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News in Brief

Alaska: Former governor Sarah Palin’s troubled son, Track Palin, 29, was released from an Alaska halfway house run by The GEO Group after a judge granted a motion on January 24, 2019 that gave him credit for time already served on electronic monitoring. Track had only been at the halfway house since December 5, 2018. He was supposed to serve a year for attacking his father in 2017, and had previously been enrolled in a veterans’ therapeutic court program until he was charged with assault for hitting a girlfriend in September 2018. Palin is an Iraq war veteran and his mother believes post-traumatic stress disorder has contributed to his erratic behavior. His attorney successfully delayed his entry into the halfway house when a PTSD treatment bed at the Chris Kyle Patriots Hospital became available. Anchorage District Attorney Richard Allen objected to the delay, saying Palin had previously been in that program “and it obviously didn’t take then. It is time for this Defendant to face an actual sanction and to adhere to the terms of the agreement he made.”

Arizona: Levian Pacheco, 25, was convicted in September 2018 on seven counts of abusive sexual contact with a ward and three counts of sexual abuse of a ward, and sentenced to 19 years in federal prison on January 14, 2019. Pacheco, who is HIV positive, was a youth care worker at Casa Kokopelli, a Southwest Key facility for immigrant youths in Mesa. Southwest Key, a Texas-based nonprofit, is the largest contract provider of shelters for migrant children in the U.S. and is under scrutiny for financial improprieties. [See: PLN, June 2019, p.36]. The organization received $626 million in federal funding in 2018 alone. Pacheco abused seven teenage boys between August 2016 and July 2017 who were being held at Casa Kokopelli pending possible deportation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Strange stated, “This verdict demonstrates our commitment to securing justice for the teenage boys the defendant abused and sends a message to others in positions of trust that these crimes will not be tolerated.” The Department of Health and Human Services and the Mesa Police Department conducted the initial investigation.

California: Two convicted murderers on death row at San Quentin died by apparent suicides over a three-day period; each was found during a routine security check. Andrew Urdiales, 54, was found in his solitary confinement cell on November 2, 2018 at 11:15 p.m. The eight-time serial killer had been at the prison less than a month. Virendra Govin, 51, was found two days later at 10:15 p.m. in his cell. Govin and his brother, Pravin Govin, 49, were convicted in 2004 of strangling four family members of a rival business owner, then setting their house on fire. Virendra Govin had been on death row since January 2005. The two suicides did not appear to be related. California prison officials said 25 death row prisoners have committed suicide since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Governor Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on executions in March 2019.

California: Nicolas Dunning, 32, apparently wanted to ring in the New Year outside a prison work camp. He was discovered missing on the morning of December 31, 2018. Dunning was assigned to the minimum-security Konocti Conservation Camp as a firefighter during the rash of wildfires in the state last year. The Riverside County Gang Impact Team, comprised of state, local and federal agencies, apprehended Dunning during a 1:15 a.m. traffic stop seven days later in Coachella. He was taken to Calipatria State Prison, then later transferred to the California Correctional Center in Susanville pending new charges. Dunning had been serving a five-year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon before absconding. 

China: China is working toward a cashless economy with apps like Alipay and WeChat. In 2018, the People’s Bank of China had to issue a nationwide notice to remind shopkeepers that it was illegal to refuse renminbi, China’s official currency. Nevertheless, going cashless extends to the nation’s prison system. Beijing Prison added WeChat in 2018 and Alipay in 2019 for prisoners’ families to deposit money and pay for medical expenses. They can use a digital wallet with a balance limit of $736. Prisoners scan their individual code to shop using an intranet platform on authorized interactive devices. A Beijing Prison official noted, “Not only the inmates can shop ‘online,’ we are also able to carry out complete and thorough checking and implement section-to-section approval monitoring to ensure transparency and that can help prevent corruption.”

