News in Brief
Alaska: Illness among state prisoners exposed to tainted lettuce was key to solving a nationwide E. coli outbreak in April 2018. Eight prisoners at the Anvil Mountain Correctional Center were stricken by an especially nasty strain of the bacteria, though none were hospitalized or died. The outbreak sickened more than 50 people in at least 16 states. The controlled environment at the prison in Nome helped state officials quickly identify whole heads of romaine lettuce as the culprit. That was crucial because the nation’s other cases had been linked to chopped romaine lettuce, according to Joe McLaughlin, a state epidemiologist. The lettuce in those cases had been handled by multiple companies, making it difficult to trace it back to a specific farm. The prison “had one supplier of lettuce, so we were able to follow the lettuce back through the supply chain to a farm in Yuma, AZ, faster than other places [around the country],” said Jeremy Ayers, a Department of Environmental Conservation section manager.
Arizona: Florence Police Department Detective Dan Helsdingen responded to a February 5, 2018 tip from a concerned homeowner who witnessed an adult male “making out” with a young female in an area near his residence. Officers located and interviewed a 16-year-old girl who disclosed that she had been in a romantic relationship with the 46-year-old man for almost a year. Police identified that man as Paul Scott Thornton, who worked as a guard captain at the CoreCivic-operated Red Rock Correctional Center. Detectives soon determined that Thornton was fully aware the girl was underage throughout the course of the affair, and he was arrested on February 9, 2018 and charged with four felony counts of sexual misconduct with a minor. Phoenix news station Fox 10 reached out to CoreCivic to verify the status of Thornton’s employment, and a spokesperson confirmed that he had been placed on administrative leave from his job at the medium-security prison.
California: Paul Silva, 39, died on March 28, 2018 at UCSD Medical Center. His death came less than two days after he was taken to jail by San Diego police. Silva’s family filed a federal lawsuit against the city on October 2, 2018 for falsely arresting him for being under the influence, and against the county for not providing adequate care and using excessive force. Silva’s mother had called police to her home because her son was outside, yelling and agitated. She told the dispatcher he was a diagnosed schizophrenic who was likely not taking his medication, and had been cooperative when police were called in the past. A San Diego police officer concluded that Silva was under the influence of methamphetamine and arrested him – taking him to jail instead of the county’s mental health hospital. While in custody, Silva was Tased and subjected to other less-than-lethal force. At one point he was wrestled to the ground so violently that his lung collapsed; he suffered a heart attack and later died. The suit filed by his family remains pending. See: Estate of Paul Silva v. City of San Diego, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:18-cv-02282.
California: Vicente Benavides, 68, who had been on death row at San Quentin, was freed on April 19, 2018 after the state Supreme Court held false medical testimony had been presented at his trial. The Kern County District Attorney said she wouldn’t retry Benavides for first-degree murder; absent the medical testimony, conviction would be nearly impossible. Benavides was babysitting his girlfriend’s daughter on November 17, 1991. He told police that he lost track of the girl and later found her injured outside. He and the girl’s mother took her to a hospital, and she died a week later. A forensic pathologist concluded her death was due to injuries indicative of being sodomized, and several doctors agreed. Nearly all later recanted, saying they hadn’t seen her full medical records that indicated no evidence of sexual assault when the girl was first hospitalized. An expert on child abuse said the girl likely had been hit by a car.
Colorado: Sarah Kate Ippolito, 26, and Mary Jane Torrez, 37, two uniformed Denver Women’s Correctional Facility guards, were busted for public indecency in a lot next to a 7-Eleven before their shift began at 6 a.m. on April 8, 2018, a Sunday. Ippolito and Torrez were found in the back of a parked Kia with their pants unzipped and “their hands down the other’s pants.” Police officers were alerted to the groping pair by a passerby. The arresting officers said the car was parked in a “well-lit area” and the sexual activity “was visible from all the windows of the vehicle.” Torrez had been with the Department of Corrections since 2007, while Ippolito started at the beginning of 2016. A DOC spokesman said the agency does not comment on personnel issues.
