News in Brief
Alabama: A guard who worked as a materials handling supervisor at FCI-Aliceville was arrested on April 21, 2017, charged with bribery and making false statements after he was accused of smuggling contraband such as tobacco into the facility in exchange for cash bribes. Prosecutors said Eric C. Pendleton received payments from friends and relatives of prisoners at a home he owned in Tuscaloosa County to smuggle contraband items to prisoners. Pendleton’s lawyer, Thomas Spina, said his client’s character and history are “totally inconsistent with the behavior that he has acknowledged doing in this instance.”
Arizona: PLN has previously reported on incidents in which Chinese prisoners have reached out for help by stashing handwritten notes in the products they are forced to make in prison sweatshops. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.38]. On May 1, 2017, KVOA described another such case. Laura Wallace found a note apparently written by a Chinese prisoner tucked inside the zipper compartment of a purse she had purchased at Walmart. She had the note translated by someone fluent in Chinese; it read, in part: “Inmates in the Yingshan Prison in Guangxi, China are working 14 hours daily with no break/rest at noon, continue working overtime until 12 midnight, and whoever doesn’t finish his work will be beaten.”
Brazil: A January 1, 2017 riot at the Complexo Penitenciario Anisio Jobim in Manaus resulted in gang violence more brutal than ever previously reported in Brazil’s penal system. According to the Associated Press, based on interviews, a site visit, video footage and government reports, members of the Family of the North gang attacked members of the First Command, also known as the PCC. After taking a guard hostage, Family of the North members quickly took another 14 prison employees hostage, using knives as well as guns that had been smuggled into the facility. At least 57 prisoners were killed, including 39 who were beheaded and had their limbs cut off, in the ensuing riot. One, a former policeman, was burned alive in his cell. A guard was forced to eat an eyeball removed from a deceased prisoner, and one prisoner was made to eat part of a heart. Police officers surrounded the facility to prevent escapes. The prisoners surrendered following negotiations in which they demanded regular visitation with their families and out-of-cell time.
California: Monique Irene Cadena, 24, was released from the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga on March 22, 2017. When she couldn’t find a ride home from the jail, she jumped into a 2004 Hyundai Sonata that was parked at a nearby curb with its engine running and drove away with an elderly woman who was sitting in the car. A few minutes later Cadena dropped the woman off at a gas station, unharmed, and sped away. Fontana police found her in the stolen vehicle later that evening; she was arrested without incident and booked on suspicion of carjacking and kidnapping.
California: Family members of Pedro Sepulveda, 27, were outraged over the lenient prosecution of their loved one’s killer after Sepulveda died following a fight with 21-year-old fellow prisoner Damien Arthur Miranda. The fatal altercation occurred in a day room at the Larry D. Smith Correctional Facility when the two argued over soup. Miranda struck Sepulveda in the head, leaving him in a coma from which he never recovered. However, Miranda was not charged with murder; instead, on February 9, 2017 he pleaded guilty to assault by means of force meant to cause great bodily injury, and received an additional nine years and 8 months in prison. “We’re so angry,” said Juan Sepulveda, one of Pedro’s brothers. “We don’t agree with this.”
Colorado: On April 19, 2017, the Denver Department of Safety released its disciplinary review of deputies’ actions in the death of Michael Marshall, a 50-year-old homeless and mentally ill prisoner who was removed from life support and died several days after a confrontation with six guards at the Denver jail. Marshall had been jailed on a $100 bond for trespassing and disturbing the peace. Three deputies were disciplined for use of excessive force; Bret Garegnani will serve a 16-day unpaid suspension, James Johnson received a 10-day unpaid suspension and Carlos Hernandez will also serve a 10-day suspension. Marshall’s family filed a notice of claim to sue the city and Denver Health in May 2017.
