News in Brief
Alabama: Kenyatta Ervin was arrested in early March 2017 on a felony fraud charge. She worked as a guard at the Calhoun County jail, and was accused of using a prisoner’s jail-issued debit card. According to investigators, Ervin failed to provide a card to an offender who was released on March 1; she subsequently used the card herself to withdraw $172 from an ATM, and admitted to doing so. Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Wade told the local news media, “If you break the law we will prosecute you, especially if you are in law enforcement. We must ensure the citizens [sic] trust by being honest and transparent.” Ervin’s bond was set at $2,500.
Arizona: Edward Mendoza, a former senior guard at a federal prison in Phoenix, was sentenced to 16 months on March 22, 2017. Mendoza was responsible for supervising the women’s camp at the facility, where he had sex with one prisoner on numerous occasions between February 1 and April 2, 2015. He pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a ward.
Arkansas: An employee at the Pulaski County jail was arrested on March 6, 2017 on 66 counts of forgery, 66 counts of fraud and one count of theft of property, all of which are felonies. Anna Story, 62, is accused of stealing $18,228.12 from an account containing unclaimed prisoner funds. She was booked into the same facility where she had worked for over eight years and released the following day after posting bail.
California: In 2015,Florin Blaj was fired from his job as a Riverside County correctional deputy for sleeping on duty while collecting $60 an hour in overtime pay. From 2013 through 2014, he took home about $132,000 in overtime, which doubled his base salary. In fact, Blaj collected more overtime pay than any other jail guard in Riverside County during that time period. He was terminated by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for neglect, negligence and dishonesty, but successfully appealed his firing. As a result, in March 2017, attorneys for the Sheriff’s Department filed a lawsuit requesting that a county judge intervene so they were not forced to reinstate Blaj.
California: Santa Clara County jailers Leonel Groba and Sgt. Robert Liddle, who were arrested on separate, unrelated charges in February 2017, are facing criminal prosecution. Groba was arrested after he “struck an inmate in the face without justification” several months earlier, while Liddle was charged with secretly recording his supervisors to gain leverage against them. Both were released on bond. Their arrests followed months of tumult at the Santa Clara County jail, where three guards – Jereh Lubrin, Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriguez – were convicted of beating to death a mentally ill prisoner, Michael Tyree. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p.34; Jan. 2017, p.48].
Colorado: Former Boulder County Sheriff’s Deputy Tyler Paul Mason, 33, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor official misconduct in a plea deal. In exchange for pleading guilty, prosecutors dropped two felony counts of conspiracy to introduce contraband. Mason’s legal problems began when he plotted to smuggle chewing tobacco and marijuana edibles into the Boulder County jail for a childhood friend who was incarcerated at the facility. Undercover investigators witnessed Mason take $160 from a confidential informant in connection with the smuggling scheme; he was sentenced to 18 months of probation on March 3, 2017.
Florida: During his closing argument in a client’s arson trial in March 2017, attorney Stephen Gutierrez’s pants began to smoke and burn. Although his client was on trial for setting his car on fire and his defense was spontaneous combustion, Gutierrez denied the incident was staged for dramatic effect. Those who were present in the courtroom described the scene as “surreal” as the lawyer made a mad dash to the bathroom with his pants on fire. He doused the blaze with water and returned to the courtroom to finish his closing argument. A spokesperson with the Florida State Attorney’s office said he could neither confirm nor deny if there was an investigation into the incident.
Georgia: Alisha Morgan, who worked as a nurse at the Douglas County jail, was arrested on March 14, 2017 on multiple counts related to inappropriate contact with a prisoner. At the time of her arrest she was working under contract for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Morgan was charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, participation in criminal gang activity, attempt or conspiracy to violate the Georgia controlled substance act, illegal use of communications facilities and possession of items prohibited for possession by inmates. She was initially held without bond.
