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News in Brief

Arizona: Pima County jail guard Jason Hubert was back at work as of March 5, 2019, after being placed on administrative leave the previous month. On Valentine’s Day, prisoner David Ray Maxwell, 53, was being disruptive. Hubert attempted to calm him, but a scuffle ensued. According to TV station KGUN 9, Maxwell went for Hubert, who punched him; Maxwell then fell to the floor, hitting his head. Tucson Fire Department crews were dispatched to the jail and CPR was administered without success. Maxwell was pronounced dead. Hubert had worked for the Pima County Sheriff’s Office since 2007. Maxwell was awaiting a court hearing after rejecting a plea deal for the alleged shooting of his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend and her daughter’s boyfriend on New Year’s Eve 2017.

Australia: Nurses at the 945-bed Fulham Correctional Centre had been in negotiations with private prison operator GEO Group Australia since October 2017. They wanted a 12.5 percent pay raise over four years, plus a $1,500 signing bonus in lieu of a 2018 pay raise and leave policies similar to other nurses in Victoria. GEO initially offered a 2.1 percent raise per year with no improvements in working conditions. By February 2019, the company was offering 9.9 percent. The nurses began “protected industrial action” on February 23, 2019, wearing red Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) shirts instead of their uniforms. GEO threatened to dock their wages by 17 percent for every shift they wore the shirts. In early March, ANMF held a walk-out and community rally, joined by transit union members and an inflatable mascot, “Greedy the Fat Cat,” in front of the prison. On March 26, 2019, the nurses accepted an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement of an 11.9 percent wage increase and an annual leave clause that ensured a minimum of five weeks of leave, with 17.6 weeks after 10 years of service.

California: No information has been forthcoming about fights at USP Victorville on March 11, 2019 that prompted San Bernardino County firefighters to send five ambulances and two fire engines to a “mass casualty” incident. Six staff members and three prisoners were reportedly injured and four were hospitalized. It is unclear whether weapons were involved. Although the incident was “under investigation,” no findings have been released. Victorville has one maximum-security prison and two medium-security facilities. The federal Bureau of Prisons reported that the fights triggered “modified operations,” but “[a]t no time was the public in danger.”

California: Sandeep Singh, 41, was lucky. He had enough money to post bond and hire veteran defense attorney Kirk Mc­Allister after a 14-year-old girl said he tried to kidnap her on June 26, 2018. The alleged victim gave a detailed description of his vehicle. “She had claimed to police that the car had stopped, he gets out of the car, he chases her,” McAllister said. Singh, in his distinct Sikh turban and bright yellow pickup truck, was spotted at a nearby shopping center parking lot. He was taken to the Stanislaus County jail with bail set at $200,000. Crime Stoppers alerts were circulated. However, McAllister obtained surveillance video from a nearby church that showed Singh’s pickup never even slowed down near the girl. Confronted with the video, she admitted that she made up the story. Had she been over 18, her false statement might have been pursued as a hate crime, but as a juvenile her court records are sealed. On February 6, 2019, Singh was found to be “factually innocent.”

Colorado: “The hunger strike is a message from these men to all of us outside the facility – and to our government – that the conditions inside GEO are not humane and that it’s not okay to keep people locked down for weeks on end with no communication,” said Danielle Jefferis, a civil rights attorney representing a detainee at The GEO Group’s Aurora ICE Processing Center, in March 2019. The protest was in response to an ongoing quarantine due to mumps and chicken pox exposure. The facility has been under continuous criticism throughout 2019. An annex was added in January, and the population has more than doubled to 1,232. Critics say the outdoor recreation space is just a large room with an open-air caged roof. In September 2019, pro- and anti-immigration groups held dueling demonstrations outside the detention center. Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin declared, “We stand with law enforcement and with immigration enforcement officials not only at this facility, but those across the country that have been demonized and smeared by people who do not believe in borders or sovereignty.”

Florida: In November 2018, the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia called the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. Gwinnett officials had monitored prisoner Dustin Shepard’s phone calls, and noted 242 calls with St. Lucie deputy Veronica O’Brien. Shepard had been transferred from St. Lucie to Gwinnett on felony charges. Forty of the calls were three-way with another St. Lucie deputy, Caitlyn Tighe. The calls revealed Tighe was in a relationship with St. Lucie jail prisoner Sean Zambrano. Tighe used a burner phone to have 226 calls in 34 days with Zambrano. An Internal Affairs Unit report detailed forty pages of interviews with St. Lucie jail staff. Several had suspected the relationships. O’Brien declared her love to Shepard, who she met “when he first started coming to jail” twelve years earlier. Tighe’s calls were often for phone sex; she knew, but didn’t report, that Zambrano was off his meds and that he had a “cutting device.” Tighe and O’Brien, who both worked in the jail’s medical unit, resigned in February 2019.