Florida: Junia “Petit” Destin, 36, a nursing assistant who worked for Wexford Health Sources, a private company that provides medical care to prisoners at the Martin Correctional Institution, was arrested on January 13, 2017. Destin posted $5,000 bail after she was charged with sexual misconduct with an unidentified prisoner, according to a Martin County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. Investigators said Destin used her personal phone to call the prisoner’s contraband cell phone numerous times, twice deposited money into the prisoner’s JPay account and had sex with him on two occasions.
Georgia: A former jail clerk will serve six months behind bars at the facility where she formerly worked. In April 2017, Hall County jail clerk Trina Banks Burtch, 48, was sentenced under Georgia’s First Offender Act and received a six-year sentence. She will serve six months of that term at the Hall County jail followed by three years of probation, and pay $2,550 in fines and complete community service work. Burtch was charged with 14 counts of transaction card theft for stealing money from prisoners’ jail accounts.
Hawaii: A federal lawsuit filed on March 30, 2017 by ten female prisoners claims they were subjected to sexual abuse at the Women’s Community Correctional Center in Kailua, and state officials ignored “an obvious and ongoing pattern and practice of sexual abuse of inmates by both male and female guards and employees ... that dates back at least 25 years.” The suit alleges five prison employees – a female guard, three male guards and a male janitorial supervisor – gave the women food, makeup, crystal meth and special privileges in exchange for sexual favors, and issued false disciplinary reports when the prisoners refused sex.
Illinois: Veteran Cook County criminal court Associate Judge Raymond Myles was fatally shot and his 52-year-old girlfriend seriously injured in what detectives believe was a “targeted robbery” outside the judge’s home on April 10, 2017. The suspect, Joshua Smith, was charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and obstruction of justice. Chicago Police Deputy Chief Melissa Staples said they were able to match the weapon used in the attack to another non-fatal shooting that also involved a robbery. “Judge Raymond Myles was a well-respected and long-serving jurist, and we mourn his tragic loss,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.
Illinois: A federal judge sentenced former Cook County jail guard James Micetich on February 23, 2017 to two years in prison for lying to the FBI about an incident involving an assault on a prisoner nearly three years earlier. Federal officials said Micetich left the prisoner with a broken eye socket and a boot print on his back, though he denied knowing anything about the incident. U.S. District Court Judge John J. Tharp, Jr. said he found it “completely intolerable” that Micetich had tried to cover up his misconduct, adding the former jailer’s sentence should send a message to law enforcement that “their otherwise commendable service does not excuse their violations of the law.”
Iowa: Court records indicate that Jennifer Wierson, a former 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 federal prison and ordered to pay $200,600 in restitution. She must also serve three years of supervised release as part of her guilty plea to theft from a government receiving federal program funds. Wierson managed accounts for several jail programs and said her scheme started with stealing small amounts that she intended to repay.
Iran: On April 13, 2017, the Trump administration levied economic sanctions against the Tehran Prisons Organization and Sohrab Suleimani, a senior prison official responsible for overseeing Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, which is known for forced interrogations, torture and widespread mistreatment of prisoners. “There has been a disturbing and significant increase in the number of detentions and executions of Iranian citizens under President Rouhani, and the infamous Evin Prison under Sohrab Suleimani’s control has been a key facility in this program of domestic repression,” a senior official on the White House National Security Council told the Washington Free Beacon.
Massachusetts: U.S. News reported on March 6, 2017 that two former guards at the Essex County House of Corrections in Middleton were sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to federal charges of smuggling Suboxone into the jail. Katherine Sullivan, 32, received three years of probation plus 120 hours of community service, while John Weir, 34, received the same sentence for his role in a 2014 smuggling incident. Both guards resigned.
Mexico: On March 22, 2017, twenty-nine prisoners escaped from the Cedes Victoria prison by tunneling 40 meters (131 feet) underneath the facility’s wall. One of the escapees subsequently shot a man during a carjacking, and a riot broke out after security officials conducted cell searches once the escape was discovered, destroying unauthorized shelters that prisoners had built. Three prisoners were stabbed to death and one was injured during that melee. The government of Tamaulipas said it has considered closing the Cedes Victoria prison, which was built in the 1940s and lacks appropriate security measures.