Georgia: Dooly State Prison guard Tiffany King was arrested on March 19, 2017 and charged with attempting to smuggle marijuana into the facility. The Georgia Department of Corrections reported that the distinct smell of marijuana was emanating from King as she tried to enter the prison. She was detained but refused to consent to a search; instead, she demanded to meet with the deputy warden in private. At that meeting she revealed she was carrying the drug. King was charged with violating her oath and crossing guard lines with contraband.
Germany: In 2016, prisoners in the small western town of Bergisch Gladbach were fed McDonald’s after the contract between the local jail and its food service vendor abruptly fell through. Prisoners were able to choose a hamburger, cheeseburger or veggie burger for lunch, while for breakfast they received a McToast with cheese, ham and bacon. “The location and the round-the-clock availability made us decide in favor of McDonalds [sic],” said a spokesperson for the police department. However, the Ministry of the Interior noted that McDonald’s does not meet regulations and was used as an “emergency solution.”
Illinois: Cook County detainee Deverick Alex, who was being held at the Kendall County jail, faces additional charges for holding a fellow prisoner hostage using a homemade weapon and threatening to kill him if his demands weren’t met. The incident occurred in early March 2017 and resulted in Alex being charged with armed violence, felony forcible detention, aggravated unlawful restraint, possession of contraband in a penal institution and misdemeanor aggravated assault. At the time of the incident he was being held on charges of abducting a 26-year-old woman and sexually assaulting her while he was on parole.
Illinois: Congressman Luis Gutierrez was placed in plastic restraints and detained on March 13, 2017 for refusing to leave an immigration office in Chicago. He was meeting with the regional director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over concerns that he and several protesters accompanying him had about the fate of detainees facing deportation. After ICE officials failed to provide answers to Gutierrez’s questions, he and the protesters refused to leave and staged a sit-in. The group was released later that day. “We must as Americans confront our government when our government is wrong,” Gutierrez subsequently told a CNN reporter.
Indiana: After spending nearly 25 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, William E. Barnhouse, 60, was released on March 8, 2017. Sentenced in 1992 to 80 years in prison for rape and criminal deviate conduct, Barnhouse was convicted in large part on the basis of a single hair recovered from the victim that a so-called expert witness testified could be linked to him, but the FBI has since concluded that such findings are not reliable. Judge Kimberly Dowling granted a joint motion by the prosecution and Barnhouse’s attorneys with the Innocence Project to set aside his conviction. In May 2017, prosecutors moved to dismiss the charges; DNA evidence in the case indicated someone else had committed the crime.
Louisiana: On March 17, 2017, twelve prisoners at the MacArthur Justice Center barricaded themselves inside a housing unit. An official statement released by the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office claimed the disturbance lasted about an hour. However, attorneys representing prisoners in a lawsuit against the jail that resulted in a consent decree said their clients told them it lasted up to eight hours, and that “force [was used] against the unarmed prisoners, including possible deployment of pellet guns, striking prisoners with batons and other devices, and physical force.” Rather than a minor disturbance that was under control in a short time, the attorneys claimed the prisoners breached a control room, opened computerized cell doors and started fires that required the fire department to respond. According to the Louisiana ACLU, “It’s horrifying. Clearly, somebody wasn’t doing their job. There’s no other way that this could happen.”
Massachusetts: Marlon Juba, 30, a jailer at the South Bay House of Corrections, was arraigned in Suffolk Superior Court on March 28, 2017 on charges of working with a prisoner to smuggle contraband into the facility. According to prosecutors, Juba drove to a nearby fast food restaurant, met the prisoner’s associates and took delivery of “‘K2’ synthetic marijuana, cigarettes, cocaine, [a] cell phone, chargers, and/or Suboxone strips.” He then returned to South Bay and provided the contraband to his accomplice on the inside, who distributed the items to fellow prisoners. Separately, Juba was charged last year for having a sexual relationship with a female offender.