Florida: Javier Perdomo-Medina, 48, agreed to a plea deal on March 11, 2019 for the strangulation death of his Polk County jail cellmate, Joseph Dawes, in 2015. Circuit Judge Jalal Harb sentenced Perdomo-Medina to 40 years for second-degree murder plus five years, concurrent, for battery on a detained person. Perdomo-Medina had only been sharing the cell with Dawes for five minutes on September 8, 2015 when guards found Dawes’ body. He was airlifted to Lakeland Regional Health Center and died three days later. Perdomo-Medina claimed he was set up, but guards said Dawes had looked up when they brought Perdomo-Medina into the cell, and it was Perdomo-Medina’s sheet that was later found wrapped around Dawes’ neck. After Dawes’ body was discovered, Perdomo-Medina tried to drown himself by holding his head in the cell’s toilet and later jumping and attempting to land on his head while handcuffed. He was originally charged with first-degree murder, which carried a mandatory life sentence.

Florida: In September 2018, Kenneth J. Davis, 33, was found dead in his cell at the Blackwater River Correctional Facility, run by The GEO Group. Davis was serving 25 years for killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend with an explosive in 2015. Thomas H. Fletcher, 52, already serving a life sentence for murdering a Broward County cocaine dealer during a 1994 attempted robbery, was indicted for first-degree premeditated murder in Davis’ death in March 2019. Fletcher entered a guilty plea in August and waived his right to a jury in the penalty phase. State Attorney Bill Eddins was seeking the death penalty. No information about Fletcher’s motive for killing Davis has been released; he has since been moved to the Florida State Prison in Raiford.

Georgia: On March 3, 2018, Shali Tilson was arrested on misdemeanor obstruction of justice and disorderly conduct charges, and booked into the Rockdale County jail. He exhibited signs of psychosis. Nine days later he was dead, due to blood clots in his lungs caused by severe dehydration, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner. A grand jury report released in September 2019 found that “medical, mental health and jail staff, through complacency, reluctance, assumptions and lack of procedures, training, leadership and adherence to policy, failed to recognize and address the mental state and physical decline of Shali Tilson.” Tilson’s family filed a lawsuit against the sheriff and three jail employees in March 2019, and released video footage of Tilson’s last hours in solitary, naked and desperate, in September 2019. The video shows Tilson repeatedly pressing the intercom buzzer in his cell, which had “not worked for several years.” The grand jury report also revealed that a deputy admitted to falsifying a suicide watch log. No one had checked on Tilson for more than three hours before his death.

Georgia: Melissa Batten, a registered nurse for The GEO Group at the D. Ray James Correctional Institution in Folkston, served as lookout for prison guard Rebecca Fussell’s repeated sexual trysts with a male prisoner in a medical treatment room. The sex was observed by another employee, and an investigation ensued. GEO runs the facility for the Bureau of Prisons. A federal grand jury indicted the pair on February 7, 2019. Batten, 47, was charged with conspiracy and false statement for “facilitating the illicit trysts,” while Fussell, 48, was charged with conspiracy and sexual abuse of a ward. Bobby L. Christine, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, was quick to point out that “Employees at prison facilities are expected to oversee safe and humane incarceration of the inmates, not prey upon them.”

Illinois: On April 20, 2018, staff at the Macon County jail in Decatur received a tip that drugs were circulating in the facility. Strip searches were initiated in the “Pod A” maximum-security area, around 2 p.m. Prisoner Romell Hill handed over heroin, cocaine, meth, “pink bath salts,” 10 morphine tablets, two ecstasy pills and seven muscle relaxer pills. Sergeant Roger Pope said Hill was taken to isolation and “began acting out by banging his head against the door. He appeared to be intoxicated and began breathing heavy.” Staff administered Narcan. Hill and three other prisoners were hospitalized; 14 of 17 prisoners had taken drugs that Hill smuggled into the jail in his rectum, which he was trading for cash and commissary items. Hill’s public defender arranged a plea deal for one count of bringing contraband into a penal institution, and 17 other charges were dropped. He was sentenced on February 18, 2019 to five years in prison plus $1,700 in fines and court costs.