Mississippi: State Supreme Court justices publicly reprimanded Adams County Justice Court Judge Charles L. Vess on April 20, 2017. They also suspended Vess without pay for 30 days and fined him $1,100 for threatening to use a gun against a defendant in his courtroom. This was the ninth time since 1992 that Vess had been accused of impropriety by the state’s judicial watchdog group. Vess, like many justice court judges, is not an attorney.
Nebraska: For over two decades, state prison officials allowed prisoners to refuse to submit DNA samples and did little except write them up for disciplinary violations. The Nebraska Correctional Services Department said in a June 8, 2017 news release that it had obtained a court order to allow the use of force to collect samples from four prisoners who refused. Three of the four complied. The fourth did not, and force was used. Department director Scott Frakes said he is committed to collecting DNA samples from every prisoner. “In those cases where additional steps are necessary, we will take them as we did in these four cases from Douglas County,” he stated. Currently, 13 prisoners continue to refuse DNA sampling.
New Jersey: PLN previously reported on the arrest of prison guard Thomas Seguine, Jr. for engaging in a sexual relationship with a female prisoner. [See: PLN, July 2016, p.63]. On May 1, 2017, he received a three-year prison term. Seguine was one of five Department of Corrections employees charged in 2016 with sexually abusing prisoners at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, which saw a spike in staff sexual abuse accusations that year.
New Jersey: On April 12, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge William H. Walls sentenced Winfred Moses, 49, to 26 months in prison plus three years of supervised release and $200,045 in restitution. Moses had previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to make fraudulent claims to the Internal Revenue Service. Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick’s office said that from 2013 through August 2014, Moses and an accomplice, Reginald Eaford, gathered Social Security numbers and personal data from prisoners at the Essex County jail and used that information to file 112 fraudulent tax returns. On June 20, 2017, Eaford, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 51 months in federal prison plus three years of supervised release.
New Jersey: Mark Medina, a guard at the Camden County Correctional Facility, was arrested on March 10, 2017 on charges of possessing and distributing child pornography. He was suspended without pay pending the resolution of his case. Detectives reportedly found child porn videos on a cell phone seized from his vehicle and on a thumb drive at his home. A laptop and iPod were also taken as evidence. The Camden County prosecutor’s office did not reveal what led to the child pornography distribution charge.
New York: Orianna V. Lord, 37, was arrested on January 27, 2017 as she reported for work at the Green Haven Correctional Facility with over 460 grams of marijuana. Lord was charged with criminal possession of marijuana in the 2nd degree, a Class D felony; promoting prison contraband in the 1st degree (attempted), a Class D felony; and promoting prison contraband in the 2nd degree, a Class A misdemeanor. The marijuana was found after Lord turned back from a random security inspection and was confronted by a supervisor. She was jailed on a $50,000 bond or $25,000 cash bail.
New York: Rikers Island Correction Capt. Shantay Dash was arraigned on March 1, 2017 on felony charges of promoting contraband and official misconduct for smuggling a tattoo gun to her incarcerated female lover, Robin Hamilton. Hamilton intended to alter an incriminating tattoo that matched one seen on the arm of the perpetrator of a 2013 robbery in a surveillance video. The tattoo alteration didn’t save Hamilton; she was convicted of five violent felonies for several Manhattan and Queens robberies, and sentenced to 51 years to life. Dash also was seen on a jail video kissing Hamilton. Union rules protect Dash’s job until she’s actually convicted of a crime – and even then she’ll still receive her pension.
