News in Brief
Afghanistan: On August 8, 2016, Robert Langdon, a 44-year-old Australian security contractor, became the last Western prisoner to leave an Afghan prison filled with Al Qaeda and Taliban members. U.S. lawyer Kimberly Motley took Langdon’s case pro bono in 2013 and worked diligently to secure his release. “Defending Rob was the right thing to do because I believe in justness,” Motley said. “Rob was not given a fair trial, but Afghanistan’s legal system is a work in progress.” She successfully lobbied the government to pass a law in June that allows for the release of foreign detainees if there are good relations with the other country and reciprocity. The law was passed specifically to effect Langdon’s release.
Alabama: Prisoner movement was restricted at the Holman Correctional Facility on August 2, 2016 after a fight broke out in the same 150-bed dorm that was the scene of a previous violent incident in March. Bob Horton, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Corrections, said three prisoners suffered stab wounds during the initial fight and other prisoners “became aggressive” toward intervening staff members, prompting the lockdown. According to the DOC, Holman is designed to house 581 prisoners but has a population of 799.
Arkansas: A policy signed by Department of Correction Director Wendy Kelley in May 2016 bans newspaper clippings from prisoner mail and classifies them as contraband. The policy against newsprint stems from prison officials’ concerns about drug smuggling, but does not apply to newspapers sent directly from the publisher. Family members and friends who want to mail news articles, obituaries or classified ads may do so if they print or photocopy them. PLN editor Paul Wright said the policy may amount to infringement on prisoners’ First Amendment rights. “Just because they come up with a rationale behind it, doesn’t mean it’s going to hold up in court,” he noted.
Arkansas: On October 1, 2016, prison employee Devonte McCarter barricaded himself in a guard tower at the Delta Regional Unit and refused to leave. He held off authorities for several hours before surrendering. McCarter, who had access to a rifle, now faces a charge of commercial burglary. Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said no one was injured during the standoff. Arkansas Online reported on October 22 that McCarter failed a drug test hours after he ignored orders to come down.
Australia: Victoria police seized 28 cannabis plants from a vegetable garden at a GEO Group Australia-operated prison in Gippsland on August 10, 2016. It was the latest in a series of mishaps at the facility. Earlier in 2016, a poisonous snake was found in a box inside a cell, and in April two prisoners escaped. Community Public Sector Union Victoria spokeswoman Karen Batt said the union was worried about staffing levels at the facility. “To that end, I can advise we are conducting an inquiry into the privatization across of all elements of government services ... and part of that will be looking at whether there are adequate security measures [and] what sort of staffing ratios are in place.”
California: Prisoner Manuel Gabriel Rico was hospitalized after falling into an elevator shaft while fighting with deputies at the Stanislaus County Jail on July 15, 2016. Rico received several lacerations from the 10-foot drop to the top of an elevator car below. He had been arrested a day earlier on misdemeanor warrants from Alameda County and was held at the jail pending transfer. According to incident reports, Rico began behaving erratically in his cell and was being taken for a medical evaluation when the fight occurred. As to how the elevator doors were forced off their tracks, resulting in Rico’s fall, jail facility commander Lt. Mike Dailey said, “We just had the elevator certified this year. I would be interested to see what the investigation turns up, but we have good maintenance records.”
California: A woman who worked as a teaching assistant in the Los Angeles Unified School District has been charged with contraband smuggling. Teri Nichols visited death row prisoner Bruce Millsap at San Quentin State Prison on August 25, 2016. Prison staff noticed unusual packaging in a visitation area trash can; Nichols admitted she had smuggled in food, then consented to a search and surrendered 18 cell phones, 18 phone chargers, two unidentified blue pills and nearly 84 grams of heroin. Nichols, 47, denied that the heroin was hers. “I did not bring that in,” she said during an interview after her arraignment in Marin County Superior Court.
California: Relatives reported Gerald Sakamoto missing after he left his home in the middle of the night on July 29, 2016. Two days later the 71-year-old Alzheimer’s patient was found dead in downtown Los Angeles after being booked into the Los Angeles County Jail and then quickly released on his own recognizance. Mindy Brink said her father didn’t take his medication on the morning he was arrested for DUI, which, she claimed, was the cause of his erratic driving and impaired judgment. Sheriff’s Department officials said their records indicated “Mr. Sakamoto was not identified as requiring special needs or assistance during his time” in custody. No foul play was suspected in his death.
