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News in Brief

California: Ignacio Adrian Sobers Jr., 31, entered into a plea agreement in federal district court on February 9, 2017. He agreed to plead guilty to one count of acceptance of a bribe by a public official. The former guard at the U.S. Penitentiary in Victorville was accused of providing a prisoner with MP3 players, pornographic magazines and pornographic movies, all considered contraband, in exchange for $1,000. “With the full knowledge that his conduct was illegal and posed a threat to the security of the prison, this defendant betrayed his oath to the United States by accepting a bribe in exchange for smuggling contraband to a prisoner,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker.

California: Prisoner Howard Webber operated a tax fraud scheme for two years while incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison, the Santa Clara County Jail and Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility. Along with an outside accomplice, Clifford Bercovich, Webber stole the identities of around 700 fellow prisoners and used their personal information to file fraudulent tax returns. The scheme netted Webber and Bercovich more than $600,000. On January 24, 2017, Webber was convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud; he was sentenced in May 2017 to five years in federal prison and three years of supervised release. Bercovich pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud and aggravated identity theft, and was sentenced to 8 months plus three years of supervised release and restitution of $429,342.

Canada: An Ottawa judge described a woman’s miscarriage behind bars at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre as “nightmarish and inhumane treatment.” The unnamed 28-year-old prisoner alleged that she called for help but was ignored by staff until she started bleeding uncontrollably. Only then was she transported to a hospital; prison staff decided to forego an ambulance and instead moved her in a prison transport van. During a February 3, 2017 court hearing regarding the woman’s initial charges, Ontario Court Justice Peter Wright reduced her sentence and offered his condolences for the loss of her unborn child.

Colombia: A January 28, 2017 Associated Press report referred to the food served at the San Diego women’s prison as “gourmet meals worth going to jail for.” Of course, that food is not for the prisoners but served to the public in a trendy new restaurant on prison grounds called Interno – Spanish for “inmate.” Modeled after Milan, Italy’s InGalera restaurant inside the Bollate Penitentiary [see: PLN, July 2016, p.63], Interno serves as a rehabilitation program to teach culinary skills to participating prisoners to help them find jobs upon their release.

Colorado: Larimer County Sheriff’s Office employee Bethanie Williamson, 37, resigned on March 1, 2017. She was issued a criminal summons to face a class 2 misdemeanor for committing a “computer crime” after an investigation found she had revealed information about a victim to the suspect in the case. “When it comes to maintaining records, deputies have access to sensitive information they are not authorized to release to the general public even if that information can be obtained from other sources. If a deputy violates internal policies or certainly the law, they will be held accountable,” Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith said in a news release.

Connecticut: On February 1, 2017, a traveling exhibition arrived in New Haven for a three-week tour. “It is an exact replica of a solitary confinement cell and it actually also includes the sounds of a true prison that’s taken from a Maine penitentiary,” explained Yale Law student Sameer Jaywant. Aleks Sverdlik, another student at Yale, added, “We think folks will have a chance to experience isolation themselves in the replica cell, to learn about the harms of solitary confinement, and to develop the tools to advocate against it going forward.” The traveling cell belongs to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, an organization that contends solitary confinement is a form of torture.

Connecticut: Dennis Earl Dockery, a former state prison guard at the Enfield Correctional Institution and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, was arrested on July 8, 2016 on charges of first-degree larceny by defrauding a public community and two counts of second-degree forgery. Dockery, 52, was accused of swindling the government by continuing to collect pay as a state employee while incarcerated for sexually assaulting a woman with whom he’d developed an online relationship while in the Army. According to the arrest warrant, Dockery received $5,182 in salary through fraud against the state.

Florida: Ingrid Yearby, a St. Lucie County Sheriff’s deputy, was suspended without pay following her February 23, 2017 arrest for introduction of contraband into the Martin Correctional Institution. She is accused of using a cell phone to text and call a prisoner with whom she planned to set up a bank scam. Her arrest came one week after that of her husband, James Yearby, a Martin Correctional Institution guard, for allegedly selling cell phones to prisoners. It was unclear whether their arrests were related.

Florida: A civilian food service worker at the Martin Correctional Institution was arrested on February 2, 2017 after prison officials discovered a prisoner’s cell phone containing over 250 text messages between Twanzza Nikka Benjamin, 24, and the unnamed prisoner. The texts indicated the pair had a relationship and planned to bring contraband into the facility. Benjamin admitted to authorities that she intended to smuggle the hundreds of cigarettes she was found with, but had become frightened so she didn’t follow through with the plan.

Georgia: Rutledge State Prison guard Antonio Lewis, 46, was arrested and ordered held without bond on February 3, 2017 after being accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl. He pleaded not guilty to one count each of child molestation and aggravated child molestation. The 16-year-old girl told authorities about the abuse while she was incarcerated at the Aaron Cohn Regional Youth Detention Center, resulting in an investigation. The case has been bound over to the Muscogee Superior Court.

