News in Brief
Alaska: The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced in a May 11, 2017 press release that a criminal defense lawyer and her incarcerated client had been charged with smuggling drugs into the Anchorage Correctional Complex. Attorney Kit Lee Karjala, 54, and prisoner Christopher B. Miller, 33, were charged with conspiracy, providing and possessing contraband in prison, and distribution of and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances. Karjala allegedly passed the drugs, including heroin, to Miller during attorney-client visits. The investigation was conducted by the FBI and Alaska State Troopers, with assistance from the Alaska DOC.
Arizona: On June 1, 2017, Eric Scott Kindley, 49, who was hired to transport prisoners from one state to another, was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting three female prisoners. Two of the assaults reportedly occurred during transports to Arizona, while one was during a trip from Mississippi to New Mexico. Kindley ran Special Operations Group 6, a private transport company. The victims said they were handcuffed and taken to secluded locations where Kindley assaulted them and threatened them with a gun. Arrested in California, he will be extradited to Arizona where the criminal complaint was filed.
Arizona: A brawl at the privately-operated Red Rock Correctional Center on May 25, 2017 that involved around 80 prisoners resulted in the facility being placed on lockdown. Four prisoners were injured during the incident, which was reportedly racially motivated, and taken to an outside hospital. The prison is operated by CoreCivic, previously known as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Donna Hamm, director of Middle Ground Prison Reform, noted that prison officials often incorrectly describe incidents as being racially-motivated when other factors may be involved.
Arkansas: On June 2, 2017, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that a lawsuit filed by James Clayton Solomon, alleging that guards at the Benton County Criminal Detention Center used excessive force against him, had been dismissed. While U.S. District Court Judge J. Leon Holmes held the jailers bore some responsibility for the fight that led to Solomon’s excessive force claims, he found the allegations had not been proven. Solomon contended that after he wrote a threatening letter to another federal judge, U.S. Marshals told him he would face retaliation, which resulted in the incident involving jail staff. The district court had previously dismissed Solomon’s claims against the Marshals, which was upheld on appeal. [See: PLN, May 2017, p.40].
Brazil: Seven teenage prisoners died during a riot at a juvenile facility in the city of Lagoa Seca, Paraiba state on June 3, 2017. Some of the teens tried to escape (20 were successful), while others set fires and fights broke out. The deaths included one prisoner who was burned to death and others who were stabbed. Brazilian prisons are plagued with violence, including juvenile facilities.
Cambodia: A May 23, 2017 news article reported that the Cambodian government was having a “luxury detention center” built next to the Pray Sar Prison near Phnom Penh. The facility, which is expected to be completed in late 2018, will be used to house wealthy prisoners and will be privately operated. Rich prisoners have long been provided perks such as single cells, better living conditions and access to drugs and alcohol; the new 1,200-bed “VIP” facility will make that practice official. The Malaysian company contracted to build and operate the prison, Kunn Rekon Holdings, will charge fees to prisoners and share the proceeds with the government.
Colorado: A lawsuit filed in federal court in May 2017 by a female prison guard accused a co-worker of sexually harassing her, and also claimed retaliatory termination when she reported the harassment. Leticia Cornella, 46, said she had a single sexual encounter with her supervisor, Scott Lancaster, at the Limon Correctional Facility. When she ended the relationship, she said Lancaster began sexually harassing her in an attempt to get back together. DOC executive director Rick Raemisch was also named in the lawsuit. Cornella is seeking damages, back pay, reinstatement and attorneys’ fees.
Florida: Capt. Steven Cloud and Sgt. Jeffery Davis, employed at the Liberty Correctional Institution, were arrested in May 2017. They are accused of pepper-spraying an unidentified prisoner in the face, then locking him in a closet without decontaminating him. The prisoner had asked to be placed in protective custody and refused to return to his housing unit, which resulted in the pepper-spraying. Cloud and Davis reportedly laughed at the prisoner, then wrote a report falsely stating he had been aggressive. They were both charged with official misconduct and filing a false report; Davis was also charged with malicious battery.
