News in Brief
Arkansas: Michael Graff, 29, was fired following his arrest on charges of sexually assaulting a prisoner. The former Pulaski County jail deputy received a termination letter from Sheriff Doc Holladay which referred to Graff’s arrest as a violation of the Sheriff’s Office’s standards of conduct. A July 11, 2016 press release issued by the state police accused Graff of assaulting a 26-year-old female prisoner during a transfer between facilities.
Australia: An 18-year-old fugitive responded to an August 24, 2016 Facebook post that displayed her mugshot with a request to use a better photo, which she provided. A TV station shared a post from local police calling for Amy Sharp’s arrest that included her booking photo. Sharp commented from her own Facebook account and politely asked the station to use a different picture. She wrote, “Can you use this photo, please and thank you. Yours Truly, Amy Sharp xx.” In January 2016, an American fugitive from Ohio, Donald “Chip” Pugh, offered police a selfie to use instead of his mugshot, saying it was a “better photo.”
California: On July 5, 2016, a group of about two dozen protestors gathered in the town of Mountain View to voice their objections to a Corrections Corporation of America (now known as CoreCivic) transitional facility in their neighborhood. The 463-bed facility functions both as a work release center for low-level offenders and a transitional facility for prisoners preparing for early release. “We’re trying to get the county to take back the facility and to use it for some community purpose like a recreation center,” explained local resident Michelle Massett. Mark Bartlett, a former CCA guard, said of the company, “Their main incentive is to make money – to turn people into commodities. People are no longer human beings, they’re a product to be made money off of.”
California: An unidentified 35-year-old man who was fleeing San Diego County deputies after a July 12, 2016 car chase chose a most unfortunate escape route. He pulled into the parking lot of the Vista Detention Center, climbed out of his car, then scaled the fence – into the booking area of the jail. The chase began after police attempted to pull the man over for a minor traffic violation, and meandered through the city for nearly 20 minutes. The man was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing police.
California: On July 11, 2016, an unnamed 54-year-old prisoner was killed and another prisoner, age 25, was stabbed in the back as nearly two dozen prisoners brawled in two different areas of the Calipatria State Prison in Imperial County. Riots and fights are not unusual at Calipatria; PLN previously reported on another mass fight which left nine prisoners with injuries in 2012, as well as two riots that occurred in March and May 2014. [See: PLN, Jan. 2013, p.44; Nov. 2014, p.56; Feb. 2015, p.56].
Colorado: Convicted sex offenders Brian Brockhausen, Allen Toner and Larry Cook are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed on their behalf on August 18, 2016 by Boulder attorney Alison Ruttenberg. The men sued the city of Englewood, arguing that the town’s zoning ordinances effectively restrict them to less than 1 percent of Englewood’s available housing. The suit asks a federal court to declare the Englewood Sex Offender Residency Restriction a “new, after-the-fact punishment.” The town enacted its residency restrictions in 2006 “based on public hysteria against sex offenders,” the lawsuit claims.
Colorado: Denver Sheriff Patrick Firman ordered an audit of his records department and assigned two deputies to start reviewing paperwork on August 22, 2016. The Sheriff’s Department has been plagued with a series of improper release dates – some too long and some too early. Between July and August 2016, four jail employees were disciplined for mistakenly releasing prisoners. In 2015, a guard was suspended after his paperwork error left a prisoner in custody for 24 days past his release date. Erroneous releases raise public safety concerns because potentially dangerous people are on the streets when they should be behind bars. But on the flip side, keeping someone in jail beyond their release date constitutes a civil rights violation.
Colorado: On August 24, 2016, Judge Michael Singer, the chief judge for the 13th Judicial District, set bond at $250,000 for Sedgwick County Sheriff Tom Hanna, who was arrested on felony sexual assault charges. The sheriff is accused of driving a mentally-ill female prisoner to his home in his personal vehicle, raping her, then transporting her to jail and putting $20 on her commissary account.
Florida: Prisoners at the Federal Detention Center in Miami impersonated employees of Sony Music Entertainment and Roc Nation as part of a scam to fraudulently obtain luxury goods. The scammers then sold items donated as props for non-existent music videos and promotions. According to a federal indictment, prisoners James Sabatino and George Duquen conspired with outside accomplices Valerie Kay Hunt and Denise Siksha Lewis to obtain Judith Leiber Couture clutch purses, Audemars Piguet watches, Tiffany & Co. bracelets and watches, Jimmy Choo handbags and shoes, Alexander Wang tote bags and other items, then resold them to pawn shops. The group was charged with mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit both offenses, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida announced in July 2016.