Illinois: PLN has previously reported on mass sick-outs by staff at the Cook County Jail during major sporting events. [See: PLN, Dec. 2015, p.63]. On February 6, 2017, CBS Chicago reported that Cook County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Cara Smith said 109 guards had called in sick for the morning shift and another 130 called in sick for the second shift on Super Bowl Sunday. The number of sick calls exceeded 2016’s tally by four and accounted for about 19% of staff assigned to work that day. “From an employment and accountability standpoint, it is a devastating situation to be dealing with,” Smith said.

Illinois: On January 3, 2017, Judge Daniel Shanes heard arguments from Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim, who said William Carini deserved, at a minimum, a new trial after forensic testing revealed that none of the physical evidence collected in a rape investigation matched his DNA. Nerheim told the judge that he did not intend to retry Carini for the sexual assault of a woman who was attacked in 1992. Based on that information, Shanes cleared Carini of all charges and ordered his release. He had served 25 years of a 26-year sentence; the Illinois State Police is expected to reopen the case.

Illinois: Cook County Jail spokeswoman Cara Smith announced that five prisoners in the facility’s super-maximum security unit had been wounded during a January 6, 2017 fight. She said they were in serious to critical condition at two local hospitals, but their injuries did not appear to be life-threatening. According to Smith, some of the injuries had been caused by weapons made from parts of an inhaler; other puncture wounds were likely inflicted by homemade weapons that were recovered after the brawl. Of the five injured prisoners, four were awaiting trial on murder charges.

Indiana: A lawsuit filed on February 10, 2017 claims Marion County jail staff did not protect prisoner Thomas Shane Miles from committing suicide, even though he had made two previous attempts. “Despite the fact that Mr. Miles was clearly prone to suicide, defendants failed to take appropriate steps to prevent him from committing suicide, and even allowed him access to tools and materials that he used to commit suicide,” the complaint said. Sheriff John Layton’s office is facing at least four pending lawsuits regarding deaths at the jail. In 2016, Layton acknowledged an “epidemic” of suicides. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.32].

Iowa: The Des Moines Register reported on February 8, 2017 that Iowa Corrections Director Jerry Bartruff had ordered the temporary shutdown of units at the Luster Heights state prison camp near Harpers Ferry, the Lodge Unit at the Clarinda Correctional Facility and the John Bennett minimum-security unit at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison, as well as the closure of the Sheldon Residential Treatment Facility. Bartruff said the closures were necessary to offset a $5.5 million budget reduction for the state’s 2017 fiscal year. Iowa DOC spokeswoman Lettie Prell said most of the prisoners in the defunded units would be moved to other units and facilities.

Iowa: On February 1, 2017, nearly 230 prisoners were evacuated from the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women when the heating went out at one of the prison’s units. Officials said a leak in a geothermal system left prisoners with no heat in estimated 25 degree weather. The women at the facility were transferred to temporary housing as a result of the evacuation; WKOW reported that no one was hurt or became ill after the incident. Prison authorities said they expected repairs to the heating system to be completed within a week.

Kentucky: Hardin County Jailer Danny Allen said deputy jailer Joseph Funk and deputy sheriff Clennon Smith had a physical confrontation while booking a prisoner that resulted in Funk’s arrest on charges of assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and menacing. According to Allen, the February 8, 2017 incident started when Funk and Smith “appeared to have words over the placement of a backpack that Officer Smith brought in, of an inmate’s property.” The two deputies then began brawling. The charges against Funk were dropped on March 10, 2017. Special prosecutor Mike Mann said later that “things just got out of hand.”

Louisiana: An appeals court released Robert Jones in November 2015, tossing out the rape and murder convictions for which he had been imprisoned for 23 years. On January 26, 2017 the Orleans District Attorney’s Office dropped all charges, saying it would be too hard to retry the case. “It is difficult to retry any case that is more than two decades old. The office, unfortunately, has concluded that it cannot at this time retry a complex case such as this,” spokesman Christopher Bowman wrote in a statement. Attorneys and investigators with Innocence Project New Orleans had drafted Jones’ appeal, which alleged tainted identification, poor representation and “intentional misconduct” by prosecutors.

Maryland: Cecil County prosecutor Edward “Ellis” Rollins III was sentenced on February 14, 2017 by Worcester County Circuit Judge Brian Shockley to 90 days in jail with all time suspended plus a $1,000 fine. Rollins was convicted of indecent exposure and disorderly conduct for having sex, standing naked and masturbating in front of the sliding glass door of his tenth-floor hotel room in full view of four tourists, a security guard and two Ocean City police officers. He will also perform 100 hours of community service, serve 18 months of supervised probation and undergo mental health treatment. Rollins resigned and removed himself from consideration for a judgeship shortly before he was sentenced.