Florida: Two nurses employed at the Orange County Jail were reprimanded in May 2017 in connection with the death of 75-year-old prisoner William Howard. Howard died at the jail in November 2016 following a use of force incident involving guards; his death was ruled a homicide by a medical examiner, who found he had a crushing injury and fractured neck. The Orange-Osceola County State Attorney’s office investigated the incident, but no charges were filed against jail staff. The two nurses who were reprimanded, Nancy Mendoza and Penelope Gray, and a third nurse, Rodney Martin, who was fired, were accused of failing to provide treatment to Howard after the use of force incident, which involved a “takedown” leg sweep by a guard.
Georgia: Sonny Means, 45, a former guard at the Metro Transitional Center, was indicted on April 14, 2017 and charged with sexually assaulting a female prisoner. According to the indictment, between May and June 2013 he had sexual contact with the prisoner and “sexually gratified himself” while she was present. He had resigned in July 2013. It was unclear why it took prosecutors so long to bring charges against Means, who was released on $20,000 bond following his arrest.
Georgia: April Whitehead, who worked as a guard at the Pulaski State Prison, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on March 21, 2017. The shooting took place in the parking lot of the facility, which houses women prisoners. The Georgia Department of Corrections confirmed that a shooting took place at the prison but declined to release any details.
Georgia: Enrique Toribio and Marcus Burke were sentenced in April 2017 to four years in federal prison for their involvement in a tax fraud scheme. They were already serving time for aggravated assault and manslaughter when they masterminded a plot to steal the personal financial information of over 60 victims and used the stolen identities to file fake tax returns. U.S. Attorney John Horn observed, “Identity theft is bad enough, but victims shouldn’t have to defend themselves against those who are already serving time for other serious crimes.” Torbio’s mother, Rosa Toribio-Gama, and sister, Lupita Rodriguez-Toribio, pleaded guilty for their involvement in the fraudulent scheme. They were ordered to pay $3,650 in restitution and serve three years on probation.
Hawaii: Former federal prison guard Diego Contreras, 31, received a one-year sentence on June 1, 2017; he was also ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. Contreras had pleaded guilty to making false statements during a federal investigation into allegations that he had engaged in improper relationships with two female prisoners at the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu. He had falsely denied having contacted the prisoners through email, and not having contact with one of them after she was released. Investigators noted that a photo of Contreras and the released prisoner had been posted on a Facebook page.
Illinois: Four Cook County Jail guards were injured on April 15, 2017 when prisoners set fire to their uniforms using a microwave in the facility’s super-maximum security unit. The injuries were non-life-threatening but the guards were taken to local hospitals; two suffered from smoke exposure and the other two were hurt while regaining control of the situation. The incident occurred in Division 9, a special super-max unit for prisoners who engage in sexual misconduct.
Illinois: On February 17, 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested Jorge Soberanis-Rumaldo, who had escaped from the Stateville Correctional Center in June 2003. At the time he absconded, Soberanis-Rumaldo, now 58, was serving an eight-year sentence for cocaine possession. He fled while on a work detail. According to a spokesperson with the Illinois Department of Corrections, “The IDOC has worked with the U.S. Marshals to locate Mr. Soberanis-Rumaldo since he failed to return to custody.” He was one of the IDOC’s top 20 fugitives. Authorities did not release details about what Soberanis-Rumaldo had been doing for the past 14 years, nor did they provide information about how investigators eventually tracked him down.
Indonesia: A mass escape occurred at a jail complex in Pekanbaru, Riau province on May 5, 2017. Approximately two hundred prisoners broke out by destroying a gate after being released from their cells to pray. Previously, prisoners had raised complaints about abusive guards and mistreatment at the facility. According to police officials, 77 prisoners were quickly caught while a search remained ongoing for the other escapees.
Louisiana: On March 7, 2017, WAFB reported that Jomar Jackson, a corrections cadet at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, had been fired and arrested. Jackson, 29, was allegedly caught trying to smuggle cell phones and drugs into the facility. “Corrections officers were doing a routine shakedown of arriving employees ... when Jackson turned around and headed back to the front gate,” prison officials said in a press release. “Officers stopped Jackson, performed a search, and found four packs of synthetic marijuana and two cell phones inside his lunch box. Jackson had stuffed the contraband inside two Pringles cans.”
