News in Brief
Alabama: In November 2016 the Barbour County Sheriff’s Office received a faxed court order for the release of state prisoner Bobby Campbell, so of course they released him. As it turned out, however, the order was fake. “Right now we are unsure about the real source of that fax and the origin of the document,” said Alabama DOC spokesman Bob Horton. Campbell, 37, who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison, was not reported missing until January 3, 2017 – seven weeks after his erroneous release. He was captured the next day.
Arkansas: Prisoner Tramell Mackenzie Hunter, 27, said during a December 2016 court appearance that the guard he beat to death at the Miller County Detention Center was “messing with my life.” Lisa Mauldin, 47, was fatally assaulted by Hunter in the kitchen area of the jail; another guard, Damaris Allen, was transported to a Little Rock hospital to be treated for injuries he received during the attack. “I just want to apologize to everyone for what happened,” Hunter said at the end of his preliminary appearance before District Judge Wren Autrey. He faces the death penalty, as well as other charges related to the December 18, 2016 incident, and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
California: Joshua McCormick, housed at the Mule Creek State Prison, was found unresponsive in his cell on October 11, 2016 and pronounced dead within an hour. Officials were investigating his death as a homicide and McCormick’s cellmate, Brandon Dean, 35, was named as a suspect. Dean was serving 26 years to life at the time of McCormick’s death. McCormick, 36, was serving 150 years to life.
California: Douglas Maynard, 53, was stabbed to death in the recreation yard at the High Desert State Prison on October 15, 2016. Prison authorities said Robert Stockton, 39, used a homemade weapon which was found at the scene. Both Maynard and Stockton were serving life sentences. In addition to an internal prison investigation, the Lassen County Sheriff’s Office and Lassen County District Attorney’s Office investigated the homicide.
Canada: Drunk drivers on Prince Edward Island will be subject to fines and criminal charges as usual, but the Kensington Police Service is adding what some consider cruel and unusual punishment. In a November 2016 Facebook post, the police warned people who drink and drive, “when we catch you, and we will catch you, on top of a hefty fine, a criminal charge and a year’s driving suspension we will also provide you with a bonus gift of playing the [official] copy of Nickelback in the cruiser on the way to jail.” A Facebook commenter quipped, “Doesn’t torture go against the Geneva Convention?”
Colorado: Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey announced on November 4, 2016 that he would seek a retrial in the case of Clarence Moses-El, who was freed in 2015 after serving 28 years in prison for a rape he maintains he did not commit. A judge overturned Moses-El’s initial sentence after prisoner L.C. Jackson testified that he had consensual sex with the victim on the night Moses-El was accused of rape. Jackson, a convicted sex offender, was one of three suspects the victim initially identified after the assault. Moses-El had attempted to contest his conviction previously, and raised enough money for DNA testing on the crime scene evidence, but the Denver police claimed they accidentally destroyed it. ProgressNow Colorado called the case a “terrible miscarriage of justice.”
Florida: A Florida woman serving 22½ years on a conspiracy to possess crack cocaine charge was granted clemency by President Obama on August 3, 2016, but her freedom remains in limbo because her federal charge also violated her state probation. Martin County issued a detainer for Donella Marie Harriel despite an outcry from advocates. Guy Blackwell, a retired assistant attorney general from Tennessee, asked Assistant U.S. Attorney General Nita Denton, a Republican appointed by Governor Rick Scott, to lift the detainer in Harriel’s case. Referring to Denton, Harriel wrote, “If Obama could forgive me and see my growth, why couldn’t she?”
Georgia: Two lawsuits filed on November 3, 2016 in Fulton and Tattnall counties claim medical staff at the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville determined that prisoner Nicholas Baldwin was delusional and needed emergency psychiatric care, but returned him to his cell where guards later found him hanging from a bedsheet. The complaints claim that a doctor who examined Baldwin ordered an injection of epinephrine, which sent him into cardiac arrest. At a hospital in Savannah, Baldwin was diagnosed with anoxic brain injury; since the incident he has been in a nursing home, curled into a fetal position. He is unresponsive, but “his eyes can kind of follow things around the room,” stated attorney Jerry Lupa, who added it was unknown whether Baldwin’s condition was caused by the hanging, the dose of epinephrine or both.