Kentucky: Alicia Beller was charged with manslaughter, along with four other Boyd County deputies, in the death of Michael L. Moore, who was found dead in a restraint chair at the county jail on November 29, 2018 – 28 hours after he was booked for drug intoxication. An autopsy revealed Moore had three cracked ribs and died from internal bleeding. Testimony at a January 2019 hearing alleged the jailers threw Moore against a toilet. Video footage from the jail showed bullying behavior by the deputies, but the toilet incident was blocked by jailers standing between the camera and the bathroom. Kentucky State Police detective Jeff Kelly testified the video “shows a pattern of abuse from corrections staff.” Beller told Kelly that she heard a crack when Moore was in the restroom, and Brad Roberts, another of the accused deputies, told her they had been too rough. No one sought medical assistance for Moore. Beller’s charge was reduced to first-degree wanton endangerment in a May 2019 plea deal; she must complete a five-year diversion program, testify in trials against her former co-workers and can no longer work in corrections.

Louisiana: At the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, ex-Master Sgt. Adrian Almodovar III, 39, pleaded guilty on February 8, 2019 in a Baton Rouge federal court to the willful deprivation of prisoners’ right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Two years earlier, Almodovar and members of his tactical team beat a handcuffed and shackled prisoner in his cell, during a transport and inside the medical unit. Almodovar admitted punching John Harold several times in the face, watching while other guards assaulted him, and punching prisoner Lonnie Bryant in the head later the same day. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.47]. Two other former Elayn Hunt guards, Lt. Eric Norwood and Capt. Charles Philson III, had already pleaded guilty for their roles in the beatings. Almodovar and Philson were sentenced on August 15, 2019 to 18 months in prison and 12 months of probation, respectively.

Mississippi: The Marshall County Correctional Facility, run by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), was placed on lockdown after a guard was attacked and a fire broke out on April 3, 2019. A number of videos, captured on contraband cell phones and emailed to local news outlets, showed a guard on the floor, bleeding from his head, as prisoners jeered. At least three other cell phones were visible. The guard was airlifted to Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee and released the next day. Just after the guard was moved, a fire broke out. According to one prisoner, “If not for the fire sprinkler going off, I can assure you every inmate on the zone of delta 4 in Marshall County Correctional Facility would have died!” MTC’s director of corporate communications, Issa Arnita, acknowledged the attack on the guard in an email to reporters but did not mention the fire. State Rep. Bill Kinkade, who chairs the House Corrections Committee, promised to investigate the incidents.

Missouri: On September 30, 2018, an unnamed 29-year-old prisoner at the Boonville Correctional Center faced a medical emergency, requiring surgery to remove his spleen and appendix at University of Missouri Hospital. His stomach was lacerated, his spleen ruptured and he had bleeding in the abdomen. Darren Snellen with the MDOC investigated. A probable cause affidavit indicated that prisoners Derick Dwyer, 40, and Calyb Musgrave, 27, punched the victim in the ribs nearly every day that month, in the shower room. Their assaults culminated on September 28 when they forced a summer sausage up his rectum for 30 minutes. Video footage showed the pair laughing afterward. The victim has since been released from custody on supervised probation. On March 1, 2019, Dwyer and Musgrave were charged with assault causing serious injury, sodomy and as accessories to felony violence to a prisoner. The assault charge is a Class A felony, carrying a possible sentence of 10 to 30 years.

New York: Andy Aragon, 23, a Latin Kings gang member, was stabbed 75 times with homemade weapons at the Manhattan Detention Complex, also known as “the Tombs,” on October 22, 2018. He filed a lawsuit in March 2019 against the New York City DOC, accusing jailers of looking away as three members of the MS-13 gang, Luis “Inquieto” Rivas, 24, Dennis “Panda” Cabrera, 27, and Javier “Joker” Rodriguez, 33, plotted and executed the attack on his way back to his cell from the shower. Andrew Laufer, Aragon’s attorney, denied his client was a member of the Latin Kings. Aragon has since been moved to the Brooklyn House of Detention. Authorities have phone records of Rivas complaining to his girlfriend in Spanish, 20 minutes before the attack, “Supposedly, the three of us have to do it, imagine, and that would be another case, son of a bitch. All because of the damn gang.” Phone calls at the jail are monitored, and Laufer contends that guards should have prevented the stabbing.

North Carolina: The State Highway Patrol, the U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI assisted in a search for five prisoners who cut through the fence in the exercise yard at the Nash County Detention Facility and escaped on March 25, 2019. Four of the escapees were apprehended the next day. Raheem Horne, 25, and David Viverrette, 28, were holed up at Hal Orr’s Inn in Rocky Mount, 15 miles away. According to the sheriff’s Facebook page, David Ruffin, 30, and Keonte Murphy, 23, were “captured in another county.” Initially, a $500 reward was offered for each of the escapees. Later, Crime Stoppers offered $1,500 for information on the fifth escapee, Laquaris Battle, 22. Battle remained at large until March 31, 2019, when Mia Evans’ car was pulled over in a pre-dawn traffic stop in Hardeeville, South Carolina. Authorities believe Evans and Battle were heading to Miami. Evans was charged with harboring a fugitive, while another passenger in the vehicle was arrested for cocaine possession. Battle was held in the Jasper County jail awaiting transport back to Nash County.

