News in Brief
Argentina: Ten years ago, Gabriel Herrera was serving time for fraud and robbery when he murdered his then-wife, Veronica Castro, during a conjugal visit. On January 5, 2017, Herrera killed his current girlfriend, Andrea Neri, 19, in a similar fashion during a visit at the Villa Las Rosas Jail. Corrections officials said Herrera stabbed Neri repeatedly with a pointed wooden tool before hanging her in his cell. The couple’s two-month-old baby was present during the murder. Andrea’s uncle, Jose Neri, said, “We were worried about her seeing him because of his past. She knew what he had done at the other jail but young people can sometimes be stubborn.” The prison’s governor was suspended after the incident.
Arizona: A for-profit company that provides prison food services donated $80,000 to a campaign committee opposing a legal cannabis measure included in Arizona’s November 2016 ballot. Food Services of America, headquartered in Scottsdale and a subsidiary of Services Group of America, has been criticized in the past for failing to meet nutritional requirements in the meals it serves to prisoners. The company’s donation may have proven helpful to the anti-legalization push; on November 8, 2016, Arizona voters rejected Proposition 205, which would have legalized recreational marijuana for people 21 and older.
Australia: John Walsh, a 77-year-old prisoner serving life for killing his wife and their two grandchildren, was charged with another murder on December 27, 2016 after he beat his 71-year-old cellmate, Frank Townsend, to death with a sandwich press inside the Long Bay Jail in Malabar. Townsend was found in his cell in the Kevin Waller unit, where elderly and frail prisoners are housed, with serious head injuries. “Officers rendered first aid before the man was transported to hospital, where he later died,” New South Wales police said in a statement.
China: Zhang Huanzhi fought for more than twenty years to clear the name of her son, Nie Shubin, after he was executed in 1995 for a rape and murder he did not commit. Ten years after Nie’s execution, another man, Wang Shujin, confessed to the crime. On December 2, 2016, China’s top court overturned Nie’s conviction and posthumously proclaimed his innocence. “I wanted to tell my son: you’re a good person, you’re innocent,” Zhang told CNN. According to Amnesty International, China is the world’s most prolific executioner, putting over 1,000 people to death each year.
Colorado: On January 5, 2017, a Special Emergency Response Team was dispatched to quell a disturbance at the Larimer County Jail. According to a release from the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office, four maximum-security prisoners refused to return to their cells and threw trash and clothing into a day room. Prisoners Brenton Joe Dolph, 22, Joseph William Leavell, 28, Tyrone Joseph Gilbert, 34, and Clyde Julious Tyler, 34, all returned to their cells before the SERT team arrived. The Larimer County District Attorney’s Office is considering charging them with inciting a riot.
Florida: Pastries from Starbucks, Snickers bars and Reese’s candy, and a whole Italian sub from Publix were found hidden in prisoner Tarvell Douglas’ jail uniform when he returned from a brief meeting with his probation officer, Jerilyn Harris. Investigators then found video footage of Harris, 39, purchasing the sandwich. Douglas claimed that Harris passed the food to him during the meeting, and also told authorities the two had dated in the past. Harris was arrested on January 6, 2017 but denied she gave Douglas the food, instead suggesting he had stolen it.
Georgia: Jail records indicated that 36-year-old Deidra Ann Rahe, an employee of a contracted jail vendor, was booked into the Bartow County Jail on January 6, 2017 on two counts of sexual assault against persons in custody, possession of marijuana with intent and crossing of guard lines with drugs. Sheriff’s office spokesperson Sgt. Jonathan White said Rahe was not a sheriff’s employee, but declined to provide any additional details “due to the nature of the incident.”
Illinois: On November 30, 2016, Illinois Department of Corrections officials officially closed the maximum-security F House unit at the Stateville Correctional Center. The last 36 prisoners were moved out of the “roundhouse” complex, which the John Howard Association – a prison watchdog group – said was “not fit for human habitation.” Last October, the Sun-Times published an op-ed column by Governor Bruce Rauner which detailed plans for criminal justice reform in the state. He said F House, one of the state’s oldest prison units, was also one of the most costly. A total of 348 prisoners were transferred from the unit to available beds at other facilities.
