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News in Brief

Alabama: A 33-year-old prisoner who had worked at the Koch Foods poultry plant for nearly five months while participating in a work release program was killed in an October 29, 2017 “industrial accident.” Frank Dwayne Ellington died shortly after he was caught in a machine during his late afternoon shift. Koch Foods, which touts itself as one of the largest poultry processors in the nation, stopped operations following the incident and canceled third shift for the evening. The cause of the accident was under investigation, according to a press release from the Alabama Department of Corrections.

California: The Fresno Bee published part of a September 4, 2017 letter from whistleblowing Avenal State prisoner Richard Sandoval, who claimed a guard badly injured a feral kitten by kicking it 20 feet in the air, breaking its leg and leaving it helpless. According to the newspaper, the kitten was taken to a veterinarian and was being cared for at the home of a female guard. Kristin Rickman, a representative for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the group would be following up. “We’d like to find out what happened,” she said. “We’d like assurances that it won’t happen again.” The allegation of animal abuse is being investigated, said Lt. Michael Tuntakit, a prison spokesman. Avenal State Prison has been home to a feral cat colony for over three decades.

California: PLN previously reported that charges were filed against eleven people for their roles in a drug and cell phone smuggling conspiracy at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.63]. According to court documents, one of the conspirators, former guard Anibal Navarro, 39, pleaded guilty on July 6, 2017 to conspiracy and bribery charges. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal accepted the plea. Navarro, who was arrested in June 2016 as he tried to sneak ten ounces of meth and four ounces of heroin into the prison, admitted to being paid about $45,000 by prisoners and their associates and family members throughout the duration of the scheme from 2014 to 2016. He faces life in prison for the drug conspiracy plus ten years for accepting a bribe and up to $270,000 in fines.

California: Lt. Monica Ayon, a spokeswoman for the California Men’s Colony, confirmed that a riot broke out at the prison on September 24, 2017 and one prisoner died during the incident. Ayon told reporters that 25-year-old prisoner Matthew Cook had been identified by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as the sole fatality in the riot, which involved a “large” but undetermined number of prisoners.

Canada: A former prison worker was charged for his role in assisting the escape of prisoner Sylvain Martin in April 2015. The charges against Peter Edgar, 61, stem from an inappropriate financial relationship he developed with Martin prior to Martin’s escape from the minimum-security annex at the Bowden Institution in central Alberta. According to court records, Edgar provided Martin with $100,000 during their relationship. On January 16, 2018, Edgar pleaded guilty to permitting or assisting escape; at the time, he was working as a production supervisor with a Correctional Service of Canada program that provides prisoners with job-skills training.

Florida: Former Apalachee Correctional Institution major Michael Baxter was acquitted of civil rights violations in a Panama City federal courtroom on January 25, 2018, but the jury found him guilty of falsifying records related to the racially-motivated beating of prisoner Darren L. Glover in July 2015. Glover, who is black, was allegedly targeted by guards because his fiancée was white. Jurors deliberated for more than three hours before rendering the split verdict. In April 2018, the federal district court sentenced Baxter, 50, to five years in prison plus one year of supervised release. A key witness in the case was Baxter’s secretary, Shannon Watts, who had the courage to come forward even after being pressured to lie by prison staff.

Florida: A Marion County man faces a long list of charges after being stopped for speeding on August 28, 2017 with a seven-month-old baby in his car. Nearly 200 grams of methamphetamine, some crack cocaine, heroin and a scale were found during a search of the vehicle, and Pattreon Stokes, 26, also had marijuana and a large amount of money. Deputies said the cash that Stokes had on his person somehow disappeared before he arrived at the jail, until booking guards noticed $20 bills “falling from Stokes’ buttocks area.” According to a Facebook post from the Sheriff’s Office, “After a necessary but undesirable process for everyone involved, [detention deputies] located $1,090.00 in U.S. currency hidden in Stokes’ rectum.”

Georgia: Dequarius Blount, 23, a former guard at the Augusta State Medical Prison, pleaded guilty on October 16, 2017 to smuggling marijuana into the facility for resale to prisoners. Assistant District Attorney Hank Syms said Blount was found with 27.9 grams of marijuana after he triggered the metal detector several times when he reported to work. Judge Sheryl B. Jolly sentenced the former guard to five years of probation under the First Offender Act. He will serve 120 to 180 days.

Indiana: James Timberlake-Lane, 20, a part-time cook at the LaPorte County jail, was fired and arrested after he was caught smuggling a cell phone to a prisoner on September 8, 2017 by hiding it in a plate of mashed potatoes. Timberlake-Lane was charged with felony trafficking with an inmate. The alleged recipient of the contraband, prisoner Roddi Boesel, was charged with the same offense. An investigation revealed that Boesel had a female accomplice on the outside meet with Timberlake-Lane to make at least two cash payments for the smuggled phone. In response to the incident, LaPorte County Sheriff John Boyd said he would ask the County Council to approve funding to purchase a body scanner to screen employees for contraband.