Connecticut: On April 16, 2018, Yale law professor James Forman, Jr. learned he had won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his history of mass incarceration, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Forman had been a public defender. He and David Domenici launched the Maya Angelou charter school “as a school serving kids who had been arrested,” Forman said. During his work in the capital’s courtrooms representing primarily black youths, he realized “Somebody needed to tell the story of what’s happened over the last 50 years, but tell it through the lens of African-American public officials,” including Mayor Marion Barry, federal prosecutor Eric Holder (who later served as U.S. Attorney General in the Obama administration), legislators, judges and citizen activists. Currently, Forman teaches a class comprised of 10 law students and 10 women who are incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury.
Florida: Former Major Michael Baxter, 50, was to serve a five-year federal prison sentence. He was convicted in January 2018 of falsifying records related to the beating of prisoner Darren Glover, 44, at the Apalachee Correctional Institution. The beating, on July 13, 2015, occurred after Jennifer Glover, a white woman, visited Glover, her black fiancée, to prepare for their wedding. The next day a dispute in Baxter’s office ended with Glover held on the ground by three guards as Baxter repeatedly kicked him in the face. Glover also spent 101 days in isolation and about 30 months in “closed management” confinement. [See: PLN, May 2018, p.63]. Baxter was released from prison on July 1, 2018 pending an appeal. At issue is U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling that Baxter’s defense counsel was trying to remove a juror because she was African American. Hinkle sided with prosecutors who believed the defense was removing potential jurors due to their race. Defense counsel said the juror had presented “negative body language.”
Florida: Michael Lee, 32, a Lake County Jail prisoner, signed a contract offering his cellmate 20 meal trays to kill his ex-wife and her boyfriend, plus $2,000 once the hit was completed. Lee was charged on April 11, 2018 with criminal solicitation for murder. A deputy found the contract with names and signatures. The unidentified cellmate said he was going to take the food but had no intention of harming the woman or her boyfriend. In a jailhouse news interview, Lee denied involvement. “It was created as a joke from another inmate. I don’t know if it was just a joke just to scare me or try to get time off or anything like that,” he said. Records show that Lee is currently in jail on charges involving his ex-wife, and that he has a history of stalking and threatening her.
Georgia: Former federal prison guard Melvin Thomas, 40, pleaded guilty on April 10, 2018 to bribery of a public official for accepting several payments from a prisoner, totaling about $3,500 over eight years, to smuggle tobacco into the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, which doesn’t allow prisoners to use or possess tobacco products. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy C. Batten, Sr. sentenced Thomas in July 2018 to a year and a day in prison to be followed by two years of supervised release. He also was ordered to pay a fine of $3,500.
Iceland: Sindri Thor Stefansson, 31, suspected of masterminding the theft of about 600 computers that were being used to mine bitcoin and other virtual currencies, was recaptured in Amsterdam on April 22, 2018 after he was recognized by two pedestrians. Stefansson had escaped Sogn, a low-security prison in rural southern Iceland, on April 17 and fled on a flight to Sweden using a passport in someone else’s name. The prison is unfenced, and prisoners are allowed phone and Internet access. Stefansson said he booked the flight by cell phone, climbed out a window and hitchhiked most of the way to the airport. Iceland has become a hotspot for data centers and cryptocurrency mining thanks to its abundance of renewable energy and cold climate, which provide low-cost electricity and lower cooling costs for the high-powered computer equipment. Police have arrested 22 people without solving the theft of the computers. Stefansson was extradited to Iceland on May 3, 2018.
Idaho: Corizon, the private company hired to provide medical care for Idaho state prisoners, owes the Saint Alphonsus Health System more than $14 million according to a lawsuit suit was filed on April 25, 2018. Saint Alphonsus and Corizon signed a deal in January 2011, in which the hospital would provide care to prisoners and Corizon would pay at rates based on formulas in the contract. The agreement ended in February 2015. Corizon proposed a new contract, offering to pay at Medicaid rates. Saint Alphonsus turned down the offer. From February 2015 through March 2018, Corizon refused to pay the hospital “usual and customary rates” for medical care, claiming it should only be required to pay the Medicaid rate. The hospital argues in its suit that the Idaho Supreme Court recently decided that the statute setting Medicaid as the reimbursement rate for prisoner medical care does not apply to private contractors like Corizon.
