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News in Brief

Alabama: If you’re running a check forgery ring, it’s not a good idea to pass fake checks from the bank account of a law enforcement agency. Several defendants learned that the hard way after they operated a check cashing scheme that targeted the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. On June 9, 2017, WBRC reported that almost a dozen people had been arrested for forging checks issued by the Sheriff’s Office to prisoners being released from the county jail; they were charged with various offenses, including possession of a forged instrument. Due to the scheme, the jail plans to stop issuing checks and instead use debit release cards.

Arkansas: Steven Dishman, now 60, escaped from prison in May 1985 while serving a seven-year sentence for burglary and theft of property. He was captured more than three decades later, on June 25, 2017, at a home in Springdale. “He served just under six months of his 1984 conviction, so he owes the state the balance of that,” said DOC spokesman Solomon Graves. Dishman reportedly stole property from the Original Muskrat Roadhouse & Saloon in Fayetteville, and had a prior record for stealing a CB radio in 1976.

Australia: In October 2017, New South Wales (NSW) prison officials said GEO Group Australia, which operates the Parklea Correctional Centre in Sydney, could face sanctions after a cell phone video was posted online that showed a prisoner bragging about having drugs and a homemade weapon. “I was horrified when I saw the YouTube video and immediately called for an investigation,” stated NSW Corrections Minister David Elliott. “I have asked Corrective Services NSW to review the contract to see what penalties could be imposed if there has been a failure by the operator.” The prisoner said he obtained the cell phone from staff members who accepted bribes. In October 2017, news articles reported that GEO had lost its contract to operate the Parklea facility.

Brazil: Ninety-one prisoners escaped from the Parnamirim State Penitentiary on May 25, 2017 through a 30-meter-long tunnel dug under the compound’s outer wall. Prisoners staged a fight inside the facility to distract the guards while others fled through the tunnel. Nine prisoners were recaptured quickly while prison officials worked to compile a full list of the escapees. This was the second escape from the facility in one year. In January 2017, fourteen prisoners broke out, also using a tunnel.

California: A lawsuit filed on June 14, 2017 accused Riverside County jail guards of breaking the spine of a schizophrenic prisoner, leaving him quadriplegic and requiring 24-hour care. The incident was caught on surveillance video. David Manzo, 34, was found limp on the floor following a fight with another prisoner. The suit claims that jail staff caused “catastrophic injury” to Manzo’s spine by handling him roughly after the fight. The county had rejected a claim filed by Manzo earlier in the year, resulting in the lawsuit.

California: On May 24, 2017, more than 100 prisoners attacked eight Pelican Bay State Prison guards in a rare mass fight involving staff members. The melee began when two prisoners refused to stop fighting; as guards attempted to break up the combatants, more prisoners jumped in and attacked them. In response, prison staff fired 19 rounds from semi-automatic rifles into the brawl. Five prisoners suffered gunshot wounds and two were injured during the incident. Two guards were hospitalized with significant but non-life-threatening injuries; six others were treated and released.

California: Previously, PLN has reported on California prisoners who work as fire fighters in CDCR work camps – dangerous jobs that usually pay only a few dollars a day. On May 25, 2017, prisoner Matthew Beck, 26, died when a 120-foot tree fell on him as he and other prisoners were clearing brush to fight a wildfire. “We are saddened by the death of Matthew Beck, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends,” stated CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan. “The inmates who year after year help protect our communities from the devastation of fires perform a valuable public service, and it is a tragic event when we lose one of them.” Beck, who worked at a fire camp in Del Norte County, was serving a six-year sentence for burglary. While fighting fires he earned $1.00 per hour.

Colorado: An unnamed nurse who worked for private contractor Correct Care Solutions is under investigation for allegedly conspiring with a then-El Paso County jail prisoner to raise $15,000 to hire a hitman to kill the prisoner’s ex-wife. Acting on a tip, jail staff raided Juan Sarmiento’s cell and found over 40 letters between him and the nurse that included conversations about sex and a plan to move together to Mexico. The letters fell short of discussing a murder plot, but raised enough suspicion to conduct a continuing investigation. On July 3, 2017, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office terminated its nearly two-decade relationship with Correct Care Solutions in favor of a competitor, Armor Correctional Health Services.

Congo: On June 11, 2017, over 900 prisoners escaped and at least 11 people were killed when unidentified attackers stormed a jail in the town of Beni in the northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a statement, North Kivu province’s governor, Julien Paluku, said the assailants killed 8 prison guards with heavy weaponry. Another 20 prisoners escaped in July 2017 from a facility in Bukavu after an attacker throw a grenade into the prison; one visitor was killed. That incident was the sixth prison break since May 2017, when about 4,000 prisoners escaped from a high-security facility in the capital city of Kinshasa.

