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News in Brief

Arkansas: On August 7, 2017, for approximately three hours, a group of six prisoners in the Maximum Security Unit at the Tucker facility refused to release three guards they had overpowered and taken hostage by using stolen keys to control the doors in that area of the prison. According to Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves, the guards sustained scrapes, bruises and other minor injuries, and a prisoner who was not involved in the disturbance was somehow injured and transported to a hospital while the situation unfolded. Although Graves said the incident had been resolved and normal operations had resumed, he declined to identify the hostage-takers or release further details.

California: State prisoner Jamie Mardis was shot and killed by guards at CSP Sacramento on October 20, 2017. Investigators said prison staff first tried to break up a fight among four prisoners on the facility’s Recreation Yard B using pepper spray grenades and a warning shot, but the violent brawl continued. Guards then opened fire with a Ruger Mini-14, killing Mardis and critically wounding another unnamed prisoner. The incident was being investigated by the prison’s Investigative Services Unit and the Office of Inspector General was notified. State prison officials sent a Deadly Force Investigations Team to review the shooting, and the case was referred to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office.

California: According to Deputy Trina Schrader, spokesperson for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Information Bureau, on September 26, 2017, a guard at the Men’s Central Jail was conducting a security check and found a prisoner-on-prisoner assault in progress. After commands to stop the assault went unheeded, the guard deployed pepper spray and restrained the aggressor. The prisoner who was pepper-sprayed fell unconscious shortly after he was escorted to a shower for decontamination. Guards and a jail nurse administered CPR while paramedics were en route, but the prisoner could not be resuscitated and was pronounced dead at the scene. His name was not released.

Colorado: On November 10, 2017, Sgt. Randolph Romero, a 29-year sheriff’s department veteran, was suspended for 40 days by the Denver Department of Safety for assaulting jail prisoner Stephen K. Hamper after a verbal confrontation escalated to a physical scuffle. According to investigators’ reports, Hamper was “treated for superficial wounds and abrasions to his head,” while two deputies who attempted to intervene when the argument turned violent were injured. Romero’s suspension as a result of this incident was not his first encounter with the disciplinary board. He received a three-day suspension in 2003 for sexual harassment, and also received a verbal reprimand in 2005 for his role in the “erroneous release” of a prisoner. In August 2017, the Denver district attorney’s office criminally charged Romero for a separate assault at the jail. That case remains pending.

Georgia: Edgar Daniel Johnson, a guard at the Emanuel Women’s Facility, admitted to sexually assaulting three prisoners under his supervision; he also acknowledged calling in a false bomb threat to the Southside Fire Department in Chatham County. Johnson pleaded guilty on October 2, 2017 to three counts of willfully depriving the prisoners of their Eighth Amendment rights under color of law, three counts of obstruction for coercing the women to cover up the assaults and one count of maliciously conveying false information about explosive materials. Georgia Department of Corrections investigator Clay Nix told the Associated Press in 2015 that his office had identified more than a dozen women who said Johnson victimized them.

Georgia: On October 12, 2017, Tennessee resident Brandon Kyle Bettis was sentenced to 15 years in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to 12 charges related to a 2016 high-speed chase in a stolen truck that ended when Dade County deputies fired five shots into the vehicle as Bettis attempted to ram their patrol car. Following that conviction, Bettis was housed at the Floyd County Jail to face a separate drug charge. On November 10, 2017 he was caught trying to mail methamphetamine from the jail to a woman on the outside, resulting in new drug possession and distribution felonies. Just over a month later, on December 29, 2017, Bettis was one of three Floyd County prisoners charged with inciting a riot and other felonies after they beat a fellow prisoner so brutally that he required emergency brain surgery.

Illinois: A Cook County jail guard was attacked and bitten by a drug-sniffing German Shepherd while the K9 was off-leash during a contraband sweep in a visitation area of the jail. According to Cara Smith, a top policy adviser to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, as the dog rushed at the guard the door to the area closed, separating the animal from its handler. A supervisor arrived on the scene and sprayed the K9 with a chemical agent to stop the attack. The unnamed guard was taken to St. Anthony hospital and treated for bite wounds on his thigh and forearm, then released. The dog returned to its regular drug-sniffing duties after the September 4, 2017 incident.