Mexico: A group of 29 prisoners escaped from a facility in the northern state of Tamaulipas on March 23, 2017 by digging a tunnel measuring about 5 yards deep and 40 yards long. One of the escapees shot and killed a passing motorist during a carjacking. A spokesperson for Tamaulipas state security said the tunnel was concealed in a hut the prisoners had illegally built in a section of the facility that they effectively controlled. A dozen of the escapees were captured within hours after breaking out.
Mississippi: In March 2017, guards at the East Mississippi Correctional Center discovered that an unidentified prisoner was sitting on a jailhouse fortune – 400 packs of ramen noodles. The unorthodox treasure trove was found in an unclaimed locker. According to Grace Fisher, a Department of Corrections spokesperson, “a large quantity [of ramen] indicates the inmate is using the items for personal gain or in bartering, gambling or extorting.” Clifton Collins, Jr., a former prisoner who wrote a cookbook dedicated to the dried noodle delicacy titled “Prison Ramen, Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars,” explained that the soups also convey status. Collins added that 20 soups indicate someone is well-to-do by prison standards, meaning the unidentified ramen hoarder was extremely wealthy. Ramen packs are available at the prison commissary for $.53 each.
Missouri: An employee at the Texas County jail, Sheena D. Bolerjack, 33, was arrested on March 3, 2017 by Missouri Highway Patrol troopers for smuggling drugs to prisoners at the facility. She was charged with two counts of felony distribution of a controlled substance. Bolerjack admitted to investigators that while on duty she distributed oxycodone, alprazolam and tramadol to prisoners from September 9, 2016 to February 28, 2017. Her bond was set at $250,000 cash or surety.
Montana: The Public Safety Officer Standards and Training Council filed a notice on February 28, 2017 of its intent to revoke Manuel Zuniga’s POST certificate. Zuniga, a guard at the Montana Women’s Prison, was fired in 2013 for sexual misconduct with prisoners, who were referred to by other prisoners as “Zuniga’s Princesses.” One of his so-called princesses told investigators that he took her and two other prisoners to a secluded area above the gym to engage in sexual activities. He gave those whom he favored unapproved items such as Bath & Body Works products, special sneakers and even undergarments from Victoria’s Secret. A prisoner told investigators that Zuniga provided her with a razor blade to plant in the cell of another prisoner who had allegedly snitched on one of his favorites. An investigation concluded that Zuniga exhibited favoritism towards certain prisoners while punishing those he disliked.
New Hampshire: Bryant Shipman, 25, was arrested on March 22, 2017 for trying to smuggle heroin into the Strafford County jail, where he was employed as a guard. According to a statement from the sheriff’s office, Shipman “was detained before entering the housing area of the facility.” Authorities had been investigating him for about a month prior to his arrest; the investigation was a joint effort by the Strafford County Sheriff’s Office, Strafford County Department of Corrections, U.S. Marshals Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Dover Police Department and Rochester Police K-9 Unit. Following his arrest, Shipman was held on $35,000 cash bail.
New Jersey: Erick Melgar, a former senior guard at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, agreed in March 2017 to a consent judgment that required him to pay $75,000 to six female prisoners who accused him of physical and sexual abuse. In total, over a dozen women at the facility said he had engaged in varying types and degrees of abuse. Although criminal charges have not been filed against Melgar, an internal investigation substantiated the victims’ accusations that he hit, groped and sexually abused them from 2009 to 2010. He was fired as a result of the investigation. The attorney representing the six women who filed suit stressed that his clients had refused to accept any settlement that included a confidentiality agreement because they wanted to alert the public about abuses taking place at the prison.
New Mexico: On April Fools’ Day 2017, guards at the Santa Fe County Detention Center were all-too-easily duped. Someone posted bond for an offender named Andrea Quintana. After several announcements were made for her to come forward for release, a prisoner appeared, gathered her belongings, completed the paperwork and walked out of the facility. The only problem was the woman who breezed past multiple checkpoints on her way to freedom wasn’t Quintana but another prisoner, Angelina Jinzo. Jinzo was taken into custody within about an hour after fellow prisoners advised guards of their error. “The facility is enhancing its release process to make sure multiple checks and balances are in place,” a spokesperson for Santa Fe County told a local reporter.