Illinois: Bernard Mims was left bedridden after being shot in 2000, yet he was still convicted and sentenced for a murder he was physically unable to commit. After 12 years in prison, Mims was released after prosecutors vacated his conviction on October 27, 2016. Sally Daly, a spokesperson for the State’s Attorney’s office, issued a statement that confirmed Mims’ medical condition at the time of the killing “was certainly a factor” in the decision to dismiss his conviction. She added that “another troubling issue” was Mims’ defense attorney’s simultaneous representation of a second suspect in the same murder. “We conducted a lengthy investigation into this case and considered all existing evidence, and based upon that review, we made the determination to dismiss the case in the interests of justice,” Daly said.
Kansas: Trevor Ross Artzer, 29, was booked into the Shawnee County Jail on December 30, 2016, accused of raping a female prisoner at the Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF), where he worked as a guard. Artzer isn’t the first Kansas prison employee to be involved in a sex scandal; in August 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Crabtree awarded a $2.25 million judgment against a former TCF vocational plumbing instructor for forcing now-released prisoner Tracy Keith to have sex with him and impregnating her. In the lawsuit, Ananstacio Gallardo was alleged to have smuggled a morning-after pill into the prison for Keith, urged her to attempt an escape so she could have an abortion and had another prisoner stomp on her stomach in hopes of inducing a miscarriage.
Kentucky: Prisoner David Carver was shot and killed at the Kentucky State Reformatory on December 27, 2016. Carver, 34, took a nurse employed by private contractor Correct Care Solutions hostage using a “homemade improvised edged weapon.” Negotiators attempted to communicate with him for about two hours before the prison’s Emergency Response Team took over. According to a release from the Kentucky State Police, when Carver made an “aggressive move” toward a response team member, he was shot and fatally wounded. The nurse was unharmed and no other prisoners were involved.
Louisiana: Two high ranking officials at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola resigned in September 2016 after audits revealed they had stolen funds from the Angola Employee Recreation Committee. Former Col. Shirley A. Whittington and former Lt. Col. Deborah G. Leonard surrendered at the West Feliciana Parish Jail on October 26, 2016; each was charged with felony theft over $25,000. The audits found that they had siphoned off at least $70,000 from the Committee, which is funded by dues paid by prison employees who live at Angola, concession sales from the prison rodeo and fees from the prison’s golf course.
Louisiana: Former Louisiana State Penitentiary Corrections Cadet Pernell J. Glover, Jr. was charged on December 30, 2016 with sexual misconduct with a prisoner. According to the corrections department, Glover allegedly performed oral sex on an unidentified prisoner while on duty at the facility. The prisoner took pictures with a contraband cell phone and sent them to a relative and his attorney, who then turned the evidence over to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Prison officials said they were working to locate the cell phone, which the prisoner claimed was later destroyed.
Massachusetts: Guards were evacuated from a unit at the maximum-security Souza Baranowski Correctional Center on January 9, 2017 after 51 prisoners refused to return to their cells for several hours. Christopher Fallon, assistant deputy commissioner of communications at the facility, issued a statement after the situation was under control. He reported that an altercation occurred between two prisoners, and while that incident was being investigated another fight broke out and the guards were removed for their safety. “At approximately 7 p.m., members of the Special Operations Unit deployed chemical agent into the housing unit and were able to successfully gain compliance of the inmates and secure the unit,” Fallon said. No serious injuries were reported.
Michigan: On October 20, 2016, Michigan State Police crime lab specialist Lt. Lewis Wilson, who retired in 1987, denied allegations that he planted evidence that was used to convict Michael Darnell Harris for the murder of an elderly woman in 1981 – one of four serial killings for which Harris, 53, has served 33 years in prison. DNA testing wasn’t available at the time of Harris’ 1983 conviction for Ula Curdy’s murder; an analysis of newly-discovered DNA evidence revealed that sperm found on the victim’s underwear did not come from Harris but belonged to another person. Harris’ attorney, Edwar Zeineh, said if his client was cleared of Curdy’s death, his three other murder convictions would “fall like dominoes.”
Michigan: Valerie Marie Lesoski was arraigned on November 30, 2017 on charges of false report of kidnapping, false report of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, false report of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree and false report of unlawful imprisonment. The 38-year-old woman had falsely told police she was abducted and raped by two men after stopping to help an apparently stranded motorist. Lesoski faces four years in prison; prosecutor Mark Reene said the charges were appropriate considering that “countless hours and resources [had] been expended to investigate all information that became available.” Lesoski was freed on a $15,000 personal recognizance bond.