Illinois: The medium-security Pinckneyville Correctional Center was the site of a “verbal altercation” between guard Dustin A. Fleming and a prisoner that turned violent and resulted in criminal charges against Fleming. The beating, which occurred while two other guards “stood by and watched,” resulted in a federal charge of deprivation of civil rights under color of law. Fleming pleaded guilty in July 2017 and was fired from his position as a guard immediately after he admitted to the crime. He was subsequently freed on bail until his November 20, 2017 sentencing hearing. According to an announcement from Donald S. Boyce, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, Fleming received a four-month prison sentence and was ordered to serve two years on supervised release and pay a $200 fine.

Indiana: A young mother identified only as “Jennifer” reported to jail on October 13, 2017 to serve 21 days on contempt of court charges. She had served three prior contempt sentences for her repeated refusal to take her seven-year-old daughter to court-ordered visits with her father, Samuel Davis, Jr., incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. Jennifer brought the child to the prison twice, but stopped after she became convinced that the trips were causing her daughter emotional harm. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of, and Sam doesn’t care about her, and he’s just doing this to hurt me. I want to see it stopped,” she stated.

Indiana: According to a September 16, 2017 news report, the congregation of the Northview Church purchased 3,000 copies of the book Take Your Life Back to deliver to all prisoners at the Miami Correctional Facility. The donation was valued at $18,540. The book, written by Dr. David Shoop and Stephen Arterburn, a teaching pastor at Northview Church, offers practical information to people struggling with unhealthy life patterns. Northview Church volunteers, staff and state dignitaries, including Rob Carter, the commissioner of the Indiana Department of Correction, visited the facility to personally deliver the books. The Miami Correctional Facility has an on-site Northview Church pastor and volunteer team that connects with 140 prisoners each week, and the church launched its second prison-based campus at the New Castle Correctional Facility in March 2017.

Kentucky: On July 21, 2017, police arrested Northpoint Training Center guard Rahjon Roberto Neal after an investigation determined he had used his boots to sneak synthetic marijuana – commonly known as “spice” – into the facility. Neal was charged with promoting contraband, first degree. According to the police citation, several prisoners overdosed shortly after Neal met with a prisoner’s girlfriend and was seen placing the substance inside his footwear. Neal had worked at the facility since 2015. That was not the first time a guard had been arrested for smuggling drugs into Northpoint. In 2010, guard Jesus Cabrera was charged with bringing Valium tablets into the medium-security facility.[See: PLN, June 2012, p.24].

Louisiana: Captain John Sanders, 30, was one of four guards charged in the brutal beating of a prisoner at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in January 2014. On September 6, 2017, he pleaded guilty to punching the prisoner in the head repeatedly in violation of the prisoner’s civil rights. Another officer charged in the case – 48-year-old Cap. Scotty Kennedy – pleaded guilty in November 2016. Two other guards, Maj. Daniel Davis and Cap. James Savoy, went to trial in January 2018. Savoy was convicted, while Davis was found guilty for his role in the cover-up but the jury did not return a unanimous verdict on a charge related to the beating. The unnamed prisoner filed suit against Davis, Kennedy, Sanders and Savoy after the incident, and that case settled in 2016.

Louisiana: According to a news release from the Bogalusa Police, Louis Clark, 61, a guard at the city jail, was arrested on September 20, 2017 on charges of malfeasance in office, having prohibited sexual conduct with persons in custody and two counts of sexual battery. “These actions violate the values and mission of the city of Bogalusa and its police department,” Mayor Wendy Perrette said. “They will not be tolerated.” Clark was placed on administrative leave after a complaint from a female prisoner triggered an investigation. He had been employed at the jail for 15 years.

Mississippi: The Mississippi Department of Corrections announced on August 6, 2017 that South Mississippi Correctional Institution guard Marcus Nelson, 30, was thwarted in his attempt to smuggle a package containing cell phones, phone accessories and tobacco into the prison by stuffing the items into his pants as he reported for his shift. Nelson, who was subject to immediate termination, was taken directly from the facility to the Greene County Jail. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and/or fines of up to $25,000. Two unnamed prisoners who were suspected to be the intended recipients of the contraband were also investigated for their roles in the smuggling attempt.

