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News in Brief

Alaska: An internal investigation was launched by the Alaska Department of Corrections after five female prisoners at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River overdosed on an unknown substance over a two-day period. DOC spokeswoman Megan Edge said four of the prisoners were transported to local hospitals for treatment and the other was stabilized by prison medical staff. She added the October 30 and 31, 2017 incidents were unusual and taken very seriously. Edge commended prison officials for their quick and appropriate response to the non-fatal medical emergencies; it was unclear what the substance was or how it got into the facility.

Arizona: Prisoners Robert Villalobos, 30, Santiago Sanchez, 27, and Mauricio Moraga, 26, were found guilty by a jury in August 2017 and sentenced to life in prison on November 2, 2017 for their roles in the attempted murder of Lt. Sergio Antolin, a guard at the Pinal County jail. The three prisoners were allegedly members of the Arizona Mexican Mafia who had targeted Antolin because he was responsible for investigating the jail’s gang population. Superior Court Judge Kevin White also sentenced the men for additional crimes related to Antolin’s 2016 stabbing. Moraga will serve 71 years consecutive to his life sentence, while Villalobos and Sanchez each received a term of 106 years, also to be served consecutive to their life sentences. Antolin, who has recovered from his injuries, is now retired.

Arkansas: A man held at the Marion County Jail on drug-related charges was the subject of a secondary criminal investigation that resulted in new felony and misdemeanor counts on November 10, 2017. Several days earlier, Robert Allen Beyer II, 29, had attempted to pass a sharp object to another prisoner by concealing it inside a pack of playing cards, but the handoff was thwarted when a guard confiscated the deck and found the potential weapon. Investigators checked surveillance video and observed Beyer detaching a razor barb from the fence surrounding the jail’s exercise area. When asked what he intended to do with the potentially dangerous shard of metal, Beyer told jailers he used them to make paper hats.

Australia: On December 8, 2017, Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) director John McKechnie said two guards at a private prison operated by Serco were suspended pending the outcome of a drug smuggling investigation. According to McKechnie, the investigation had thus far determined it is much too easy to introduce contraband into Western Australia’s prisons. The Department of Justice would not comment on the two guards, who worked at the Acacia Prison in Perth, but said in a statement it had “zero tolerance for any form of corruption or misconduct that compromises the safety and security of the prison estate and [Western Australia] community.” The statement continued, “Prison officers hold a position of trust and any action that undermines this and the valuable work done by the majority of prison officers is unacceptable.”

California: On November 18, 2017, Folsom State Prison officials conducted a tour of the facility in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of country music legend Johnny Cash’s iconic 1968 performance at the penitentiary. During the tour, music filled the dining hall where Cash performed “Folsom Prison Blues” for his incarcerated audience. Jim Brown was a guard at Folsom State Prison during one of Cash’s performances. “It was pretty spectacular,” he said. Folsom prisoner Dane Kraich added, “We all made mistakes and had trials and errors in our life and he overcame his. He’s an inspiration to us and we can overcome ours.” The actual anniversary date of the Cash performance was January 13, 2018.

Colorado: Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo was apologetic in a November 1, 2017 statement to the press regarding allegations of consensual sex between county jail prisoners Brolin McConnell, 31, and Jennifer Helms, 36, which went unnoticed by staff. “I’m sorry,” DiSalvo told The Aspen Times. “It’s my job to fix it when it’s broken, and I’m gonna fix it.” The sheriff continued, “I am embarrassed. I can’t even give you a good excuse. We did not do a good job. I want the community to know that this is unacceptable.” DiSalvo also addressed allegations that McConnell was caught in possession of a smuggled cell phone inside the jail. “We fell down again [regarding the phone],” he stated. “For an inmate already with a major rules violation to have access to a cell phone – that’s our fault.”

Georgia: Felony indictments were returned against three Johnson State Prison guards for allegedly assaulting two prisoners in separate incidents. Lt. Jason Hurst, Jamal Foreman and Taurus L. Mosely were indicted on October 19, 2017 on felony counts of violating their oaths of office. In addition, they were charged with misdemeanor simple battery against a person in custody. Court documents allege that Hurst and Foreman attacked prisoner Matthew Blackburn on May 25, 2017, while Hurst and Mosely are accused of assaulting prisoner Brandon Lee Womack. Mosely was reportedly a member of a prison tactical team.