New York: Rockland County jail guard Jacqueline Millien pleaded guilty on March 17, 2017 in connection with falsifying a logbook about prisoners on suicide watch. He had been fired the previous day by a hearing officer following a civil service disciplinary hearing. Millien accepted a plea deal in which he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in exchange for agreeing not to seek reinstatement. In his plea bargain, he admitted to placing false entries in the jail’s suicide watch logbook.
New York: On March 3, 2017, former judge Paul M. Lamson entered a guilty plea to a felony charge of receiving a bribe and one count of official misconduct. He was accused of going easy on defendants in exchange for sexual favors. Lamson admitted to keeping a defendant out of prison in exchange for a sexual relationship that lasted from July 2015 to November 2016; additionally, he issued favorable rulings for the defendant during that time period. According to a statement from State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, “Judges who exploit their positions in exchange for sexual favors show blatant disregard for their victims, the trust of the general public, and the judicial system as a whole.”
Ohio: Kamara Austin was arrested by federal agents on March 15, 2017 on several drug charges. He was employed as a guard at the Cuyahoga County jail, and placed on unpaid leave following his arrest. According to authorities, Austin smuggled 16 grams of heroin and 32 unidentified yellow pills into the facility for an offender; he had been working as a jail guard since 1998.
Ohio: Robert Seman, Jr. jumped to his death from a fourth-floor courthouse balcony on April 10, 2017, one day before he was to stand trial in a potential death penalty case. Seman was accused of raping a 10-year-old girl, then setting a fire that killed her and her grandparents. Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Green said his office would not change its prisoner transport procedures following the incident. Seman, 48, had been taken to court uncuffed and unshackled due to a court order that sought to prevent jurors from seeing him in restraints.
Ohio: On March 10, 2017, Kelly Watkins, 51, a former employee at the Madison Correctional Institution, was sentenced to one year in jail. She was employed as a secretary at the facility when she became romantically involved with a prisoner. The relationship reportedly began on Valentine’s Day in 2015 when the prisoner asked Watkins “what her man was doing for her” that day. She admitted to smuggling cigarettes and Xanax into the facility. At her sentencing hearing she tearfully told the judge, “I am not a threat to society. I will not commit another crime.” While the judge was convinced she would not reoffend, he noted that handing down lenient sentences for such crimes “sends a message to the people at the institution.” In addition to the one-year jail term, Watkins was ordered to pay a $500 fine.
Oklahoma: Three prisoners at the Lincoln County jail escaped through the ventilation system on March 16, 2017. Upon fleeing, they stole two pickup trucks, one of which had a gun inside. Lincoln County Sheriff Charles Dougherty described the weapon as a .40 Glock that was “loaded and ready to go to work.” Following the prison break, investigators began interviewing 21 other prisoners who shared a cell with the fugitives. According to authorities, the escapees climbed into an air conditioning vent, hopped down to a work area and walked out a back door. All three were apprehended by March 29, 2017, with the last being caught by the U.S. Marshals at a residence in Shawnee.
Oregon: On April 3, 2017, the Oregon State Penitentiary was placed on lockdown after multiple brawls broke out in the vicinity of the dining room. A spokesperson with the Oregon Department of Corrections reported that approximately 60 prisoners were involved in the fracas. Guards deployed chemical spray to quell the fights; several participants were confined to restrictive housing and the facility was placed on modified lockdown. No serious injuries to either staff or prisoners were reported.