Hawaii: PLN previously reported the 2014 grand jury indictment of former Maui Community Correctional Center guard James Siugpiyemal for the sexual assault of a female prisoner. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.63]. On November 5, 2016, Suigpiyemal was arrested by U.S. Marshals in Micronesia after spending nearly two years on the run. Siugpiyemal, a citizen of Micronesia, waived his right to contest his extradition and was turned over to Maui police. Besides the Marshals, the Maui Prosecutor’s Office and U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs worked with Micronesia authorities to have Siugpiyemal arrested.
Illinois: A Chicago-area woman was wrongfully incarcerated for 49 days following a series of bureaucratic miscommunications. In 1993, Latasha Eatman was arrested on a minor marijuana charge and ordered to perform community service. After numerous attempts to complete her sentence in a timely manner, a judge excused Eatman. However, she was picked up on October 14, 2016 when police discovered an outstanding warrant for failure to complete the community service. Once she was brought before the court 10 days later, a judge did not believe Eatman and ordered her held without bond. Cara Smith, chief policy officer for Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart, said that after she examined the case she “raised holy hell with the prosecutor’s office,” and Eatman was released a day later.
India: Security was beefed up at the Nabiha Jail in Punjab’s Patiala District following a November 27, 2016 jailbreak. Harminder Singh Mintoo and four other prisoners escaped as ten men disguised as police officers fired over one hundred rounds at the facility. Mintoo, chief of the Khalistan Liberation Force, was arrested in 2014 for leading the separatist group, which is seeking a homeland for Sikhs. An investigation was launched into the escape.
Indiana: Former Monroe County jail administrator Karen Sue Bridges pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement on December 6, 2016. Six other charges were dismissed as part of the negotiated plea deal. Bridges stole more than $260,000 from the jail through prisoner commissary accounts, cash bond payments and fake medical invoices. She was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, six months on house arrest and 18 months of community supervision. She was also ordered to complete 12 days of community service, undergo mental health counseling and repay the $263,932.71 she stole.
Italy: Around 1,000 prisoners from 12 countries gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica on November 6, 2016 to hear Pope Francis deliver a special Jubilee Mass. In his homily, Francis appealed to political leaders “of each country” to improve prison conditions, implement policies that enable prisoners to return to society and offer clemency whenever possible. “It’s really going to bring a level of humanity to the prison world and show that prisoners are people and deserve to be recognized,” commented Ann Schwartzman, the policy and program director for the Pennsylvania Prison Society, a prisoners’ advocacy organization, prior to the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia last year. [See: PLN, Jan. 2016, p.52].
Maine: Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick announced the creation of a panel of outsiders to review department policy in the wake of a suicide at the Long Creek Youth Development Center. Charlie Maisie Knowles, 16 years old and transgender, hung herself on October 29, 2016 and died two days later. She had been on and off suicide watch several times during her incarceration. Fitzpatrick said the review panel will include input from national and local experts in the fields of psychiatric care, corrections, disability rights, civil rights, LGBTQ rights and others. Knowles was the first prisoner to die at Long Creek in at least 20 years.
Massachusetts: After some 50 years in hiatus, prisoners resurrected the Norfolk Prison Debating Society with a competition against opponents from Boston College. At the onset of the December 29, 2016 contest, the moderator announced, “Until today, we have not hosted a college debate in 50 years. So, those of you in attendance are now witnesses to history in the making.” The debate focused on a resolution that the U.S. should impose a tax on greenhouse gas emissions; Norfolk Prison argued in favor and Boston College against. When the judges tallied the score, the prisoner debate team prevailed by 0.6 points.
Michigan: In a September 2016 civil rights lawsuit, state prisoner Steven Moerman, 44, alleged that prison counselor Susan Lee Clingerman used him as “a virtual sex slave, demanding sexual gratification at her whim.” Clingerman, 45, signed a statement in which she admitted she had sex with Moerman at least four times at the Parnall Correctional Facility, and was pregnant with his child. She was sentenced to 27 days in jail and 18 months of probation after pleading guilty to a felony charge of misconduct in office. “I did not know I could be prosecuted for this,” she said. “I knew I could get into trouble – including firing.” A paternity test showed Moerman is the father of Clingerman’s child, who was born in April 2015. A Jackson County Circuit Court judge dismissed Moerman’s lawsuit in February 2017, finding he had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.
Michigan: On November 10, 2016, prisoner Albert Lee White IV, aka “Smiles,” was charged with raping his cellmate at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility. His victim told prison staff that White had used force to sexually penetrate him while they were housed at the facility in Muskegon on Christmas Eve 2015. White was arraigned via video on a third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years but could be increased due to White’s status as a fourth-time habitual offender. He was transferred to the Bellamy Creek Correctional facility after the attack.