Italy: Two prisoners escaped during a lunch event with Pope Francis at the Basilica of San Petronio on October 1, 2017. According to a news report from the Bologna-based newspaper Il Resto del Carlino, the two fugitives were discovered missing as the historic meal was being served to the Pope and 18 other prisoners. Event volunteers notified the local police, but the escapees were not located. They had been assigned to Castelfranco Emilia, a social reintegration facility that houses two groups of prisoners: drug addicts and people who require supervision for being a danger to public safety. It is unclear to which group the two escapees belonged.

Louisiana: On September 11, 2017, Tyler Materre, a 22-year-old corrections-monitoring technician at the Orleans Justice Center, was booked on charges of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, distribution of marijuana, malfeasance in office and conspiracy to introduce contraband into a penal institution. He was immediately fired from his job at the jail. Materre’s arrest came after an internal investigation prompted a search of his vehicle. Contraband, including a bag of tobacco and 11.3 grams of marijuana, was found in the car. Investigators said the prohibited items were intended for prisoner Rolandus Campbell.

Maine: York County Sheriff William L. King, Jr. announced on October 16, 2017 that one of his jail guards, Andre Sims, 24, had been arrested and resigned after being caught dealing in contraband. King said Sims was charged with one count of unlawful trafficking in Schedule W drugs (suboxone) and one count of trafficking in contraband. He declined to comment on the circumstances that led to Sims’ arrest, but acknowledged it was the second time in three years that a York County jail guard had been accused of smuggling contraband. “This has not been going on for very long,” King told the Portland Press Herald. “I’m convinced that [Sims] just started doing this.”

Mexico: A survey of more than 64,000 prisoners at 338 facilities confirmed that the legendary corruption in Mexico’s overcrowded penitentiaries is more than speculation. The nation’s official statistics agency, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography, revealed on August 2, 2017 that 87.4 percent of the country’s prisoners reported they have paid bribes to guards for basic necessities such as food, blankets and mattresses. Thirty-six percent of Mexican prisoners said they had paid bribes to fellow prisoners, who often exert de facto control over correctional facilities. Bribes were reportedly paid by 50 percent of prisoners to be allowed to have appliances, while 26 percent said they paid off guards to possess a cell phone. In addition, 24.6 percent of prisoners claimed they had suffered injuries and 20.1 percent were victims of extortion.

Minnesota: The state Department of Health is investigating a possible foodborne outbreak at the Ramsey County jail after 137 of the facility’s 420 detainees became sick with stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. “Public Health staff have conducted an environmental health assessment of the food service at the facility ... to put in place interventions to address food safety issues and prevent additional illnesses,” Ramsey County spokesman John Siqveland said in a statement. Summit Food Service, which contracts with the jail to provide meals, did not comment on the incident. Prisoners first began to report symptoms on September 9, 2017.

Mississippi: Sara Lana Denning, a licensed practical nurse who worked at the South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Greene County, was sentenced to four years in prison on September 28, 2017. The court also ordered Denning, 54, to pay a $5,000 fine and donate $100 to a victims’ compensation fund. District Attorney Tony Lawrence said Denning was caught bringing marijuana into the facility on April 28, 2014. “I hope this case sends a message that smuggling contraband into prisons will not be tolerated,” he said.

Nebraska: State Patrol troopers arrested Nebraska State Penitentiary caseworker Jami Cutshall at work on October 10, 2017 after investigators accused her of selling synthetic marijuana (K2) to prisoners at least four times in September 2017. She was charged with suspicion of unauthorized communications with a committed offender, unauthorized acts by a corrections employee and sex abuse of a parolee. Nebraska Department of Correctional Services investigators didn’t specify in court documents how Cutshall received payment for bringing the K2 into the prison, or how much she was paid. She had been a caseworker at the facility since 2015 and was suspended without pay pending further personnel proceedings.

Netherlands: Dutch police announced on October 12, 2017 that a man was shot dead and several others arrested while allegedly trying to spring a prisoner from jail, in a brazen escape plot that included plans to use a hijacked helicopter. Detective chief Olivier Dutilh said the fatality was an accomplice to the escape plot who engaged police in a gunfight after a chase. Three other suspects were arrested. The plan was intended to free a prisoner connected to “the Amsterdam criminal underworld,” who is believed to be a member of the so-called “Mocro mafia” – drug gangs of Moroccan and Antillean origin. “However, the plan was foiled,” Dutilh said, without giving further details.

