News in Brief
Arizona: On March 16, 2018, the Arizona Department of Corrections issued a report that concluded private prison operator CoreCivic (formerly CCA) had properly responded to a February 25, 2018 riot at the Red Rock Correctional Center. The two-hour “major disturbance,” which left 13 prisoners and two staff members with injuries that required transport to local hospitals, initially started with altercations between several groups of African American and Hispanic prisoners. The state, which billed CoreCivic almost $6,000 for emergency response costs, ultimately determined the company’s “quick response to the incident, which involved inmate-on-inmate fighting, minimized injuries to prison personnel and inmates while maintaining public safety,” and praised the for-profit firm for acting in accordance with state policies, contractual obligations and tactical priorities. In May 2017, another brawl broke out at Red Rock, resulting in at least four prisoners suffering injuries. [See: PLN, Dec. 2017, p.63].
Arkansas: Mikel Short, 46, Kevin Eugene Burch, 31, and Cindy Marie Piatt, 28, who conspired to smuggle drugs into the Baxter County Detention Center, were all charged with numerous felonies when their plan was thwarted. Burch was identified through surveillance video as the person who visited the jail and attempted to deliver a Bible to Short. An alert guard supervisor intercepted the delivery and confiscated multiple vacuum-sealed baggies from the book’s binding, which contained suspected methamphetamine, tobacco and marijuana allegedly provided by Piatt. Short, who was housed at the jail while awaiting transfer to a state prison on multiple meth-related convictions, admitted to the plot and was sentenced on March 15, 2018 to a 10-year prison term to be served concurrent to his other convictions. The cases against Burch and Piatt remain pending.
Arkansas: In a February 27, 2018 letter, Department of Corrections Director Wendy Kelley notified Governor Asa Hutchinson that the DOC would temporarily suspend operations at two minimum-security state prisons. Kelley said the planned reassignment of around 50 guards from the shuttered facilities to other state lockups with “high vacancy rates” would require the transfer of up to 300 male prisoners from the Cummins Modular Unit to the East Arkansas, Maximum Security and Varner facilities, and that the Tucker Reentry Center would move its 124 female prisoners to the McPherson Unit and J. Aaron Hawkins Center for Women. “Our staffing levels have reached a level that requires immediate action,” Kelley wrote, confirming that 560 of the department’s 2,484 guard positions statewide were vacant at the time of the announcement. “We cannot ask staff to continue to work [mandatory] overtime at the current rate,” her letter stated.
California: In a February 28, 2018 news release, Joseph Galvan, Deputy Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Office of Internal Affairs, announced the unsealing of an indictment against Jose Dolores Salgado, a 49-year-old guard who had worked at the Calipatria State Prison for 23 years. Salgado, who resigned on January 5, 2018, was charged with attempting to smuggle heroin and methamphetamine into the prison as part of an ongoing distribution conspiracy. He pleaded guilty to a single count of drug possession with intent to distribute and was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan on August 27, 2018 to serve 46 months in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the conspiracy charge in exchange for Salgado’s guilty plea.
California: Apolonio Gamez, who had worked as a federal prison guard since 2012, pleaded guilty on October 29, 2018 to three felonies related to multiple sexual assaults against prisoners while he was assigned to the Women’s Camp at FCI Victorville. A plea agreement between Gamez and federal prosecutors resulted in the dismissal of two additional sex abuse charges and stipulated a maximum sentence of 45 years in prison, a fine of up to $750,000 and lifetime supervised release. The 41-year-old guard was immediately jailed and will be sentenced in January 2019. Investigators from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General and the FBI interviewed Gamez’s victims; one related that she “felt frozen and powerless with fear,” and could not resist Gamez’s sexual advances. Other witnesses who had knowledge of the assaults described Gamez as a “sexual predator” who endangered all of the prisoners who worked in the food service warehouse under his supervision.
