News in Brief
Arizona: The Pima County Board of Supervisors passed a historic resolution on December 19, 2017 to prohibit the county from entering into contracts with private prison companies like CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group. “Big for-profit corporations operate on the cheap by cutting [salaries of] correctional officers and other corners, which reduces public safety and creates costs we still must pay,” said Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías, who sponsored the resolution. The American Friends Service Committee’s Arizona office, which opposes prison privatization, praised the county’s resolution in a press release, saying it “welcomes this positive step forward” and “hopes that this action will spur dialogue among other cities and towns about the trends in private prison companies seeking such contracts.”
Arizona: Police interrogation videos released on December 31, 2017 shed light on the motive behind a pair of August 2017 firebomb attacks at the Maricopa County Fourth Avenue Jail. As cameras rolled, Michael Arreola spoke with detectives, saying, “Yesterday morning, I just said I’m going to go and mess up these corrupt police officers’ jail,” before detailing the process he used to make Molotov cocktails which he then threw at the jail building in two separate incidents. When asked why he returned to the scene for the second attack, Arreola told the detectives, with respect to the first firebombing, “I felt like it wasn’t enough justice.” Arreola is facing charges of arson of an occupied structure; he had previously been incarcerated at the jail for assault, burglaries and property damage.
Arkansas: Carol F. Johnson, 54, and Sarah M. Crawford, 43, were fired from their jobs as contract health care providers at the Arkansas Department of Correction’s North Central Unit after being charged on January 11, 2018 with the sexual assault of a prisoner. Johnson admitted to performing oral sex on prisoner Adam Hill, 39, on his birthday on September 9, 2016. Crawford admitted to having intercourse with Hill on August 14, 2016 – apparently an early birthday present. According to a letter sent by Hill to the Arkansas DOC and filed as evidence in Izard County Circuit Court, he worked as an infirmary porter at the time of the sexual activities. Hill was reassigned to the Grimes Unit in Newport following the investigation.
Australia: An unnamed 40-year-old female guard was arrested on December 10, 2017 and fired after she was caught supplying tobacco to a prisoner at the GEO Group Australia-operated Parklea Correctional Centre. The incident prompted calls from activists for the state not to renew its expiring contract with the international private prison corporation. Opposition spokesman Guy Zangari said in a statement, “Over the past year, Parklea prison has been mired in controversy ... lost keys, assaults, inmates on social media, contraband finds and deaths in custody.” A parliamentary inquiry was initiated following rumors of drug trafficking and corruption at the privately-operated prison. According to a February 2018 news report, three companies are vying for the Parklea contract once it expires in March 2019. GEO Group is not among them.
California: Santa Cruz County Main Jail Lt. Chris Clark released a statement following the January 16, 2018 resolution of a two-day prisoner protest at the facility. A group of male detainees became “increasingly non-compliant to the point that they refused correctional staff directives, used mattresses as makeshift barricades and prepared tools for offensive and defensive use,” after complaints about the cold temperatures in their housing unit went unanswered. Clark said no one was seriously injured when guards entered the cells and ended the disturbance. He noted that “Maintenance staff has been actively working to increase the temperature above 70 degrees and jail staff provided extra blankets in the interim.”
Colorado: A Denver man who was released in 2015 after serving 28 years for a crime he did not commit, then was retried in 2016 and found not guilty by a jury, has filed suit alleging claims of malicious prosecution, destruction of evidence and fabrication of evidence. The lawsuit, filed on December 14, 2017 against then-Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, the City and County of Denver and numerous current and former government officials by Boulder-based law firm Johnson & Klein, PLLC on behalf of Clarence Moses-EL, seeks unspecified damages. PLN has previously reported on Moses-EL’s case, which ProgressNow Colorado called a “terrible miscarriage of justice.” [See: PLN, April 2017, p.63].
Florida: A Bay County jail work crew prisoner underwent surgery on December 18, 2017 to remove a projectile from a high-powered pellet rifle that was buried “deep in the inmate’s shoulder.” Police traced the pellet’s trajectory to a nearby home. The homeowner, Don Grantham, 42, changed his story when officers spoke with him and was ultimately arrested on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Police said the air gun, which was recovered and retained as evidence, has power similar to that of a .22 rifle. No information was released as to Grantham’s motive or whether the injured prisoner was his intended target.
