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News in Brief

Alabama: Morgan McCurdy, 23, a nurse at the DeKalb County jail, was arrested on July 20, 2017 after surveillance video confirmed suspicions that she was involved with smuggling drugs into the facility. DeKalb County Sheriff Jimmy Harris said the licensed practical nurse was jailed on charges of second-degree promoting prison contraband and possession of a controlled substance. Harris stated he and an undercover officer followed McCurdy after the county received information that there would be a drug drop in a restaurant parking lot nearby. A K9 was brought to the scene and alerted deputies to contraband in McCurdy’s vehicle. Inside, the sheriff said they found a package of methamphetamine, prescription pills, a cell phone charger and two cans of tobacco. According to Harris, “Ms. McCurdy has admitted her wrongdoing and is real remorseful.”

Arkansas: On September 21, 2017, the Arkansas Department of Health advised the Department of Correction and Correct Care Solutions, its for-profit medical contractor, to issue a quarantine at the East Arkansas Regional Unit after five suspected cases of chickenpox were reported. Quarantined prisoners had their visitation privileges restricted and could only congregate with other quarantined prisoners. Visitors were required to sign a notice acknowledging the presence of the disease and the risks of contracting it. Staff members who were diagnosed with the illness were restricted from duty until released by their doctor. The quarantine was lifted on October 11, 2017.

California: San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan stipulated to one count of violating the business and professions code after an August 11, 2017 State Bar trial concluded she had made an untrue statement to a potential witness. The State Bar settlement also noted that McKowan acknowledged in a prior disciplinary action that she lied to the mother of another victim in the same child molestation case. Victims’ advocate Victoria Balfour reported concerns regarding McKowan’s conduct to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office when McKowan made false statements to victims’ families on a public blog. As part of the State Bar’s order, McKowan was prohibited from commenting on social media or blog posts about the high-profile case.

Canada: In October 2017, a judge ordered the public release of surveillance video taken at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre on the night prisoner Anthony George beat his cellmate Adam Kargus to death four years earlier. The presiding judge said that “to suggest the murder was brutal would be an understatement.” George is seen on the video choking, punching, kicking and stomping Kargus before dragging his lifeless body into a common shower area, without the guards ever seeming to notice. George, 32, was sentenced to life with no possibility of parole for 10 years. Six staff members were fired after Kargus’ death for failing to do their jobs.

California: On July 17, 2017, the Tehama County District Attorney’s Office announced the sentencing of a former Tehama County jail guard for his role in a fatal 2016 car crash. Clayton Daniel Delaughder was sentenced to five years of summary probation and 240 days in jail, and was ordered to perform 80 hours of community service after pleading guilty to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence. Delaughder, who is no longer employed by the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office, was texting while driving when the collision occurred. An 81-year-old woman died in the chain-reaction accident.

Florida: Rachael Etienne, 21, was arrested on October 8, 2017 and charged with neglect of a child after a guard found Etienne’s 3-year-old had been left alone in a hot car in the parking lot of the Orange County jail. Authorities said the temperature at the time was 91 degrees with a heat index of 110 degrees. The guard was able to get the child out of the car without injury, and the Department of Children and Families placed the child in the care of another family member. Etienne was visiting a prisoner at the jail.

Florida: In September 2017, Gulf Correctional Institution guard Willie Walker was convicted in federal court of assaulting prisoner William Hernandez, then planting evidence in an attempt to claim self-defense. According to the Panama City News-Herald, Walker sprayed Hernandez with pepper spray then punched, hit and kicked him, causing a head wound that required staples. After the assault, Walker planted a homemade knife on Hernandez to falsely claim self-defense. On December 14, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle sentenced Walker to 21 months in federal prison followed by a year of supervised release for violating Hernandez’s civil rights. In addition, Walker had to forfeit his state retirement benefits.

Georgia: Valdosta State Prison food service manager Kamela Miley was arrested by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department on August 19, 2017 after she attempted to cross the guard line with two bags of tobacco. After a sergeant noticed a suspicious bulge on her person when she reported for work, Miley consented to a search and the contraband was discovered. According to the GDOC’s website, there have been 1,268 prison contraband arrests between July 2010 and March 2018. State law (O.C.G.A. 42-5-18) requires a penalty of one to five years in prison for any person who introduces contraband into a prison facility.

Hawaii: Oahu Community Correctional Center guard Renie C. Cablay was on leave from his job when he became involved in a six-hour standoff with police on September 29, 2017 that resulted in his arrest. Cablay refused to open the door for police negotiators after they responded to the Leolua Regent Apartments in Waipahu to investigate allegations that the guard had threatened a neighbor with a machete. After holding more than 15 officers at bay, Cablay eventually surrendered and was taken into custody on suspicion of first-degree terroristic threatening.