Colorado: Danny Lee Gonzalez and Daniel Pena were both awaiting parole on November 19, 2017 at the Cheyenne Mountain Re-entry Center, one of three for-profit prisons in Colorado. They quarreled over a TV remote control, which led to a fight and an unconscious Pena being transported to a hospital, where he died a week later. Prosecutors claimed Gonzalez stomped on Pena’s head as five other prisoners stood watch. Public defender Kim Chalmers said the prisoners were exaggerating; Gonzalez did not stomp on Pena, he just defended himself after Pena “took a swing” at him. Prosecutor Brent Nelson spoke to reporters on December 7, 2018, just after a week-long trial in which Gonzalez was convicted, saying, “We are grateful that the jury saw through a self-defense argument that had no credible evidence to it.” His office is seeking an enhanced second-degree murder sentence of up to 96 years, due to Gonzalez’s three prior felony convictions. The defense plans to appeal. 

Colorado: Ponzi schemer and federal prisoner Alan May remains on the lam. The government shutdown in December 2018 prevented U.S. Marshals from effectively tracking him after his December 21 escape from FCI Englewood. The Marshals weren’t even notified until five days after he absconded. May was considered low-risk, and had a valid Colorado driver’s license. He left the facility in a BOP 2009 Ford Ranger that he abandoned in the Justice For All parking lot, then, for $120 on an American Express card in his own name, rented a U-Haul van. The van was recovered in a Waffle House parking lot in Fort Worth, Texas on December 30,2018. The BOP truck wasn’t located until the shutdown was lifted in late January 2019. May reportedly facilitated his escape using a contraband cell phone. While in Texas, he hired a Houston woman through a Craigslist ad, paying her $1,500 over three weeks via an online money app to furnish a $200,000 townhouse he had purchased while incarcerated. May had nine years left to serve on his 20-year sentence when he escaped.

Florida: Cheryl Williams and her mother, Carol Bareis, lived together in an Altamonte Springs trailer park when they were stabbed to death in 2004. Their undocumented Honduran neighbor, Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin, was convicted of their murders and remained on death row for 10 years. “Mr. Aguirre’s appointed trial counsel was so ineffective – in particular, for failing even to consider consulting with a forensic expert – that their deficient performance undermines confidence in the outcome,” said Lindsey Boney, an attorney on Aguirre-Jarquin’s new defense team that appealed his case to the Florida Supreme Court. With the help of the Innocence Project and the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, 150 blood stains from the crime scene were analyzed. The new team discovered that Samantha Williams, who lived with the victims, had confessed to the murders several times to friends. In 2013, she had testified to having severe mental illness and anger problems. The Florida Supreme Court ordered a new trial in 2016. During jury selection on November 5, 2018, State Attorney Phil Archer announced he was dropping all charges against Aguirre-Jarquin, who was released but may now face deportation proceedings. 

Georgia: Malachi York, a/k/a Dwight D. York, 74, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on December 13, 2018, seeking $2 billion in compensation. “I am not or never have been a part of this corporate state or their judicial system,” he claimed. The former cult leader of the United Nation of Nuwaubians, known as Ansaaru Allah when the group resided in New York State, said he is a “Native American Moor.” Prosecutors called the Nuwaubians a “pseudo-religious sect” that York used as a cover for racketeering and transporting children across state lines for sexual purposes, for which he was sentenced to 135 years in federal prison in 2004. The group maintained a compound in Putnam County with Egyptian-themed building features from 1993 until it was sold under government forfeiture by the U.S. Marshals Service after York’s conviction. County officials raised concerns after an unusually high number of teenage Nuwaubians were having babies. Fourteen children testified at York’s trial. He had previously claimed diplomatic immunity from prosecution as the consul general of Monrovia, Liberia.

Idaho: Former Summit Food Services employee Jodi L. Petty was arrested on February 2, 2019 and charged with four felony counts of sexual contact with a prisoner. Petty, 48, worked in the kitchen at the Blaine County Detention Center, where prisoners help with food prep and cleanup. According to the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office, jail staff noticed “suspicious behavior between Petty and a male inmate” in a storage area in December 2018. Prisoners who work in the kitchen are supervised by Summit Food Services staff, jail guards and video surveillance. Petty’s security clearance was revoked, and she was fired and booked into the same jail where she had worked. She was released on $25,000 bond the same day.