Hawaii: Regular Prison Legal News readers may recall our previous coverage of the 2012 murder of Hawaii state prisoner Bronson Nunuha at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, a private prison operated by CoreCivic. PLN’s parent organization, the Human Rights Defense Center, represented Nunuha’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit that settled under confidential terms in 2014. [See: PLN, May 2015, p.12; Mar. 2012, p.28]. On October 31, 2017, in a Pinal County, Arizona courtroom, Micah Kanahele, 36, entered a guilty plea to first-degree murder for stabbing Nunuha to death. For many years, Hawaii officials have been sending prisoners to contract facilities on the U.S. mainland.

Illinois: Midwest Innocence Project client Lamonte McIntyre, 41, walked out of prison on October 13, 2017 and hugged his mother for the first time in 23 years. Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree told the presiding judge in the case, “My office is requesting the Court find that manifest injustice exists,” because the likelihood of witness misidentification cast doubt on whether a jury would have convicted McIntyre of double murder when he went to trial in 1994. McIntyre, who had spent more than half his life behind bars and always maintained his innocence, was serving two life sentences when he was released. Advocacy group Injustice Watch quoted McIntyre’s first words as a free man: “It’s nice outside.”

India: A local farmer known as Kamlesh had to post bond on November 28, 2017 for the release of four of his donkeys after the animals were jailed in the city of Orai in Uttar Pradesh. According to Head Constable R.K. Mishra, “Despite warnings, the owner let loose his animals here so we detained the donkeys.” Apparently the “bad-ass” criminals had been feasting on some expensive landscaping plants at the jail, and staff were unable to contact Kamlesh. “We called the owners several times, and each time, they said the animals didn’t belong to them,” stated Sitaram Sharma, the jail’s superintendent. The animals were taken inside the compound and kept away from the plants during their four-day incarceration. “We made all the arrangements for them inside. They were fed two times a day,” a jail worker said.

Indiana: Dearborn County Law Enforcement Center guard Aaron Schaaf, 24, was arrested and charged with level 5 and 6 felony sexual misconduct and official misconduct on November 1, 2017 after a female prisoner approached another guard and stated “she was mad that this happened to her.” The prisoner accused Schaaf of befriending her when she was held in isolation due to a medical condition, but he soon began unlocking her cell at night and sexually abusing her. Schaaf then printed pictures of the prisoner’s children from Facebook and told the woman he knew where they were and indirectly threatened to harm them. The prisoner claimed Schaaf also threatened retaliation against her. “If I didn’t do what he said then I would be locked in that small room longer,” she said. Schaaf had been employed at the jail for just three months before he was arrested.

Kentucky: Former Hardin County Detention Center guard Stephen Renfrow, 29, accepted a plea deal on June 10, 2018 and admitted to sexual misconduct and other charges for engaging in sexual activities with a female jail prisoner in exchange for tobacco. Renfrow will serve a one-year concurrent sentence on each of three misdemeanor convictions for first-degree official misconduct, sexual misconduct and second-degree promoting contraband. As part of the plea bargain, which included a stipulation that Renfrow not be housed in Hardin, Grayson or Breckinridge county jails, an initial felony rape charge was reduced to a misdemeanor. Renfrow was fired immediately after his July 28, 2017 arrest.

Maryland: On November 3, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar sentenced another of dozens of defendants who were charged in connection with a racketeering conspiracy at the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover. Xavier Holden, 28, a former guard, must serve a 46-month prison term followed by three years of supervised release for his role in the expansive contraband smuggling operation. PLN has previously reported on the widespread corruption scheme, which spread across prisons and jails throughout Maryland and stretched back as far as 2010. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.63; Apr. 2015, p.30; Sept. 2011, p.50; Aug. 2010, p.40]. Holden was one of 18 guards charged in the conspiracy; 27 civilians and 35 prisoners were also criminally charged.

Michigan: According to prosecutors, 27-year-old Konrads Voits used malware and a classic phishing scheme to take over the Washtenaw County computer system and alter jail records in an attempt to have a prisoner released. Voits pleaded guilty in December 2017 to the federal crime of damaging a protected computer; he was sentenced on April 26, 2018 to seven years in prison. County authorities said the computer breach cost more than $235,000 to rectify. Washtenaw County Risk Manager Judy Kramer noted that every person impacted by such a cyber-attack “feels personally violated and has to suffer the uncertainty of not knowing whether their identity has been stolen or credit has been ruined.”