North Carolina: Five people were arrested after about 20 members of the Inside-Outside Alliance, a jail reform group, interrupted the Durham County Commission meeting on March 13, 2017. As Commission Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs started her annual state of the county address, protestors began reading aloud letters from jail prisoners related to concerns about the use of video visitation by the Sheriff’s Office. “It’s not really visiting. It’s a glorified phone call,” Joe Stapleton, a member of the Inside-Outside Alliance, stated before the meeting. Durham County Sheriff Major Paul Martin said the arrests of four men and one woman came after the protestors had been asked to leave multiple times.
Ohio: On March 15, 2017, a prisoner traveling with a private transportation guard escaped from the Cleveland Hopkins Airport after reportedly being left unattended. Police reports said Wesley Massey, 36, was being transported from Florida to Cleveland when his escort guard allowed him to use the restroom while the guard conducted rental car business. Massey was handcuffed and shackled, but managed to abscond and steal a car from the airport employees’ parking area. He led police on a high-speed chase and was eventually stopped by spike strips. He now faces additional charges that include fleeing and eluding police and receiving stolen property.
Ohio: Licking County jail nurse Julie Parry was suspended for two days without pay after she admitted posting a Facebook comment that called for the execution of a prisoner at the jail. Parry made the comment on February 17, 2017, on a Facebook post about a case of alleged child abuse. Her comment read: “What a douche bag, why waste time with jail or prison, execute him, how can so e [sic] do this to their own innocent child, what a waste of space.” According to an investigation by the Licking County Sheriff’s Office, Parry said she did not know the defendant was being held at the jail where she worked. She has since deleted her comment.
Oklahoma: Prisoner Luther Lee Taylor was sentenced on March 3, 2017 for his role in a June 2015 riot at the CoreCivic-operated Cimarron Correctional Facility. He received an additional 10-year prison term for instigating Indian Brotherhood gang members to fight with Crips members, resulting in 11 prisoners being transported to hospitals and others treated by prison medical staff. Prisoners Michael T. Stegal and Marcus D. Schoffner were charged separately with using a homemade weapon to attack another prisoner. At the time of the riot, CoreCivic (then known as Corrections Corporation of America) reported 200 to 300 prisoners participated in the brawl. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.63].
Oklahoma: On March 13, 2017, prisoner Darrik Forsythe, 37, received an additional 46-month prison term for his role as the ringleader of an extortion conspiracy that operated at the Lawton Correctional Facility. Forsythe and his associates used smuggled cell phones to target gay men on a dating service, then threatened to expose their sexuality unless they made extortion payments. One victim paid $674,000 and eventually committed suicide. “It’s a horrible, horrible crime,” stated U.S. District Court Judge Robert N. Chatigny. Federal prosecutor David Novick said guards at the private prison, operated by the GEO Group, allowed illegal cell phones to be smuggled into the facility.
Oregon: Something odd happened in the courtroom of Multnomah County Circuit Judge Monica Herranz on January 27, 2017. Diddier Pacheco Salazar, 22, an undocumented immigrant, was in court for a hearing on a DUI charge while ICE agents waited in the hallway to take him into custody for deportation proceedings. But Salazar avoided them by leaving through one of the courtroom’s other doors, which are usually reserved for courtroom staff or prisoners. Judge Herranz was suspected of helping him elude the ICE officers, though court administrators determined she had not violated any rules of judicial conduct. She also faces a complaint filed by the chairman of the Oregon Republican Party. Salazar was apprehended by ICE on February 10, 2017 when he returned to court for another hearing.
Pennsylvania: According to a February 2, 2017 news report, Nina Scott, 28, a teacher at the Mid-Atlantic Youth Services school for troubled youth, was charged with 34 counts of institutional sexual assault of a minor and corruption of minors, plus 36 other charges, for sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. Scott reportedly had sexual contact with the teenager at the school and then wrote her over two dozen letters after the girl was transferred to a juvenile facility. Authorities at Mid-Atlantic Youth Services found a journal the teenager kept that detailed her relationship with Scott, who was terminated in December 2016.