Kentucky: Kentucky State Police officials faced a backlash after making a vulgar reference to prison rape in a post on the agency’s Twitter account. The controversial tweet featured a slow-motion video of a bar of soap dropping to the ground along with the caption, “Enjoy watching Rob Gronkowski (TE) play but if you drink & drive ... your tight end may end up in jail! #designatedriver.” Although the social media message was intended as a light-hearted way to warn football fans among the agency’s 51,000 Twitter followers against driving drunk after enjoying the February 4, 2018 Super Bowl, it raised the ire of Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. She confronted the State Police about the controversial joke in a rebuttal tweet that read, “Rape & sexual assault are not joking matters. Citizens expect & deserve better of law enforcement. An apology to victims everywhere from @kystatepolice is needed.” After deleting the social media post, the agency issued an apology for making light of prison sexual assaults.
Louisiana: The Avoyelles Parish Sheriff’s Office requested that a Rapides Parish deputy give Johnathan Curtis Bentley, 29, who had just been released from their jail, a ride home – a courtesy that is provided when no other transportation is available. As the deputy was on his way to pick Bentley up, around 12:30 a.m. on April 11, 2018, he passed a man fitting Bentley’s description bicycling on the shoulder of La. Highway 107. The deputy doubled back and spoke with Bentley, who said he started walking, saw a bicycle in a yard and took it. Bentley stated he “was tired of waiting on [the deputy] and tired of walking.” He was charged with criminal trespass and theft of less than $750, and released the same day on a $1,000 bond from the Rapides Parish Detention Center. The bicycle was returned to its owners. It was not reported how Bentley got home once released from jail the second time.
Maryland: Troy Allen Hoover, 39, a 16-year guard employed at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, pleaded guilty on April 10, 2018 to a third-degree sex offense for sexually molesting a teenage girl in 2017. Hooever was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but one year suspended. Following his release, he will be on five years of probation supervision under COMET (Collaborative Offender Management Enforced Treatment), which is specifically for sex offenders. Hoover will have to register as a sex offender for 25 years. Other, more serious charges, including first- and second-degree rape, were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. The Assistant State’s Attorney said the case presented evidentiary problems for the prosecution, and the plea would avoid further traumatizing the victim by having her testify.
Mississippi: Prison guard trainee Shanquella Jones, 24, faces termination after a search of her vehicle led to the seizure of numerous contraband items at the State Penitentiary at Parchman. She was arrested and booked into the Sunflower County jail on March 18, 2018 with bond set at $25,000. The items seized included cell phones, cigars, bottles of juice mixed with alcohol, a pocket knife, cigarettes, cigarette lighters, a pair of hair clippers and toothbrushes. Jones faces a felony charge punishable by three to 15 years in prison or a $25,000 fine, or both. Corrections Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall said in a news release, “I am continually amazed that we have staff that want to risk their reputation and freedom for the sake of fast money.”
Mississippi: Carmon Brannan, a former George County jail nurse, was found guilty of manslaughter following a trial in July 2018, and sentenced to 15 years in prison in connection with the September 24, 2014 death of diabetic prisoner William Joel Dixon, 28, who went without insulin for seven days. Brannan filed a defamation lawsuit on February 13, 2018 against Dixon’s mother and one of the jurors in her initial January 2018 mistrial. On March 4, 2015, Donna Dixon filed a written complaint with the Mississippi Nursing Licensure Board accusing Brannan of wrongdoing before any criminal charges were filed. In the complaint, Dixon accused the nurse of withholding “lifesaving insulin” from her son after he “went into a light coma and was allowed to lay in a cage for three days with no food, water or insulin.” Over the course of Dixon’s time at the jail, Brannan tested his blood sugar only once. The jail had insulin on hand, including a batch Dixon’s mother delivered and another retrieved from his car. On the day Dixon died in his cell, Brannan reportedly said she didn’t “have time for him.” She later lost her nursing license.
