News in Brief
Australia: According to a June 2017 news report, a GEO Group-run prison in Queensland was busted for dumping raw sewage. The waste was threatening a creek near the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre, according to an anonymous source inside the facility who said, “A sewage truck pumped out tanks every two hours and dumps raw sewage.... In one of the prisoner blocks the sewerage system has been broken for months.” A Queensland Corrective Services spokesperson confirmed that a mechanical failure of a sewage pump had occurred, adding, “[t]he pump was repaired as quickly as possible.”
Alabama: On June 11, 2017, Cardel Tarver, 24, who worked at the Bullock Correctional Facility as a guard, was searched when he reported to work and found with cell phones, chargers, 63 grams of marijuana, 29 grams of synthetic cannabinoids, 30 grams of flakka and 84 Xanax pills. Tarver was arrested on multiple charges, including promoting contraband in a state prison, unlawful possession of a controlled substance and using his position for personal gain. He resigned following his arrest.
California: Eleven people, including a former guard at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, were charged on February 28, 2017 with being members of a contraband smuggling network that brought methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and cell phones into the prison. The former guard, Anibal Navarro, is accused of conspiring with prisoner Martin Gomez and his associate, Sylvia Gonzales, to coordinate the operation. Outside contacts Everaldo Santana, Norma Alvardo-Medina and Vanessa Jackson allegedly provided the contraband and exchanged bribes of $1,000 to $2,000 each time Navarro smuggled the items into the facility. After the contraband was introduced, prisoners Agustin Aceves, Juan Gutierrez, John Price, Jeremy Gaither and Hugo Alvarado distributed it to other prisoners.
California: Three jail guards were arrested on May 31, 2017 by Placer County Sheriff Devon Bell. Following an extensive investigation into prisoner abuse, Sgt. Megan Yaws, Deputy Robert Madden and guard Jeffrey Villanueva were placed on paid administrative leave after their arrest. Yaws was charged with one count of falsifying police reports, while Madden was charged with four counts of assault under color of authority without necessity and three counts of falsification of an incident report. Villanueva was charged with one count of assault under color of authority without necessity and one count of falsification of an incident report. Bell said jail surveillance video supported the misconduct allegations.
Colorado: A captain at the Denver Sheriff’s Department, Phazaria Koonce, and her brother, former Denver Sheriff Gary Wilson, were disciplined for giving preferential treatment to a prisoner who was related to the head of the city’s safety department as well as a granddaughter of former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb. “The department expects that a supervisor or command officer should exercise even greater restraint and circumspection than a subordinate deputy,” a June 9, 2017 disciplinary letter issued to Wilson said. “Here, the roles were reversed: deputies recognized and stopped the preferential treatment while the division chief initiated it. However, Chief Wilson has failed to take responsibility and personal accountability for the ensuing actions of his sister and her subordinates.” Both Koonce and Wilson were demoted but not fired.
Georgia: Atlanta police said Jeffrey Mann, the sheriff of nearby DeKalb County since 2014, was charged with indecency and obstruction after fleeing from an officer on May 6, 2017. According to the incident report, a bicycle patrol officer spotted Mann exposing his genitals in a section of Piedmont Park “known for sexual acts after dark.” When the officer shined his flashlight on Mann, he “immediately fled on foot” and continued to run for nearly a quarter mile before surrendering. Mann told a CNN affiliate that the incident was a misunderstanding.
Georgia: Corderious Farley, 19, was arrested at the Dekalb County jail on May 19, 2017 and fired from his job as a food service vendor after being charged with criminal attempt to cross a guard line with intent to deliver contraband. DeKalb County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Cynthia Williams said Farley was found to be working with a prisoner in the jail’s meal prep area to provide drugs to other prisoners.
Honduras: Convicted murderer Francisco Herrera Argueta attempted to escape from a maximum-security prison by dressing in women’s clothing and walking out the front door with a group of visitors. The BBC reported on May 10, 2017 that Argueta was trying to impersonate a female visitor who had left her ID with security guards. However, his escape bid was thwarted when a guard noticed that he was “walking funny” in his heels and “spoke with a hoarse, male voice.” According to police spokesman Bayron Sauceda, “The makeup couldn’t hide the fact that he was a man.” Officials said Argueta could be transferred to the El Pozo jail, known as one of the most dangerous prisons in Honduras.
