van until he stole a woman’s car at gunpoint and fled in that vehicle. The May 1, 2017 incident, which was captured on surveillance video, ended when Correa-Carmenaty was caught following a high-speed chase that ended in a crash. At the time of his escape, he had just received a 45-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter. Deputy Mark Burbridge was killed during the escape while Deputy Pat Morgan was wounded.

Israel: An Arab Israeli former member of parliament was sentenced to two years in jail on April 9, 2017, after he pleaded guilty to smuggling a dozen cell phones and notes to Palestinian prisoners. Basel Ghattas, 60, of the Arab-dominated Joint List, resigned his seat in the Israeli Knesset as part of a plea bargain, in which he admitted handing phones and SIM cards to the prisoners. In exchange, prosecutors dropped charges of terrorism and endangering state security, for which Ghattas could have faced up to a 10-year prison term. In addition to a reduced sentence of 24 months, Ghattas was fined 120,000 shekels ($33,300) according to court transcripts. The court ordered Ghattas to begin serving his sentence at Dekel prison in Beersheba in July, granting his request not to be jailed until the end of Ramadan.

Kansas: A former Leavenworth prison guard was sentenced on April 10, 2017 to three years in federal prison for taking bribes to smuggle tobacco to prisoners, according to federal prosecutors. Marc Buckner, 47, pleaded guilty to one count of accepting bribes. In his plea, he admitted the crimes occurred while he worked at Leavenworth. Buckner said he was paid each time he smuggled tobacco into the facility; he hid the tobacco and rolling papers in two handmade insoles in his shoes. Prisoners allegedly paid Buckner $750 for each can of Bugler brand tobacco and rolling papers he delivered, which occurred once or twice a month for several years, he said.

Kentucky: Former Campbell County District Judge Tim Nolan, 70, has been charged with 12 counts of human trafficking and unlawful transaction with a minor, according to court documents. Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear announced six new counts, in addition to the initial six, on June 4, 2017. The charges include two counts of human trafficking with a person under the age of 18, a Class B felony, and 10 counts of human trafficking with an adult, a Class C felony. Nolan was charged in a criminal complaint by the Campbell County Police Department for crimes that occurred between 2010 and May 2017, all related to prostitution.

Massachusetts: Keon Ascian Gutrich, a 24-year-old former employee of the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority, was sentenced to six months in jail in Halifax County Circuit Court on April 16, 2017, for attempting or conspiring to deliver Suboxone – an opioid used to treat heroin addiction – to a prisoner. A judge ordered the remainder of Gutrich’s five-year sentence suspended, and also sentenced him to a five-year suspended prison term for being in possession of Suboxone with intent to distribute. Gutrich reportedly received $50 for smuggling the drugs. Dustin Dale Farrar, 26, who was incarcerated at the Halifax County Adult Detention Center, had contacted his sisters, Dolly Elizabeth Meade and Shelly Gail Meade, about smuggling Suboxone strips into the jail through Gutrich, according to investigators who were monitoring Farrar’s phone calls. Farrar was sentenced in April 2017 to 10 years with all but six months suspended, while his sisters each received a 10-year sentence with all but one year suspended.

Mississippi: Three employees at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian were stabbed by an unnamed prisoner on April 11, 2017, according to news reports. Lauderdale County Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun said the prisoner was being moved when he used a homemade shank to stab the employees. One staff member was treated at the facility, according to the Meridian Star, and the other two were taken to a hospital with serious – but not-life threatening – injuries. Calhoun said an investigator had been assigned to the case and a decision on any charges would be made later.

Mississippi: The state’s Department of Corrections announced on April 11, 2017 that a hunger strike in protest of new searches for contraband at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution had ended – eight days after 11 maximum-security prisoners began refusing meals in the prison’s Area II. Family members said prisoners were protesting other conditions at the facility, too, including a lockdown that prevented them from exercising. DOC spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher denied that prisoners were being barred from exercise and said contraband encouraged unrest.