Kansas: The Larned Correctional Mental Health Facility is a misnomer. The mentally ill prisoners formerly housed at Larned were moved to the El Dorado Correctional Facility in the summer of 2017, and Larned became a 330-bed unit for young adult male offenders in need of educational and substance abuse services. Prisoners at the facility are generally between 18 to 25 years old. Twenty of those prisoners were charged on February 6, 2019 with incitement to riot, criminal damage to property and rioting that lasted two-and-a-half hours in the medium-security Central Unit on November 6, 2018. There was extensive property damage, but no staff or prisoner injuries were reported. Probable cause affidavits were submitted to Pawnee County Attorney Doug McNett on February 1, 2019 following an investigation by Kansas prison officials. “Based on a review of the affidavits, I believe there is sufficient evidence to charge the 20 individuals identified by Department of Corrections staff as being primarily responsible for the riots and damage at LCMHF,” McNett stated.

Louisiana: A manhunt riveted the public for 10 hours on September 12, 2018 after seven prisoners broke out of the Madison Parish jail in Tallulah, including four who were “considered dangerous.” Madison Parish High School, located several hundred feet from the jail, was placed on lockdown during the search. The jail is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private company that manages 18 facilities in Louisiana, Texas and Georgia. The prisoners climbed over the perimeter fence at 11:15 a.m. Three were recaptured fairly quickly. Several agencies, including the state wildlife and fisheries department, and teams from nearby prisons, were called in to help capture the other escapees. All seven prisoners were accounted for by 9:15 p.m. Madison high schoolers were allowed to go home by 5 p.m. Except for Joshua Lewis, who was serving 20 years for manslaughter, the other prisoners were in jail on various robbery charges.

Massachusetts: Alex Phillips, the first Massachusetts state prisoner to be released on “compassionate release,” died on November 24, 2018, less than three weeks after his medical parole. “It is so great to be home,” Phillips said upon his release from MCI Norfolk. “It was a battle to get here.’’ In September, despite a recommendation by the warden at Norfolk, Phillips was denied compassionate release a second time by then-DOC commissioner Thomas Turco III. “I do not believe Mr. Phillips is Terminally [sic] ill within the meaning of the statute. Specifically, even though Alex’s Oncologist, who is employed by the DOC, wrote that he has less than 12 months to live and is so incapacitated as to not be a threat to public safety, I do not find him so debilitated as to not be a public safety risk,” Turco stated. He changed his mind after a vigorous press campaign by Phillips’ family. Turco become the state’s Public Safety Secretary on December 6, 2018 as part of Governor Charlie Baker’s re-election shake-up. Baker had signed the compassionate release legislation into law in April 2018.

Michigan: Christian Maire, the ringleader of an international child exploitation ring known as the “Bored Group,” was knifed to death at FCI Milan on January 2, 2019. Michal Figura, 36, another member of the group, as well as two guards, were also injured in the attack, which involved seven prisoners and at least one shank. An autopsy revealed that Maire had received multiple stab wounds and blunt force trauma to the head. The Bureau of Prisons treated the incident as a targeted homicide. FCI Milan was short-staffed that week due to the federal government shutdown. Maire had served less than one month of his 40-year sentence; he had formed the nine-man online group in 2012. The FBI finally shut it down in 2017. The members of the group posed as teenage boys, using fake profiles with pictures lifted from popular social media sites. They convinced more than 100 girls to engage in sexual conduct over webcams, then shared the videos. Maire’s attorney, Mark Kriger, characterized his client’s death as “a horrible tragedy.”