Texas: PLN previously reported the arrest and firing of former Management and Training Corp. guards Stephan Salinas and Harry Cordero for accepting bribes to smuggle cell phones and alcohol to prisoners at the Willacy County Regional Detention Center. [See: PLN, Mar. 2017, p.63]. A grand jury indicted the guards, who both pleaded guilty to bribery charges. On March 27, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen sentenced Cordero to 18 months in federal prison; Salinas received a similar sentence on July 18, 2017.
Texas: Private prison guard Barbara Jean Goodwin pleaded guilty on March 14, 2017 to sexually abusing a prisoner at the Central Texas Detention Facility in San Antonio. According to testimony from the victim and other detainees, Goodwin forcibly performed oral sex on a male prisoner over 30 times throughout a six-month period. She was sentenced on June 13, 2017 to five months of incarceration followed by five months on home confinement. She will also serve a two-year term of supervised release and must register as a sex offender.
Utah: Matthew Hall died on April 13, 2017, six weeks after injuring himself at the Weber County jail while waiting to be transferred to the state mental hospital. Hall had been placed on suicide watch but still managed to climb on the sink in his cell and jump off, breaking his neck. His family plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Attorney Nick Daskalis from the Disability Law Center said his group filed a class-action lawsuit in 2015 that would have helped Hall. The Utah legislature set aside $3 million for a June 2017 settlement in the case, to provide funding for an offsite mental health facility separate from the state hospital.
Venezuela: On March 18, 2017, investigators announced the discovery of a mass grave at the General Penitentiary in Guarico state that contained fifteen bodies – three without skulls. Forensic experts combing the site expected to locate more remains. The grisly find was the most recent incident to throw a spotlight on the South American nation’s overcrowded and violent prison system. PLN previously reported on gruesome accusations that in 2016, two Venezuelan prisoners were murdered by a confessed cannibal, who then fed their body parts to other prisoners. [See: PLN, Mar. 2017, p.63].
Virgin Islands: A former guard at the Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility admitted to selling cell phones to prisoners for bribes, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a federal judge. Abdul Robinson, 39, was sentenced on March 14, 2017 to a six-month prison term for providing contraband to prisoners and a one-year term for the territorial offense of conflict of interest. He will also serve one year on supervised release and was ordered to pay fines and special assessments of $525.
Washington: On April 10, 2017, for the second time in three years, prisoners at the GEO Group-operated Northwest Detention Center began a hunger strike in protest of conditions at the immigration detention facility in Tacoma. [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.26]. NWDC Resistance, an activist group that supported a 2014 hunger strike involving 1,200 prisoners, issued a press release containing a letter with the prisoners’ demands, which included expedited hearings, improved quality of food, improved access to medical care and lower commissary prices. In addition, the hunger strikers asked for an increase in the $1.00 per day wages they receive for performing work at the facility. Prison officials said approximately 100 prisoners refused lunch as the protest began.
Wisconsin: Former Marathon County jail guard Jennifer Kowalski was freed on a $15,000 signature bond after posting $2,500 in cash following her arrest on February 10, 2017 on charges of second-degree sexual assault by corrections staff and misconduct in office. According to court documents, Kowalski exchanged love letters with a prisoner and they had inappropriate conversations of a sexual nature. Both Kowalski and the unidentified prisoner said she had not engaged in wrongdoing while she was employed by the sheriff’s department.
Wisconsin: A file clerk who worked at the Racine Correctional Institution was arrested on February 1, 2017 and charged with second-degree sexual assault by correctional staff and delivering illegal articles to a prisoner. According to the criminal complaint filed against Loralie A. Schultz, 52, she admitted that she had developed an intimate relationship with a prisoner and smuggled a cell phone, cans of chewing tobacco and a sewing kit into the facility. Schultz faces more than 25 years in prison on the sexual assault charge alone.
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