Maine: Calling a girlfriend from jail isn’t usually a problem, except when you’ve been charged with domestic violence and prohibited from contacting her. Derek D. Taylor, 33, learned that the hard way when he phoned his girlfriend from the Kennebec County jail multiple times in violation of his bail conditions. As a result, he was ordered to serve 20 months in prison on the underlying domestic assault charge. According to a May 3, 2017 news report, recorded calls from the jail indicated that Taylor called his girlfriend, asked other prisoners to contact her and told her to say he was not responsible for assaulting her. When Taylor questioned how he could have violated his bail conditions when he was incarcerated, Justice Michaela Murphy informed him that per a ruling by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, a defendant does not have be out on bail to be found guilty of violating bail conditions.
Michigan: Deaundre Terrell Johnson, 22, was charged with a felony offense for having sex without informing his partner that he was HIV-positive, in violation of state law. At the time, Johnson was incarcerated and his sexual partner was another prisoner at the Brooks Correctional Facility. An investigation was conducted by the Michigan State Police after a prison guard reported Johnson’s sexual activity. Johnson, who was bound over by a district court on June 14, 2017, faces up to eight years in prison as a habitual offender. The other prisoner, who said he had not contracted HIV, reportedly changed his story as to whether he knew that Johnson was HIV-positive before they had sex.
Michigan: Marwin McHenry, 25, was released from prison after serving three years when his convictions were dismissed on May 1, 2017. He had been sentenced to at least 16 years in 2013 for a non-fatal shooting incident, but new witnesses came forward to identify another person as the shooter. The real shooter provided a signed confession to prosecutors in October 2016, and McHenry passed a polygraph exam. “Mistaken identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions, and that’s what happened here,” said David Moran, director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic. In August 2017, McHenry received $175,753 in compensation from the state for his wrongful incarceration.
Nebraska: According to the State Auditor’s Office, a contract dentist with the Department of Correctional Services billed the state $145,500 for dentures for 111 prisoners who were ineligible to get them. The dentist, Dr. David Schrad, who was fired on April 10, 2017, said he received no training as to which prisoners could receive dentures. Prison officials argued that he was aware of the rules, which require prisoners to have served at least two years and have at least six months left on their sentences before they can receive dentures or partials. The audit report also cited inadequate documentation for dental care in 65 cases.
New Mexico: A brawl involving nine prisoners and guards at the Otero County Detention Center broke out on April 30, 2017 after the prisoners refused to return to their cells for a lockdown. The incident reportedly developed after one prisoner had his phone call cut short by the lockdown; other prisoners then became involved and used mattresses to block guards who responded to the incident. Minor injuries were reported, and at least one prisoner was pepper-sprayed.
New Mexico: According to the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Office, jail guard Michael Chavez smuggled contraband, including tobacco, marijuana, meth, food and coffee, into the county jail. Chavez was arrested in June 2017 and transferred to the Curry County Detention Center on felony charges of introducing contraband into a prison facility and providing illegal substances or alcohol to inmates. His bond was set at $5,000.
New York: The fully-clothed body of New York State Court of Appeals Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found floating in the Hudson River on April 12, 2017, one day after she was reported missing. There were no signs of trauma on her body, no signs of criminality and the NYPD closed the case as a suspected suicide. Abdus-Salaam, 65, was known for writing a landmark decision that helped LGBT parents and other parents without biological ties gain the same parenting rights as biological parents. The medical examiner officially ruled her death a suicide on July 26, 2017, though the judge’s husband has refuted that finding.
New York: A lawsuit filed in May 2017 accused guards at the Manhattan Detention Complex in New York City of strip-searching a 4-year-old girl who was with her mother while visiting a prisoner. The strip-search allegedly occurred on September 1, 2016 when the mother was told she had been selected for a random “pat down” after clearing a metal detector and K9 inspection. Five female guards took her and her daughter into a room, where they had her strip and conducted a visual body cavity search. They then did the same to the 4-year-old. “This search involved using their hands to open the child’s pants, underwear and ... touching the child’s buttocks and vaginal area and conducting a visual inspection of these private areas,” the lawsuit stated. The city’s Department of Correction faces another suit, filed by Dana Grottano in 2015, that also alleges illegal strip-searches of visitors.