Indiana: Acting on a tip, Putnamville Correctional Facility officials investigated the activities of guard Justin Ray Johnson. When brought in for questioning on September 5, 2017, Johnson admitted to smuggling illegal narcotics into the prison “on several occasions for multiple offenders.” He was arrested and booked into the Putnam County jail on preliminary charges of trafficking with an inmate, a level 5 felony. Johnson was at least the second Putnamville employee arrested last year on allegations of bringing contraband into the facility. In July 2017, guard Rachel Marie Spendal told investigators she had been paid $1,000 to smuggle a package containing Suboxone and pornographic photos.

Louisiana: PLN previously reported that former prison officials Daniel Davis, John Sanders and James Savoy were charged in a multi-count indictment, while a fourth defendant, Scotty Kennedy, had pleaded guilty, for their roles in beating a handcuffed and shackled prisoner and attempting to cover-up the incident at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. [See: PLN, Mar. 2017, p.63]. Sanders entered a guilty plea to a federal civil rights violation and conspiracy charges on September 9, 2017. Savoy also pleaded guilty and Davis was convicted of the cover-up, but not for beating the prisoner, following a jury trial in January 2018. The four former guards have not yet been sentenced.

Mississippi: Although Levontaye Ellington, Travis Baker, Maurice Robertson and Jacquiez Williams maintained their innocence, authorities at the Holmes-Humphreys County Correctional Facility said surveillance video identified the four as a group of detainees who jumped the fence at the jail on September 19, 2017, then snuck back in. Lexington Police Chief Robert Kirklin said the escapees broke into a nearby Dollar General store and stole cigarettes, lighters and other items they felt could be sold to other prisoners before returning to the facility unnoticed. Each of the escapees was charged with commercial burglary.

New Jersey: Cumberland County jailers Tabatha Roman, Nicolas Gomez and Justin Cimino are facing criminal charges in connection with the suicides of two detainees. Roman was indicted on one count of endangering another person in connection with the hanging death of 21-year-old Megan Moore in February 2017. Gomez and Cimino were both charged with tampering with public records and endangering another person in connection with the May 2017 suicide of prisoner David Conroy, 32. On September 14, 2017, news reports indicated that all three guards had been suspended without pay. Cumberland County is currently being sued over the two deaths.

New Jersey: Melanie Weiss, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Corrections, confirmed that a man and woman found dead in an apparent murder-suicide had both been state prison workers. Weiss said Joseph P. Williams, 43, was a senior investigator at Southern State Correctional Facility and Stephanie Myers, 45, was a senior guard at Bayside State Prison. Williams and Myers were found on September 11, 2017 in the basement of their family home, dead of gunshot wounds. Police Chief Michael Gaimari said it appeared that Williams shot Myers before turning the gun on himself, but stressed that the investigation was continuing.

New York: Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the Correction Captains’ Association, criticized the city’s Department of Correction after a Rikers Island jail guard was injured during an August 2017 training session. Guard Mike Lynch was treated at a hospital after Capt. Shaseannia Pittman became agitated during self-defense training and grabbed his genitals. “The academy needs to get up with the times,” said Ferraiuolo. “If they are going to do simulated self-defense moves and be physically touching one another, they need to do it by gender. They should never have had a male staff member touching a female or vice versa because only bad things can come of it.” The training was part of a settlement agreement in a class-action lawsuit, designed to reduce the number of guard-on-prisoner assaults.

New York: Rochester City Court Judge Leticia Astacio was booked into jail in early June 2017 in connection with a DUI case. Someone reportedly blew into an ignition interlock device on her car, which registered a positive BAC reading, then she left the U.S. in May 2017 without informing the court or her attorney, and without taking a court-ordered alcohol test. Astacio was jailed after she returned and missed a court date. Following the February 2016 DUI incident, Astacio remained a judge and continued receiving her salary, though she has not been hearing any cases. She was jailed again in November 2017, then released after pleading guilty to violating her three-year term of probation.

North Carolina: On October 5, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Louis Flanagan sentenced Calvin Terrance Davis, a 46-year-old former FCI-Butner guard, to 13 months in prison and five years of supervised release for forcing a transgender prisoner to perform oral sex on him in May 2016. Davis had pleaded guilty to one count of criminal sexual abuse of a ward; the victim’s clothing contained semen that a DNA test matched to Davis. Although the victim identifies as female, she had been housed at the all-male Butner facility.