Michigan: In a recent cover story, PLN reported on child support debtors who were jailed and died while in custody. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.1]. Jennifer Meyers, 37, became a similar victim of the criminal justice system when she died 12 days into a 30-day jail sentence for being behind on child support. Meyers was not taken to a hospital by Macomb County jailers or treated by privately-contracted medical staff while an infection slowly killed her. Robert Ihrie, an attorney representing Meyers’ family, spoke to reporters on November 14, 2016. “Obviously, when somebody comes in to the jail, the punishment is being there,” he said. “The punishment isn’t to die.”
Mississippi: Oscar Pirtle died from injuries he suffered in a fight with another prisoner at the privately-operated Marshall County Correctional Facility. According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections, the altercation occurred around 3:30 in the early hours of November 22, 2016; Pirtle’s assailant was treated at a local hospital and returned to the prison. The MTC-run facility was temporarily locked down while staff investigated the incident.
New York: Rookie Rikers Island guard Alastasia Bryan, 25, was found shot to death in a parked car in December 2016. She had worked at the jail for only a month. Startling video footage was released that showed the gunman exit a nearby vehicle, walk up to Bryan’s driver’s side window and fire five rounds. She died instantly, according to police. On February 10, 2017, Bryan’s ex-boyfriend, Keon Richmond, was charged with her murder.
New York: A former Tompkins County jailer was arrested on December 12, 2016 and charged with rape and criminal sexual act in the third degree. Prisoner Shayna Demott reported to investigators that another prisoner on her block admitted to having sex with 25-year-old jail guard Michael B. Baker. Demott said the prisoner wrote to her, asked her to keep everything quiet and to tell Baker she missed his “cute face.” Demott turned the letter over to Senior Investigator Jody Coombs, eventually resulting in the charges against Baker.
New Zealand: Corrections Minister Judith Collins responded to the release of reports that implicated the notorious Killer Beez street gang as the instigator of videotaped “fight clubs” that surfaced at the Serco-operated Mt. Eden Prison. The reports alleged that gang members forced prisoners to fight or be attacked if they refused, and that the clubs had existed since 2009. Collins called the reports “appalling.” According to a November 2016 news report, the Corrections Department said there was no evidence of fight clubs at prisons other than Mt. Eden, following inspections at eight facilities in 2015. “Effectively it seems that Serco lost control of that prison, it was an unsafe prison. That reality was suppressed for a very long time, and that could have allowed the situation to carry on for much longer than it needed to,” said Green Party spokesman David Clendon.
Ohio: On November 17, 2016, the Boone County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrests of four county work camp prisoners and two others in connection with the overdose death of prisoner Timothy Marcum. Sheriff’s Office officials said Johnny Shelton, 39, Adam Masuck, 30, Gordon Wanser, 36, and Chad Prodoehl, 34, were arrested along with Valerie Napier, 37, and Stacia Lindsey, 41. All are accused of participating in a drug smuggling ring at the work camp; they face organized crime and drug trafficking charges. Marcum died from using carfentanil, a synthetic opioid best known as a tranquilizer for elephants.
Oklahoma: A federal lawsuit filed on October 24, 2016 by the family of a prisoner who died during the deadliest prison fight in the state’s history claims America’s largest private prison company allowed prisoners to kill each other. Kyle Tiffee and three other prisoners, Anthony Fulwider, Michael Mayden and Christopher Tignor – reportedly members of the Irish Mob and United Aryan Brotherhood gangs at the Cimarron Correctional Facility, operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) – were stabbed to death during the two-minute melee in September 2015. The fight was “highly predictable,” according to the lawsuit, and could have been prevented if not for “staff behavior and corruption” that allowed gangs to run the prison. The suit alleges that video footage exists of the fight but CCA has refused to release it, claiming the video is exempt from the Oklahoma Open Records Act because it is a “law enforcement record.”
Oklahoma: News9.com reported on December 10, 2016 that Oklahoma County jail prisoners had been complaining about temperature control at the facility since summertime – in the warmer months there was no air conditioning, and in colder months no heat. Earlier this year, the Vera Institute of Justice released part one of a study that found the most glaring problems at the jail are overcrowding, “counterproductive” fines imposed on prisoners, and case delays due to employee turnover and budget cuts. The Vera Institute is expected to release part two of the ongoing study in the near future; the second report will include recommendations for improvements at the facility.