Florida: Eagle Food Services kitchen worker Regina Webb, 43, was arrested on June 15, 2017 for having sex with a Putnam County jail prisoner and smuggling cigarettes into the facility for him. She was booked into the same jail under a $20,000 bond. “Although Webb is not an employee of the Sheriff’s Office, I demand that workers providing private contract services for the agency adhere to the same ethical standards,” Sheriff H.D. “Gator” DeLoach said. Webb faces two counts of introduction of contraband into a correctional facility and two counts of sexual misconduct with a prisoner. Both charges are third-degree felonies. 

Georgia: Dimirel Huskovic walked out of the Gwinnett County jail on June 2, 2017 after spending 17 months in custody on a false rape accusation. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said Huskovic’s lawyer, Jay Abt, had “produced three witnesses previously unknown to law enforcement which contradict significant portions of the victim’s testimony. We’ve interviewed these witnesses and corroborated their account.” Abt explained his client’s plight: “He was facing a sentence of 25 years to life in prison if he had been convicted.” Legally, Huskovic’s only recourse for his wrongful incarceration is to file a civil suit against the woman who falsely accused him, who was not identified.

Ilinois: A fire broke out at the shuttered Joliet Correctional Center on Memorial Day, destroying an industrial building in the prison yard. On May 30, 2017, an unidentified 15-year-old was charged with one count of arson for setting the fire. The Joliet facility, which closed in 2002, is perhaps best known for appearing in the “Blues Brothers” movie and “Prison Break” TV series. Another fire occurred at the facility in August 2017 that damaged a building; previously, in January 2017, two 18-year-old women had to call the police after one of them accidentally locked herself in a cell. “This is an ongoing problem and it’s going to need to be addressed by the state or someone else,” said Joliet Mayor Robert O’Dekirk.

Louisiana: In May 2017, the West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office booked 26-year-old Kaelyn Franklin on one count each of possession with intent to distribute ecstasy, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and possession with intent to distribute tramadol. Investigators discovered 48 tramadol pills, 29 ecstasy pills, 20.2 grams of synthetic marijuana, .7 grams of crystal meth and cigarette rolling papers in Franklin’s car at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. She had worked at the prison since 2016 and was a guard sergeant.

Mexico: According to news reports, 28 prisoners were killed during a brawl at a prison in Acapulco, Guerrero state, on July 6, 2017. The fight was between two rival gangs, and bodies were reportedly found throughout a maximum-security unit. An anonymous prison official said four of the slain prisoners had been decapitated. The incident occurred the same day that U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was visiting Guerrero.

Michigan: On May 17, 2017, prisoner Earl Gene Upchurch, 52, was charged with a felony for falsely reporting that he had been sexually assaulted by his cellmate at the Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon in August 2015. Michigan State Police investigated the rape allegation and determined it to be false. The bogus claim resulted in Upchurch being charged as a four-time habitual offender due to his three prior felony convictions. Although the new charge carries a potential sentence of four years in prison, he could be sentenced to a longer term due to his habitual offender status.

Michigan: Judge Richard Skutt threw out the murder conviction of Desmond Ricks on May 26, 2017, on the grounds that new tests on bullets in the case supported his claim that police had framed him. David Moran, director of the Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, said Ricks was a “great advocate for his own cause. What he was saying seemed to be outlandish: The Detroit police crime lab would not only make mistakes but switch bullets. It wasn’t outlandish – it was true. This outlandish conduct cost Desmond Ricks 25 years.” The Wayne County, Michigan crime lab was shut down after a 2008 audit revealed sloppy forensics work, including the botched analysis of gun evidence. [See: PLN, Oct. 2010, p.1].

Minnesota: One of nine prisoners in a transport van hijacked the vehicle near the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Lino Lakes on May 26, 2017. Eight of the prisoners were quickly captured, including three who remained in the van that was left in north Minneapolis. The last one to be caught, James Douglas Mitchell, 26, was apprehended several hours later near I-35W. Helicopters and K-9 units from the State Patrol participated in the search. The other prisoners involved in the incident were Kevin L. Mitchell, 31; Mitchell D. Saltzman, 36; Dylan C. Bathke, 21; Paul J. Thunder, 39; Anthony Dwayne Alexander, 51; Edward Washington, 35; Vance E. Jourdain, 26; and Shawn Lee Jackson, 28.

Mississippi: Washington County Sheriff Milton Gaston told the Delta Democrat-Times that the June 2, 2017 escape of two Washington County Regional Correctional Facility prisoners was “an employee’s fault.” In response to the incident, Gaston’s office fired six staff members and suspended two others. Escapees Lazarric Minton and Jackie Johnson were captured less than a week later. Sheriff Gaston told the Washington County Board of Supervisors that he wanted to adopt stricter hiring requirements and install additional razor wire on the facility’s fences. The escape was the jail’s second in four months.