Michigan: In October 2016, a four-minute video was released by MLive.com which showed Jackson County Circuit Court Judge John McBain storm down from the bench and physically subdue defendant Jacob Larson in his courtroom in December 2015. In the video, Larson continually interrupted McBain, and the judge upped his sentence. Larson then resisted as a court officer tried to take him into custody. McBain threw off his judicial robe, ran toward the scuffle and pinned Larson to the ground. “A judge has the power to take whatever action is necessary to maintain order in the courtroom,” commented Jackson County Chief Circuit Judge Thomas Wilson.
New Hampshire: The New Hampshire Department of Corrections announced on January 11, 2017 that all visitation at the State Prisonfor Men in Concord would be cancelled for several days as the department investigated three probable drug overdoses – one fatal – that occurred the prior weekend. In a press release, Commissioner Bill Wrenn said, “steps will be taken at the conclusion of the investigation to discourage the introduction of contraband in the future.” The release added that visits would resume after the DOC identified the “type, source and entry point of the drugs that caused the incident.”
New Jersey: Former Salem County Correctional Facility guard Elbert B. Johnson II, 30, pleaded guilty on January 9, 2017 to third-degree official misconduct and second-degree sexual assault for entering a prisoner’s cell during a lockdown and raping him. Johnson’s plea deal included concurrent five-year prison terms for each of the charges. He will be on parole supervision for life under Megan’s Law and subject to Nicole’s Law, which allows the victim of a sex offense to obtain a restraining order against the perpetrator. In addition, Johnson cannot hold a public job in the future. The plea bargain also included a stipulation that Johnson be evaluated to determine whether he is a “repetitive and compulsive offender.” His victim, Terry J. Walker, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Salem County jail officials in September 2016.
New Mexico: A guard at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Albuquerque was caught on video punching and kicking a handcuffed prisoner. Christopher Facey, 26, was arrested on January 12, 2017 on charges of kidnapping and aggravated battery. “Officer Facey is on paid administrative leave right now, pending the outcome of an investigation by the Office of Professional Standards,” said Bernalillo County Public Information Officer Nataura Powdrell-Moore. Jail Administrator Thomas Ruiz added, “The first reaction to the video was that the incident shouldn’t have happened to begin with.”
New Mexico: Jennifer Bengfort (also known as Jennifer McKnight) escaped prosecution after the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office dismissed two counts of second-degree criminal sexual penetration against her on December 30, 2016. The former contract kitchen employee at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center had been scheduled for a jury trial, but prosecutors could not locate Bengfort’s victim to serve him with a subpoena. Bengfort’s attorney said his client and the unidentified prisoner she had sex with were romantically involved before the prisoner was incarcerated, and they married following his release.
New York: Eric Johnson II first found human remains while installing a fence in his backyard in July 2016. After the initial discovery of four bodies, the remains were determined to be those of Auburn Correctional Facility prisoners who had been buried between 1873 and 1909. On January 10, 2017, AuburnPub.com reported that the number of exhumed graves had skyrocketed. “Approximately 150 sets of remains were respectfully removed from their century old graves on Fitch Avenue and during a recent ecumenical ceremony re-buried in the cemetery at Marcy Correctional Facility in Marcy, NY,” said Thomas Mailey, spokesperson for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
New York: The Attica Correctional Facility went on lockdown after fights erupted between armed prisoners during afternoon shift change on January 8, 2017. “We believe that they coordinated the attacks around the time of the3 p.m. shift change because they knew that there would be less supervision,” one unnamed source stated. Four ambulances responded to the bloody brawls, transporting multiple prisoners to local hospitals. No guards were injured.
New York: Former Rikers Island guard Brian Coll was convicted on December 15, 2016 of obstruction of justice and falsifying records, as well as conspiracy and civil rights violations. The convictions came after Coll, 47, kicked prisoner Ronald Spear in the head while other guards pinned him facedown on the floor; Spear, 52, who was seriously ill, died from the injuries. Former Rikers guards Anthony Torres and Byron Taylor previously pleaded guilty to their roles in a cover-up of Spear’s death. In 2014, New York City paid $2.75 million to settle a civil lawsuit filed by Spear’s family. [See: PLN, July 2015, p.1].