Missouri: On June 26, 2017, federal charges were unsealed that detailed allegations against four people who coordinated two separate contraband smuggling schemes at the Jackson County Detention Center. Guard Andre Lamonte Dickerson, 26, offered a government snitch the opportunity to pay $2,500 for the “exclusive” right to receive and distribute contraband in the prisoner’s housing unit. Guard Jalee Caprice Fuller, 29, and prisoner Carlos Laron Hughley, 32, worked with outsider Janikkia Lashay Carter, 36, to carry out their own smuggling operation. Dickerson pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year and four months in prison on April 26, 2018. The other three defendants all pleaded guilty in early 2018 but have not yet been sentenced.

Missouri: A former public defender was criminally charged on August 4, 2017 for smuggling a cell phone and charger to a prisoner at the Jackson County Detention Center whom she was representing in a murder case, then exchanging sexually charged text messages with the prisoner while he remained jailed. Attorney Julianne Leigh Colby, 39, faces one count of delivering or concealing illegal materials on jail premises after 19-year-old Ce-Antonyo D. Kennedy was identified as one of a number of prisoners who had posted videos to Facebook using contraband cell phones. Kennedy, who ultimately received a 15-year prison sentence despite Colby’s representation, was also criminally charged with an additional felony and two misdemeanors for possessing the phone and a charging cord, which authorities described as a possible strangulation instrument.

Nebraska: On October 21, 2017, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services announced that two former corporals at the Tecumseh State Prison had been arrested for their roles in a contraband smuggling conspiracy. Father and son-in-law Cpl. Richard Fries, 53, and Cpl. Ryan Tokar, 31, reportedly attempted to bring synthetic marijuana into the prison in exchange for a $300 bribe. In November 2017, after resigning, the pair was formally charged with conspiring to convey an article to a prisoner, while Fries faces an additional felony count of delivery or distribution of a synthetic cannabinoid.

Nebraska: Erin Harris, 33, was sentenced on August 1, 2017 to 300 days in the Lancaster County jail and a year of post-release supervision after she pleaded no contest to a felony charge of unlawful acts by a corrections employee. Harris was caught using a pseudonym to carry on inappropriate email and telephone conversations with a 30-year-old prisoner while employed as a caseworker at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Lancaster County District Judge Jodi Nelson denied Harris’ request for probation because she “knew it was inappropriate and illegal and did it anyway.” She will serve 158 days after good time credits. Harris has appealed the sentence.

New Jersey: On October 20, 2017, Christy Hyshaw, 37; Sharon Green, 59; John Wheeler, 45; Javon Vereen, 22; and Anthony Bailey, 50, were all charged with money laundering and implements of escape following a three-year investigation into an operation that funneled drugs and alcohol to residents of a halfway house in Trenton. The contraband smuggling operation was not the first to be discovered at the Bo Robinson Education and Training Center. In October 2016, Trenton police investigated a case in which a basketball stuffed with drugs and cell phones was tossed over the facility’s fence, and in the summer of 2015, Mercer County officials removed about a dozen residents from the facility due to mismanagement concerns, walkaways and drug use.

New York: Prosecutors alleged that guard Ruben Illa, 34, engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with a Bedford Hills Correctional Facility prisoner, then tried to cover it up by writing a bogus disciplinary charge to justify the prisoner’s presence in the off-limits area where the sexual activity occurred. The state Attorney General’s Office declined to explain why lesser charges of falsification of a report were brought against Illa when any sexual contact between prison staff and prisoners is illegal. PLN previously reported this incident, as well as Illa’s September 9, 2017 guilty plea. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.1.]. In October 2017, Illa’s victim, Yekatrina Pusepa, filed a civil rights lawsuit that remains pending. See: Pusepa v. Annucci, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:17-cv-07954-RA.