Missouri: James J. Ramirez accepted a $437,500 settlement from Jackson County on July 10, 2017, just three months after four Jackson County Detention Center guards were indicted by a federal grand jury on assault and conspiracy charges. While being held in the county jail in July 2015 for an alleged probation violation, Ramirez was severely beaten by guards Travis Hewitt, Dakota Pearce, Jen-I Pulos and Terrance Dooley, Jr., who, according to Ramirez’s lawsuit, slammed him into a wall, punched him repeatedly and pinned him to the floor with their knees on his neck and back. According to investigators, Ramirez was admitted to a local hospital with multiple bruises, broken wrists and ribs, a collapsed lung and three fractured vertebrae. The charges against the four guards remain pending.

New Jersey: Five prisoners already serving sentences for child pornography at a federal prison in Fort Dix used contraband cell phones and removable storage cards to share child porn with other prisoners, according to federal prosecutors. Anthony C. Jeffries, 31; Jordan T. Allen, 30; Christopher D. Roffler, 29; Brian J. McKay, 46; and Erik M. Smith, 35, are accused of maintaining an online account that contained images and videos of child sexual abuse, transferring and selling the storage cards to government informants. The defendants, who had initial court appearances on April 25, 2017, are charged with conspiracy and distributing, selling and possessing child porn on federal property. They face from 15 to 40 years in prison if convicted.

New York: A federal judge unsealed records suggesting a cover-up of a prisoner’s claims that he was abused by guards after a nationally televised manhunt for two escaped prisoners in upstate New York on June 6, 2015. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.26]. U.S. Magistrate Judge David Peebles unsealed the records in the case of Mattieu Burks, 29, who has filed suit against state officials, the New York Daily News reported in April 2017. Burks claims that after Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility, guards slammed his head against a wall and told him to keep his mouth shut. “They opened the cell and came in and grabbed me, and an officer reached around and punched me in the face,” Burks told investigators. “Later, a CO came down and told me to leave things alone or it would get worse.” Burks, who worked in the prison tailor shop where Matt and Sweat allegedly obtained the tools they used during their escape, also said he was harassed, unjustly put in solitary confinement, and deprived of water and electricity.

New York: Alleged former Colombo mob boss Thomas “Tommy Shots” Gioeli, serving an 18-year sentence for racketeering, is suing the federal Bureau of Prisons for $10 million for a tumble he took in 2013 while playing ping-pong at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. According to a February 2017 report from the New York Post, Gioeli blamed his fall on a “leaky slop sink pipe” that caused him to slip and hurt his kneecap. Gioeli’s lawsuit accuses the BOP of negligence, but in court papers federal attorneys have argued that the alleged mobster should have known the risks associated with playing ping-pong. Gioeli is represented by the law firm of Isaacson Schiowitz Korson & Solny, LLP.

New York: The state’s corrections department says it will charge workers $9 if it finds they were negligent in how they treat new clear plastic bags that have been issued inside New York’s 54 prisons; employees use the bags to bring in their lunch or personal items. The agency said in April 2017 that it had paid nearly $300,000 to buy 32,000 plastic bags for employees as a way to cut down on contraband smuggling. If a worker mistreats his or her bag, or loses it, the state says it could dock them for a new one. Over the past two years, the corrections department has installed new technology and a new vendor package program “to crack down on contraband,” said Thomas Mailey, an agency spokesman. “The clear bag program is simply the latest step in that effort.”

Ohio: In March 2017, Montgomery County jail employees found crack, heroin, meth and joints rolled in pages torn from a New Testament Bible, according to the sheriff’s office. Two jail guards searched the cell of Ronnie Brocar and Zachary Goins, finding tobacco and five gloves full of marijuana in Brocar’s bed mat. A deputy searched Goins’ bunk and found marijuana and a Ramen noodle packet that contained three hand-rolled joints made from Bible pages. Brocar took responsibility for the contraband, an incident report noted. Guards said they also found prisoner Keontae Brown in possession of matches, marijuana and crack cocaine during a search of his cell. During a pat down, a guard reported that he felt a “suspicious bulge between the buttocks of inmate Brown,” and a sergeant ordered Brown to retrieve the object. A small plastic bag was recovered that contained suspected marijuana, crack and match heads.