Florida: A woman was arrested when police intervened during a peaceful protest at the headquarters of the Florida Department of Corrections on January 16, 2018. A group of about 80 activists gathered in the lobby of the Carlton Building and asked to meet with FDOC Secretary Julie Jones. Protester Mariam Mohamed was arrested for breaking glass as “things got out of hand” when police mobilized to disburse the group. “We were met with force after five hours of waiting in the lobby asking for her to come down ... it was high-energy and passionate,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, organizer of the Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons and coordinator of the Human Rights Defense Center’s Prison Ecology Project. Mohamed was charged with property damage/criminal mischief of $1,000 or more, resisting an officer and trespassing.
Georgia: PLN recently reported on several 2017 incidents in which prisoners escaped from and re-entered the minimum-security prison camp at USP Atlanta through holes in the perimeter fence. [See: PLN, Dec. 2017, p.17]. Despite the Bureau of Prisons’ attempts to clamp down on the practice – which is said to have been occurring since 2013 – by installing a new warden and cracking down on contraband, video and photos provided to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by a prisoner at the prison camp showed illicit items, including drugs and alcohol, and proof of a rowdy New Year’s Eve party that took place on December 31, 2017. The BOP declined the newspaper’s request to interview Warden Darrin Harmon but said “adjustments” had been made to the camp’s operations to reduce the prevalence of contraband.
Georgia: Two employees of private prison food contractor Aramark who worked at Hays State Prison were arrested in separate incidents in late 2017. On December 5, Diego Luis Vega, 40, resigned after he was charged with one count of trading with prisoners and two counts of bringing in items prohibited by the warden. According to the arrest affidavit, Vega sold drugs and tobacco to prisoners, and on one occasion brought a handgun inside the prison’s guard line without the permission of Warden Kevin Sprayberry. Keitha Michele Vaughan, 48, who was terminated from her job with Aramark immediately following her December 7 arrest, faces a charge of sexual assault by a person in a supervisory or disciplinary authority after admitting to having sex with a prisoner on two occasions.
Idaho: On January 30, 2018, two former Canyon County jail guards were criminally charged for their “deeply troubling” attempt to solicit a prisoner-on-prisoner attack between gang members. Kade McConnell, 23, was charged with solicitation to commit aggravated battery while Corey Weathermon, 46, faces charges of aiding and abetting solicitation to commit aggravated battery. According to the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s complaint, McConnell shared charging documents that detailed a Sureno gang member’s sexual crimes against children with another member of the same gang, and asked gang members to “take care of it.” Weathermon is accused of assisting in the plot by printing a screenshot of the non-publicly available paperwork and acting as a lookout while McConnell planned the attack.
Illinois: Former Cook County sheriff’s lieutenant Robert Dartt was captured on surveillance video punching a mentally ill prisoner at the Cook County jail in October 2011. On December 21, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Elaine Bucklo sentenced Dartt to four months in prison for the assault. “He was meant to be an example to these junior officers on how to do their jobs,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Kutcher. “Instead, he walked in and brutally attacked [the prisoner] in front of them.” Dartt’s attorney, Eugene Steingold, said his client “was very frustrated, and he overreacted.” Judge Bucklo was unmoved by Steingold’s attempt to mitigate the incident, saying, as she sentenced Dartt, “What kind of threats from an unarmed, locked-in inmate who’s on his way to a mental health evaluation would justify any kind of assault? You couldn’t have been in danger from him.”
Indiana: The Westville Correctional Facility issued a press release detailing the January 20, 2018 arrest of guard Paul Farkas as he was caught in an attempt to smuggle drugs into the prison. According to the release, he was found in possession of a pack of cigarettes when he reported to work at the facility. A subsequent, more thorough search turned up 0.6 grams of cocaine and 1 gram of heroin, as well as two books of matches, a small straw and $300 in cash. Farkas was charged with felony trafficking of a controlled substance and booked into the LaPorte County jail.
Kentucky: On January 24, 2018, former Kentucky River Regional Jail supervisory deputy jailer Matthew B. Amburgey, 29, entered a guilty plea to using excessive force against a pretrial detainee in an October 2011 incident. According to prosecutors, at some point during the booking process, another supervisory deputy jailer, Damon Hickman, broke his hand when he punched the prisoner. U.S. District Court Judge Karen K. Caldwell heard Amburgey admit that he joined in the violent assault and repeatedly kicked the prisoner without justification. Amburgey faces 12 months in prison when he is sentenced. Hickman was sentenced to 10½ years in November 2017 for his role in a separate assault at the same jail that resulted in the death of prisoner Larry Trent. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.17; Oct. 2015, p.37].