New York: On April 24, 2018, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct removed Rochester City Court Judge Leticia Astacio from the bench following a bizarre series of misconduct allegations that began with her initial February 2016 arrest for driving while intoxicated on her way to preside over court cases. According to a timeline of events compiled by WHEC News 10, the embattled former jurist was in and out of court and jail over two dozen times on misconduct allegations ranging from multiple probation violations including failure to wear an alcohol monitor and travelling to Thailand without permission to new felony charges for attempting to illegally purchase a firearm with a previous criminal conviction. [See: PLN, April 2018, p.63]. Astacio, 34, appealed the Commission’s removal decision to the New York Court of Appeals in a 42-page brief filed in June 2018. Her appeal is scheduled to be heard on September 5, 2018.

North Carolina: Andrew Richard Byrd, 25, a former Wake County jail guard, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of providing drugs to a prisoner and one felony count each for conspiring to deliver heroin and possession of a controlled substance on jail/prison premises. Sheriff’s investigators said Byrd conspired with prisoner James Bradley Bagley and a man named Travis Waddell to smuggle five strips of Suboxone into the facility. He also was accused of giving heroin to Bagley in a separate incident. Byrd was sentenced on August 31, 2017 to three consecutive prison terms of six to 17 months each; he will also serve two years of probation following his release.

Ohio: Former Sandusky County Sheriff Kyle Overmyer, who is serving a four-year sentence at the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution after pleading guilty to 13 felony counts, was allegedly found hiding a stash of pills in his cell during a routine inspection. PLN previously reported that Overmyer was indicted for abusing prescription drugs, stealing office funds, retaliating against witnesses and lying to police departments that he had DEA authority to collect drug take-back boxes. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.63]. He was charged with a disciplinary report that was released to the media on August 25, 2017. Overmyer later received a verbal reprimand after the pills were determined to be vitamins.

Ohio: A suspected rapist who overpowered a guard and escaped from a jail transport van on August 4, 2017 remained on the run for only a weekend before killing himself with the deputy’s stolen firearm after police cornered him in the crawl space of his parent’s home near Antwerp. Paulding County Sheriff Jason Landers said in a statement that local, state and federal law enforcement officers located escapee Branden Powell around 6 p.m. and attempted to apprehend him. According to Landers, Powell “did not comply with those efforts,” and held police at bay throughout a nearly 3½ hour standoff. The multi-agency, interstate manhunt ended at approximately 9:30 p.m. when, Landers stated, “Branden Lee Powell chose to take his own life by gunshot.” Powell, 32, had been indicted and jailed the month prior to his escape.

Oklahoma: On August 2, 2017, Oklahoma County jail prisoners Martaveous D. Gillioms, Hareth Hameed, Antonio D. Ligons and Todd A. Miller were charged with felony manslaughter for the fatal beating and kicking of fellow prisoner Maurice Pendleton in a jail holding area in July 2017. Pendleton’s family filed a civil rights suit against Oklahoma County and Sheriff P.D. Taylor on June 22, 2018, claiming county officials were aware of inadequate staffing and supervision at the jail which contributed to Pendleton’s death as well as the deaths of 30 other Oklahoma County prisoners since 2016.

Oklahoma: A joint announcement from federal prosecutors John Gore and Mark A. Yancey detailed the August 9, 2017 sentencing of former McClain County, Oklahoma jail administrator Wayne Barnes, who had been charged with violating the civil rights of a diabetic jail detainee identified as K.W. by willfully depriving him of insulin and other necessary medical care, resulting in his death. K.W. was found unresponsive on the floor of his cell on June 19, 2013 and never regained consciousness; he died two days later. Barnes will serve 51 months in federal prison and pay a $10,000 fine following his guilty plea before U.S. District Court Judge Stephen P. Friot.

Pennsylvania: On October 15, 2017, protesters rallied outside the Lackawanna County Prison to raise awareness about allegations of sexual violence at the facility. “We’re here to call attention to it and ask our fellow citizens to pay attention and put pressure on prison officials and politicians to investigate this and get to the bottom of what’s going on in there,” said protestor Susan Poulson. In 2017, four women filed suit accusing multiple guards of rape during their prison stays between 1998 and 2016. Those guards have since been placed on paid administrative leave. “The Lackawanna County Prison needs to take responsibility for the transgressions it had perpetrated on these individuals,” Poulson added.