Illinois: For years, prisoners at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago have been seeing displays of support and solidarity from the rooftop of a parking garage just across the street from the downtown jail. People familiar with the displays told the Chicago Sun-Times on June 9, 2017 that they are sometimes strictly G-rated, but on other days feature strip shows and sex shows put on by girlfriends of prisoners held at the facility. The detainees arrange the shows to prove they’re the top dogs in the jail, another source said. A spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons, which runs the facility, stated: “We are aware of the situation and have notified the owner of the property, but because it is private property, the Bureau of Prisons has no authority to remove people from the property.”
Indiana: On March 8, 2017, Delaware County Circuit Judge Kimberly Dowling, acting on a joint motion filed by prosecutors and attorneys with the Innocence Project, freed William E. Barnhouse from prison after DNA tests showed another man’s semen was found on the victim in the 1992 rape case for which Barnhouse was convicted. Court records indicate the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that has helped to exonerate almost 200 people through DNA testing, first inquired about evidence in Barnhouse’s case in 2009. Negotiations with prosecutors led to an agreement for his release. “He has spent a quarter of a century incarcerated for a crime he did not commit,” Innocence Project attorney Seema Saifee told the court. “William has suffered from mental illness his entire life.... He never gave up hope that the truth would come out.”
Kentucky: PLN previously reported the indictment of two jail guards for the 2013 beating death of prisoner Larry Trent at the Kentucky River Regional Jail. [See: PLN, Oct. 2015, p.37]. According to a news release from Acting U.S. Attorney Carlton S. Shier IV, a federal jury convicted former jailer William C. Howell on May 12, 2017 for assaulting Trent and ignoring his serious medical needs. Howell has not yet been sentenced; his co-defendant, Damon Wayne Hickman, pleaded guilty last year to using excessive force, ignoring Trent’s medical needs and making a false entry in a log book to cover up the incident. Hickman was sentenced on November 1, 2017 to 10 years and six months in federal prison.
Kentucky: A 28-year-old Indiana woman delivered a baby boy in her cell at the Franklin County Regional Jail on May 16, 2017. Kelsey G. Love was eight months pregnant and had been indicted on charges of receiving stolen property of $10,000 or more, a Class C felony, and operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol/drugs, a Class B misdemeanor. She was housed in the facility’s booking area for observation and monitoring, but it was not until morning rounds that jail staff discovered she had given birth. Love and her baby were transported to the Frankfort Regional Medical Center for medical attention; the child tested positive for methamphetamine, but was otherwise healthy.
Louisiana: Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson said it was “outrageous” and “ridiculous” that the state’s highest court had affirmed an 18-year sentence for a defendant caught with just 18 grams of marijuana. Gary D. Howard was convicted by a jury of marijuana possession with intent to distribute. A Caddo Parish judge sentenced him as a habitual offender in 2014. Johnson wrote in a withering dissent on May 5, 2017 that “As a practical matter, in light of the inconsequential amount of marijuana found, imprisoning defendant for this extreme length of time at a cost of about $23,000 per year (costing our state over $400,000 in total) provides little societal value and only serves to further burden our financially strapped state and its tax payers.” She added, “Legally, the state proved nothing more than simple possession of marijuana in this case.”
Louisiana: A May 2017 workshop and community gathering known as “Prison Gourmet: New Orleans Cook-Off” brought together former women prisoners to discuss, share and prepare recipes developed in prison, utilizing common – yet often unexpected – food items and cooking tools. “With Louisiana reigning as the ‘Prison Capital of the World,’ we want to increase residents’ understanding of the complexities and grave societal impact of mass incarceration,” said Newcomb Art Museum of Tulane University director Monica Ramirez-Montagut, who co-sponsored the event. “Food serves as a familiar point of access and underscores the resilience and creativity frequently demonstrated by individuals in prison.”