New Jersey: Avril D. Richardson, 45, was scheduled for a court appearance on January 11, 2019 to face second-degree sexual assault charges. The former senior correctional officer at the Northern State Prison was arrested on December 13, 2018 after an investigation by the New Jersey Department of Corrections’ Special Investigations Division. Richardson allegedly had a “romantic” two-year relationship with a prisoner, beginning in 2016 and continuing until her arrest. She was held for only one night at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, according to Assistant Prosecutor Jessica L. Apostolou. It was unclear whether she was required to post bond. Richardson’s nickname among prisoners at Northern State was “Tiny.” 

New Mexico: Heather Begay, a former guard at the San Juan County Adult Detention Center, said a prisoner had asked her to look up the date of her arraignment. She said it was common to look up such information for prisoners. What is not common – and illegal – is to capriciously add charges to a prisoner’s record. On July 11, 2018, Begay told investigators she was just “messing around” when looking at the charging options, and “accidentally” saved a new charge. She believed she clicked “do not save” before exiting the file. The new charge caused the prisoner to be held at the jail for an extra day. Deputy administrator Daniel Webb told investigators that jail officials wanted to pursue criminal charges against Begay, who was booked into the San Juan County jail on charges of felony false imprisonment, computer abuse and tampering with public records. Her preliminary hearing in Aztec Magistrate Court was scheduled for November 20, 2018, and she has since been fired.

North Carolina: Three Bladen County jail prisoners were honored with Life Saving Awards by Sheriff James McVicker on January 7, 2019. Roy William Smith, Rosendo Morales-Sanchez and Franklin Edens, Jr. were working roadside cleanup in Elizabethtown on January 2 when their supervisor, James Smith, stumbled into a ditch. The three prisoners rushed to his aid; Edens used the supervisor’s cell phone to call 911, while another flagged down a car for help. James Smith was rushed to a hospital, then transferred to Duke Medical Center. After initial improvement, he died on January 9, 2019 due to a stroke. Sheriff McVicker told reporters, “It means more than I can say that they stood by him and did not leave him. These are good men and they showed it with their actions.” One of the prisoners said of James Smith, “I’ve been knowing him about 10 years. He was a quiet man and a good guy to work for. He was a real good guy. He really didn’t treat us like inmates.”

Ohio: The Associated Press alerted the Ohio State Highway Patrol on February 12, 2019 after it received a tip about a planned hostage-taking plot. A search of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville uncovered a fake explosive device, three fake handguns and drawings of handguns. The fake explosive was made of grout shavings, batteries, copper wire from ear buds and a small radio. The guns looked like Glocks and were made from bars of soap, battery casings, pieces of eyeglasses and carbon paper from prison-dispensed legal kits. “This was a very serious and unique situation,” ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said in an email. Richard Lichten, a Los Angeles-based jail and police expert, added, “If somebody manufactures a weapon that’s thought to be real, then that’s an issue.” The State Highway Patrol said prisoners were plotting “a possible escape attempt and possible riot.” The prisoners suspected of involvement in the scheme were moved to restrictive housing.

Oregon: Dr. Catherine Crim, David Brown, a nurse and supervisor, and Steven Shelton, a retired prison medical director, were named in an October 2018 lawsuit that alleged Dr. Crim had abused one current and two former Coffee Creek Correctional Facility prisoners during gynecological exams. Dr. Crim provided exams at the prison as a subcontractor with Women’s Healthcare Associates. The company’s prison contract expired in March 2018. All three women prisoners accused Crim of making “inappropriate comments” and touching them sexually. They said Brown and Shelton failed to protect them by taking preventative measures. The women are represented by attorney Leonard Berman, who has represented other prisoners over medical care at Coffee Creek. Berman said Dr. Crim made “complimentary statements” about the prisoners’ private parts, and that one of the prisoners was “severely injured” during a pelvic exam. In that incident, the doctor allegedly “used an oversized speculum very roughly,” and prison officials ignored the prisoner’s grievances and appeals.

South Carolina: The search of a prisoner’s cell by the South Carolina Department of Corrections Police Services on February 1, 2019 led to the arrest of Lieber Correctional Institution guard Michelle Louise Graves. A contraband cell phone found in the cell contained an October 2, 2018 video of Graves engaging “in vaginal and oral sexual intercourse with an inmate while at the correctional facility,” according to an affidavit. Graves was arrested three days after the video’s discovery, on February 4, 2019. The prisoner was not named.