Tennessee: PLN has previously reported on numerous bogus income tax refund scams operated both inside and outside prison walls, typically using identities stolen from prisoners. [See, e.g.: PLN, Sept. 2017, p.18; Dec. 2014, p.46; Aug. 2011, p.10]. On April 2, 2018, a Knoxville man received a 46-month federal prison sentence for duplicating a fraudulent tax refund scheme he’d learned while incarcerated in a Tennessee state prison in 2008, from another man who was later convicted of bilking the government using the stolen identities of fellow prisoners. Documents filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kolman in the two cases indicated that Larry Steven Covington, Jr., 38, collected $163,778 from the IRS over a six-year period while his mentor, James Glenn Collins, who in 2014 was sentenced to 84 months in federal prison to be served after the completion of his decades-long state sentence, collected $150,465 over three years.

Tennessee: On September 7, 2017, the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice released the results of an audit that identified improper spending by the Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security (DSHS) to the tune of $112,614. The federal auditors criticized DSHS for using money seized from private citizens to cater a luncheon and provide banquet tickets and other food items at social events. According to the auditors, a DSHS official claimed “that he did not know these expenditures were unallowable,” though the civil forfeiture guidelines are publicly accessible online. DSHS said it would fully reimburse the federal government for the wrongly allocated funds.

Texas: A case manager at the Carswell Federal Medical Center in Ft. Worth, Texas pleaded guilty in July 2017 and was sentenced on November 7, 2017 to a prison term of one year on a single count of sexual abuse of a ward. Prosecutors said Matthew McGaugh admitted he had forced a female prisoner to perform multiple sex acts on him while she was under his supervisory authority at Carswell in November 2016. U.S. District Court Judge Reed C. O’Connor ordered McGaugh to report to the federal Bureau of Prisons to start serving his sentence on December 19, 2017.

Texas: Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz said a former employee with the juvenile justice department had been arrested on October 15, 2017 after he acknowledged stealing about $1.2 million worth of Tex-Mex food from his employer over a nine-year period. Gilberto Escaramilla was fired in August 2017 when investigators discovered Escaramilla would intercept food deliveries and resell them to his own customers. The scheme collapsed when Escaramilla missed work on a day when a delivery driver showed up with 800 pounds of fajitas. The driver was turned away because officials said the juvenile department didn’t serve fajitas. A subsequent search warrant uncovered packages of the stolen food in Escaramilla’s refrigerator.

Virginia: A former Southwest Virginia Regional Jail guard and another man who agreed to partner with him in a contraband smuggling scheme both pleaded guilty to federal charges of public corruption on August 8, 2017 after accepting bribes to smuggle a variety of illicit items into the facility. Justin Andrew Brown, 23, who worked at the jail, convinced Robert Lewis Jones, 25, to “watch his back” for a $2,000 cut from a $10,000 payment Brown expected to receive for smuggling tobacco, drugs and nude photos to a prisoner. Undercover investigators arrested the pair when they arrived to collect the funds. Brown was sentenced on November 9, 2017 to six months each of jail time and house arrest, followed by three years of supervised release. On November 30, 2017, Jones was ordered to serve a year in prison for his role in the scheme.

Wisconsin: The Rock County Sheriff’s Office issued an August 8, 2017 news release that detailed the investigation and arrest of a former probationary jail guard who was accused of stealing jewelry valued at nearly $2,900 from a prisoner who had been held at the Rock County jail in June 2016. After Mitchell R. Wellnitz entered a guilty plea to two felony theft charges and a no contest plea to misdemeanor theft on January 23, 2018, Judge John Wood sentenced the 22-year-old former jailer to 12 months of probation on the misdemeanor count but withheld a finding of guilt on the felonies. Wood cited Wellnitz’s lack of a previous criminal record as justification for his leniency. Wellnitz could still be sentenced for the felony charges if he violates the terms of his probation. 


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