Ohio: On March 3, 2017, former Lebanon Correctional Institution guard Walter Richardson was sentenced to a year in prison for smuggling 100 suboxone strips into the prison in the fingertip of a latex glove. According to court records, an unidentified prisoner paid Richardson $1,000 to deliver the package. “We hope this sends a message to other prison personnel that if we catch you bringing drugs into the prison, you’ll be joining the inmates behind bars,” stated Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell.
Ohio: Former Ashtabula County Jail guard Frank C. Sundquist II pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of first-degree assault on December 22, 2016. In exchange for the plea, three other assault charges and two dereliction of duty charges were dismissed. He was placed on probation for two years and ordered to pay $200 in court costs; 180 days of jail time were suspended. Jail surveillance video showed Sundquist repeatedly hold a prisoner’s head under standing water in a flooded cell, then continue to assault him after he was handcuffed. Sundquist was fired and did not appear at an arbitration hearing to appeal his termination.
Oklahoma: John Scott Floro, a 6’7”, 220-pound guard at the CCA-operated Cimarron Correctional Facility, was arraigned on June 20, 2016 on a child sexual abuse charge; he was accused of forcing his victim, a six-year-old male relative, to perform oral sex on him. [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.63]. In January 2017, a jury found Floro, 26, guilty of forcible oral sodomy. He was sentenced by District Judge Phillip Corley on March 10, 2017 to an eight-year prison term and will be required to register as a sex offender.
Pennsylvania: District Attorney Shane Scanlon said in a criminal complaint that Lackawanna County Jail Sgt. Scott Blume was charged with simple assault for allegedly pepper-spraying a prisoner’s genitals. According to the complaint, on September 24, 2016, Blume found the prisoner drunk on homemade alcohol and made him change clothes to be moved to restrictive housing. When the prisoner refused to change, Blume sprayed his genitals through a jail door opening. Scanlon said he filed the charges because the force used wasn’t necessary.
Pennsylvania: A former guard at the Bucks County Correctional Facility was sentenced on December 16, 2016 to six to 23 months behind bars for trying to smuggle suboxone into the jail for $500. John Christopher Dingle, 36, will serve his time at a different facility due to his prior employment as a guard in Bucks County. Judge Rea Boylan also ordered Dingle to serve two years of consecutive probation and four years of concurrent probation for possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.
Philippines: On December 24, 2016, thousands of prisoners cheered and catcalled as 11 gay prisoners and one transgender prisoner danced and sang at the “Miss Universe” pageant in the Quezon City Jail’s courtyard while wearing wigs, make-up, gowns and elaborate Mardi Gras attire. “This is part of inmate welfare development. Once they join activities like this they get less jail time through the good conduct time allowance law,” said pageant organizer Ferdinand Abejon. The Quezon City Jail, built to house 800 prisoners, typically holds about 3,800 pretrial detainees.
South Carolina: Former Kirkland Correctional Institution guards Jarrell Kwabbie Boyan, 26, Pernell Fogle, 24, and Jaquan Smith, 24, were charged with attempted murder and misconduct in office in early December 2016 after stabbing a handcuffed prisoner four times. The three guards had previously been placed on unpaid administrative leave, then fired. Earlier that same week, on November 30, 2016, Kirkland guard Tierra Shante Armstrong, 25, was charged with third-degree assault and battery for hitting a handcuffed prisoner several times in the face.
Tennessee: In November 2015, prisoner Waford Knight Bryant, 29, settled a pro se lawsuit against a trio of Corrections Corporation of America guards who beat him at the South Central Correctional Facility. According to a January 11, 2017 report from KnoxNews.com, Bryant had been busy with some other “paperwork” around the same time – namely sending fake anthrax through the mail to various government agencies in October and November 2015. His motive and the exact nature of the threats contained in his letters were not mentioned in the eleven-count federal indictment filed against him in January 2017.