Florida: Daniel Rushing, 64, was arrested on December 11, 2015 after police mistook flakes of Krispy Kreme doughnut glaze they found on his car’s floorboard for crystal meth. Two roadside drug tests came up positive for the drug, and Rushing was jailed for about 10 hours. Subsequent testing by the state crime lab found the substance was not in fact meth. The New York Times reported on July 7, 2016 that according to a review of data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, drug evidence listed by local authorities as methamphetamine turned out to be something else in 21% of such cases. A spokeswoman for the Orlando Police Department acknowledged, “There is no mechanism in place for easily tracking the number of, or results of, field drug testing.”
Florida: In April 2014, Robert Weintraub received a phone call that no one wants; a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent told him his son had died. On July 11, 2016, the elder Weintraub filed suit against private companies Prisoner Transportation Services of America (PTS) and Advanced Correctional Healthcare. An autopsy found that his son, 47-year-old William Weintraub, died of a perforated ulcer while being transported from Colorado to South Carolina. “Immediately they cut off all his medications,” said attorney Curry Pajcic, adding, “He was witnessed vomiting blood.” According to the lawsuit, when PTS employees stopped the van at a North Georgia jail, Weintraub had been dead so long his body was stiff. PLN opposes the use of private, for-profit prisoner transport services. [See, e.g.: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.62].
Georgia: Newly-installed surveillance cameras were credited with the speedy identification of two Colquitt County jail prisoners who set fire to their pod on July 9, 2016 after a hunger strike failed to remedy their demands. Prisoners Gary Kyle Turner and Troy Carver were seen on video torching various items in the pod in an attempt to protest a non-functioning TV in the dayroom. Jail officials said that wasn’t a good way for the prisoners to express their complaints, and charged Turner with arson and other offenses. Carver faces charges of being a party to a crime.
Illinois: A Cook County jail prisoner was diagnosed on July 12, 2016 with Legionnaires’ disease, a severe bacterial infection. County health officials checked water systems for the source of the bacteria; the prisoner had been incarcerated at the jail since 2015. Most other prisoners in the unit where the infected prisoner was housed were transferred as a precaution. The sheriff’s office said no other prisoners or staff had exhibited the pneumonia-like symptoms associated with Legionnaires’ disease.
India: In observance of International Yoga Day, on June 21, 2016, officials announced that 177 prisoners – 153 male and 24 female – had earned early release from the Nagpur city jail by passing a written and practical yoga exam. Prisoners who practice the ancient art of stretching and meditation are given a three-month pardon under a directive issued by the state government of Maharashtra, provided they successfully complete the Patanjali Yoga Centre’s testing process. International Yoga Day was established by the United Nations in 2015.
Kentucky: Monica Mayes and Jason Smith, two Fulton County jailers, were arrested on April 11, 2016 for their roles in the escape of prisoner Michael Shane Hunter from the Fulton County Detention Center. Both guards were charged with official misconduct in the first degree and escape in the second degree, and booked into the county jail on cash bonds of $10,000. Hunter was initially believed to have walked out the sally port of the detention center; he was located near Elizabethtown, Kentucky a day after he escaped.
Michigan: Honey buns – coveted and sometimes used as currency by prisoners – have served as birthday cakes, ingredients in homemade booze, last meals and even payments for legal services by prisoners who have few other food choice options. [See: PLN, July 2011, p.24]. They have little value other than being a tasty snack for those on the outside, so it seems a bit odd that on August 7, 2016, two armed robbers entered a gas station and took nothing but three boxes of honey buns as they held a security guard at gunpoint. The sticky-fingered bandits created headlines due to the nature of their heist, but have not been identified.