Connecticut: On March 1, 2018, Superior Court Judge Laura F. Baldini dismissed a murder charge that had kept Alfred Swinton in prison for 18 years for a crime he did not commit. Although Swinton had been released in June 2017 when new evidence was introduced to refute junk science bite-mark analysis that had heavily influenced his conviction, prosecutors were still considering retrying the case. In Baldini’s courtroom, Innocence Project attorney Maura Barry Grinalds presented new DNA testing that was either inconclusive or excluded Swinton entirely. State’s Attorney Gail Hardy admitted it was unlikely that “sufficient evidence remain[ed] to bring Alfred Swinton to trial on the charge of murder; and to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Judge Baldini agreed, ending Swinton’s long and unjust ordeal. “I believe that concludes all of Mr. Swinton’s matters,” she stated.
Florida: Although dog training is not an uncommon rehabilitative program in prisons, offenders serving time at the Stock Island Detention Center in Key West care for a much wider variety of animals in the facility’s zoo program. Zookeeper Jeanne Selander, who supervises both the animals and the prisoner workers, said, “The animals give them the unconditional love they may never have experienced before and the animals don’t judge.” An April 26, 2018 article in the Daily Mail reported that each weekend more than 300 people visit the menagerie, which began rather accidentally in 1994 when a family of ducks took shelter on prison grounds. The Stock Island Detention Center’s zoo, which is funded by donations, now houses around 150 creatures of various types, including birds, goats, llamas, ferrets, ponies, geese, ducks, pigs, exotic snakes and lizards.
Georgia: U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak said USP-Atlanta prisoner Joe L. Fletcher’s “braggadocio” led to his March 16, 2018 indictment on additional federal charges including illegally possessing a communication device inside a federal prison. Fletcher, who refers to himself as a “motivational speaker for gangsters,” posted a 49-minute video on Facebook from a contraband phone that was later found hidden in his cell. In the video, he bragged to family and friends about possessing the phone and claimed responsibility for a 2010 murder in Ohio. Fletcher “was particularly proud of himself when he posted a lengthy interactive video on his Facebook page that showed him talking on a contraband phone from inside his prison cell,” Pak said. “Prisoners with illegal phones and similar devices inside our prisons pose a serious problem that threatens the safety and security of employees and the public,” he added.
Kentucky: On May 4, 2018, 71-year-old Timothy Nolan, who was well known as a former Campbell County district judge, Campbell County Board of Education member, Newport city solicitor and conservative political activist, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to 21 counts of human trafficking and other felony sex offenses. Nolan’s plea resulted in the dismissal of nine additional felony counts, but will require him to register as a sex offender for life and pay $110,000 in fines largely allocated to Kentucky’s Human Trafficking Victims Fund. Nolan admitted to targeting 19 victims, including several underage girls, and forcing them to perform sex acts through threats or in exchange for cash or drugs. Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear successfully argued for the maximum possible sentence. “The punishment in this case does not undo the trauma inflicted on the victims, but it brings closure and some justice,” Beshear said in a press release.
Massachusetts: On March 28, 2018, Salem Superior Court Judge Thomas Drechsler sentenced a now-70-year-old former Essex County jail guard to 11 to 14 years in prison for regularly and repeatedly sexually abusing a child throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Drechsler called Everette Hopper, Jr.’s crimes “an awful pattern of repeat and intentional abuse” of a boy who considered Hopper a father figure. Hopper, who is expected to serve only about 7½ years because his crimes occurred prior to the enactment of Massachusetts’ 1994 Truth in Sentencing law, was convicted by a jury on two counts of child rape and a charge of indecent assault and battery. His victim, now an adult, testified that the abuse occurred when Hopper watched over him while his mother worked. In a brief impact statement, the victim, now married and a father himself, told the court he wanted to encourage other sexual abuse survivors to come forward. “It’s OK to talk about it. If you keep quiet about it, it just bubbles up inside you,” he said.
Michigan: James Aubrey Kitchen, who had worked for 16 years as a Michigan Department of Corrections guard prior to his arrest, was the last of several defendants to be sentenced on charges stemming from a two-year conspiracy to traffic large amounts of cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico to distribution points in western Michigan. Kitchen appeared before a U.S. District courtroom in Grand Rapids on February 8, 2018, and was ordered to serve 24 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. His co-defendants, Alfonzo Dewayne Johnson, Devanda Montgomery, Demarco Knox and Alvin Rone, had previously been convicted and received federal prison terms ranging from one month to 30 years for their roles in the scheme.