Tennessee: Robert E. Polk’s parole was revoked in a previous drug case after his wife filed domestic violence charges in 2014, and he was sent back to prison. But the charges were false; his wife later pleaded guilty to perjury, and said she made up the allegations. Nashville Assistant District Attorney General Vince Wyatt dropped the charges against Polk in 2015, and sent a letter to the parole board recommending his release. “Robert Polk is not guilty and he’s in there on a complete lie,” said William Conway, Polk’s defense attorney. “And the DA’s office agrees he’s in there on a complete lie. That’s very uncommon.” On November 23, 2016, Polk was finally released. Taxpayers spent more than $54,400 to keep him incarcerated; $27,400 of that amount was from the time the charges were dismissed and he remained in prison.
Tennessee: Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell told reporters that he was looking into the development of a social media policy after veteran county corrections official David Barber posted inflammatory remarks on Facebook. One post said, “The KKK is more American than the illegal president!” Another, which referenced then-President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, stated, “Arrest convict hang and confiscate all assets” [sic]. “Anyone in a leadership position at Shelby County government is held at a high standard of behavior, both on and off the job,” Luttrell said after the Facebook posts came to light. Barber had worked as Shelby County’s deputy director of corrections for 17 years when he resigned on November 16, 2016.
Texas: On December 27, 2016, a kitchen supervisor at the Central Texas Detention Facility in San Antonio was arrested after attempting to bring meth and alcohol into the jail. Ray Alexander Barr reached an agreement with at least one prisoner to smuggle the contraband. He was arrested after he accepted payment, but before he delivered the drugs and booze. Barr faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Texas: The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office arrested county jail guard Michael David Hinojosa on November 21, 2016 for sexually assaulting a prisoner with a baton. A sworn statement from another guard confirmed that he had “observed Detention Officer Michael Hinojosa push his ASP baton into [the prisoner’s] anus area at least four to five times.” Hinojosa was fired after an internal investigation into the incident, which began as a struggle when jailers tried to wake the sleeping prisoner for booking.
United Kingdom: Up to 400 prisoners were involved in disturbances at a G4S-operated private prison on December 16, 2016. Riot police, helicopters, canine units and ambulances responded to HMP Birmingham, also known as Winson Green. Rioting prisoners burned files and stole a cell key, prompting specially-trained “Tornado” guards to be dispatched to the prison. Four wings were involved in the riot and the rest of the facility was locked down during the melee. Russian Television reported that one prisoner was “badly injured,” but no staff casualties were mentioned.
Utah: Christie Jensen has been the librarian at the Utah State Prison for more than a decade, but she told the Salt Lake Tribune on January 7, 2017 that she couldn’t quite recall by whom or when two guidebooks were listed as the only titles on the Utah Department of Corrections’ banned book list. Author Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and The Art of Seduction are about manipulation, and for that reason prisoners are barred from reading them. Jensen said prison officials had feared the books because they “could show inmates how to control people, how to get people to do exactly what you want them to do.”
Venezuela: On January 3, 2017, Antonieta Robles Saouda, 25, traveled to the Jose Antonio Anzoategui prison with her six-year-old daughter to visit her boyfriend, Ibrain Jose Vargas Garcia, and planned to leave as a family. Authorities discovered Saouda struggling to wheel a hot-pink suitcase with her as she left the facility. When they unzipped the luggage they discovered Garcia curled up inside, surrounded by the child’s stuffed animals. He was returned to his cell while Saouda was arrested and their daughter taken into custody by social services.
Virginia: Brittany Dawn Hill was convicted of obstruction of justice on January 10, 2017 in a sex-for-freedom scheme devised by Gordon Reaves Parker, a man who prosecutors accused of preying on drug-addicted female prisoners. Parker and Hill established false testimony during phone calls while Hill was incarcerated at the Roanoke City Jail. Parker then told a judge at Hill’s probation violation hearing that he had offered her a job caring for his sick wife. In reality, he planned to have sex with Hill, whom he’d never met in person, after securing her release. Parker was convicted of perjury in August 2016.
Wisconsin: Shadé Swayzer gave birth alone on July 14, 2016 in a filthy cell at the Milwaukee County Jail after jailers laughed at her and ignored her cries for help. Her baby girl, Laliah, died just a few hours later. Swayzer’s family filed a federal civil rights suit against the county, Sheriff David Clarke, Jr. and Armor Correctional Health Services on December 23, 2016. Laliah’s death was the fourth preventable death at the jail in 2016. One prisoner died after being dropped on his head while having a seizure, while another death was caused by extreme substance withdrawal and a third was due to dehydration, later ruled a homicide.
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