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News in Brief

Alabama: Terrance Andrews, 24, was pronounced dead from multiple stab wounds at 4:20 p.m. on December 29, 2018 after a fight with a fellow prisoner at the St. Clair Correctional Facility. Cedric Leshawn Davis, 35 is suspected to be the killer. Andrews was serving 25 years for a 2013 robbery; Davis had a life sentence for killing a man in Fairhope in 2006. It is unclear what started the fight or if both prisoners had weapons. Davis has since been moved to the Limestone Correctional Facility.

Brazil: A group of 20 heavily armed men in four vehicles blew apart the front gate of the Romeu Gonçalves Abrantes prison on September 10, 2018. The only reported death was a policeman, who was shot in the head on a prison access road that had been blocked by a second group. Brazil’s prisons are at double capacity and rife with gang violence. State prisons secretary Colonel Sergio Fonseca de Souza believes the objective was to free four prisoners arrested in 2017 for using explosives to rob money transport vehicles and bank tellers. There were conflicting reports, but it was believed that more than 100 prisoners escaped and nearly 41 were recaptured the same day. Classes were canceled at nearby schools and universities, and health clinics were closed “to guarantee the security of the health workers and patients.” The U.S. and China have the largest prison populations, followed by Brazil. A war between the country’s two largest gangs, Family of the North (FDN) and First Capital Command (PCC) has resulted in extreme levels of violence in Brazilian prisons, where beheadings are common. 

California: California’s oldest state prison was short one prisoner on December 26, 2018 after Shalom Mendoza, 21, walked away from his work assignment outside the secure perimeter of San Quentin and carjacked a Toyota 20 minutes before authorities knew he was gone. The owner of the car reported that Mendoza allowed her to get her small dog from the vehicle before taking off from a Home Depot parking lot. She thought he might have a weapon. Mendoza replaced his prison uniform with dark clothes from a Dollar Store in San Miguel, but the clothes did not obscure the “DIRTY $” tattoo over his right eyebrow. An alert customer recognized him at a Paso Robles Taco Bell and alerted law enforcement. Mendoza had arrived at San Quentin in April 2018, serving five years for attempted carjacking and evading police while driving recklessly. Following his capture, he was taken to Salinas Valley State Prison, then moved to the California Medical Facility. Felony carjacking and escape charges are being evaluated by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office.

Colorado: Former deputy Steven D’Agostino, 35, was sentenced to six years in prison on November 14, 2018 for smuggling methamphetamine into the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center. Initially, dispatchers received an anonymous tip that prisoner Eloy Sanchez was arranging to get drugs into the jail on June 12, 2018. Monitored calls revealed D’Agostino and his code name, “Burrito.” A woman delivered a KFC meal to the jail for the deputy. When he picked up the meal, investigators waylaid him and discovered a balloon with 7.5 grams of methamphetamine concealed in the mashed potatoes. He admitted to owning an email address used to arrange the drug deliveries, and pleaded guilty to bribery and contraband charges. It is unclear how many times he smuggled drugs into the jail, but he was paid $1,500 for each drop. D’Agostino had worked for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office for five years.

Florida: On July 23, 2018, Zachary Taylor, 22, submitted a sick call request to report he had been raped by another prisoner three days earlier at the Leon County jail. While walking laps in his pod, he was pulled into a cell and forced to perform oral sex on another prisoner, he said. Taylor filed a sworn affidavit, but security video of his pod and door logs indicated that the attack could not have happened as he described. When confronted, Taylor admitted that another prisoner suggested such an allegation would help him get out of jail sooner, so he made one up. He was charged with filing a false report to law enforcement.

Florida: A five-month investigation by the Orange County Corrections Department resulted in five Orange County jail guards resigning or retiring after disgruntled prisoners complained that Robert Potchen, 61, serving 15 years for pulling a gun on his wife, was getting special treatment. The guards who retired or quit included Juan Perez, Bobby McDonald, Joseph Rice, Shawn Kelly and Lisa Rembert. Likened to Andy Dufresne in the movie Shawshank Redemption, Potchen, who had written several of his own pro se legal briefs, prepared a tax return for Perez, gave legal advice to McDonald and helped Kelly reduce his student loans. It is unclear how Rice benefited, but Lisa Rembert exchanged almost 600 phone calls with Potchen between April and October 2018; she even became his power of attorney. In exchange, Potchen got to hang out with the guards at all hours, smoke e-cigarettes, access the Internet and, at least once, order Chinese take-out. Following the investigation, Potchen was moved to a segregation cell.