Missouri: In December 2017, Janet Phillips, 31, a nurse at the Morgan County jail, was charged with sexual conduct with a prisoner by a jail employee, bribery of a public servant and two counts of delivering contraband to a prisoner. Four months later, on April 6, 2018, she pleaded guilty to a single charge of bribery of a public servant. Phillips was sentenced to four years of supervised probation. Meanwhile, two Morgan County jailers pleaded guilty to reduced charges of misdemeanor delivery of prohibited articles to a jail in connection with facilitating Phillips’ affair with the prisoner. Elizabeth Knipp received two years of supervised probation while Robert Hoover was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation plus 40 hours of community service. Phillips was accused of purchasing a cell phone for the prisoner to use, which was smuggled into the jail by Knipp.
Nebraska: On April 11, 2018, State Patrol troopers arrested Jacinda A. Miller, 41, the mother of former Nebraska State Penitentiary corporal Michael Miller, who allegedly tried to smuggle synthetic marijuana into the prison in November 2017. Recorded phone calls indicated that Jacinda Miller helped hide evidence after her son’s arrest. His case remains pending in Lancaster County Court. Prison officials searched Michael Miller’s vehicle after receiving a tip that he was planning to bring drugs into the prison. During calls from jail in the days before the search, he directed his mother to go to his apartment and “just throw that (expletive) away” or “flush it down the toilet,” investigators said. They found a leafy substance in the kitchen trash can, and tests later confirmed it contained synthetic cannabinoids. If convicted, Jacinda Miller faces up to two years in prison; she was released on bond from the Cheyenne County jail.
New Jersey: Federal prison guard Paul Anton Wright, 32, was arrested on April 12, 2018 for allegedly accepting bribes to deliver synthetic marijuana and Suboxone to prisoners at FCI Fort Dix. Wright admitted to depositing cash payments into his bank “to fund his gambling activities in Atlantic City.” A prisoner’s relative paid almost $7,000, while the relative of another prisoner’s girlfriend, who is cooperating with federal officials under a non-prosecution agreement, paid Wright several thousand dollars. Investigators are also being assisted by an unnamed prisoner who participated in the scheme. Wright is facing bribery and contraband smuggling charges as well as charges under the Travel Act.
New York: The Auburn Correctional Facility was placed on lockdown from April 19 to 27, 2018 following a 20-prisoner brawl, a stabbing and more violence on April 18. One prisoner was slashed and another stabbed in the head and neck in a series of fights that began in the recreation yard. More than 20 weapons were confiscated after prisoners dropped them on the ground. No staff members were injured during the fights. Previously that same week, a white powdery substance was found in the prison’s mail room. A hazmat team entered the facility to investigate the substance, which was identified as non-toxic. State Senator Pam Helming has introduced bills to crack down on prison contraband and create a toll-free prison contraband hotline; she cited the violence at Auburn as a need for the legislation.
Ohio: Joseph Brodbeck, 59, employed by Aramark, the food service contractor for Ohio’s prison system, was charged on April 19, 2018 with smuggling drugs into the London Correctional Institution and selling them to five prisoners. An indictment, for conspiring to possess with intent to distribute narcotics, claimed that Brodbeck and the prisoners conspired to distribute Suboxone, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana inside the facility. The alleged smuggling scheme occurred between October 1, 2017 and March 22, 2018. Aramark holds a $60 million annual contract with the state to provide prison meals; the company began operating state prison kitchens in 2013. Thus far, 369 Aramark employees have been banned from working in state prisons due to misconduct such as having “inappropriate relationships” with prisoners and smuggling contraband. In addition to Brodbeck, the five prisoners – Alton Herron, 46, Daviontae Norvell, 26, Rodney J. Herron, 27, Gerrgy Branner, 27, and William A. Lowery, 30, also were charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute narcotics.
Oklahoma: On April 18, 2018, Muskogee County commissioners agreed to pay Ashley Wayman $175,000 to settle a federal lawsuit stemming from her rape by former jailer Harold Eugene Shinn III while she was being held at the county jail in June 2015. Shinn pleaded guilty to second-degree rape in September 2016. He was sentenced to five years in prison but only served six-and-a-half months, a punishment that Wayman called a slap in the face. Shinn was granted judicial review on April 23, 2017, and the court ordered his release from prison with the balance of his sentence to be served on probation. Court records showed he had been convicted in a 2013 Muskogee County felony burglary case, for which he received a five-year deferred sentence. Wayman argued Sheriff Charles Pearson and the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office should have known about Shinn’s felony record when he was hired; that the county failed to establish, implement and enforce a system that ensured safety for female prisoners; and that jail officials were deliberately indifferent to their safety.