Ohio: James Eagle, 23, was initially arrested on April 10, 2017 for leaving the scene of an accident and stealing a license plate to put on his car afterward. Once booked into jail, he made phone calls to his girlfriend who forwarded them to courthouse staff, in which he posed as Judge Richard Bernat. His ruse was unsuccessful, but he later made bail and was released. After sheriff’s officials reviewed the recorded phone calls, Eagle was charged with additional offenses. He then called the sheriff’s warrants office posing as a detective and told staff that his warrants were a mistake. While initially successful, the warrants were later filed and Eagle was charged with impersonation of a peace officer. He has since been arrested on the new charges.

Oklahoma: Governor Mary Fallin commuted the sentences of four prisoners from life without parole to life with the possibility of parole on April 30, 2017. William Dufries, 59; K.O. Cooper, 76; Kevin Martin, 55; and Jesse Rose, 58, joined a list of 25 prisoners serving life without parole for drug convictions who have had their sentences commuted by Fallin since June 2016. There are still 52 prisoners in Oklahoma serving such sentences. A change in state law in 2015 did away with mandatory life sentences for drug trafficking with a previous drug-related felony, but the new statute was not retroactive.

South Carolina: Marcia Bailey-Marine, a 46-year-old former jail guard, was charged with misdemeanor third-degree assault and battery on April 18, 2017 after police said she used an electroshock device on a prisoner while he was handcuffed at the W. Glenn Campbell Detention Center. Bailey-Marine faces up to 30 days in jail, a $500 fine or both. She was released on bond from the Darlington County Detention Center.

Tennessee: Female state prisoners who were picking up trash alongside Highway 111 found a body on April 27, 2017. The body was so severely decomposed it was almost unrecognizable. The prisoners had cleaned the same area about a month earlier, leading investigators to believe the body had been dumped there after March 1. According to Sequatchie County Sheriff Ronnie Hitchcock, there were no reports at the time for a missing person in that area. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation took over the case and the body was transported to a crime lab in Nashville; authorities did not say whether the body was male or female.

Texas: The parents of Patrick Green, a prisoner at the Harris County Jail who died on March 24, 2015, filed a wrongful death suit in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas, according to an April 26, 2017 news report. Kathryn Green and David Green are suing former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, seven jail guards and multiple medical professionals for negligence. Green, then 27, had been in jail for less than three months on a probation violation related to a drug possession charge when he became seriously ill and ultimately died of acute bacterial meningitis. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.1]. He did not eat or drink for several days, and the Greens’ lawsuit alleges that jail guards ignored his condition and failed to seek medical attention. The complaint, filed by attorney Randall L. Kallinen, also cites a delay in treatment by healthcare providers at the Harris County Jail.

United Kingdom: HMP Dartmoor prisoner Damon Bendall, 27, lured prison guards Mark Head, Alan Tribble and David Job into an empty classroom where he assaulted them in a desperate bid to be transferred to a secure facility near his ailing grandfather. On February 10, 2017, Recorder Simon Levene sentenced Bendall to an additional 30 months in prison, telling him, “This was completely gratuitous. You did what you did with a cold and deliberate motive.” Bendall had previously initiated a formal transfer request to be moved closer to his grandfather. His request was refused, however, precipitating his attack on the guards.

Wisconsin: Amanda Worley, 27, was charged in Brown County Circuit Court on March 30, 2017 with two felony counts of “delivering illegal articles to an inmate” after she was allegedly caught smuggling cigarettes to a prisoner, Riley M. Engler, at the Green Bay Correctional Institution. Worley, who began working at the prison barely two months earlier, was initially assigned to the restricted housing unit but transferred to a different post in February. Once she moved back to the restricted housing unit, it was only two days later that she allegedly brought Engler tobacco and a lighter, the criminal complaint against her stated. Worley was freed on a $2,500 signature bond. 

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