Massachusetts: A former mental health practitioner at the Berkshire County jail carried on a yearlong affair with a prisoner whom her attorney said she had fallen in love with. Valerie Soules, 63, was spending an “inordinate” amount of time with the unidentified prisoner, according to investigators; some of the 200 recorded phone calls between the pair mentioned sexual activity. Soules was sentenced on January 17, 2017 to three years of probation and 200 hours of community service for engaging in inappropriate sexual contact.

Michigan: According to a federal lawsuit filed in January 2017 by attorney S. Jay Ahmad on behalf of prisoner Jeremy Alan Garza’s family, on the morning of April 10, 2014, Garza told Marquette Branch Prison staff he intended to kill himself. The guards laughed at his suicidal declaration and told him to “go ahead and do it.” Garza was found hanging in his cell about 30 minutes later. The suit, which seeks over $75,000 in damages, accuses the state of deliberate indifference and failure to adequately train and supervise prison employees; it also claims staff routinely ignored “suicidal ideation statements’’ made by prisoners.

Mississippi: Mississippi Department of Corrections officials found 33-year-old Eric Heinz unresponsive in his cell at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility on February 18, 2017. He was pronounced dead at the prison. A preliminary investigation revealed that Heinz had been involved in an altercation with his cellmate, whose name was not released. “I spoke to District Attorney Ronnie Harper earlier today and asked him to pursue the death penalty, if it is legally available upon the conclusion of our investigation,” said Interim Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall. The Wilkinson County Correctional Facility is operated by Management & Training Corporation (MTC), a private company.

Mississippi: PLN previously reported on a nine-count indictment unsealed in June 2016 that accused four Parchman state prison guards of beating a prisoner identified as “K.H.” [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.63]. On June 15, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that guard Lawardrick Marsher had pleaded guilty to using excessive force against the prisoner and was sentenced to serve 50 weekends in prison and five years of probation, plus perform 150 hours of community service. Guards Deonte Pate, 23, and Romander Nelson, 44, also pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the incident. Pate admitted that he had conspired to cover up the beating and received five years’ probation, while Nelson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to protect K.H. and will also serve five years on probation. Guard supervisor Robert Sturdivant admitted to covering up the abuse; he has not yet been sentenced.

New York: Metropolitan Detention Center guard Armando Moronta used “a large mug” to smuggle cell phones, pain killers and synthetic weed into the federal jail at least 12 times in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribes. Outside accomplices paid Moronta between $1,000 and $3,000 for each delivery he made to two prisoners. The guard was arrested on January 12, 2017 after a prisoner not involved in the scheme snitched on him in exchange for a deal in his own case. “Smuggling drugs into a federal prison is not only illegal, it’s inherently dangerous and puts peoples’ lives at risk,” FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney, Jr. said in a statement.

New York: An attorney for a prisoner at the Robert N. Davoren Complex on Rikers Island said his client was slashed with a scalpel after refusing to give a double portion of food to a gang member. Leo Glickman, who represents prisoner Luziano Hinks in a civil lawsuit filed against the New York City Department of Correction on February 23, 2017, said his client requested a transfer to another unit after prisoner Steven Shaw tried to force Hinks into serving him extra food. The transfer occurred, but Shaw was soon moved into the same unit. Glickman said Hinks begged to be moved again, but his request was denied. When the two prisoners met in the unit, Shaw slashed Hinks’ face, arm and back. The lawsuit argues that lax security screenings by jail staff allowed Shaw access to the weapon, and that guards failed to break up the fight.

Ohio: A guard at the Northeast Reintegration Center was indicted on 11 charges on February 10, 2017, including sexual battery, attempted sexual battery and attempted rape. Lawrence Culver was accused of using his position to engage in sexual acts with three female prisoners. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said Culver had been on paid leave, in accordance with the agency’s contract with the union that represents prison guards, since an investigation began in December 2015. He is accused of sexually assaulting the three prisoners between 2013 and 2015.

Oklahoma: Raymond A. Barnes, 46, the former superintendent of the Muskogee County/City Detention Facility, and Christopher A. Brown, 33, who worked under Barnes as assistant jail superintendent, were re-sentenced on February 18, 2017 after an appellate court held their sentences for violating the civil rights of prisoners were too great of a downward departure from mandatory sentencing guidelines. Barnes was ordered to serve two years in prison followed by three years on supervised release; he had originally been sentenced in March 2015 to serve a year and one day. Brown’s sentence was doubled from six months to a year in prison, plus three years on supervised release.