France: Infamous gangster Rédoine Fäid and four accomplices were arrested by French Special Forces on October 3, 2018 in Criel, his hometown, three months after his Hollywood-worthy escape from the Sud Francilien prison by helicopter, which prompted a manhunt. Fäid, 46, was serving time for armed robbery and murder. On July 1, 2018, a helicopter and flight instructor were hijacked and forced to land in the prison courtyard; two of the abductors used a grinding machine to open the visitation room door and grab Fäid and his visiting brother. They torched and abandoned the helicopter near a waiting getaway car, north of Paris. Fäid eluded trackers for months by pretending to be a woman and wearing a burqa. No one was injured during his capture, which involved 120 officers. “Fäid will go to a highly secured prison and will face extremely strict surveillance,” said French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet. In 2013, Fäid had escaped from the Sequedin prison by taking four guards hostages and using smuggled explosives to blast through five doors. He remained at large for more than a month. 

Illinois: Teresa M. Guzman, 36, was in the Lake County jail on burglary charges. On June 21, 2018, her family called the sheriff’s office to report that she had been fondled below the waist by a female guard during a pat down search in the jail’s library. Video surveillance footage was obtained by PREA-trained investigators. “The video contradicted Guzman’s allegation and showed the Corrections Officer at no time made contact with Guzman’s groin area,” a spokesman for the sheriff’s office stated. Consequently, Guzman was charged with disorderly conduct and filing a false report of an offense, a Class 4 felony with a possible three-year prison term, on July 6, 2018. Sgt. Christopher Covelli said Guzman admitted to making up the story after she was told about the video. Nevertheless, she pleaded not guilty on August 2, 2018. Her bond on the charges was set at $100,000. Sheriff Mark Curran said the case highlights the burden on jail guards: “They often face verbal abuse, physical abuse, and false allegations.”

Kansas: In July 2018, CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, was sued by two former Leavenworth Detention Center employees in separate cases that alleged retaliation. Michael G. Baldwin had worked as a guard at the CoreCivic-run facility beginning in 2009. He filed a wage and benefits grievance against the company four years later. Baldwin pursued his dispute with the Department of Labor; as a result, the company was fined “several hundred thousand dollars” in 2015 after an investigation into his complaint. He was subsequently harassed by co-workers and called a “rat.” Baldwin found a dead rat on his car in 2016 after reporting a co-worker who was stealing equipment. He went on anxiety leave and said he was “constructively discharged” in March 2017. Leslie West, a Leavenworth unit manager, expressed concerns about understaffing and risks to employee and prisoner safety. She had to take an illegal polygraph test during a smuggling investigation, was eventually fired and then filed a retaliation suit. A CoreCivic official said the company does “not comment on pending litigation.” 

Kansas: In October 2018, Russell County Sheriff Fred Whitman asked the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to look into allegations that jail guard Frank D. Alexander, 42, was having sex with prisoners. Alexander was fired on November 8, 2018. Three weeks later, the KBI presented its findings to the Russell County Attorney. In early January 2019, Alexander was arrested on two counts of unlawful sexual relations; he was moved to the Phillips County jail, where he bonded out for an undisclosed amount. 

Michigan: Two prisoners tried to escape from the Chanter Road Jackson County Jail on June 26, 2018 by ramming a stolen Tigg’s Canteen Services delivery van through the front gates. The vehicle stalled during the attempt, and guards tased and sprayed them with chemical spray. Jason Wesch, 40, had threatened the van driver and seized the keys, while Christopher Tucker, 47, jumped in for the ride. The two were moved to the Wesley Street Jail. Tucker pleaded guilty to one felony count of escape or attempting to escape while in jail for a felony offense, plus one count of aggravated stalking – the charge for which he was already in jail. He was sentenced on December 6, 2018 to two to 15 years and ordered to pay $500 in restitution. Wesch was charged with malicious destruction of police or fire property and assaulting, resisting or obstructing a sergeant and two corrections deputies. He was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison on April 4, 2019, which included time for his original felony charges in addition to the escape.

Mississippi: Officials with the Mississippi Department of Corrections announced on November 19, 2018 that a statewide lockdown was no longer in effect. Nearly a month earlier, the MDOC posted on its Facebook page that a “statewide incident” led to the lockdown. On April 20, 2018 a similar lockdown had been imposed “related to security,” but without specifics. That was apparently in response to a riot at the privately-operated Marshall County Correctional Facility, which has experienced a variety of problems, including two escapes in 2017. The earlier statewide lockdown lasted six weeks. Families of Mississippi prisoners have voiced complaints about frequent lockdowns at state prisons as a result of contraband or other security-related incidents. Prison officials claim the lockdowns are necessary to ensure the safety of both prisoners and staff.