Nevada: On October 10, 2017, the Nevada Board of Examiners approved a $9.2 million contract with private prison operator CoreCivic (formerly CCA) to send 200 of its most dangerous and disruptive prisoners to one of the company’s facilities in Arizona. Nevada DOC Director James Dzurenda said the state’s prison system had 13,683 prisoners but only 13,361 beds. Some offenders were being housed in day rooms and other areas. According to Dzurenda, the contract calls for the facility to meet the same standards as Nevada prisons, and a team will visit the Arizona facility twice a year to review operations.

New Jersey: Roberto Reyes-Jackson, 28, was indicted on charges including conspiracy, official misconduct, bribery and drug distribution on October 12, 2017, after an investigation revealed that he smuggled fentanyl and marijuana into Northern State Prison for a prisoner. Reyes-Jackson was suspended from his position as a senior guard following an internal investigation. “Any type of prison smuggling is a serious issue because of the threat to security inside the facility,” said Elie Honig, director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, which brought the charges. “But this case is particularly egregious because Reyes-Jackson allegedly supplied an inmate with one of the deadliest drugs fueling the opioid epidemic.”

New Mexico: Former state prosecutor R. David Pederson confirmed on October 20, 2017 that, before he left his position, he approved a lenient plea deal for a former prison guard who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a prisoner at the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility in 2015. The guard, John Bearden, Sr., will have no conviction on his record if he successfully completes five years of probation; further, he will not be required to register as a sex offender. Attorney Elias Barela, who has filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections on behalf of the victim, said the case highlighted New Mexico’s delayed implementation of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act. “These are crimes, and they are expensive on the back end,” Barela said. “Why not create a culture that doesn’t allow that?”

New York: No prisoner evacuations were necessary when a small fire broke out around 11:00 p.m. on August 21, 2017 in a building near the firing range at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility. The Ossining Fire Department successfully extinguished the blaze in less than an hour. No injuries were reported. The affected structure was located near the Hudson River’s waterside, outside the main wall enclosing the prison. Investigators from the Westchester Department of Emergency Services Cause and Origin team responded to the site to determine the cause of the fire. “This incident provides a reassuring example of how well [Ossining] Village and Sing Sing Prison officials are able to coordinate resources to preserve the safety of the whole community,” village officials said in a statement. The Sing Sing Correctional Facility houses around 1,700 maximum-security prisoners.

Ohio: Fairfield County Sheriff David Phalen and the Board of Commissioners are named as defendants in a federal lawsuit filed on September 22, 2017 that alleges a teenage girl was raped and sexually abused in 2015 by Deputy Jared Garren while she was housed in the county jail on drug-related charges. The suit also claims that Deputy Matthew Greathouse failed to protect the girl from Garren’s unwanted sexual contact. “She was not believed, and she was basically harmed all over again just by having reported the rape,” said the former prisoner’s attorney, Alphonse Gerhardstein. “She wants the case ... to send a message to all those who work in lockups that they need to respect all inmates and not abuse women and others....”

Oklahoma: Two prisoners who escaped and stole a prison transport van were recaptured in separate incidents. Andrew Foy, 32, and Darren Walp, 37, overpowered two transport officers in the early morning hours of August 22, 2017 in a small town northwest of Oklahoma City. Foy was re­arrested in Pennsylvania on September 16, 2017; Walp was found at a Missouri truck stop four days later. Both Foy and Walp are now facing charges in Major County District Court for kidnapping, escape, robbery, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, and assault and battery with intent to commit a felony.

Oregon: Coffee Creek Correctional Facility guard Edgar Mickles pleaded guilty on October 10, 2017 to four counts of first-degree custodial sexual misconduct. The 51-year-old was sentenced on December 5, 2017 to one year and eight months in prison for repeated sexual contact with a female prisoner. Although he will not be required to register as a sex offender, Mickles will also serve three years of post-release supervision and is not allowed to have contact with his victim, who has since been released. The woman has sued Mickles, claiming he forced her into sex acts and nonconsensual touching at least eight to 10 times in a prison building that had no cameras. She has also sued Mickles’ co-workers and supervisors, saying they failed to protect her.

Pennsylvania: On October 11, 2017, an Erie County Prison guard was criminally charged, and a lieutenant and a captain at the facility were suspended without pay, after the guard, Corey Cornelius, was accused of kicking or attempting to kick a prisoner in the face and head while the prisoner was handcuffed and shackled on a gym floor in May 2017. Gary Lee, a spokesman for Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, declined to name the upper-level prison staff who had been suspended, but identified the assaulted prisoner as 52-year-old Patrick Haight. Lee commended Warden Kevin Sutter for handling the administrative investigation. “The warden was the one who brought it to the DA’s attention,” Lee said.