Mississippi: Department of Corrections Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall appeared before a state Senate committee on February 13, 2018 to relay the results from the first major shakedown in a contraband interdiction effort dubbed “Operation Zero Tolerance.” South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI) guards Jadijah Rawls and Diane Phillips were the first employees caught with contraband and arrested in the sweep, which also led to the discovery and seizure of 31 cell phones, six cell phone batteries, 41 cell phone chargers, numerous unidentified pills, three MP3 players, 20 sets of earbuds and Bluetooth devices, one package of suspected cocaine, 55 packages of spice, 11 packages of tobacco, seven packages of suspected crystal meth and 50 items sharpened for use as homemade weapons. Commissioner Hall explained to the committee that the DOC was “finding people who are trying to supplement their salaries by doing these types of illegal things,” and that terminating employees due to the zero tolerance policy had added to the prison system’s “understaffing problem.” A follow-up shakedown at SMCI on March 8, 2018 uncovered some contraband items, but fewer than those found during the previous surprise inspection.
New Jersey: U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced on February 5, 2018 that three sex offenders serving time at Federal Correctional Institution-Fort Dix were caught using contraband cell phones and micro SD cards to access, possess and conspire to distribute sexually explicit images of children while incarcerated on previous child pornography convictions. William H. Noble, 52, transferred a memory card to an informant that contained over a thousand images and videos, including many which depicted the sexual abuse of infants and toddlers. Fellow prisoner Charles Wesley Bush, 38, claimed co-ownership of the SD card given to the informant and expected to collect payment for his share of the transaction. Jacob S. Good, 31, admitted to an informant that he had found a method to gather pornographic images of children from the “Dark Web” while imprisoned, and intended to take the images he’d collected at Fort Dix home with him upon his release. Due to their prior convictions, all three prisoners face enhanced sentences if convicted of the new child porn charges.
New York: On February 11, 2018, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced the suspension of Auburn Correctional Facility Lt. Troy Mitchell without pay, while investigators followed up on near-identical complaints from a pair of prisoners who separately claimed that the longtime guard waterboarded them while shackled and sadistically beat them on their genitals. Prisoner Matthew Raymond alleged in a civil lawsuit that he endured an assault from Mitchell so severe that he was left dependent on the use of a catheter to urinate. Prisoners have not been the only targets of Mitchell’s abuse. A former coworker, Penny Collins, described him as “one of the sickest people I’ve ever met in my entire life” in a 2007 sexual harassment lawsuit that she ultimately won in 2012. Collins said she sent a letter to warn DOCCS investigators about Mitchell’s abusive and violent tendencies a year prior to filing the suit. “If they would have taken it seriously 12 years ago, none of this would be an issue now,” she noted.
New York: During a September 26, 2018 court proceeding, prosecutor Jesse Aviram told a Hempstead District Court that jail nurse Carroll Ann Clarke-Pilgrim developed an inappropriate relationship with Nassau County prisoner Laphael McClenic, to the point the pair “considered themselves husband and wife.” Aviram further testified that Clarke-Pilgrim admitted to investigators that, prior to her February 2018 arrest, while working as a nurse for private medical contractor Nassau Health Care Corporation, she brought marijuana and other banned items into the jail “numerous times” for McClenic. As part of a negotiated deal, Aviram dropped a charge of misdemeanor conspiracy in exchange for Clarke-Pilgrim’s guilty plea to one count of official misconduct; the court then sentenced her to a three-year probationary term. The plea agreement includes an opportunity for Clarke-Pilgrim to apply for a certificate of relief from civil disabilities after serving six months of probation. If granted such a certificate, she would likely retain the ability to renew her New York nursing license. McClenic was not criminally charged in the case.