Ohio: State law requires jail time for corrections workers who bring contraband onto prison grounds, but it does not apply to staff at privately-run prisons in Ohio. Joshua Borders’ pregnant wife begged the judge, at his March 2019 sentencing hearing, to place him on probation. Borders, 24, was a guard at the North Central Correctional Complex in Marion, run by Management and Training Corporation (MTC). He was one of several ex-guards who tried to smuggle drugs into the facility. Borders was caught in November 2018 with packages containing 304 grams of tobacco and 21 grams of marijuana strapped to his abdomen. He told Marion County Common Pleas Judge Warren T. Edwards that he was paid $300 to deliver the contraband. Borders was sentenced to nine months in prison and a $600 fine. “You violated the public trust here and there’s a lot of controversy over private prisons,” Judge Edwards stated. “I don’t believe that the majority of prison guards ... would ever engage in the conduct you engaged in.”

Oregon: Jefferson County Sheriff’s Cpl. Anthony Hansen and deputies Michael Durkan and Cory Skidgel were acquitted on December 4, 2018 of criminally negligent homicide in connection with the April 2017 death of prisoner James Eugene Wippel. Crook County Circuit Court Judge Daina Vitolins found “No one was able to testify to that critical piece of evidence, when was it too late for medical treatment to save Mr. Wippel?” However, she added, “Their failure to obtain medical care was a gross deviation from the standard of care a reasonable person” would have been expected to exercise. On July 26, 2019, Hansen and Durkan filed a federal lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution, seeking $10 million in damages against the district attorneys who were appointed to take the case to trial. The deputies also contend they had previous encounters with two of the grand jurors while working for the Warm Springs Police Department, so those jurors should have been dismissed.

Pennsylvania: Derrick Houlihan filed a complaint on February 4, 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against Montgomery County, the Montgomery County Correctional Facility and guards who beat him in December 2016. He alleged violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights due to excessive use of force. Three days before he filed suit, the five guards who assaulted him were found not guilty of aggravated assault at a jury trial, despite video evidence. Defense attorney Charles Peruto said of Houlihan, “It was a guy who was nothing but trouble. When he was on the street, when he was in prison, he had no respect for authority, tried to incite a riot all the time, stabbed a prison guard in Philadelphia and he was absolute vermin, and the jury so found.” In regard to the beating, Peruto added, “We bloodied him up so badly, that the jury looked at it and said, ‘Are we going to trade this man for our prison guards, regardless of what they did?’ Because obviously the video was bad, and the jury sided with the guards.”

Pennsylvania: Convicted serial rapist Seth Mull was sentenced on April 5, 2019 to 72 years to life in prison. He was originally arrested in October 2017, after police were called to a Holiday Inn Express in Bethlehem. He had met the victim on a dating site and they agreed to have consensual sex, but Mull raped her and forced her to do cocaine and smoke crystal meth. She had to be taken to a hospital. More victims came forward, painting a picture of a vicious serial predator, beginning in his teens. Mull was convicted on 30 total counts, which included three counts of rape and five counts of trafficking. In August 2018, while at the Northampton County Prison awaiting trial, Mull began corresponding with a woman through letters and phone calls. She found him “friendly and supportive.” When the facility introduced electronic tablets in November 2018, Mull’s conversation with the woman changed – according to an arrest affidavit, it “became all about sex and having sex for money.” He was later charged with promoting prostitution while held at the jail.

South Carolina: March 2019 was a difficult month for the Lieber Correctional Institution (LCI). On March 14, 2019, guard Anthony J. Murgolo attempted to smuggle three packages wrapped in electrical tape containing marijuana, tobacco, cigar wraps, two tubes of glue, a dremel tool and headphones. The packages were found in a search of a state-issued car that Murgolo drove onto the prison grounds. “I’m not going to lie to you. I brought that in. I needed the money,” he told an investigator, though it is unknown how much he was paid to bring in the items. He was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana, introduction of contraband to inmates and misconduct in office. Later in March, LCI guard Bertha Ann Shuler was stopped for a random contraband search. Rather than submit, she sped away with an investigator hanging onto her car. After her arrest, bond was set at $45,000; she was charged with failure to stop, assault and battery, resisting arrest and misconduct in office.