Pennsylvania: A nurse employed by Primary Care Medical, the private healthcare contractor for the Lehigh County Jail, was charged on October 3, 2017 with sexually assaulting a prisoner. According to the district attorney’s office, Danika Alexander, 27, admitted kissing the unnamed prisoner, and 39 recorded phone calls between the two solidified the investigators’ theory that an “inappropriate sexual relationship” existed and was “carried on within the jail.” Alexander was freed on $25,000 bond. She appeared in court on October 23, 2017 to face a single felony charge of institutional sexual assault; during the proceedings, she waived her right to a preliminary hearing. Alexander is no longer employed by Primary Care Medical.

Tennessee: James Crook, Jr., an ironically-named guard at the Tennessee Prison for Women, was arrested and fired on October 11, 2017 after being accused of having sex with a prisoner under his supervision. Crooks faces two counts of sex with a prisoner, a Class E felony. According to an arrest report, he admitted to having sexual contact twice at the prison. In a statement, the Tennessee Department of Correction said it “seeks to provide a safe, humane and secure environment free from the threat of sexual abuse for all offenders in custody. This is accomplished by maintaining a strict program consisting of prevention education, mechanisms for reporting suspected sexual abuse, investigation of incidents, and prosecution of those found to be in violation of the law. The department has a zero tolerance policy for any sexual misconduct within its facilities.”

Texas: According to Sheriff Javier Salazar, an 11-year veteran guard at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center Annex, Rita Alvarez, was arrested on August 2, 2017 for engaging in organized criminal activity and facilitating “illegal barter, expenditures or investments.” Salazar said the charges stemmed from allegations that Alvarez collected drug debts for prisoner Cristobal Perez and deposited the cash into his commissary fund for several months. According to court records, Alvarez, who was placed on unpaid administrative leave, professed her love for Perez. Sheriff Salazar added, “Disciplinary proceedings have begun, and it’s highly likely that those disciplinary proceedings will culminate in a termination.” Also arrested and charged in the investigation were Salvador Robles, 34, and Omar Garcia, 25, both alleged to be drug dealers who worked for Perez.

Texas: Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, announced on October 10, 2017 that more than 6,600 prisoners had donated $53,863 from their commissary funds to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. Clark said it may not seem like much amid the millions of dollars that have poured in from celebrities and everyday people, but the money comes from typically meager commissary accounts that prisoners use to purchase things like personal hygiene items and food that isn’t available in chow halls. He added that the average donation was $8. About 7,000 people at five prisons, three treatment centers and two halfway houses had to be evacuated due to Harvey, and hundreds of prison employees’ homes were damaged or destroyed.

Utah: Madison Jensen, just 21, died on December 1, 2016 after four days in custody at the Duchesne County Jail, and prosecutors said jail nurse Jana Clyde, 50, was to blame. According to a probable cause statement, Clyde “made no assessment, did not see the victim, nor made any attempt to check on the welfare of the victim” as dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea slowly claimed Jensen’s life. The Office of the Medical Examiner ruled that Jensen likely died of cardiac arrhythmia caused by dehydration during opiate withdrawal. Clyde was charged with one misdemeanor count of negligent homicide on September 25, 2017. Jared Jensen, Madison’s father, said the charge was the first sign that his daughter’s death was being taken seriously. Not seriously enough, though, as the charges were dismissed in February 2018 after the court decided there was not enough evidence to proceed.

Washington: Stafford Creek Corrections Center prisoners Keith Closson and Charles Longshore filed a federal civil rights complaint on August 24, 2017, challenging the prison’s shaving policies. Closson and Longshore argued that prisoners in the facility’s segregation units are at risk of disease because they are forced to share electric razors which are sanitized only by a 10-minute disinfectant soak. “What’s happening is that contaminated water (from inmates with AIDS, HIV or hepatitis C, e.g.) is getting into the razor’s inner and outer compartments,” their complaint said. The suit seeks an injunction to end the razor-sharing practice and declare it to be cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. See: Longshore v. Sinclair, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wash.), Case No. 3:17-cv-05593-RBL-DWC.

Wisconsin: Melissa T.E. Fiedler, a former guard at the Waupun Correctional Institution, was charged with second-degree sexual assault and providing an unnamed prisoner with a cell phone that he used to communicate with her. According to the criminal complaint, Fiedler and the prisoner exchanged text messages on the contraband phone that revealed an inappropriate sexual relationship. She initially claimed her number was hacked and she had been threatened into providing the prisoner with the cell phone. Fiedler resigned following her arrest; she entered a not guilty plea to the charges on January 24, 2018. 

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