North Carolina: On June 5, 2017, around 20 people demonstrated outside the Forsyth County Jail over the recent deaths of two prisoners at the facility. The protestors marched to the jail while carrying signs and chanting slogans, including “No justice, no peace” and “Money and jobs for education, not for mass incarceration.” Prisoner Stephen A. Patterson, 40, died at the jail on May 26, 2017, while Deshawn L. Coley, 39, died on May 2. Both deaths were reportedly due to medical causes. The demonstrators demanded accountability from county officials. “We are all human beings, and we deserve to be treated humanely,” stated Tony Ndege, with Black Lives Matter Winston-Salem.
Ohio: Prosecuting a prisoner who escapes from custody shouldn’t be much of a challenge for prosecutors, but it was for a case in Hocking County. John Modie, 59, was indicted on a felony escape charge on April 26, 2016 after absconding from the Hocking Correctional Facility, where he was serving 18 years to life on a murder conviction. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.63]. Modie went to trial in May 2017, and after the prosecution rested his attorney moved for dismissal under Rule 29, as the prosecutor had failed to produce evidence that the escape occurred in Hocking County. “We tried to fix that error in the courtroom, unfortunately we were unable to do that,” said prosecutor Ben Fickel, who recalled a witness in an unsuccessful attempt to establish jurisdiction.
Ohio: After a $118,750 body scanning machine was installed at the Licking County Justice Center, jail officials began finding all kinds of things on prisoners being booked into the facility. According to a May 5, 2017 article in the Newark Advocate, within the first six months the Soter RS scanner was in operation it detected a bullet, keys, drugs and other foreign objects in prisoners’ bodies – as well as several pregnancies. Prisoners are scanned unless they are in a wheelchair or cannot stand, are pregnant, or have other medical conditions. “This is the best known way to detect contraband coming in,” said Jail Captain Chris Barbuto.
Oklahoma: On May 31, 2017, two state prisoners and a former guard were sentenced in connection with a drug distribution ring at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Prisoners Cody Lee McClendon III and Michael Lincoln received sentences of 32 years and 27½ years in federal prison, respectively, while former guard Timothy Croker received 37 months on a conspiracy charge. All three had pleaded guilty; they were accused of distributing methamphetamines at the prison. Federal prosecutors also brought charges against 18 co-defendants, who were convicted.
Oklahoma: Tulsa jail guard Rickardo Orlando Williams, 38, was arrested on June 2, 2017 and charged with two counts of sexual battery; he is accused of inappropriately touching two prisoners. He had been placed on unpaid leave the previous month, less than 90 days after he began working at the jail. Three victims said that Williams had groped or “humped” them or other prisoners. Bail was set at $20,000 for each of the felony charges.
Oregon: Prison officials have banned a book written by two attorneys about one of their clients serving time in an Oregon state prison for criminally negligent homicide. The book, Finishing Machine, about Gerald Strebendt – convicted of shooting and killing an unarmed man in 2014 – was classified as “true crime” by the DOC and thus banned. “Our experience shows that allowing publications inside about inmates’ notorious crime activity can draw unwanted attention and may be disruptive,” DOC spokeswoman Betty Bernt said in April 2017. “When you go to prison, you forfeit a lot of your rights,” countered Eugene Arnold, one of the book’s authors. “But the government is not in control of your mind. To say a book is a security threat? A threat to security is crushing free speech.” Strebendt, sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison, has since been released.
Pennsylvania: On May 22, 2017, a former guard at the Luzerne County Prison received a 30-month sentence for extorting money, drugs and alcohol from a prisoner at the facility. John Stachokus, 42, was ordered to report to federal prison by June 16 after pleading guilty to extortion and tampering with a witness. Stachokus was employed at the prison’s work release center when he extorted the prisoner in exchange for giving him furloughs and other privileges between 2013 and 2016. He then told the prisoner to lie for him once his misconduct was being investigated. Stachokus will also have to serve two years on supervised release.