Michigan: On May 26, 2017, Judge Richard Skutt threw out the murder conviction of Desmond Ricks 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’s 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 crime lab in Detroit was closed after a 2008 audit revealed sloppy forensics work, including botched analysis of gun-related evidence. [See: PLN, Oct. 2010, p.1].
Michigan: State prison officials initially decided to cancel the Shakespeare Behind Bars program, but quickly reversed course in May 2017. The privately-funded program, offered at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility and West Shoreline Correctional Facility, has involved around 100 prisoners who study and discuss the bard’s plays. Prison officials said it needed clearer goals and rules, and more participation. “This program had seen dwindling interest from the prison population,” said DOC spokesman Chris Gautz. “We are working with the volunteer organizer on a plan to continue the program this year, with the goal of having a performance at the end of the classes.” A similar program, Shakespeare in Prison, is available at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility.
Mississippi: Tiffanie Ann Miller, 33, pleaded guilty on May 9, 2017 to a felony escape charge after switching places with another jail detainee who was eligible for release. The single mother of five answered when a guard called out for fellow prisoner Tenia Stork. She then changed into Stork’s street clothes and left the jail. Miller was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Dale Harkey to five years, with one year to be served in prison and four years under post-release supervision. She was also sentenced to two more years in her underlying shoplifting case. Stork was charged with aiding in the escape of a felon.
Mississippi: PLN previously reported on accusations that former registered nurse Carmon Sue Brannan withheld treatment from insulin-dependent diabetic prisoner William Joel Dixon, resulting in his death at the George County Correctional Facility in September 2014. [See: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.63]. Brannan, who was charged with manslaughter, entered an Alford plea on May 16, 2017. District Attorney Tony Lawrence said that Brannan saw Dixon multiple times over a nine-day period but never took the proper precautions to help him; she reportedly told jail staff that Dixon was faking his illness and going through drug withdrawal, and checked his blood sugar only once. Brannan’s sentencing was delayed after she hired an attorney to withdraw her plea agreement. A lawsuit was filed by Dixon’s estate in September 2017 against Brannan, George County and the City of Lucedale.
Montana: Former Montana State Prison guard Brett Bernard Lombardi entered a no contest plea on June 8, 2017 to a charge of transferring alcohol to prisoners. He then pleaded guilty to three counts of illegal transfer of tobacco; the plea agreement dismissed four other charges. According to court records, Lombardi was accused of operating an “illicit business” between December 2013 and July 2014 in which he smuggled contraband to prisoners in exchange for bribes. Judge Ray Dayton allowed Lombardi to remain free on his own recognizance with conditions until the completion of a presentencing investigation.
Nevada: CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, owns and manages private prisons and detention centers across the country, including the Nevada Southern Detention Center. On June 13, 2017, an unidentified CoreCivic employee apparently set off tear gas or a chemical irritant spray, which triggered a fire alarm, just before he committed suicide by gunshot in the facility’s armory. Nevada Southern Detention Center spokeswoman Kayla Gieni said in a statement, “Resources are being made available to impacted employees at the facility as they cope with the loss of a colleague.”
New Jersey: PLN previously reported on former Salem County Correctional Facility guard Elbert B. Johnson II’s January 2017 guilty plea to third-degree official misconduct and second-degree sexual assault for entering a prisoner’s cell during a lockdown and raping him. [See: PLN, May 2017, p.63]. Johnson was sentenced on May 1, 2017 to concurrent five-year prison terms for each of the charges. In accordance with the plea agreement, he must also register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law, will forfeit his state pension and won’t be allowed to serve as a public employee again.
New Jersey: An Atlantic County jail guard was sentenced on July 11, 2017 by Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury, Jr. to five years’ probation after pleading guilty to a charge of criminal sexual conduct involving a jail prisoner. Castulo Matos had been suspended in December 2016 after a female prisoner reported he had inappropriately touched her. The victim also said Matos made sexual comments to her on several occasions prior to the incident.