Oregon: Madaline Pitkin’s death at the Washington County jail was one of nine in Oregon jails in 2014, according to data compiled by The Oregonian. Pitkin, 26, had spent seven days detoxing from heroin before she died. On November 30, 2016, her parents filed a $20 million lawsuit against Washington County and Corizon Health, the jail’s private medical contractor. In their complaint, Mary and Russell Pitkin claim their daughter pleaded for help in at least four written requests, telling medical staff “I feel like I am very close to death.” The suit also names Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett and several members of Corizon’s medical team. The county ended its contract with the company in 2015.
Oregon: According to court records, Jason Hofmann worked as a registered nurse for the Oregon Department of Corrections from 2013 to 2014. In February 2014, prison staff noticed missing medications and discrepancies in narcotics logs at the Oregon State Penitentiary, and the Oregon State Police was notified. Following a six-month investigation, Hoffman was arrested and pleaded no contest to two counts of tampering with drug records; he was sentenced to 30 days in jail on January 5, 2017, and ordered by the Oregon State Nursing Board to surrender his nursing license. A second prison nurse arrested in the case, Linda Jones, pleaded guilty in 2015 to possession of oxycodone, delivery of a controlled substance and two counts of tampering with drug records. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 18 months of probation, and also was ordered to surrender her nursing license.
Pennsylvania: PLN previously reported on the arrest, resignation and guilty plea of Philadelphia prosecutor Lynn M. Nichols for filing a false police report against her ex-boyfriend. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.52]. On December 19, 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a disciplinary order against Nichols which suspended her from the practice of law for 30 months. The formal suspension was made retroactive to July 17, 2014, when she had been temporarily suspended. Nichols will be subject to a reinstatement hearing before she is allowed to resume practicing law.
Pennsylvania: Thanks to able representation from attorney Lisa Freeland with the Federal Public Defender’s office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and assistance from the Innocence Project, Kevin Siehl walked out of SCI-Huntingdon a free man on October 13, 2016 after wrongfully serving 26 years for the murder of his estranged wife. Siehl was granted a new trial by Senior Judge David Grine in July 2016, but prosecutors declined to pursue the case. Siehl was convicted of the 1991 murder based on blood evidence that was later found to be inaccurately analyzed when re-tested by the state. The state’s failure to disclose that exculpatory evidence “so undermined the truth-determining process that no reliable adjudication of guilt or innocence could have taken place,” Judge Grine stated.
Tennessee: Veronica Fuget, 46, filed a lawsuit against CoreCivic (formerly CCA) on September 15, 2016, seeking $150,000 in damages for a paperwork error that resulted in her wrongful incarceration for two weeks. Fuget had served a short sentence at Hamilton County’s Silverdale Detention Facility for driving under the influence, but for unknown reasons, a CCA court liaison told Judge Barry Steelman that Fuget was a “no show,” and she was rearrested. Steelman said after reviewing the evidence, “She should never have been picked up in the first place. The court should not have received that notice from Silverdale, based on what I’ve been told.” Fuget’s attorney, Robin Flores, wrote that “CCA knew Fuget’s punishment, should have known her release dates, and made money off her extra time in jail. This was cruel and unusual punishment, a deprivation of due process, and a false imprisonment.”
Tennessee: CoreCivic announced on September 27, 2016 that it would lay off 50 to 55 workers at its headquarters in Nashville. “Recognizing the continuing evolution of our core corrections and detention businesses, and our strategy to grow our reentry and real estate platforms, we conducted a thorough review of our corporate structure to optimize our support of both existing and future operations,” said Damon T. Hininger, the company’s President and Chief Executive Officer. The job cuts followed an announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice – since reversed by the Trump administration – that federal private prisons would be phased out.
Texas: Rueben Williams is suing the city of Houston and police officer S. Corral, claiming he was beaten after being booked into the Houston City Jail on a DUI charge in 2014. According to the lawsuit, Corral bashed Williams’ head into a cell door, then shoved him against a wall and applied a neck hold until Williams collapsed to the floor. In a news conference on November 14, 2016, Williams’ attorney, Randall L. Kallinen, called for body camera footage to be released and for the officer involved to be disciplined. The suit claims there have been many other incidents of excessive force at the jail that have been investigated but gone unpunished. Williams is seeking damages for mental anguish plus attorney’s fees.