Missouri: In 1999, Richard Anthony Jones was sent to prison for an armed robbery he did not commit. There was no physical evidence to connect Jones to the crime, but eyewitnesses identified him in a photo lineup and he was found guilty. During his time behind bars he heard of another prisoner known as “Ricky,” who looked like his twin. “When I saw that picture, it made sense to me,” Jones said in an interview with the Kansas City Star. Jones’ attorney showed photos of the two men to the victim, two witnesses and the prosecutor – and all agreed they could not tell them apart. The 10th Judicial District Court in Johnson County vacated Jones’ sentence and he was freed on June 8, 2017. The Missouri Innocence Project and the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence at the University of Kansas assisted in the case.

New York: A deputy warden who worked at the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers Island was attacked by a former prisoner and two other women while she sat on a stoop during a barbeque at her home on June 11, 2017. Tatanisha Banks, 41, suffered a broken nose after being punched in the face and shoulder during the assault. She recognized one of the women from her job at the jail, but did not remember her name. Although the Corrections Department declined comment, it assigned 24/7 protection to Banks from its Emergency Services Unit.

New York: Matthew J. Jaskula, a former guard at the Buffalo city jail, pleaded guilty to felony charges of deprivation of rights in May 2017 after being charged with slamming a handcuffed prisoner face-first into a door, resulting in serious injuries. The prisoner was then dragged to a cell, placed in a restraint chair and left alone for almost two hours during the May 2016 incident. Jaskula admitted to the misconduct and resigned as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Two Buffalo police officers who reportedly observed the abuse and urged Jaskula on were suspended. Jaskula was sentenced on December 21, 2017 to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

North Carolina: Fourteen defendants, including five former prison guards and seven former deputies, were sentenced on June 15, 2017 in connection with a major drug distribution ring in the eastern part of the state. While the defendants thought they were protecting drug shipments being moved on Interstate 95 in exchange for bribes, they were actually working with undercover officers. The guards involved in the scheme included former Virginia correctional officers Lann Tjuan Clanton, who received 16 years and three months in prison, and Alphonso Ponton, who received four years; and former North Carolina guards Adrienne Moody, sentenced to 7 years and three months, Alaina Sue-Kam-Ling, sentenced to 38 months, and Kavon Phillips, who received 57 months. Most of the other defendants were employed by the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office.

Ohio: On February 18 and 19, 2017, four prisoners overdosed at the Pickaway Correctional Institution; guards administered CPR and the anti-overdose drug Naloxone to revive them, according to prison records. State prison officials said it was unusual to have multiple overdoses in such a short time at the same facility, but overdoses behind bars have become an issue as the country’s heroin and opioid epidemic has worsened. “Contraband does filter in. That’s why we have these tools,” said Stuart Hudson, the prison system’s health care and fiscal managing director.

Ohio: Attorney Douglas Brannon said he plans to file a wrongful death suit in U.S. District Court against Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer and NaphCare, the for-profit medical provider for the Montgomery County Jail. The lawsuit will be the 10th active suit against the sheriff’s office involving allegations of wrongdoing by jail staff. Brannon represents the family of Sasha Garvin, a 27-year-old woman who was found dead on May 19, 2017 at the Montgomery County Jail. According to an announcement from the coroner’s office in July 2017, Garvin’s cause of death was a bowel obstruction, which could have been treated, and not an overdose as suspected by jail staff.

Oklahoma: Raini Rubottom, a certified medical assistant who worked for private medical contractor Armor Correctional Health Services from May 2015 to March 2016, was sentenced to eight years’ probation for smuggling cell phones into the Oklahoma County Jail. Rubottom pleaded guilty on May 17, 2017 to a single felony count of possession of contraband in a penal institution; in addition to probation, he was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. He admitted to bringing at least three phones into the facility.

Pennsylvania: In June 2017, the GEO Group issued a statement regarding a fight among prisoners at one of the company’s privately-operated facilities. According to Pablo E. Paez, GEO Group’s vice president of corporate relations, “On Saturday, June 10, 2017, an incident involving a group of inmates occurred at the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center. Specifically, a small group of inmates were engaged in a physical altercation on the recreation yard. Four inmates received injuries requiring outside medical treatment at local community hospitals; none of the injuries sustained were life-threatening. The incident was quickly contained and with no staff injuries noted. The facility will remain on lock down status as we work towards resuming normal operations.” No other information was made available.

South Carolina: Department of Corrections spokeswoman Sommer Sharpe said two guards were treated for non-life-threatening injuries after a riot broke out on June 14, 2017 at the Trenton Correctional Institution. During the melee, six guards had to barricade themselves inside one of the dorms; SWAT teams from Edgefield County and Aiken County eventually stormed the dorm and were able to rescue the guards. The incident reportedly started when guards tried to confiscate a cell phone from a prisoner. No prisoners were injured.