Pennsylvania: Former York County Prison nurse Shelby Renee Houck pleaded guilty on June 2, 2017 to a misdemeanor charge of official oppression and received two years of probation. She was also barred from working at prisons or schools while on probation. Houck, 25, was accused of having a sexual relationship with a prisoner; as part of her plea deal, a felony charge of institutional sexual assault was dismissed. The prisoner, who was not named, admitted to investigators that he and Houck had sexual contact in the facility’s medical office. At the time, Houck was employed by a private contractor that provided healthcare at the prison, Primecare Medical.
Pennsylvania: Following a female prisoner’s suicide on April 18, 2017, a guard at the Allegheny County Jail was fired effective April 28. Veronica L. Brown denied any wrongdoing in connection with the hanging death of prisoner Jamie Gettings, 33, and said she would try to get her job back. “She did it on my shift, and that’s all I can tell you,” Brown stated. “I never spoke to her. She was laying on her bed.” Brown also said jail staff could not prevent suicides or watch every prisoner, and that she was “being made an example of.” Gettings was reportedly in a segregation cell in the jail’s medical housing unit when she hanged herself.
South Carolina: When Darlington County jail prisoner Ezekiel Stevenson, 18, tried to escape during a hospital visit on May 13, 2017, he made a tactical error during an attempted carjacking. After he pulled the driver out of his vehicle, the driver used his key fob to shut off the engine, leaving Stevenson trapped in the car during a standoff with law enforcement officers. When he tried to lock the doors, the driver used the fob to unlock them. Stevenson eventually fled but was quickly captured and returned to jail, and now faces additional charges of escape, resisting arrest and carjacking.
South Carolina: Two men were arrested on property near the medium-security Kershaw Correctional Institution at about 3 a.m. on May 3, 2017, according to the Associated Press, and accused of trying to fly drones carrying contraband into the prison. When Charles Everett Adams and Justin Marvin Canady were taken into custody after initially trying to flee, they were found in possession of drones and packages of knives, cell phones and marijuana.
Tennessee: On May 17, 2017, a 15-year-old being held at the Sumner County Jail was found hanging and unresponsive in his cell. The unidentified juvenile was taken to a hospital, where he died on May 31. According to the Sheriff’s Office, the teenager had been housed in a medical unit separate from adult prisoners; the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the incident. Also, on May 5, 2017, another prisoner at the Shelby County Jail, Ross Chad Oldham, 52, committed suicide by hanging.
Tennessee: Former Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold, indicted on charges related to his close ties with JailCigs, LLC, a company that had a contract to sell e-cigarettes to prisoners at the county jail, was sentenced on May 4, 2017 to 50 months in federal prison. In May 2016, Arnold and two alleged accomplices were indicted by federal prosecutors on thirteen criminal counts that included conspiracy, fraud, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funding, extortion under color of office and attempted witness tampering. JailCigs was owned by Arnold’s uncle and aunt, and the sheriff’s wife, Megan Arnold, had a financial interest in the company and was a part-time employee. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.28]. Arnold reportedly received around $66,000 from the business between 2013 and 2015; he was ordered to forfeit the proceeds and also contribute towards $52,500 in restitution to the county.
Texas: Firefighters were called to the Smith County jail on February 17, 2017, after prisoner Gustavo Zavala-Garcia climbed on top of a basketball goal and refused to come down. At the time of the incident Zavala-Garcia, 24, was on suicide watch and facing a capital murder charge; he descended from his perch after about 30 minutes.
Utah: On May 5, 2017, several staff members at the Daggett County Jail were charged with abusing prisoners at the facility. In one incident, deputy Joshua Cox offered to give prisoners a case of soft drinks if they could endure being shocked with a Taser for five seconds. Cox, 27, was charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, transporting weapons into a secure area and theft (for stealing the Taser). He pleaded guilty and received a four-month sentence in November 2017. Two other deputies, Rodrigo Toledo and Logan Walker, were changed with official misconduct for using stun guns on prisoners, while jail commander Benjamin Lail received one year of probation after pleading guilty to reckless endangerment for firing a stun gun at the feet of a co-worker. Daggett County Sheriff Jerry R. Jorgensen resigned in April 2017 after being charged with failure to safely keep inmates, official misconduct and obstruction of justice, and pleaded guilty in September. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.63].