Texas: Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston announced on December 15, 2016 that Donald Roy Kelly, a former guard supervisor at the privately-operated LaSalle Unit in Jefferson County, was convicted by a jury of providing a prisoner with a prohibited object and bribery of a public official. According to court records, Kelly, 43, was bribed to give a cell phone to prisoner Juan Saenz-Tamez, then-leader of the Gulf Cartel. Kelly has not yet been sentenced; he faces up to 15 years in federal prison.
Texas: A Harris County prisoner, identified as Ricky Lynn Hall, took a medical student hostage with a sharp metal object as he was being discharged from Ben Taub Hospital on October 6, 2016. Hall – who struggles with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, his mother said – had been taken to the hospital for treatment of seizures. According to Houston Police spokesperson Kese Smith, a Harris County deputy was working security in the hospital; he responded when he heard a scream from one of the rooms. When Hall began to press the sharp item into his hostage’s neck, the deputy shot him twice. “He was advising the deputy he was going to kill the medical student unless the deputy shot him,” Smith said. Neither the deputy’s name nor the student’s name was released.
United Kingdom: Private prison operator Serco confirmed on November 13, 2016 that a guard had been arrested while attempting to smuggle cannabis into HMP Kilmarnock. Ian Gibson claimed he was threatened by a prisoner who was serving a life sentence for murder. According to the Daily Record, “The claim is effectively he was blackmailed.” Michael Guy, the contract director at the prison, said: “We work very hard to prevent contraband being smuggled into HMP Kilmarnock and we take a zero-tolerance attitude towards any such activity.” Gibson was well-known as a kickboxer, boxer and strongman athlete.
United Kingdom: Prisoners at the privately-operated HMP Northumberland were seen partying behind bars in a cell phone video published by the Daily Mail on November 6, 2016, apparently with no guards supervising them. Dance music blared in the background of the video, which showed prisoners binging on homemade alcohol. One prisoner is seen cutting what appears to be cocaine on a table in the cell. Sodexo, which runs HMP Northumberland as well as four other prisons in the UK, issued a statement about the incident. “The use of mobile phones, drugs and other illicit items is a challenge across the whole prison estate and staff at HMP Northumberland work very hard to successfully prevent these items getting into the prison,” the company said. “On this incident, appropriate action has since been taken. We cannot comment further.”
Washington: The King County Sheriff’s Department uses a computer system to track employee misconduct complaints, but Sheriff John Urquhart is accused of ordering departmental staff not to enter a rape allegation against him into the “Blue Team” program. It was the second time Urquart reportedly told investigators not to document claims that he had engaged in misconduct; in 2014, a deputy lodged a complaint of an inappropriate sexual relationship between the sheriff and the same woman. King County Detective Sgt. Mike Mullinax testified in a deposition that undocumented complaints “essentially die.” The Seattle Times reported on December 22, 2016 that a lawsuit against the county is pending, alleging harassment and retaliation against women staff at the Sheriff’s Department, adding to the scandal.
Washington: On December 29, 2016, Governor Jay Inslee formally granted death row prisoner Clark Elmore a reprieve, commuting his sentence to life in prison. According to a news report, Inslee said he had spoken with the family of Elmore’s victim prior to his commutation decision, and they had expressed a preference for a life sentence. The governor cited the death penalty’s “lack of clear deterrent value, high frequency of sentence reversal on appeal, and rising cost” as his reasons for granting the reprieve.
West Virginia: A former guard who worked at the Tygart Valley Regional Jail pleaded guilty on November 16, 2016 to two federal charges. Hunter Lane Barrett, 21, admitted that he used excessive force against prisoners at the jail in February and April 2016. As part of his plea agreement, Barrett resigned and agreed to a 15-year ban on working in corrections, law enforcement or armed security. No sentencing date was scheduled.
Wisconsin: On October 5, 2016, Daryl Dwayne Holloway walked out of the Green Bay Correctional Institution a day after being exonerated for a knifepoint rape that DNA evidence proved he did not commit. Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Wagner signed the order overturning Holloway’s conviction, freeing him. Wagner had presided over the original trial in which Holloway was found guilty in 1993. “It fits a typical pattern in which eyewitness evidence was used to obtain the conviction and as it turns out the eyewitness evidence was pretty unreliable,” said Keith Findley, a University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor who serves as co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. Holloway had served 24 years in prison.