Texas: Carol Denise Richardson had already served about a decade of her life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense when she received a presidential pardon from Barack Obama. She was released from the Bureau of Prisons on July 28, 2016 to a 10-year period of supervised release. Unfortunately, on April 13, 2017 – less than a year after receiving clemency – Richardson was arrested for stealing $60 worth of laundry detergent. According to acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez, she also violated four other terms of her release, including a failure to report any “law enforcement contact” to her probation officer within 72 hours. U.S. District Court Judge Keith P. Ellison returned Richardson to prison for 14 months and told her he was disappointed that she had wasted “the extremely rare opportunity she was given.”

Texas: On June 8, 2017, prisoner Michael Garcia, 38, slashed Cameron County Sheriff’s Office transport guard Jose Antonio Tella in the neck with a shank, stole his .40 Glock handgun and escaped. Authorities believe that he swam across a lake to a residential neighborhood, where he entered a home, demanded car keys, then shot and killed 56-year-old Mario Martinez, a visitor at the house. Garcia led Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and county constables on a 20-mile chase to the nearby town of San Benito. About an hour after the escape was initially reported, police shot Garcia twice and he later died at a hospital.

Texas: Shana Tedder, 41, employed as a guard at the Christina Melton Crain Unit, a women’s prison in Gatesville, died following a use-of-force incident involving a prisoner on June 9, 2017. Tedder reportedly had a medical emergency after saying she was short of breath, then collapsed. Other details regarding the incident were not released by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. An autopsy has been ordered.

United Kingdom: A women’s rights organization, Sisters Uncut, took control of the recently-closed Holloway women’s prison in London in May 2017. They hung banners and occupied the facility after a standoff with police, calling for the former prison site to be used for community projects, such as a women’s center and affordable housing, instead of being sold to commercial developers to build expensive apartments. “We are reclaiming the former prison, a site of violence, to demand that public land is used for public good,” said Sisters Uncut member Aisha Streetson. “Prisons are an inhumane response to social problems faced by vulnerable women – the government should provide a better answer.”

Virginia: Gary Linwood Bush, 68, who was arrested in 2006 and served almost 10 years in prison for a pair of bank robberies, had been convicted after three tellers selected his picture from a police lineup. They were all wrong, and a fingerprint left on a robbery note handed to one of the tellers did not belong to Bush. Shortly before he was scheduled to be released from prison, the real bank robber, Christian Lynn Amos, 63, confessed to the crimes in May 2016. Asked by a reporter whether he still trusted the criminal justice system, Bush responded, “No ... definitely not. The innocent until proven guilty? You’re guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.” According to a December 15, 2017 news report, Bush has filed a petition for writ of actual innocence with the state Court of Appeals, seeking a formal exoneration. He is being assisted by the Innocence Project at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Virginia: Employees at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail were accused in a lawsuit of ignoring the medical needs of prisoner Henry Clay Stewart, Jr., 60, who collapsed, foamed at the mouth, vomited blood and eventually died on August 6, 2016. Other prisoners reportedly tried to obtain help from a guard, who responded “I’m busy right now,” according to the complaint. It was later determined that Stewart died due to a perforated ulcer. He had been arrested on a probation violation in a shoplifting case. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.44]. The defendants in the suit, which was filed in June 2017, include the Hampton Roads Regional Jail Authority and Correct Care Solutions, the jail’s for-profit medical contractor.

West Virginia: Timothy Parsons pleaded guilty in July 2017 to killing another prisoner at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex during a dispute over a Bible verse. Parsons reportedly stabbed Eugene Anderson 20 times after beating him in a game of Bible knowledge. Anderson then allegedly tried to arrange a hit on Parsons, but Parsons, who was already serving a life sentence for murdering his wife and mother-in-law, killed him first. It is unknown whether Parsons and Anderson were arguing about the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17, specifically, “Thou shalt not kill.”

Wisconsin: On June 9, 2017, Dane County Circuit Judge Daniel Moeser, now retired, overturned the 1990 sexual assault conviction and 243-year sentence of Richard Beranek, and granted him a new trial based on flawed hair analysis by the FBI. DNA testing confirmed that neither the single hair nor semen found at the scene of the sexual assault matched Beranek. On June 22, 2017, Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara ordered Beranek released on a signature bond while prosecutors decided whether to appeal the ruling or re-try him. Beranek’s case is among an estimated 3,000 in which FBI hair or fiber analysis was conducted before 2000, when DNA testing became widely available, and analysts frequently misstated the accuracy of their findings. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.22; April 2015, p.1]. Beranek, who served 27 years in prison, is represented by the New York-based Innocence Project and the Wisconsin Innocence Project. 


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