Mississippi: An October 27, 2017 announcement by Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall detailed the closure of units at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville due to staff shortages. She said 400 close-custody prisoners were moved to two state facilities, 15 county-run jails and three private prisons throughout the state, and that more unit closures were likely. According to Hall, the $25,000 annual starting salary for guards is too low to attract enough applicants to staff the units. “We hope this is temporary because we want to fill all vacancies. We are aggressively recruiting,” she stated.

Missouri: Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott said he would reduce housing costs and decrease overcrowding at the local jail by implementing a temporary fix – four semi-truck trailers would be converted into triple-bunk housing designed for 108 prisoners. The sheriff said two guards would be inside the tightly-packed makeshift dorms at all times with the prisoners. Arnott’s November 1, 2017 announcement included his plan to allow outdoor recreation and a break from the tight quarters by moving prisoners held in the semi-trailers to a mesh-topped area within the jail. He said the temporary housing would help reduce fights and new crimes by prisoners, but did not elaborate on how keeping them in the trailers would do so.

Nebraska: Acting on a tip that Michael J. Miller, a guard corporal, had accepted a bribe to smuggle synthetic marijuana to a prisoner, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services investigators searched staff for contraband as they reported to work at the Nebraska State Penitentiary on November 4, 2017. A search of Miller’s vehicle revealed a cell phone charger wrapped in electrical tape, and small packages of K2 and cigarette rolling papers. An arrest affidavit alleged that Miller had accepted $1,000 and the K2 from an unknown woman after giving his personal phone number to a prisoner. “It is disappointing to see staff members make choices to break the law and endanger the safety of their coworkers and inmates,” Department of Correctional Services Director Scott R. Frakes said in a statement.

Nevada: Department of Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Keast said four prisoners were injured during an October 31, 2017 fight at the maximum-security Ely State Prison. She added no staff members were injured in the 40-man uprising, but two of the injured prisoners had to be transported nearly 250 miles to Las Vegas-area hospitals to be treated for non-life-threatening stab wounds. Keast proffered that two groups of prisoners used homemade weapons as the fight escalated, but declined to comment on the reason behind the melee. Ely State Prison houses about 1,100 prisoners, including those on death row.

New Jersey: On May 8, 2018, a federal prisoner already serving a 19-year sentence at FCI-Fort Dix was sentenced to an additional 13 years for possessing a computer memory card that contained 263 images of child pornography. Erik Smith was one of eight Fort Dix prisoners who were caught in April 2017 operating a child porn ring within the facility. Smith pleaded guilty in November 2017 and admitted he had downloaded the images from a cloud-based account and shared them with other prisoners through memory cards and contraband cell phones. Smith was the first of the child porn ring members to be sentenced; six others have pleaded guilty, most recently Charles W. Bush, 38, who faces a mandatory 10-year sentence.

New Mexico: A January 4, 2018 report from detailed financial difficulties faced by Cibola County, including the prospect of bankruptcy. The news story said years of overspending had left the county in “crisis mode.” The likelihood of layoffs and asset liquidation increased with the revelation that the county had bounced a $7 million check to private prison contractor CoreCivic for the operation of an immigration detention center in Milan. County Manager Valerie Taylor said the check failed to clear because the county had dipped into an account funded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and came up short for the November 2017 payment to CoreCivic.

Ohio: Civil rights attorney David Malik filed a request in court in October 2017 that sought to compel county officials to test the water at the Cuyahoga County jail after his client became ill while incarcerated. “I decided to get a sample tested after receiving a call from a person who was an inmate at the jail, and he said he got sick from the water,” Malik stated. The test results were positive for coliform bacteria. “This is very serious,” the attorney said. “Somebody got sick, and his skin broke out because of it, so it’s time to really look at what’s going on there.”

Oklahoma: A nurse who worked for private medical contractor Armor Correctional Health Services was banned from the Oklahoma County jail on October 20, 2017 after Sheriff P.D. Taylor discovered she had attempted to perform an exorcism on a prisoner, Amanda Lynette Freeman, who died the following day. “I revoke your demons!” Linda Herlong Jackson, 67, allegedly shouted as Freeman screamed and thrashed about. Jackson denied that she engaged in the spiritual exercise on county time. “Oh, brother,” she said. “No.... I didn’t do an exorcism.” Sheriff Taylor disagreed. “Her job is to provide medical care. Doing what she was doing was not providing medical care.” He continued, “It’s our position that because of this incident she cannot work in this facility.”