District of Columbia: On September 22, 2016, President Obama presented the 2015 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal to several distinguished recipients. San Quentin State Prison’s higher education program, the Prison University Project, was one of the honorees. A White House press release said the Prison University Project was selected “for transforming the lives of currently incarcerated people through higher education. Its programs offer opportunity and inspiration to their students, providing an example for others to emulate.”
Ecuador: The Justice Ministry issued a statement on September 8, 2016 announcing disciplinary action against the warden of a prison in the capital city of Quito; additionally, the facility’s head of security was fired. The prison had been using the emblem of the Nazi Party as a hand stamp to identify visitors; the stamp featured an eagle atop a swastika and the year 1939. The Ecuadorian government immediately condemned the practice after photos of the visitor hand stamps appeared on social media.
Florida: The Florida Department of Corrections reported on August 18, 2016 that prison guard Travis Lamar Hinson had been arrested and fired from his position at the Management & Training Corporation-operated Gadsden Correctional Facility. An investigation by the Office of Inspector General revealed that Hinson had forced a female prisoner to have sex with him in a staff bathroom in May 2016. Hinson was charged with felony sexual battery as a correctional officer in a position of control or authority.
Florida: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, now known as CoreCivic) formerly operated the Hernando County Jail in Brooksville. Employee records obtained from the company helped catch a two-time bank robber when her employment-related fingerprints matched a latent print found at one of the crime scenes. Elizabeth Perkins was employed by CCA between August 2010 and September 2012. While in federal custody for a bank heist in Pinellas County, the former jailer was arrested and charged on August 17, 2016 with the second robbery, committed in Citrus County. Perkins used a firearm when she robbed both banks.
Indiana: PLN previously reported the arrest and firing of former Indiana Women’s Prison guard Lamont Williams. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.63]. On August 2, 2016, Williams pleaded guilty to one felony count of sexual misconduct. The victim told investigators that he had had sexual contact with her in 2014 and 2015; she saved Williams’ semen in a tissue after performing oral sex, and DNA evidence confirmed her allegations. Under a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to seek a prison term of no more than two years. On September 20, 2016, Williams was sentenced to two years of home confinement plus one year suspended to probation.
Iowa: Radio Iowa reported on August 9, 2016 that AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan had issued a public statement about a lockdown at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. Homan called working conditions for guards “an outrage,” and said staffing levels at the prison were “so critically low that there are not enough bodies” to respond to emergencies. Governor Terry Branstad dismissed Homan’s assertions through a spokesman. Ben Hammes, the governor’s communications director, said, “The Vice Chair of the Democratic Party, Danny Homan, is only interested in taking cheap political partisan shots.” The Iowa Department of Corrections declined to comment.
Kansas: After three walkaways, the Shawnee County Jail suspended its prisoner work crew program for two weeks. Corrections director Brian Cole called the escapes “embarrassing” and “not acceptable” in an August 8, 2016 conference with county commissioners. He took responsibility for the security breaches, saying, “The buck stops with me.” Cole further said the jail’s policy on notifying the public of escapes had been changed. He noted the temporary work stoppage would allow time to analyze “any type of pattern or something we may have missed,” adding, “[w]e will get this fixed and get the crews back out.”
Kazakhstan: On August 9, 2016, President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed into law a bill that allows for the chemical castration of pedophiles. The president’s website said the law would “improve the children’s rights protection system” in the Republic of Kazakhstan by amending the Criminal Code, the Code of Administrative Offences and the Code of People’s Health and Healthcare System. Russia authorized chemical castration for those who commit sex crimes against children in 2012, but the offender must consent to the medical procedure.
Kentucky: Judge Amber Wolf made news in July 2016 when she unleashed a tirade against jailers whom she thought had brought a woman to court without pants. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.63]. She made headlines again when, on August 4, 2016, she arranged for a defendant to meet his 1-month-old son for the first time. James Roeder had been jailed on a burglary charge and had attended a court hearing just before his wife and co-defendant, Ashley Roeder. Judge Wolf summoned the new father back into the courtroom and told him, “I know you have a no-contact order between you and Mrs. Roeder that I issued – and I am not changing that. I’m making a temporary exception right in front of me, on the record, so that you can meet this baby. This is your son.” Later, Judge Wolf said the emotional moment was “probably one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Kentucky: On July 15, 2016, a Meade County Circuit Court reversed the 1995 murder convictions of Garr Keith Hardin and Jeffrey Dewayne Clark based on DNA test results and other evidence pointing to the men’s innocence. The court found that new DNA and non-DNA evidence would make it “reasonably probable that a jury would reach a different result at another trial.” The court also noted that it was “‘confronted with the stark reality’ that Mr. Hardin and Mr. Clark were convicted based on ‘suppositions that we now know to be fundamentally false.’” Prosecutors must now decide whether to retry or dismiss the case.