Pennsylvania: On April 16, 2018, Philadelphia officials announced plans to shutter the oldest and most dilapidated of the city’s six jails by 2020. The proposed closure of the 91-year-old House of Correction, informally known as “The Creek,” came amid a 32 percent decrease in Philadelphia’s jail population following a years-long decarceration effort supported by a $3.5 million MacArthur Foundation grant. In June 2015, the city housed nearly 8,200 adult prisoners. The jail population is now at just under 5,500; the ending of cash bail for a slew of non-violent offenses helped reduce the numbers. The city cannot close the House of Correction until its system-wide prisoner population falls and stays below 4,800. Officials noted that demolition of the old jail would cost the city millions of dollars; discussions remain ongoing about how to best repurpose the building.
South Carolina: State prisoner Michael Young, 32, and an accomplice were found guilty in April 2018 of conspiring to obtain a mail-order bomb over the Internet to kill the prisoner’s ex-wife, whom he had attempted to murder in 2007. Young had shot his ex-wife’s father to death instead, and was serving a 50-year sentence in state prison. This time, Young thought he was buying a mail-order bomb from a Russian or Eastern European arms dealer that he had contacted on the Internet’s secretive “dark web.” Instead, he was communicating online with an undercover FBI agent, and the bomb sent to a friend’s house was a fake. The case was the result of an FBI domestic counter-terrorism operation dubbed “Operation Boom Box.” The conspiracy also revealed a thriving marijuana smuggling business in which about six pounds of marijuana were shipped to Columbia, South Carolina from California once a month. Young’s prosecution illustrated the ease with which a prisoner can use an illegal cell phone to go online and commit crimes.
Tennessee: On February 20, 2018, a federal grand jury returned indictments against Kiara Bogan, 27, Michael Holland, 20, Darreia Johnson, 21, and Robert Sanders, 41 – four Tennessee Department of Correction guards who worked at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Lake County. The FBI’s Tarnished Badge Task Force investigated the case against Bogan and Sanders. Bogan was indicted for distribution of marijuana, and Sanders for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. The Tennessee DOC’s internal affairs unit investigated the case against Johnson and Holland, both indicted for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. During the investigation, agents seized 13 ounces of marijuana and 51 grams of cocaine. If convicted, Bogan, Holland and Johnson each face up to five years in prison while Sanders faces up to 20 years.
Virgin Islands: The Virgin Islands Police Department arrested 35-year-old Darren Giddings, a guard assigned to the Golden Grove Correctional Facility, on April 12, 2018 and charged him with promoting prison contraband and introduction of narcotics or an addictive drug into the facility. The police report contained no details regarding the nature of the contraband in question or any other information concerning the alleged crime. Giddings was released on $10,000 bail into the custody of a family member pending an advice of rights hearing.
Washington: In the throes of a mental health crisis, Keaton Farris, 25, died naked on the floor of his Island County jail cell of dehydration and malnutrition on April 7, 2015. An autopsy revealed he had lost 20 pounds. After he flooded his cell twice in a week, the water to his sink and toilet was turned off. Farris was given Dixie cups holding an average of 15 ounces of fluids a day – a quarter of what is needed to survive. Two Island County jail guards, Mark Moffitt and David Lind, pleaded guilty on April 17, 2018 to false reporting by a public officer, a gross misdemeanor. They forged safety logs to make it seem that they had been checking on Farris more often than they actually did. Lind and Moffitt were supposed to be checking him hourly. They were sentenced to a year in jail with all but three months suspended; five days must be served behind bars, with the remainder on community service. The prosecuting attorney, David McEachran, said there was “a whole kaleidoscope of mismanagement” at the Island County jail, which was “extremely dysfunctional.”