North Carolina: The privately-operated Rivers Correctional Institution was the site of a prisoner uprising on September 5, 2017 in which over 100 prisoners refused to be locked down after a disturbance in the prison yard. Hertford County Sheriff Dexter Hayes described the events thusly: “We were informed that an incident occurred among some inmates who were outside and they refused instructions by the prison staff to go to an assigned area,” he said. “Apparently this disturbance carried forward inside as I learned that numerous inmates in one of the prison’s housing units refused to be placed on lockdown.” The 1,450-bed facility, which opened in 2001, houses prisoners from the District of Columbia through a contract between the GEO Group and the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Ohio: Husband and wife Casey and Candey McCary both face charges of illegal conveyance of drugs into a prison, aggravated possession of drugs and possession of criminal tools for a September 2017 incident in which Candey smuggled meth-filled balloons into the Warren Correctional Institution for her incarcerated spouse. The conspiracy was discovered as the pair exchanged the drugs during a visit, but not before Casey was able to swallow four of the balloons. Prison officials placed him in a “dry cell” where he passed the drug-filled balloons five days later. Before guards could confiscate the contraband, however, Casey ate “all evidence of the passing” – that is, he swallowed the balloons again. Due to the second ingestion, Casey was charged with an additional count of tampering with evidence.

Ohio: Former Chillicothe Correctional Institution guard James Barlage, Jr., three prisoners and three other people were charged in an indictment unsealed on October 7, 2017. According to prosecutors, at least one contraband cell phone was used to coordinate payments for methamphetamine intended to be distributed inside the Chillicothe facility. Barlage had resigned in July 2017 after less than a year on the job.

Oklahoma: A riot at the GEO Group-operated Great Plains Correctional Facility began around 7 p.m. on July 9, 2017 and ended about 4:30 a.m. the next morning. Pablo E. Paez, a GEO spokesman, released a statement which estimated around 400 of the facility’s 1,940 federal prisoners had participated in the melee. According to Caddo County Sheriff Lennis Miller, the eight-hour disturbance began as a fight in the prison yard but rapidly grew out of control. Two guards were taken hostage by bat- and pipe-wielding prisoners, but both were freed uninjured. Matt Mears, an official with the town of Hinton, where the private prison is located, said several prisoners received minor injuries and three guards were taken to a hospital for treatment.

Oklahoma: On July 4, 2017, Brandon Thompson, 35, was in the process of being arrested on six felony charges when he made an unusual request of the police officers – he asked if he could propose to his girlfriend before they took him away. The officers agreed and moved his handcuffs from back to front so he could place the engagement ring on his girlfriend’s finger. Police body cameras captured the moment Thompson got down on one knee and popped the question. When asked why he’d decided to propose at that particular time, Thompson said, “When you’re in love with somebody and you know that you want to spend the rest of your life with them, you just want them to know how you feel.” The couple said they will set a wedding date once Thompson’s criminal charges have been resolved.

Oklahoma: Acting U.S. Attorney Douglas Horn said prisoner Cody Lee McClendon III, prisoner Michael Lincoln and former guard Timothy Crocker had been sentenced on June 9, 2017 for their roles in a large methamphetamine distribution ring operated from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Eighteen co-defendants were previously convicted in the case. McClendon was sentenced to 32 years for conspiracy and assaulting a federal officer, while Lincoln and Crocker’s conspiracy charges resulted in 27½ years and 37 months in prison, respectively. Prosecutors said the two prisoners were ringleaders of the scheme and Crocker, the guard, helped distribute drugs within the prison.

Oregon: Hector Orlando Salgado-Valderrama was killed by Emanuel Astacio-Arriagathe in 2014 at FCI-Sheridan. Salgado-Valderrama had been targeted as a snitch by the Puerto Rican Ñetas gang, and it is suspected that Astacio-Arriagathe beat him to death with a mop handle to carry out an “enforcement order” issued by the gang. On October 4, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman sentenced Astacio-Arriagathe to 26 years and eight months for the murder, saying gang activity in prison was a “morally bizarre and chilling setting ... a sort of hell on earth where decisions are made over sometimes trifling grievances that can result in death.”

Pennsylvania: Former Washington County jail captain Robert Hilderbrand, 49, was charged with theft, receiving stolen property and theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received. Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone announced on September 21, 2017 that a forensic audit of prisoner accounts between January 2016 and May 2017 revealed Hilderbrand had stolen more than $2,100 by failing to deposit money he had received from prisoners into their personal jail accounts. Hilderbrand was fired in April 2017.