Michigan: According to Circuit Court Judge Mark Trusock, Jessica Lynn Cato exhibited “some very bizarre behavior” when she climbed into the ceiling of the Kent County Courthouse in a failed escape attempt. Cato was facing multiple charges, including possession of drug paraphernalia and a probation violation, and was already serving time for a prior probation violation when her escape was thwarted. Trusock admonished Cato to seek substance abuse treatment during an August 11, 2016 hearing, saying, “You need to realize that you have a very significant drug problem and you have to deal with that.” He sentenced her to nine months in jail on the possession charge.
Michigan: Prisoners at the West Shoreline Correctional Facility were treated to a rock concert by former Alice Cooper guitarist Ryan Roxie on August 6, 2016. Roxie, whose musical career has spanned 40 years, visited the prison to share his songs with the prisoners and encourage them to use their time constructively. He stated, “I want to inspire people to get into music for their own personal therapy or because they want to make the world a little bit better than it was the day before. It’s something to think about that is positive while they’re in there and gives them something to aspire to do.”
New Jersey: Dion Harrell tried to clear his name for 27 years after being wrongfully convicted of sexual assault before the Innocence Project got involved and sought advanced DNA testing in his case. At the time of Harrell’s trial, blood typing and the victim’s misidentification resulted in his conviction; he served four years in prison. Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said on July 22, 2016, “Advancements in science have now provided evidence of Mr. Harrell’s innocence, and our duty to act is clear. Today, modern DNA technology has provided justice.”
New York: John MacKenzie was 70 years old when he reportedly hung himself in his cell at the Fishkill Correctional Facility on August 4, 2016. The elderly prisoner had been denied parole for the tenth time the previous week. In 2000, MacKenzie first became eligible for parole on his 25 to life sentence for the murder of a police officer in 1975. He appeared before the parole board nine more times in subsequent years but never received a favorable decision. Mujahid Farid, lead organizer with the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign (RAPP), said of elderly prisoners, “A lot of them are losing hope, I mean, actually losing hope, as we see in the case of John MacKenzie. I’ve seen the same thing happen with other individuals.”
New York: On August 8, 2016, Correctionsone.com reported that three separate handwritten civil rights suits had been filed against Quality Choice Correctional Health Care, alleging prisoners’ medical needs were being neglected at the Orange County Jail. Quality Choice was removed as the jail’s medical contractor in February 2016 and replaced by Correct Care Solutions. The lawsuits, filed by Jose Miguel Oquenda, Forest Fate, Sr. and Jouan Candelaria, claim they did not receive proper medical care for diabetes, asthma and an abdominal abscess, respectively. All three are representing themselves in court.
New York: Rasheed Smalls was on duty as a guard at the Bedford Correctional Facility in July 2015 when he entered a utility closet and engaged in oral sex with a prisoner. According to an August 8, 2016 announcement from acting Westchester County District Attorney James McCarty, Smalls was found guilty of a felony charge of committing a criminal sexual act and a misdemeanor count of official misconduct. He was sentenced to one to three years in prison and will have to register as a sex offender upon his release.
New Zealand: On August 10, 2016, a source told Stuff.co.nz that a June 2016 incident at the Christchurch Men’s Prison was a “serious breach of security,” and authorities had “tried to sweep it under the carpet.” A prisoner was left to wander around an exercise yard unsupervised for several hours while a routine headcount marked him present. He was discovered walking around the yard after dark. Prison director John Roper said the incident involved a new prisoner and a “failure to follow correct procedure.” The prisoner was transferred to another unit the next day, and a review was planned to “identify whether any other lessons can be learnt that will strengthen our processes.”
Ohio: Fear of an attack by the Aryan Brotherhood was the apparent motivation for Casey Pigge’s brutal slaying of fellow prisoner Luther Wade by repeatedly hitting him in the head with a concrete block at the Lebanon Correctional Institution in February 2016. Pigge’s video testimony was heard in court on November 1, 2016 during a competency hearing. Pigge, 29, pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in January 2017; prosecutors said they were not seeking the death penalty due to his low IQ.