Michigan: Convicted sex offender Norman Pittelkow told a Calhoun County District Court judge on July 15, 2016 that his longtime friend, former Albion detective Luis Tejada, helped him evade police during a criminal investigation. Pittelkow claimed that Tejada, who retired from the Albion Department of Public Safety in January 2016, told him to take his girlfriend and leave town because authorities were preparing to arrest them on child porn charges involving a 12-year-old girl and her sisters. Further, Tejada helped Pittelkow with money for an attorney. The former detective, who is also the subject of a federal investigation, faces charges of being an accessory after the fact and lying to police. In November 2016, Pittelkow, 43, was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Montana: On July 8, 2016, Michael Assiniboine, Jr., 29, was furloughed from the Lake County jail to attend his father’s funeral. Handcuffed and shackled, he was allowed to hug several of his family members. During a routine pat-down before leaving the funeral, guards noticed Assiniboine place an object in his mouth. They used a stun gun on him several times in an attempt to prevent him from swallowing the object. During the struggle, Assiniboine bit one of the guards; he was subsequently charged with assault on a peace officer. The object was recovered and found to be a condom containing heroin and cash. Assiniboine now also faces drug possession charges.
New Jersey: PLN previously reported the conviction of former Essex County Correctional Facility guard Shawn D. Shaw on charges of raping a female prisoner and attempting to cover up the 2010 crime. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.63]. Shaw, 42, was sentenced on June 13, 2016 to 300 months in federal prison for the rape. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta stated, “While no amount of jail time can undo the harm he caused, I am hopeful that this sentence will provide some level of resolution to the victim who had the strength and resolve to report the assault.”
New Jersey: Ari Schochet has a routine before he goes to family court hearings – he writes important phone numbers on his arm in permanent marker, puts on a nicotine patch and sends an “Ari Off the Grid” email to friends and family. Schochet has been jailed at least eight times for failure to pay lifetime alimony. After losing his well-paying job, Schochet fell into a pattern of missing payments on the nearly $100,000 he owes his ex-wife in annual alimony and child support. “When I tell people what’s happened to me these last two years they say, ‘Your story can’t possibly be true, and you must be in court because you beat your wife,’” Schochet said. “This has nothing to do with anything other than money.” Several states, including New Jersey, are legislatively addressing issues related to unfair alimony laws. Schochet began serving yet another jail term on August 25, 2016.
New Mexico: Christian Cook, 15, was diagnosed with autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); his mother said her son had the emotional maturity of a 10-year-old when he was booked into the Curry County Juvenile Detention Center in Clovis, New Mexico on a non-violent charge. His condition deteriorated drastically while he was held in solitary confinement for 11 months, and he was later transferred to a mental health facility. On July 7, 2016, attorney Matthew Coyte filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Cook’s mother over her son’s treatment at the jail. “No child should ever be treated the way my kid was treated. Ever. Never,” said Kelly Cook. “He’s not the same kid anymore. He doesn’t love life. He’s so afraid of everything. He’s afraid to do anything normal kids do.”
New Mexico: Grants police officer Rosier McKinney had his body camera turned on as he pocketed 8 ounces of marijuana and $785 in cash that was intended for the evidence room. New Mexico cops are renowned for not having their body cams on when they shoot suspects, but Rosier not only recorded his theft, his camera continued to film as he drove his police cruiser to his girlfriend’s house and handed the stolen weed to Tanicka Gallegos-Gonzales. Both the officer and his girlfriend were arrested on August 24, 2016. McKinney was charged with marijuana distribution, conspiracy and felony embezzlement, while Gallegos-Gonzales faces charges of drug distribution and conspiracy.
New Mexico: Former Otero County Detention Center (OCDC) prisoner Roxanne Estrada filed a civil lawsuit in July 2016 that alleged her 14-month placement in solitary confinement left her without control of her mental faculties. Prior to Estrada’s detention she had accumulated a long history of mental health issues, including diagnoses of depression and schizophrenia, but jailers ignored her psychiatric history. According to the lawsuit, which was filed against Otero County, Correct Care Solutions and several other defendants, a male prisoner previously held in the same segregation cell where Estrada was placed also became mentally incompetent; Jerome Gonzales subsequently filed suit and was awarded $2.9 million against OCDC in February 2015.
New York: During a July 31, 2016 radio interview, Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters described the reaction of Rikers Island guards when fellow staffer Mey Lim was arrested for taking bribes to smuggle contraband into the facility. “We arrested her during roll call one morning [last] week, and as we took her out of roll call in front of other officers in handcuffs, a bunch of the other officers stood and applauded,” Peters said. “So I think people are getting the message that this culture of smuggling and violence has to end.” Lim was the 32nd New York City jail employee arrested within the previous 18 months.