Tennessee: Video of a guard at the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility pepper-spraying a prisoner was released in early February 2018. The facility is run by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America. The company fired guard Oluwatobi Ola for an “unnecessary” use of force against prisoner James Nelson, saying Ola was “not entirely truthful” about the 2017 incident. Ola was arrested on July 16, 2018. Nelson believed the guard was retaliating against him over a scabies lawsuit filed against CoreCivic. [See: PLN, March 2018, p.58]. Ola pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge, which was dismissed in January 2019 after he finished an eight-week anger management class. Nelson filed a pro se civil rights action against Ola and CoreCivic, though in Tennessee a guilty plea “is generally not conclusive on the issues in a subsequent civil action.” The suit was dismissed on June 28, 2019.

Texas: In 2017, Gabriel Robert Ortiz needed money, so he circulated word in the pod where he worked as a guard at the Bexar County jail that he could get prisoners cell phones for $700 each. A cooperating prisoner alerted investigators in April 2018, and recording equipment was put in his cell. A sting operation was set up and Ortiz was paid $2,400 for two one-ounce shipments of “meth” that he tucked into brisket tacos from Taco Cabana. In May 2018, Ortiz included another jailer, Ruben Hernandez, in the smuggling scheme. The two had been in the same Bexar County Sheriff’s Office class. Another shipment was arranged, and the pair split a payment of $2,000. Ortiz snuck in the tacos and Hernandez delivered the “meth.” Additionally, Hernandez told the cooperating prisoner that when he got out, they would assist him “in delivering drugs using their uniforms and badges to protect drug transactions.” Both guards were arrested, charged and took plea deals. Ortiz, 30, was sentenced to three years in federal prison in February 2019, while Hernandez, 27, received 18 months followed by three years of community supervision in April 2019.

United Kingdom: HMP Guys Marsh in Dorset has a drug problem: Twenty percent of random drug screens tested positive and half of those were for synthetic marijuana, known as “spice.” At least one prisoner a day required medical intervention due to “New Psychoactive Substances,” the official designation for spice. The drug is believed to be at the root of spiraling violence in UK prisons and some prisoner deaths. Drugs in jail can cost ten times the street value, so organized crime networks are getting creative. In March 2019, three dead rats were found stuffed with spice, tobacco, three phone sim cards, five cell phones with chargers, cannabis and rolling papers at HMP Guys Marsh. The rats were disemboweled, stuffed, meticulously stitched back up and then thrown over the prison walls. Although dead rats are a common sight in UK prisons, staff noticed the stitches and opened the rodents. Prisons minister Rory Stewart said, “This find shows the extraordinary lengths to which criminals will go to smuggle drugs into prison, and underlines why our work to improve security is so important.”

West Virginia: In a surprising twist, there are two men named Jim Justice II in West Virginia. One was elected the 36th governor of the state in 2017. The other is 18 years younger, from the town of Nitro, and tried to forge a pardon letter for himself dated “FEBUARY [sic] 25, 2019.” He signed it “Jim Justice” and sent it to the Putnam County probation office. The signature was a close likeness to the governor’s real signature. The letter sought to pardon the forger, and included numerous misspellings and grammatical errors. For example, it stated, “I ENCLOSIMG THIS LETTER THAT I THE SAID GOVERNOR JIM JUSTICE WILL AND HAS PARDON YOU OF ALL FELONIES AGAINST YOU....” In the letterhead, the name of the state was misspelled “WEST VIRGIMIA,” and Jeff Sandy was listed as the “CABNENT SECERTAR.” The Jim Justice who sent the fake letter was on parole after serving time for burglary; he now faces charges of forgery of a public record and forgery of official seals.

Wisconsin: Devine Jackson, 25, was a guard at the Kenosha County jail when she was arrested in April 2019 following a tip that she was “smuggling cocaine inside toothpaste tubes and passing it off” to prisoner Feeonquay Jenkins. Jenkins had been at the jail since 2017 on a variety of child sexual assault and felony bail jumping charges. He reportedly had over $10,000 in his commissary account. Despite confessing to the smuggling, the state dropped the charges against Jackson on September 30, 2019. “While it is clear to me that she was delivering drugs into the jail while working as a guard there, I cannot prosecute her for a drug offense if we don’t have the actual drugs that were involved,” said Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger. New charges of second-degree sexual assault by correctional staff have been filed against Jackson, as the original investigation revealed she had sexual contact with another prisoner over a five-month period and deposited $160 into his commissary account. 

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