Oregon: Former criminal defense attorney Christian Day is being sued for $500,000 by a former female client whom he admitted groping during jailhouse visits. The victim filed suit in March 2017, alleging that Day “used his status as an attorney to threaten and intimidate Plaintiff, including the threat to Plaintiff that her failure to cooperate with his demands would result in a negative outcome for her pending court case.” In a letter to the Oregon State Bar, Day admitted he had touched the woman’s breasts and fondled her vaginal area during attorney-client jail visits. In an apparent effort to garner sympathy, he also revealed that he had participated in sexual addiction counseling, frequented porn theaters and watched porn “sometimes for hours on end.” The handsy attorney had his license suspended for three years; he was also convicted of misdemeanor harassment and received two years of probation.
Pennsylvania: On March 20, 2017, approximately 25 members of the Allegheny County Health Justice Project demonstrated outside the Allegheny County jail and Pittsburgh Municipal Court Building. According to a representative at the event, they were protesting the fact that prisoners held at the jail were not receiving proper medical care. However, a spokesperson for the Health Justice Project reportedly told a local news reporter, “I cannot deny or confirm if anyone from our group was a part of the protest, but we did not organize it.” Jail staff called 911, describing the protesters as “rioters” who were throwing rocks and sticks and launching fireworks outside the facility. Eleven people were arrested on various charges ranging from disorderly conduct to resisting arrest.
Tennessee: Nashville judge Casey Moreland was arrested by the FBI on March 28, 2017 for attempting to bribe a woman with $6,000 to recant her accusation that they had sex in his office, and for conspiring with a confidential informant to plant drugs in the woman’s residence in an effort to undermine her credibility. Moreland was charged with attempting to obstruct justice through bribery, witness tampering and retaliation against a witness. The federal investigation centered on broader allegations that he used his position as a judge to help people in exchange for, among other things, sexual favors, travel and lodging. Moreland resigned from the bench effective April 4, 2017. A judge subsequently ruled that he had to remain confined to his home and wear an electronic monitor while awaiting trial.
Tennessee: A former guard at the Sullivan County jail turned himself in on March 10, 2017 after being charged with two counts of assault. Edward Smith, Jr., 38, was charged after surveillance video showed him forcing a prisoner to the ground on two separate occasions. He was released on $7,500 bond.
Texas: Former Wood County jail administrator David Jaywane McGee found himself behind bars at the nearby Hopkins County jail after being charged on February 8, 2017 with two counts of tampering with evidence during an investigation, as well as permit/facilitate escape from a correctional facility and tampering with government records. McGee was accused of having inappropriate contact with Samantha Melvin, a former prisoner at the Wood County jail, and forging documents that facilitated her release. He was convicted of tampering with a government record in June 2017 and sentenced to two years in prison.
Washington: In March 2017, former state prison guard Michael W. Bowden was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for accepting bribes to smuggle contraband into the Monroe Correctional Complex. He pleaded guilty to extortion. According to federal investigators who monitored Bowden’s activities, he was paid up to $1,000 to smuggle chewing tobacco, a SIM card and what he believed to be meth (but was actually supplied by the FBI and was fake) into the facility. In addition, there was a spike in prisoners testing positive for meth during his tenure. Bowden told an undercover informant that he wasn’t concerned about losing his job due to his smuggling activities because he was poorly paid, earning about $40,000 a year in base salary. Upon his release he will be under community supervision for three years.
West Virginia: Two guards, Jared Michael Hutchinson and Timothy Lee Cooper, employed at the Southwestern Regional Jail, were arrested in March 2017 for bringing drugs into the facility. Hutchinson was busted after the U.S. Route 119 Drug Task Force received a tip that a guard was smuggling contraband. Investigators determined that he was in possession of marijuana and several packs of cigarettes while on duty. Cooper was arrested after admitting to a State Trooper that he was in possession of Suboxone, a Schedule III substance. A search of his wallet revealed notes bearing names, prisoner numbers and dollar amounts. Also, upon checking his locker, “several ‘plugs’ prepared for concealment and delivery to inmates containing the following: a green leafy substance believed to be marijuana, Suboxone..., loose leaf tobacco and lighters” were discovered. Cooper’s bail was set at $25,000.