Ohio: The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction contracted with family-owned United Dairy, Inc. as its vendor to supply milk to the Lebanon Correctional Institution, after deciding in 2016 to sell off dairy cows that were part of the department’s phased-out prison farming program. Ray Adams, a 14-year United Dairy employee, used his access to the facility to make thousands of dollars during his two-year stint as the prison’s milkman by concealing marijuana, tobacco, cell phones and other prohibited items inside specially-marked milk cartons mixed among his regular deliveries. The smuggling scheme was exposed in January 2018 when Adams’ entire delivery of 30,000 half-pint cartons was searched. The 50-year-old delivery driver was arrested and immediately fired; he subsequently pleaded guilty to illegal conveyance of drugs into a detention facility. Warren County Judge Robert Peeler sentenced Adams on May 8, 2018 to a three-year suspended sentence to be served as 120 days of electronically-monitored house arrest followed by probation.
Ohio: On March 18, 2018, Jami L. Waller, 29, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of harassment with a bodily substance after spitting on a fellow prisoner during a fight at the Muskingum County Jail. Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Fleegle agreed with a joint recommendation presented by Waller’s defense attorney and the state to impose a nine-month prison term to resolve the charges. According to Ron Welch, who serves as Muskingum County’s Assistant Prosecutor, Waller notified jail intake staff that she had a positive diagnosis of hepatitis C prior to the jailhouse altercation. Waller was reportedly trying to strangle another prisoner during an argument and spat at the woman as guards intervened. Hepatitis C is now highly curable with recently-developed medications. PLN has reported multiple times on litigation to ensure prisoners can receive the new hep C treatment. [See, e.g.: PLN, Dec. 2017, p.24; July 2017, p.1; Feb. 2017, p.21].
Pennsylvania: Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility guard Michael Maratea, 66, opened fire with his personal weapon to defend himself from a just-released prisoner’s February 9, 2018 carjacking attempt. Jamal Bennett, 26, was struck in the chest with a single round after attacking the guard in the prison’s parking lot, with the intention of taking Maratea’s vehicle. According to Lorenzo North, president of the local guards’ union, grossly inadequate security played a substantial role in the incident. On behalf of union members, North recommended changes to the facility’s release procedures to bolster security during shift changes. “For at least two years, I’ve been asking for a separate parking lot,” North said. Philadelphia Department of Prisons spokeswoman Shawn Hawes confirmed that a secured, staff-only parking area was being evaluated as a capital project. “We’re willing to examine anywhere there’s holes in security,” Hawes said. “It’s something we’re working on and hopefully we’ll be able to accomplish.”
Pennsylvania: With free help from BetaGov, a team of philanthropically-funded consultants at the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has been testing policies and programs to improve prisoner wellness, reduce violence and lessen the prison system’s reliance on solitary confinement to address behavioral problems. A March 1, 2018 article published by Philly.com explained that 25 of the state’s prisons have spent the past year conducting studies based on ideas submitted by 15,000 DOC employees. Yoga classes, “Swift, Certain, Fair” discipline programs, aroma and sound therapies, visitor outreach programs, virtual reality halfway house tours and the use of soothing colors are just a few of the suggestions made by guards, medical staff, food service staff and chaplains that have shown promise to improve prisoners’ behavior. “A lot of this has to do with the quality of life,” said Angela Hawken, founder and director of BetaGov.
South Africa: Prisoners’ rights advocate Miles Bhudu spoke on behalf of the South African Prisoners Organization for Human Rights to break news of a prisoner-led “nude and hunger” strike which began around February 28, 2018 at the privately-operated Kutama Sinthumule Correctional Centre in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo. According to Bhudu, at least 48 prisoners refused to wear clothes or eat to put pressure on prison officials who refused to process their transfers from the extremely dangerous Kutama facility to lower-security prisons elsewhere in the country. Bhudu said the protesting prisoners “have already served a quarter of their sentences and are well behaved. Therefore, they qualify to be transferred to medium security prisons closer to their families.” Lazarus Ncongwane, the top official at the Kutama facility, denied the prisoners were protesting. “This is news to me. None of the inmates are on strike here,” he insisted.