Ohio: A Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department guard was fired for using excessive force against two female prisoners. According to an August 12, 2016 report from Cleveland.com, Brendan Johnson’s dismissal letter detailed two incidents in which he fired pepper spray directly into the women’s faces without justification or provocation. “I told you I’d get you,” Johnson told one of the women after he sprayed her, according to the letter. Johnson was a 10-year employee of the Sheriff’s Department, and the excessive force complaints filed by the two women were not the first time he had been accused of misconduct. Prisoner Dallas Ferritto filed a civil rights suit against Johnson and the Sheriff’s Department in February 2016 after Johnson allegedly dragged him to the jail’s medical unit when he complained of chest pains.
Oklahoma: The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office underreported the number of prisoners seriously injured in its jail since 2011. During a three-year span from 2013-2015, the agency filed only a single report – a staff member hit with a broomstick – even though there were 60 ambulance transports involving assaults or traumatic injuries, according to records from the Emergency Medical Services Authority. Further, the Washington Times reported on August 7, 2016 that Tulsa County officials had notified the health department of only 13 injuries between 2011 and mid-2016. “As for the number of reports being submitted, that has changed in 2016 due to the fact that there has been some question as to what we do report and what we don’t,” said Tulsa County Chief Deputy Michelle Robinette.
Oklahoma: On August 8, 2016, state prisoner William Stewart walked away from the Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center and left in a waiting car. It was his fourth escape. Apparently, Stewart had called his mother to pick him up, but instead she sent two of her coworkers. The two women were taken into custody after being discovered driving suspiciously around the prison, and Stewart’s mother was arrested for suspicion of harboring a fugitive. Several hours later, Stewart was captured in a wooded area about five miles from the facility.
Oklahoma: A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of eleven female prisoners who said they were sexually abused by guards at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center claimed the facility’s wardens – Millicent Newton-Embry and former deputy warden Carla King – had created “a corruptive den for sexual depravity where the guards were authorized to prey upon and commit acts of excessive force against the inmates whenever and wherever they chose without meaningful consequence.” On August 7, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Joe Heaton ruled against the prisoners, saying, “Under the circumstances reflected by the parties’ submissions here, the law does not impose liability on the otherwise innocent supervisors of the facility where the plaintiffs’ rights were violated.”
Oregon: Five prisoners were transported to local hospitals after multiple fights broke out at the Oregon State Penitentiary on August 5, 2016. None were reported to have life-threatening injuries, and no staff members were injured. A total of 155 prisoners were moved to disciplinary housing after the fights and the facility was placed on lockdown. In an unrelated incident the next day, prisoner Tommie Rae Norton died unexpectedly after being transported offsite for medical care. He would have been eligible for release in February 2018.
Philippines: Horrifying photos surfaced from inside the Quezon City Jail that exposed “inhuman” conditions within the facility. According to a July 31, 2016 news report from the UK’s Independent, the jail, overcrowded by fivefold, is a “reflection of a criminal justice system in chaos.” Dr. Nymia Pimentel Simbulan, executive director of the Philippine Human Rights Information Centre (PhilRights), said the abysmal conditions at Quezon City also exist in the country’s other correctional facilities. PLN has repeatedly reported on human rights violations in Philippine prisons. [See, e.g.: PLN, Mar. 2016, p.63; Oct. 2014, p.56].
Philippines: The warden of the Paranaque City Jail in Manila was seriously injured in an explosion on August 11, 2016 that left ten prisoners dead. Prison officials suspected a grenade caused the blast, which was accompanied by gunfire. It was unclear whether the explosion was part of an escape attempt. Senior Inspector Xavier Solda, a spokesman for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, said: “We can confirm that there was an explosion inside [but] as to what caused the explosion, the investigation is still ongoing.” According to unconfirmed reports, prior to the blast prisoners wanted to meet with the warden about an impending transfer.
Tennessee: Jefferson County Sheriff G.W. “Bud” McCoig reported on August 9, 2016 that a pair of prisoners were accused of emptying a lost wallet of $800 in cash while on a work detail in May. The crime was solved when, McCoig said, $300 of the money “was found next to [prisoner Tom Anthony] Tipton [inside the jail], and all he would tell us was that it had been ‘on his person’ the whole time.” An investigation revealed that fellow prisoner Bradley Shawn Worley had found the wallet and agreed to share the loot with Tipton in exchange for his silence. A shakedown at the Jefferson County jail did not recover the remaining $500. Both Tipton and Worley were charged with theft.