Tennessee: On September 11, 2018, Gary Ola, a sergeant at the Cheatham County jail, accepted a plea deal on two counts of making false statements to FBI agents in connection with the November 5, 2016 tasering of prisoner Jordan Norris, then 18 years old, by Corporal Mark Bryant. PLN previously reported the circumstances surrounding the tasering and a confidential settlement in a lawsuit filed by Norris. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.35]. Bryant was prosecuted on federal charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice, and his week-long trial ended with a hung jury on February 8, 2019. No announcement has been made by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as to whether it intends to re-try the case.

Texas: Clinton Don Simpson, 76, was accused in 2007 of molesting a dozen children at his home, where he operated a miniature train display called Mr. Don’s Whistle Stop. His case did not go to trial after it was determined he was incompetent. In July 2018, now competent and wheelchair-bound, he was transferred to the Tarrant County jail’s medical unit. In the early morning of November 7, 2018, another prisoner, David Faustino Flores, 42, brutally beat Simpson and killed him in less than a minute. Flores was in jail for injuring an elderly man. After being charged with murdering Simpson, Flores said he was schizophrenic, adding, “My mom said, ‘That’s Bin Laden, so you ought to go get him.’ So I went to whale on him.... And God said, ‘Go ahead.’” He further explained, “At that time I was already paranoid everyone wants to kill me. I thought this whole place was ISIS.” Flores is still being held at the Tarrant County jail, without bond.

Virginia: In Campbell County Circuit Court in November 2018, a former jail guard pleaded guilty to distributing drugs to prisoners and conspiring to distribute drugs. Benjamin Joel Rackley, 26, brought Clonazepam and buprenorphine-naloxone (commonly sold as Suboxone) into the Campbell County Adult Detention Center, where he worked in 2016 and 2017. Rackley was also paid by prisoners to smuggle tobacco, alcohol and other items. Judge John T. Cook dismissed a charge of statutory burglary after Rackley’s attorney successfully argued that his client was lawfully on the jail’s premises when he distributed the drugs and contraband. Rackley addressed the court before sentencing. “I made an error in judgment, and I just want to say I’m sorry,” he said. With credit for time served, he will spend less than eight months in jail.

Washington: A former jail guard will have to serve a three-plus year prison sentence for engaging in sexual misconduct with two prisoners. Christopher North was on duty at the Clark County jail in March 2017 when he exposed himself to a female prisoner and masturbated while looking at her. Several months later, he was guarding another female prisoner in a changing room because the temporary holding cells were full. She said he looked at her funny, then told her “his pants were getting wet.” Court documents indicate he wrapped his arm around her back, pressed his body against her and ejaculated. The prisoner reported the incident when she arrived at the Clackamas County jail. Her clothes were tested and semen was detected. North initially said he masturbated on her clothes in his car and then returned them to property. However, he pleaded guilty to second-degree custodial sexual misconduct and indecent exposure on January 4, 2019, and was sentenced the following month. He will have to register as a sex offender.

Wisconsin: A prisoner at the Oakhill Correctional Institution had something to be thankful for when the wife of the security director for the Wisconsin Correctional Center system had sex with him on Thanksgiving evening. Cassandra Green, 50, who was employed as a guard, confessed that she had sex in the facility’s kitchen after her husband found notes, a video and photos of the prisoner. Green was charged with second-degree sexual assault by correctional staff in April 2018. On December 7, 2018, she pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of abuse of a resident of a penal facility (two counts), and was sentenced to two years of probation. She will not have to register as a sex offender. Dane County Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara said he accepted the plea deal because he was impressed by the compassion the prisoner had shown to Green, and because she had been enrolled in therapy. “She has taken this incredibly seriously,” said her attorney, Dennis Burke. The prisoner was allowed to listen to Green’s court hearing over a phone from a state correctional center in Chippewa County.