Louisiana: According to December 19, 2017 booking documents, 25-year-old Orleans Justice Center guard Oshen Heilman, 25, was charged with one count of malfeasance in office, five counts of conspiracy to introduce contraband into a penal institution, five counts of introducing contraband into a penal institution, five counts of possession with intent to distribute drugs and three counts of sexual battery. Heilman was immediately terminated from her job with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office when she was arrested. Authorities said she admitted receiving $500 to bring in a package of contraband and to being “romantically involved” with a prisoner to whom she had also delivered contraband.
Massachusetts: George Perrot, who in 1985 at the age of 17 was wrongfully convicted of rape based largely on the now-known-to-be “junk science” of hair comparison analysis, filed a federal lawsuit on January 26, 2018 that claims police beat him, threatened to kill him and planted evidence at the crime scene while withholding exculpatory evidence. His attorneys said the misconduct, which kept Perrot behind bars for more than three decades until his release in 2016, “short-circuited the investigatory process and wrongfully targeted [Perrot] in an effort to simply close the case.” Tony Balkissoon, an attorney with the Chicago-based law firm of Loevy & Loevy, which is representing Perrot, said, “Hopefully the civil lawsuit, where everything comes to light, will bring him some sense of justice.” Perrot’s case was one of hundreds flagged by the U.S. Department of Justice that involved faulty FBI hair analysis testimony.
Michigan: Brandon Canty, a former guard at the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility, is suing the Michigan Department of Corrections for racial discrimination and retaliation for reporting drug smuggling at the prison. Canty’s attorney, James Rasor, filed the federal suit in November 2017 and spoke with the news media on Canty’s behalf. “The two prisoners that substantiated and corroborated what Brandon said about the drug running were transferred to other facilities and wound up dead,” Rasor stated. “It’s just heartbreaking when you’re doing your job and you wind up being framed and fired.” He added the Michigan DOC “is a cesspool of toxicity when it comes to discrimination.”
Minnesota: On January 26, 2018, Governor Mark Dayton’s administration released documents from seven sexual misconduct or harassment claims settled by the state between 2012 and 2017, at a combined cost to Minnesota taxpayers of $709,000. During that time period, the Department of Corrections had received 73 of 266 total complaints – the most across all state agencies. Myron Frans, commissioner of the Office of Management and Budget, stated, “When an employee feels her only option left is to file a lawsuit, obviously the process didn’t work.” All the settlements, which were released in response to requests under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, included provisions wherein the state did not admit any wrongdoing.
Mississippi: Johnathan Jenkins, 33, a former Jackson County jailer, was sentenced on December 8, 2017 to two years in prison plus three years of post-release supervision, a $1,500 fine and a lifetime sex offender registration requirement. Judge Kathy King Jackson accepted Jenkins’ guilty plea to one count of unlawful sexual activity after he admitted to having sex with a female prisoner. According to District Attorney Tony Lawrence, “His job was to secure, monitor and protect those incarcerated at the jail, not take advantage of them. The law is clear that a prison guard cannot have sex with an inmate and while the evidence showed that the act was consensual, it still was a violation of the law.”
New Jersey: A January 24, 2018 complaint, filed with the state Supreme Court’s Advisory Panel on Judicial Conduct, accused Judge Wilfredo Benitez, a part-time judge for the municipalities of East Orange, Bloomfield and Belleville, of “impugn[ing] the integrity of the judiciary” by requesting “courtesy” from a pair of New Jersey state troopers before releasing an expletive-laden tirade as they arrested him on suspicion of driving while under the influence in November 2016. Benitez was later found not guilty of the DWI charge. In a hearing on May 23, 2018, the Advisory Panel’s disciplinary counsel, Maureen G. Bauman, told the court that despite the dismissal of the charge in Benitez’s case, “The misconduct, I believe, warrants a public reprimand that is in line with other cases in which other judges were charged with and found guilty of DWI.” The panel’s disciplinary decision remains pending, and Benitez is not allowed to hear DWI cases until the complaint is resolved.