Pennsylvania: Prominent Philadelphia attorney Clifford Haines was spared prosecution after he became involved in an altercation with Philadelphia Sheriff’s Department deputies at the city’s Criminal Justice Center (CJC) on August 21, 2017. “After a review of the evidence, including video evidence, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has declined prosecution,” said a spokesman for the DA. According to Barbara Grant with the Sheriff’s Department, Haines became aggressive after a deputy told him he was trying to leave the CJC through the wrong entrance. Grant said the well-known attorney left, but then returned and approached the deputy. A tussle ensued, which resulted in Haines being taken into custody.

Tennessee: A Nashville television station reported on September 4, 2017 that it had received a letter from two prisoners housed at the South Central Correctional Center, claiming the mental health building at the private prison – operated by CoreCivic, formerly known as CCA – had been plagued by a bed bug problem for nearly a year. Taped to the letter were several dead insects, which were identified by an entomologist as bed bugs. The letter claimed that a former CoreCivic staff member had alerted the private prison company about the infestation, but was told he was “unqualified” to identify a bed bug. CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns said the facility was professionally inspected and treated for bed bugs in August 2017.

Texas: After pleading guilty to lesser charges, two former Arlington City jailers were sentenced on July 11, 2017 to deferred adjudication for their roles in the 2015 death of 42-year-old detainee Jonathan Ryan Paul. Sam Jordan, spokeswoman for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office, announced that Stephen Schmidt pleaded guilty to official oppression while Pedro Medina pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily injury. She added that if Schmidt and Medina successfully serve one year of probation, all charges related to the case would be wiped from their records. Although several guards were involved in the incident, Schmidt – the lead jailer on duty – and Medina were indicted in November 2015 on charges of criminally negligent homicide, while guards Matt Fisher and Wes Allen were fired but later reinstated following an arbitration hearing. Paul’s family reached a $1.25 million settlement with the City of Arlington in April 2016. [See: PLN, April 2017, p.42; Jan. 2016, p.36].

Texas: On August 1, 2017, an unnamed guard who worked at the privately-operated Willacy County State Jail was photographed sleeping while he was supposed to be guarding a prisoner who was receiving medical treatment at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen. CoreCivic official Amanda Gilchrist said in a statement, “We can confirm that the photograph is of a CoreCivic/Willacy County State Jail correctional officer and this is certainly a behavior we do not condone. Due to the serious nature of his behavior and numerous policy violations, the employee has been terminated from his position with the company effective immediately.”

United Kingdom: Wannabe cop Sophie Pointon, a criminology student who lied about being raped by a taxi driver, will experience another aspect of the criminal justice system as she serves 16 months in prison after pleading guilty on September 19, 2017 to perverting justice. The driver falsely accused by Pointon, an unnamed father of five, was arrested and held in custody for six hours. A recording of a conversation between the driver and a phone operator at his taxi office supported his assertion that he was innocent. A GPS tracker fitted to the car also revealed Pointon’s description of the taxi trip was untrue. Judge Christopher Batty told Pointon, “Your malicious complaint has done a huge disservice to those seeking justice through the police and courts.”

Utah: Helen Marie Bemis, a Uintah County jail nurse, entered a guilty plea in abeyance to a class A misdemeanor violation of the Pharmacy Protection Act after an investigation revealed she gave prescription medications to prisoners without authorization. The case will be dismissed next year if Bemis has no new criminal charges and pays a $750 court fee. Jennifer Bolton, with the Utah Department of Commerce, confirmed that as of September 15, 2017 Bemis had not lost her nursing license. “[T]o date, no disciplinary action has been taken against Ms. Bemis’ Utah RN license, nor have any citations been issued to Ms. Bemis,” Bolton said.

Washington: On September 3, 2017, 50 protestors from Port Townsend and Seattle picketed for two hours outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma to show their support for immigrant detainees. “We talked to families as they went in to visit their family members and friends, and talked to them as they left, walking to their cars,” stated Libby Palmer, an event organizer. “We were all emotionally affected by the stories we heard behind each individual’s detention there. Despite the sadness and futility we felt at being unable to immediately change their situations, we were moved by the friendship they showed and their appreciation of our efforts.” The Northwest Detention Center is operated by the GEO Group, a for-profit prison company, and is the largest immigration facility on the West Coast.

Wisconsin: Former Dane County sheriff’s deputy Victoria A. Long, 37, was sentenced on September 1, 2017 to three years of probation and ordered to complete 200 hours of community service for giving contraband to prisoners in 2016. Judge Nicholas McNamara also imposed a sentence of 90 days in jail, saying some time in custody was necessary to show that police officers and sheriff’s deputies aren’t above the law. “No jail at all unduly depreciates the harm that you’ve caused,” McNamara declared. It was unclear whether Long will serve the sentence in Dane County. She was given 60 days to report to jail. 


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