New York: On July 13, 2016, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation requiring free menstrual hygiene products to be made available to women and girls in all city public schools, shelters and jails. The bill had passed the City Council with a unanimous vote the previous month. “There should be no stigma around something as fundamental as menstruation,” de Blasio said in a press release. “These laws recognize that feminine hygiene products are a necessity – not a luxury.” Women detainees had often complained about the unavailability of menstrual pads and tampons in the city’s jail system.
New York: U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested 60-year-old Santo Carela at the John F. Kennedy International Airport while he was trying to leave the U.S. and return to the Dominican Republic – which would have accomplished the same goal as deportation if they had just let him go. Instead, Carela’s detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents pending his transfer to the U.S. Marshals Service became a death sentence. He suffered a heart attack while in ICE custody and died two days later on June 28, 2016 at the Orange Regional Medical Center.
Ohio: On August 23, 2016, Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer was indicted on 43 charges, including 12 counts of tampering with records, 12 counts of deception to obtain a dangerous drug (fourth degree felonies), three counts of deception to obtain a dangerous drug (fifth degree felonies), six counts of theft in office, four counts of theft (fourth degree), one count of theft (fifth degree) and five counts of filing false financial disclosure reports (misdemeanors of the first degree). Overmyer misled doctors and pharmacists to obtain prescription pain pills from local drug disposal drop boxes.
Ohio: Lucky Mitchell wasn’t so lucky when he was charged with attempted murder on July 15, 2016 for trying to choke a guard at the Mahoning County Jail the previous week. Mitchell, 33, tied a torn T-shirt into a circle, coerced a deputy into opening an office door, then dropped the noose around the guard’s neck and attempted to choke him. Mitchell was initially charged with felonious assault, but video surveillance of the attack resulted in a decision by prosecutors to upgrade the charge.
Pennsylvania: On August 23, 2016, Anthony Wright, 44, walked free from prison after serving 25 years for a rape and murder he did not commit. Wright’s case was retried after new DNA evidence indicated another man was the rapist. Jurors wiped away tears as forewoman Grace Greco read the “not guilty” verdicts. Attorneys with the Innocence Project of New York had worked to secure Wright’s release. “I’m angry,” said Greco. “The evidence was there that he did not commit this crime. The city should never have brought this case. I’m just happy that today’s verdict will let Tony move on with the rest of his life.”
South Carolina: In the first week of July 2016, a South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) prisoner broadcast livestream video on the mobile app Periscope using a contraband cell phone. He was identified and put in solitary confinement. An unconfirmed account indicated another livestream video was posted by the same prisoner from segregation. “I wish the FCC would be as concerned for our staff and officers’ lives as they are for some of the private companies making a profit,” said SCDC Director Bryan Sterling. “No one has given me a straight answer as to why we can’t block cell phones.” The SCDC reported it had confiscated over 1,600 cell phones and phone accessories in 2015.
Tennessee: Officials with Corrections Corporation of America (now known as CoreCivic), which operates the Silverdale Detention Facility in Chattanooga, did not return phone calls and messages seeking comment on the August 18, 2016 in-custody death of 26-year-old Madison Bailee Deal, who had been jailed on a probation violation. A family member told the Times Free Press that Deal was assaulted at Silverdale and fell into a coma; she later died at Erlanger Hospital. Melydia Clewell, spokeswoman for District Attorney Neal Pinkston, said Sheriff Jim Hammond’s office was asked to investigate. A November 16, 2016 autopsy report found Deal had died due to pneumonia after suffering heroin withdrawal at the jail.
Tennessee: Campbell County General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons was indicted on four felony counts on August 10, 2016 and temporarily suspended from the bench by the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct. A Campbell County grand jury charged Sammons with four counts of official misconduct in the handling of two cases in which she was accused of lying and abusing her authority. Sammons’ attorney, Wade Davies, issued a statement saying his client was innocent. “Judge Sammons will plead not guilty, and we will work to get this case tried quickly so that she can go back to carrying out the job the people of Campbell County elected her to do,” he said.