Tennessee: PLN has reported extensively on Aramark, a Philadelphia-based food services contractor, and its controversial history of substandard meals, contract violations and staff misconduct. [See, e.g.: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.1]. On August 12, 2016, the Tennessean reported that despite the company’s checkered past, when Tennessee sought to replace food services provided by the Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR), a prison industry program, state officials disqualified Trinity Services Group, one of only two applicants for the contract, then allowed Aramark to proceed as the sole bidder. The company was awarded the contract to provide meals to state prisoners for five years at a cost of $118 million.
Tennessee: According to an August 8, 2016 announcement from the District Attorney’s office, Deniro Smith, a former counselor at Youth Villages in Bartlett, pleaded guilty to raping a 17-year-old at the facility for troubled children. Smith accepted a plea deal to receive less than a year in prison, but the mother of the victim contacted local media and confronted Smith in the courtroom. As a result of her efforts, the deal was changed to a three-year prison term. Smith will be placed on Tennessee’s sex offender registry after completing his sentence.
Texas: Two members of the Aryan Circle, a white supremacist prison gang, were targeted by Houston’s Most Wanted Gang Fugitive program in a series of billboards. The publicity push was designed to solicit tips on the whereabouts of gang member Robert J. Ring, who disappeared in 2016 while on parole, and Danny Ray Ferguson, Jr., another alleged member of the Aryan Circle. The billboards featured giant mugshots of the fugitives alongside the word “Wanted.” The Houston Chronicle reported on September 18, 2016 that the billboards were erected next to Interstate 10.
Texas: As previously reported in PLN, Leticia Martinez Garza was indicted in 2015 for having sex with a federal prisoner at a GEO Group-operated detention facility. [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, p.63]. On October 13, 2016, the former supervisor of laundry, property and supplies at the Val Verde Correctional Facility was sentenced to 13 months in prison and three years of supervised release. According to court records, Garza, 59, had sex with the unnamed prisoner between May and September 2014.
United Kingdom: Police were called to HMP Stafford after an imitation handgun was found hidden in electrical casing, causing a major security alert. Once the weapon was secured, authorities discovered it had been fabricated from baked bread that had been carved and painted black. On August 7, 2016, a source from within the prison told The Sun,“Make no mistake, this caused a security issue. From a short distance away it is almost impossible to tell it apart from a real handgun. There is no doubt that it had the capacity to threaten and coerce.”
United Kingdom: A nurse at a privately-operated prison for sex offenders was the victim of a brutal sexual assault on August 17, 2016, and G4S staff called local police to investigate the incident. The unidentified victim was with the prisoner in a private consulting room at the Rye Hill prison when the attack occurred. The nurse was saved when another prisoner walked by and intervened. The prison became a sex offender-only facility in 2014.
Vermont: Rebecca Parker, a 40-year-old former prison nurse, pleaded guilty on September 6, 2016 to having sex with a prisoner who required dialysis treatment. Parker had already left her job at the Southern State Correctional Facility when authorities launched an investigation into her inappropriate relationship with prisoner Jonathan Henry. Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Tyson Kinney wrote in an affidavit that “Henry and Parker began getting to know each other” during Henry’s thrice-weekly medical visits at the prison. Parker received a five-year deferred sentence with probation.
Virginia: Catandra M. Chavis, 29, pleaded not guilty on September 7, 2016 to a charge of having sex with a prisoner while she was employed as a guard at the Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg. According to the indictment, Chavis lied to authorities about whether she performed oral sex on the prisoner and whether she discussed plans to smuggle contraband for him. She resigned from the Bureau of Prisons in September 2015.
Washington: PLN previously reported that Tacoma attorney William Mack Stoddard, Jr. had pleaded guilty to charges of introducing contraband and delivering a controlled substance. Stoddard, 68, was discovered smuggling hash oil into the Pierce County Jail to a prisoner with whom he was sexually involved. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.63]. On July 28, 2016, retired Superior Court Judge Thomas Felnagle sentenced Stoddard to 364 days in jail, suspended; he won’t serve any time in custody provided he stays out of trouble. Stoddard told the court, “I’m embarrassed your honor, obviously, for having to be here today.”
Washington: In a handwritten lawsuit filed on August 10, 2016, Washington State Penitentiary prisoner Jimmy de la Mater asked for $15,000 in damages after prison medical staff extracted his rotten teeth but refused to provide him with dentures because he was too close to his release date. “So, I’m to be on a soft diet until I get released, and not have my teeth replaced until I can see a [dentist] on the streets?” he wrote. Shortly before the suit was filed, the DOC changed its strict policy of refusing dentures to prisoners within five years of their release date to refusing them to those within six months of release.
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