Oregon: A former kitchen worker employed by food contractor Aramark at the Deschutes County jail was sentenced on February 5, 2018 to 10 days behind bars for having sex with a prisoner. April Ann Hoisington-Kite was arrested in November 2017 on two counts of custodial sexual misconduct for having inappropriate contact with prisoner Stephen Rechner. She will also serve three years of probation and pay a $200 fine. “I apologize to the jail, to everyone that I’ve hurt, especially my family,” Hoisington-Kite said. “I have a problem and I’m trying to deal with it. I was manipulated. I don’t know how to explain it – I become someone else when people are coming on to me. I just couldn’t help myself.”

Pennsylvania: On October 27, 2017, Brian Jesse Willner, 31, filed a federal lawsuit against Luzerne County Correctional Facility officials claiming that they, along with jail healthcare contractor Commonwealth Health, committed “medical battery” against him while illegally searching his rectum for contraband at a local hospital. He claims he was “forced” to undergo surgery, which ultimately extracted a syringe, 14 stimulant pills, 40 packets of heroin and rolling papers from his rectum. Willner, who was suspected of having contraband in his body when strip-searched during his booking on a probation violation in October 2015, said jail officials and both jail and hospital medical staff refused to let him pass the items naturally and did not wait for an X-ray before performing the surgical procedure.

Texas: Investigators said 27-year-old Harris County jail guard Gene Ramirez green-lighted a prisoner-on-prisoner assault that left detainee Delvin Seymore traumatized and missing some teeth. Both Seymore and the other prisoner involved in the incident were questioned, and according to court documents obtained by on October 29, 2017, they confirmed that Ramirez had been complicit in the attack. The jailer was arrested on a charge of official oppression. “I’m glad at the fact that it didn’t slip through the cracks this time. So many other victims this has happened to. So, now this is the time to reconcile the situation to make it better,” one of Seymore’s relatives commented.

Vermont: Three people were criminally charged after officials at the Northern State Correctional Facility discovered a nine-year-old girl had been used as a “drug mule” to smuggle strips of Buprenorphine (an opioid) to a prisoner during visitation. On November 14, 2017, Sarah Watson pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including drug possession; she was accused of teaching the child how to pass the drugs to prisoner Chad Paquette, who also pleaded guilty to drug possession. The third defendant, prisoner Jason Watson, entered a guilty plea to conspiracy. Vermont State Police said the prison’s phone system – which is monitored – was used to arrange the drug exchange.

Virginia: Investigators with the Office of Professional Review linked probationary guard Allison Meadows to a drug smuggling scheme at the Riverside Regional Jail after surveillance video confirmed a tip that she had been sneaking contraband into the facility. Meadows was terminated and arrested on November 28, 2017. She was charged with intent to sell or distribute narcotics, possession of narcotics and delivery of narcotics to a prisoner. During questioning, Meadows revealed she was carrying approximately three grams of heroin in a packet in her pants pocket. She had worked at the jail less than eight months.

West Virginia: PLN previously reported on the escape of Todd Boyes, 43, from the South Central Regional Jail in South Charleston in October 2017. Boyes was shot and wounded during his capture in Texas four days after he absconded. [See: PLN, May 2018, p.14]. Jail guards Jordan Levi Toler, 22, Pamela Ann McNeely, 47, and Allison Taylor Bryant, 22, were all criminally charged on December 1, 2017 for their roles in the incident; they each face a misdemeanor count of permitting escape. Boyes was gone from the jail for 36 hours before he was discovered missing.

Wisconsin: Michael Dittmann, warden at the Columbia Correctional Institution, and Steven Schueler, deputy warden in Green Bay, along with four other current and former Wisconsin prison officials, got into a bit of trouble during a May 2017 fishing trip in Ohio. They allegedly used a technique called “double-tripping” to overfish the Ohio state limit on walleye. Dittman, Schueler and the other DOC employees who were busted on the trip had their fishing licenses revoked for a year, were fined more than $400 each and received stayed sentences of 10 days in jail. A September 14, 2017 news report explained that public records indicated the two high-ranking prison officials lied to both Ohio Department of Natural Resources officers and investigators from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections in an attempt to cover up the fishing violation. Dittmann and Schueler were suspended by the Wisconsin DOC for three days. 

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