New Mexico: A former Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center transport guard was sentenced to 10 years in prison on January 30, 2018 after being convicted in separate trials for the March and April 2015 rapes of two female prisoners in his custody. Enock Arvizo was found guilty of criminal sexual penetration for raping a handcuffed and shackled prisoner in an isolated part of the county courthouse. Another trial resulted in his conviction for sexually assaulting a prisoner in a courthouse elevator. Arvizo received the maximum sentence and was ordered to register as a sex offender upon his release.
New York: On January 6, 2018, former Washington County jailer Brandon M. Donaldson, 22, was sentenced by Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan to six months in jail for having repeated inappropriate contact with a female prisoner. Donaldson told investigators that the prisoner had initiated the encounters; however, prisoners can’t legally consent to sexual contact with guards. As part of a deal with prosecutors, Donaldson pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual act in exchange for the dismissal of a second count. He will also serve 10 years on probation. Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said Donaldson had been fired from his job at the jail, where he had worked for two years as a part-time guard.
Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Department of Corrections and Oklahoma City police arrested Mabel Bassett Correctional Center Cpl. Christopher Adams on October 21, 2017. The 46-year-old faces 11 felony charges, including one count of first-degree rape, eight counts of lewd indecent acts with a child under 16 and two counts of forcible oral sodomy. “We have cooperated and will continue to assist in any way we can with this investigation,” DOC Director Joe M. Allbaugh stated in a press release. “We are not aware of any other potential victims. If there are any, we encourage them to come forward.”
Oregon: Melissa Ann Blair was sentenced to two years in prison on November 21, 2017 after her incarcerated boyfriend died from a methamphetamine overdose. Blair, who was charged with drug conspiracy, passed seven tiny meth-filled balloons to prisoner Anthony Powell during a long kiss at the end of a 2016 visit at the Oregon State Penitentiary. According to prosecutors, two of the balloons ruptured in Powell’s digestive tract shortly afterward and he died due to methamphetamine toxicity. While sentencing Blair, U.S. District Court Judge Marco Hernandez noted that Powell was partly accountable for his own death because the drug smuggling plan had been his idea. “It was tragic and sad but he shares responsibility for what happened,” Hernandez stated.
Pennsylvania: Lancaster County Prison guard Konstantino John Paliometros, 33, was charged on December 8, 2017 with giving contraband to a confined person and criminal use of a communication facility after he was caught attempting to bring baggies of “cocaine” into the prison. According to court documents, Paliometros communicated with an undercover state trooper through text messages and agreed to smuggle drugs into the facility but declined to bring in a cell phone. He was caught in the act of smuggling packages of a powdery substance that troopers had given him. Prison officials had previously ended contact visits between prisoners and their families earlier in the year, presumably in an effort to prevent illegal drugs and other contraband from entering the prison. Apparently, they should have taken a closer look at their own staff members.
Pennsylvania: On December 8, 2017, Erie County 2nd Ward District Judge Paul Urbaniak dismissed charges against Erie County Prison guard Corey Cornelius, who had been caught on surveillance video kicking 52-year-old prisoner Patrick Haight in the head while Haight was handcuffed and subdued. Gary Lee, the director of administration for Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, said Cornelius was suspended without pay following the incident. Two other prison employees were also suspended without pay but not criminally charged. District Attorney Jack Daneri declined to comment on the dismissal of the charges.
South Carolina: South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesman Jeffrey Taillon confirmed that 32-year-old Turbeville Correctional Institution prisoner Allen Jerome Capers died during a December 31, 2017 fight in a housing unit. Eight other prisoners were transported for outside medical treatment after the altercation. It is unclear whether or not the incident was connected to a fight at Turbeville the previous month that injured around a half-dozen prisoners. Capers had been transferred to the Turbeville unit, which is designated as a medium-security “Level 2” prison intended to house mostly young prisoners between the ages of 17 and 25, in December 2016. He was serving time on burglary and armed robbery charges.
Tennessee: U.S. District Court Judge William L. Campbell, Jr. was assigned to hear testimony in a federal lawsuit filed on January 24, 2018 by Jessica Fowler against former jailer Caleb Shane Hopkins. Fowler’s suit accuses Hopkins of repeatedly raping her and impregnating her while she was held at the Moore County jail between February and May 2017. Once jail officials discovered the sexual abuse and Fowler’s pregnancy, she was transferred to the Tennessee Prison for Women, where she eventually gave birth to a child who currently lives with her parents. “[Fowler] experienced significant physical and emotional trauma and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of being raped and impregnated by Defendant Hopkins, as well as having to be pregnant and deliver a baby while incarcerated,” said Ben Raybin, an attorney representing Fowler. Hopkins has pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the sexual assaults.