New York: According to a federal lawsuit filed on May 30, 2017, a 52-year-old prisoner who was paralyzed from the waist down was forced to drag himself through urine, spit and vomit, and sleep on the filthy floor of a jail cell for more than 42 hours, after guards confiscated his wheelchair at the Brooklyn Central Booking facility. “We will review the complaint,” a Law Department spokesman said of Baron Walker’s suit. Walker’s attorneys filed a similar lawsuit in federal court on behalf of another wheelchair-bound prisoner, who complained that he had been handcuffed to a cell.
New York: PLN previously covered the January 2017 arrest of federal prison guard Armando Moronta for his role in a contraband smuggling scheme at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC). [See: PLN, July 2017, p.63]. On May 25, 2017, more of Moronta’s misconduct came to light when he was arrested again, along with two supervisors, for their involvement in a sex abuse scandal at the MDC. Lieutenants Carlos Richard Martinez and Eugenio Perez were charged with committing sexual assaults against female prisoners over a period of several years. FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. said the three guards had “trapped their victims in a cycle of fear and intimidation while carrying out various acts of sexual abuse.”
New York: The New York City Department of Correction’s top internal affairs official, deputy commissioner of investigations Gregory Kuczinski, was quietly fired on May 16, 2017 amid accusations that he eavesdropped on phone conversations between Rikers Island jailhouse informants and city investigators. Kuczinski had previously been suspended from his duties, but his termination came without public announcement and, according to a suit filed by Kuczinski on September 15, 2017, was without cause. His lawsuit maintains that he was never involved in the alleged spying, and claims the department’s tapping into phone calls between investigators and confidential informants at the jail was part of routine monitoring.
North Carolina Yolanda Denise Harrison was arrested on June 9, 2017 on one count of sexual act by a prison employee. Bond for the former case manager at the Maury Correctional Institution was set at $50,000. Harrison had worked at the prison for six months and resigned after her inappropriate sexual relationship with prisoner Michael Beckham was revealed during an investigation by the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. Harrison’s arrest was the second time in less than a year that an employee at the prison was charged with having sex with a prisoner. Former guard Shirley Shelah Foote, 28, faces similar charges.
North Carolina: On June 2, 2017, the Charlotte Observer described the many perks received by prisoner William Walker when he was carrying out a blatant sexual relationship with Wayne Correctional Center substance abuse counselor Delia Durham. She brought him contraband cologne, steroids and restaurant meals. In 2010, Durham routinely smuggled a pet poodle named Stacey into the facility to keep Walker company. “You’d have to be totally deaf, dumb and blind to not know,” said Walker, who later won a settlement in a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse and harassment by Durham. More than 65 North Carolina prison employees have been fired since 2012 for having improper relationships with prisoners, the Observer found. Others were allowed to resign.
Ohio: Mark Myers, 62, filed suit in federal court on May 9, 2017, alleging he suffered cuts to his head and a broken hip at the Hamilton County Justice Center after a former deputy tossed him into a wall and left him bleeding in a jail cell. Former deputy Jason Mize and Sheriff Jim Neil were named as defendants in the lawsuit, which also claims the incident was Mize’s fourth use-of-force violation since he was hired in August 2007. Myers’ federal complaint was the second against Mize. Another, filed against him and other guards in 2010, for an incident at the jail in January 2008, resulted in a monetary settlement. Mize resigned from the Sheriff’s Office in February 2017.
Ohio: A corporal with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, Amirah Abdul-Kareem, 41, was charged in November 2017 with striking, kicking and pepper-spraying a prisoner during a March 25 incident. Abdul-Kareem, who said the prisoner, Tanya Brown, had struck and spit on her, was initially reassigned to have no contact with prisoners. The incident was recorded on video surveillance cameras. Previously, in March 2017, jailer Kamara Austin, 43, was arrested for smuggling heroin and pills into the facility, while Cpl. Brendan Johnson was fired in June 2017 for using excessive force when he pepper-sprayed two female prisoners. Johnson was reinstated in August 2017 after an arbitrator found he had shown poor judgment, was impatient and used excessive force, but should not have been fired. However, he did not receive back pay.
Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Department of Corrections acknowledged that three YouTube videos, recorded at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center (LARC), contained “unacceptable” comments from a guard supervisor. “While much of the language on video was unprofessional, and crude by employees who were unaware they were being videotaped, there were comments on the videos that prompted an internal investigation by the ODOC,” director Joe Allbaugh wrote in a May 9, 2017 statement. “I want to be very clear, this type of behavior and expression of opinion is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. After watching the video a LARC supervisor has been suspended pending further investigation.”
Pennsylvania: On May 23, 2017, Shaurn Thomas walked out of a state prison as a free man for the first time in nearly 24 years. Just a few hours earlier in a Center City courtroom, his conviction for taking part in a 1990 murder – one he always insisted he didn’t commit – had been thrown out. The District Attorney’s office agreed with his lawyers that the evidence against him did not support his conviction. “I felt the justice system was going to prevail sooner or later, and that somebody would hear my cries,” Thomas said as he looked at his attorneys, James Figorski with Dechert LLP and Marissa Bluestine with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, “and they heard them.”
Pennsylvania: In October 2016, around two dozen prisoners at SCI Graterford began to participate in “Songs in the Key of Free,” the first formal music program at the facility in more than a decade. Some participants who had been incarcerated at Graterford long enough to remember the last music program said it disappeared after a public outcry over a 2002 VH1 show, “Music Behind Bars.” [See: PLN, Dec. 2008, p.14]. Cynthia Link, the prison’s superintendent, said in a May 24, 2017 news article that reviving music at Graterford was controversial. The facility prohibits programs like “Songs in the Key of Free” from using prisoners’ last names or portraying their faces when they are covered by the news media. Despite those restrictions, the prisoners have already written and recorded an EP of original songs, with a lyrical focus on issues like mass incarceration and systemic racism, and are working on producing a full album.
Philippines: Buko salad is a favorite Filipino dessert consisting of a sweet mixture of fruit cocktail, buko (young coconut), milk and other ingredients such as nata de coco and kaong. When delivery men appeared on May 8, 2017 at the Dumaguete City District Jail with buko salad ingredients intended for prisoner Joram Catan, jail officials noticed something was wrong. The alert guards managed to intercept around 1 kg of methamphetamine – known in the Philippines as “shabu” – that had been stuffed inside some of the coconuts. The drugs had an estimated street value of around $220,000 U.S.
Tennessee: Seven bail bondsmen and bounty hunters were charged with murder in May 2017, in connection with the shooting death of Jalen Johnson. Johnson, 24, died on April 23, 2017 following a car chase; the driver of the vehicle, Jaydon Hogan, was also shot but survived. Charged with first-degree felony murder, attempted second-degree murder, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault and felony reckless endangerment, among other offenses, were William L. Byles, 31; Kenneth Chiasson, 38; Antwon D. Keesee, 32; Jonathan Schnepp, 31; Roger D. West, 31; Prentice L. Williams, 34; and Joshua Young, 27. The bounty hunters and bondsmen mistakenly thought a fugitive, William Ellis, was in the car with Johnson, and opened fire. Neither Johnson nor any of the other people in the vehicle had outstanding warrants.
Texas: On May 16, 2017, Texas prison officials announced that due to a mumps outbreak at the Lopez State Jail in Edinburg, nearly 100 prisoners were being placed under medical restriction for 25 days. The Hidalgo County Health Department said no cases of mumps had been reported outside the jail, but that six prisoners were diagnosed with the highly contagious disease. The affected prisoners were held in isolation while more than 90 others were placed under tight movement restrictions and visitation was canceled. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice quarantined prisoners again in September 2017 when another mumps outbreak occurred at the Lopez State Jail, as well as the Gurney Unit and the Willacy County State Jail.
Washington: Clark County corrections deputies shot and killed 66-year-old jail prisoner John Martin, while he was receiving treatment at the Peace Health Southwest Medical Center, on May 18, 2017. Clark County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Fred Neiman told reporters that Martin “took action which resulted in an officer involved shooting.” Martin was being held on charges of parole violation, escape from community custody and unlawful possession of a firearm. No one else was injured during the incident; the deputies involved in the shooting were Pam Frisby and Elissa Black.