South Dakota: On February 26, 2018, Kimberly Ann Johnson was sentenced by 7th Judicial Court Magistrate Judge Todd Hyronimus to a suspended 360-day jail term after she pleaded guilty to delivering prohibited items to a prisoner at the Pennington County Jail. Johnson, who had worked for two years as a staff assistant in the jail’s medical department, was initially charged with felony sexual contact between a jail employee and a detainee after Sheriff’s Office investigators found substantial evidence of an inappropriate romantic relationship between Johnson and an unnamed 39-year-old prisoner. Attorney Tim Rensch, who defended Johnson in the case, said his client “sent letters to an inmate under a pseudonym ... which constituted contraband.” Prosecutors accepted Rensch’s rationale and agreed to not only allow Johnson to plead guilty to the lesser offense, but to later seal the resulting criminal conviction.
Tennessee: Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker fired eight Morgan County Regional Correctional Complex (MCCX) employees on February 9, 2018, just a few days after minimum-security prisoner Robert Fusco “breached the secure perimeter” of the prison grounds then returned with the intention of smuggling in contraband. Parker condemned the apparent security violations that enabled Fusco to abscond while his absence went unnoticed, despite multiple mandatory bed checks. “Any person involved in this breach be it staff, inmate, or community members should know that we will hold them accountable and aggressively seek prosecution for their involvement,” Parker admonished. On September 18, 2018, his warning became a reality for Fusco and several co-defendants. A Morgan County grand jury returned indictments against Fusco and seven other people, including two MCCX guards, who were identified by a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Department of Correction joint investigation as accomplices to the escape and contraband scheme. Fusco was reclassified as a maximum-security prisoner and transferred to the West Tennessee State Penitentiary shortly after the incident. He has pleaded not guilty to the resulting additional charges.
Texas: A 19-year-old Texas woman was sentenced on March 20, 2018 to an eight-year term of deferred adjudication after pleading guilty to four felony charges related to a rape and kidnapping hoax she carried out in March 2017. Breana Harmon’s record will reflect the entry of a guilty plea to felony charges, but not a conviction if she successfully fulfills the terms of the sentencing order. According to police, Harmon elaborately attempted to hide a domestic dispute with her fiancé from her family by falsely claiming that three African-American men abducted, beat and sexually assaulted her. Investigators quickly noticed inconsistencies in her story, medical evaluations and evidence recovered from the alleged crime scene. “The puzzle pieces just weren’t coming together,” Denison Police Chief Jay Burch stated, adding that Harmon admitted to fabricating the incident two weeks after making the claims. In addition to serving 160 hours of community service and paying restitution and fines, Harmon apologized to both police and the local community for her actions after she was sentenced.
Texas: On February 5, 2018, U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker set bond at $100,000 for 93rd State District Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado, who had been charged with bribery in a criminal complaint unsealed earlier that day. Delgado, who was released soon after his court appearance, declined to answer questions from reporters, saying only that he would “allow the judicial process to run its course.” FBI investigators said Delgado, who was actively campaigning as a candidate for a position on the state’s 13th Court of Appeals at the time of his arrest, was secretly recorded by a confidential source on at least three occasions agreeing to release certain defendants on bond in exchange for bribes of cash and other items of value. For over a year, investigators worked with a confidential source to document the illegal transactions and resulting favorable judicial considerations. A trial date has been set for February 25, 2019 to resolve Delgado’s case.
Virginia: The 21-year-old grandson of former Virginia governor John Dalton entered an Alford plea to charges of misdemeanor sexual battery and felony unlawful wounding on July 27, 2018. He was sentenced by Judge Humes J. Franklin to a five-year term of supervised probation. Stephen Dalton Baril’s plea agreement allowed him to avoid prison for raping a woman he met while both attended the University of Virginia. He had initially faced felony rape and sodomy charges; by choosing the Alford plea option, he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors likely had sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction. Baril’s victim addressed the court in a statement, noting that although she had agreed to the plea deal to avoid reliving the rape during trial proceedings, she suffered a “year and a half of hell” in the aftermath of the assault. “You raped me whether you want to hear it or not,” she told Baril. “You robbed me of feeling safe in a city I called my home.”