Texas: On November 7, 2017, the Dallas Morning News reported that Alicia Adams, 29, was one of several employees at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department’s Gainesville State School who were fired and criminally charged in separate cases of sexual misconduct involving juvenile offenders at the lockup, located in Cooke County. At the time of her arrest, Adams was reportedly pregnant with a teenage prisoner’s child. Other recent sexual assault allegations and arrests at the juvenile justice facility have included incidents involving guards Samantha Kranick, 25, and Samuel Lee Wright. Just days after news reports about those incidents, two more guards, Victor Howard, 32, and Jalisa Holbdy, 27, were arrested when indictments for official oppression were handed down by a grand jury.
Texas: Texas Rangers are investigating the deaths of two Montgomery County jail prisoners who suffered from multiple pre-existing medical conditions and died while experiencing flu-related symptoms after being transported to an outside medical center. Mosheer Rashid, 41, was pronounced dead on December 19, 2017 while Carl Bible, 35, passed away on January 5, 2018. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards also opened an investigation to determine whether minimum jail standards were met during the period that Rashid and Bible became sick. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office stated in a Facebook post that the jail takes extra precautions to ensure enhanced sanitation during cold and flu season. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Mr. Rashid and Mr. Bible,” said Sheriff Rand Henderson.
United Kingdom: Danny Kay has his sister-in-law, Sarah Maddison, to thank for his release from prison after being wrongfully convicted of a 2012 rape. Police had relied on an “edited and misleading” social media conversation between Kay and his accuser to secure the conviction. When Maddison explored Kay’s Facebook account, she was able to locate archived copies of the full online conversations between Kay and the woman. Those conversations supported Kay’s testimony and set in motion an appeal process that ended his more than two years of wrongful imprisonment. The now 26-year-old said in a January 2018 interview with The Mail, “Even now, with the conviction quashed, I still can’t believe that it took years of pain and stress for this nightmare to end. And the terrifying thought is that if the police and justice system could fail me like this, it could happen to anyone.”
Virginia: On January 12, 2018, on his final day as governor of the State of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe granted conditional pardons to six people whom he said had received sentences that were “excessive” and “unjust.” McAuliffe announced that Travis Hassan May, Travion Blount, Messiah Johnson, Leonard Lenon Singleton, Adrian Earl Davis and Tawana Simmons Terry would be released under community supervision. “I am proud that each of these Virginians will serve an appropriate term and get a second chance at a more productive life,” he said. “Going forward, I hope the General Assembly will consider the outrageous sentences in these cases and take appropriate steps to better balance safety and justice in the application of our laws.” McAuliffe pardoned a record 227 prisoners during his gubernatorial term from 2014 to 2018.
Washington: Police in Kennewick issued a statement on January 9, 2018 that alleged Roy David “Dave” Farber, 31, had an inappropriate relationship with a minor. Prosecutors said Farber sexually exploited a teenage girl; that he and his 27-year-old wife communicated with a minor for immoral purposes; and that, thrice, Dave Farber possessed depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Prosecutors further alleged that Kimberlee Farber took a job as a middle school para-educator to facilitate contact between her husband and the 13-year-old girl, which led to an exchange of love letters and gifts of a promise ring and a cell phone used to exchange explicit pictures. According to court documents, Dave Farber told the girl he would not “get in any trouble for anything they are doing” because he was employed as a prison guard at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Oregon. Both Farbers have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
West Virginia: On December 26, 2017, Huntington attorney and state Senator Mike Woelfel filed a trio of lawsuits on behalf of three female prisoners who were sexually abused by male guards while housed at different jails. Tania Cordwell said she was abused by James Widen at the Huntington Work Release Center. A Charleston Work Release Center employee named Deems is a defendant in a lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoner Brenda Williams-Bradley. And Tabatha Gardner’s suit names Western Regional Jail employee Carl Aaron Westfall. All the complaints claim the women suffered battery, assault and emotional distress from the incidents, and that the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority and the state Division of Corrections have a “continuing practice and pattern of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation” of women prisoners “at the hands of correctional staff.” The lawsuits, which remain pending, seek compensatory and punitive damages. Two more lawsuits were filed in January 2018 by prisoners April Youst and April Minnick, raising similar claims.