Tennessee: Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall publicly supported a bill that decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill, passed by the Metro Council on September 22, 2016, reduces the penalty for possession of up to a half-ounce of marijuana to a $50 civil penalty or 10 hours of community service. According to a statement issued by Hall published in the Tennessean newspaper, the sheriff, who formerly served as president of the American Correctional Association, agreed with the “spirit” of the ordinance. “Some estimates are that 20 percent of people who are going to jails and prisons in this country are [going] for very small amounts of marijuana or other drugs, obviously,” he said. “I haven’t discussed it with the sponsors or anything, but I just believe it’s the right direction.”
Texas: On July 16, 2016, state prison guard Mari Johnson, 55, died at a local hospital after being found unresponsive near a kitchen at the Robertson Unit. Prisoner Dillion Gage Compton is accused of killing her. A month later, on August 17, Assistant Warden Jimmy Webb was suspended for seven days and placed on probation for four months. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice also recommended the dismissal of two food service managers, Gregory Cruse and Patrick Roach, as well as guard Eddie McQuade. According to TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark, despite allegations from former Robertson Unit employees, “Staffing did not play a role in the homicide. The Robertson Unit is not short staffed.” He added, “The agency works to ensure that there is appropriate correctional staffing in place and critical positions are filled.”
Texas: Special treatment for the former District Attorney of Dallas County raised red flags for investigators after two run-ins with the police netted Craig Watkins no arrest record. Further stoking the investigators’ interest, former Dallas County DA’s office chief investigator Anthony “Tony” Robinson pleaded guilty to taking a bribe from defendant Wayne Joseph Sweeney in 2013. The case was ultimately dismissed by Heath Harris in a rare move that violated decades of protocol. At the time, Harris was the top assistant to DA Watkins. The ongoing investigation was first reported by dallasnews.com on June 30, 2016.
United Kingdom: Around five to six thousand guards walked off the job at prisons across England and Wales on July 8, 2016. The protest was an unofficial action by members of the Prison Officers’ Association. According to The Guardian, the work strike followed 5,500 assaults on staff in 2015 alone – a 36% increase. Justice Secretary Michael Gove was accused by MP Andy Slaughter of having “gone absent” on prison safety. Slaughter warned Gove that he would “lose control fully of the prison estate” unless he brought the situation under control.
Uruguay: Prison director Luis Parodi hopes to buck the trend of violence and recidivism in the Uruguayan prison system by offering work programs within the walls of the Punta de Rieles facility outside the capital city of Montevideo. According to an August 8, 2016 news report, the prison hosts a number of commercial businesses, including a bakery, pizzeria, ice cream parlor, a greenhouse for growing lettuce and a brick factory. Prisoner Alvaro Brusti, who makes 400 concrete blocks a day, said he hopes to start his own brick business once he is released.
Utah: A 46-year-old woman died on June 23, 2016 while serving time in jail for driving with a suspended license. According to a report from the Standard-Examiner, Kara Noakes’ adult children claimed their mother died because jail staff failed to give her her high blood pressure medication. William Nelson, Noakes’ eldest son, said he notified the jail six times that his mother could die without her prescription meds. Her daughter, Brook Uberti, added, “I don’t get why she was treated like a hardened criminal for traffic violations.”
Vermont: Two prisoners took a guard hostage with a “bladed object” on August 11, 2016 at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. Prison staff immediately dispatched the facility’s Special Response Team; the incident ended after about 2½ hours of negotiations. The prisoners, identified as Mehmed Devac, 22, and Leroy Hughes, 32, were charged with aggravated assault and kidnapping. The facility was placed on “modified lockdown” and the state’s six other prisons initiated restricted movement protocols as a precaution. Director of Correctional Facilities Mike Touchette said an internal review of the incident would be conducted.
Wisconsin: A Wisconsin Department of Corrections guard was placed on unpaid leave following his arrest on July 20, 2016 for allegedly sexually assaulting two young boys. Thomas D. Comstock, 53, was charged after a now-25-year-old man reported that Comstock had assaulted him when he was a young boy, 50 to 100 or more times from age 4 until he was 18. The second victim, now 17 years old, recalled two times that Comstock performed oral sex on him when he was 4 or 5 years old. Judge Anna Becker set a $5,000 cash bond for Comstock, who was charged with five counts of felony sexual assault of a child under the age of 13, each of which carries a maximum prison term of 40 years.