Oklahoma: Carmen Darlene Pogue, 32, a former guard at the Dick Conner Correctional Facility, was charged on February 22, 2017 with having sexual contact with two male prisoners and accepting a cash bribe from one of them. All three admitted to engaging in misconduct. Because the prisoners were in DOC custody and Pogue was an authority figure, she was charged with first-degree rape. Pogue also admitted to accepting $2,200 from prisoner Darious “Dice” Hendricks. She denied bringing him illegal contraband, but acknowledged knowing about a contraband exchange involving then-DOC captain Cade Carlson, 33, who faces one count of bribery. Pogue committed suicide at her home on May 1, 2017.

Pennsylvania: Staff at Mid-Atlantic Youth Services, a privately-operated facility for troubled youth, notified authorities after they found a journal and letters detailing sexual acts between a 16-year-old girl and 28-year-old Nina Scott, who was employed as a teacher. According to police, Scott repeatedly abused the girl between February and October 2016, then continued their relationship through letters after the girl was sent to another youth facility. On February 1, 2017, Scott was arrested on 34 counts of institutional sexual assault and related charges, and held at the Delaware County Prison on $100,000 bond.

Philippines: Derrick Arnold Carreon, spokesman for the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, told the AFP news agency that at least 13 “high-value” detainees facing drug charges had escaped from a police camp in San Fernando City on February 26, 2017. “They sawed through the bars of the metal grille,” Carreon said. It was not clear how the prisoners obtained the tools used to cut the bars, or how they got past security at the prison gates. PLN reports frequently on horrific conditions in Filipino jails and prisons. [See, e.g.: PLN, June 2017, p.63; May 2017, p.63; Feb. 2017, p.63].

South Carolina: Devin Leann Lopez, 37, was charged with third-degree assault and battery, a misdemeanor, in connection with an incident at the Hill-Finklea Detention Center in 2014. The State Law Enforcement Division announced on February 7, 2017 that the former Berkeley County jail deputy struck a 30-year-old unnamed prisoner in the groin with an open hand. She faces up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $500. Lopez worked for the Sheriff’s Office from 2011 until she was terminated in February 2015.

Texas: According to Joe Arrington, a spokesman for the San Antonio Fire Department, a microwave short-circuited on the 8th floor of the Central Texas Detention Facility on February 9, 2017, causing an intense fire that required a large emergency response. As the blaze spread, at least 15 firefighting units were called in to quell the conflagration. Arrington said the microwave was in a jailer’s rest area. The facility is an ICE immigrant detention center operated by The GEO Group, a private company.

Texas: Two Coryell County jail guards were charged with delivery of a controlled substance after being accused of selling drugs to prisoners. Kevin Arzate, 25, and Paul Robert Picetti, 34, were caught during an undercover investigation into the sale of contraband at the facility. Arzate was charged with manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance over 1 gram but under 4 grams, while Picetti faces charges of manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance over 4 grams but under 200 grams. Both were arrested on January 25, 2017. The Texas Rangers joined the Coryell County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation.

United Kingdom: HMP Garth worker Alison Sharples was found guilty of misconduct in public office after being caught trying to smuggle a prisoner’s sperm out of the facility so she could have his baby. Sharples, 46, and 31-year-old prisoner Marvin Berkeley had been having an affair for seven weeks when Sharples was discovered with a medicine syringe containing what was identified as Berkeley’s semen. On January 30, 2017, Sharples was sentenced to nine months in prison.

Virginia: A prisoner at the Greensville Correctional Center was attacked in January 2016; prison officials claimed that guard Rakelle Graham had facilitated the assault after becoming involved in a relationship with a member of the Bloods gang at the facility. Graham was arrested after a yearlong investigation along with six prisoners, and charged with attempted murder, gang crimes and assault by mob. “It’s a nightmare!” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Ronnie West on February 9, 2017. “To have someone willing to get involved at that level with an inmate, and commit a crime like this or let it happen. It’s scary for the inmates to think they are not protected, and scary for us to have to deal with this kind of security breach.” The unidentified prisoner who was assaulted survived.

Washington: A state Department of Social and Health Services investigator saw an unnamed 28-year-old work release prisoner’s Craigslist ad advertising pot for sale or in trade for EBT cards. The investigator forwarded the post to Puyallup police, who set up an undercover sting operation and arrested the man after he traded two ounces of marijuana for $511 in food stamp benefits. He was charged on February 7, 2017 with unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of marijuana by a prisoner and trafficking in food coupons.

Wisconsin: Former Dane County Sheriff’s Deputy Victoria A. Long pleaded guilty on January 17, 2017 to two of five felony charges for bringing various items into the county jail for two prisoners, including a radio, batteries, face wash, nicotine lozenges and chewing tobacco. Dane County Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara will sentence Long; prosecutors agreed to a plea bargain in which she would receive three years of probation on one charge and 120 days in jail on the other. A shakedown of the prisoners’ cellblock uncovered the contraband. 

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