Missouri: The Carpenters Union of Greater St. Louis had started building tiny homes as a way to provide training experience to apprentice carpenters. Some of those apprentices were ex-prisoners, and Director of Training and Workforce Development Ron Tierney was open to working with prisoners at the Northeast Correctional Facility in Bowling Green. At the same time, the not-for-profit North East Community Action Corp. (NECAC) had been looking for contractors to build tiny homes for affordable housing. On June 8, 2018, the three groups announced a partnership in an apprentice carpentry program that will manufacture tiny homes inside the prison. “We’re seeing a very large shortage of skilled labor in carpentry,” said Tierney. “We hope to emulate this around the state, as well as in Illinois.” Missouri DOC spokesman Karen Pojmann added, “It will give offenders a lot of experience in the building industry, and they can even learn certification and apprenticeships.” NECAC will arrange the sale and delivery of the $45,000, 500-square-foot homes. South Dakota’s prison system has already produced around 2,000 tiny homes in a similar program. 

Missouri: Inmate Services Corporation, a private prison transport company based in West Memphis, Arkansas, was under scrutiny after prisoner Dennis Shaner, 50, committed suicide on May 24, 2018 using a transport guard’s gun. Shaner was being transported to the Taney County jail in Forsyth, Missouri from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma on a probation violation. The van stopped at the Greene County jail in Springfield. According to a Greene County Sheriff’s press release, Shaner was allowed to get out. “Once out of the van, the driver walked around the front of the vehicle at which time Shaner retrieved the unsecured handgun and shot himself.” Inmate Services Corporation president Randy Cagle told reporters that the transport guards were unaware Shaner was suicidal. He did not address the fact that no prisoner, whether suicidal or not, should have been able to access a guard’s firearm. According to a December 12, 2018 news report, Randy Dunn – a prisoner who witnessed Shaner shoot himself – said, “If that guy would have been homicidal instead of suicidal, we would all be dead.”

Nevada: Paul Valdez, 36, and Jose Navarrete, 35, were relieved when a jury handed down not guilty verdicts in their excessive use of force trial on December 14, 2018. The two former Southern Desert Correctional Center guards were each charged with a category D felony for oppression under color of office, inhumanity to a prisoner and false report by a public officer. The charges stemmed from a confrontation with prisoner Ricky Norelus outside the prison mess hall in October 2016. Navarrete and Valdez argued that they had felt threatened by Norelus when he yelled obscenities and pulled his hands off the wall during a routine frisk search. Video showed Valdez’s arm around Norelus as he yanked him to the floor. The defense produced a post-incident medical report that quoted Norelus saying he had “no injuries” and “I’m ok.” Norelus did not testify at the trial. When asked what he plans to do now, Navarrete said, “Something other than law enforcement, for sure. I have no idea, but something other than law enforcement.”

North Carolina: A woman alerted police on December 6, 2018 after she received a misdirected letter from the Alamance County jail that included directions for making a bomb and a detailed drawing of where to place the device to blow a hole in the facility’s wall, so prisoner Sean Damion Castorina, 43, could escape. Jail phone records and evidence from Castorina’s cell confirmed the plot and implicated conspirators Dakota Lee Markek, 24, and Shannon Douglas Gurkin, 23. Sheriff Terry Johnson said Castorina is a self-proclaimed “anarchist” and the other two are his “followers.” Castorina was already serving a 13-year minimum sentence for killing an 84-year-old man in 2017. Markek was charged with a parole violation, and he and Gurkin also face charges for malicious use of an explosive to damage property. Bond was set at $1 million each. Earlier in 2018, Castorina had attempted another escape from the jail’s annex; he has now been charged with felony conspiracy, manufacture and assembly of a weapon of mass destruction, and attempted escape.

Oklahoma: Adam Michael Siemer, 35, a food service supervisor at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, claimed he was set up. He was charged on December 27, 2018 with felony trafficking in illegal drugs and bringing contraband into a jail or prison, after 42 grams of methamphetamine, divided between two bags, were discovered in his prosthetic leg during a shakedown of the death row unit. He was released on $75,000 bond. Siemer told McAlester Police Officer Richard Bedford, “The chief or one of the other officers had placed the bags in his leg because he filed a grievance,” according to the booking report. Oklahoma prison officials have launched an internal investigation into the incident.

Oregon: On November 14, 2018, the supervisor of a work crew at the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office’s animal rescue ranch off Rickard Road failed to notice that two members of the four-man prisoner work crew had absconded on an ATV, until 911 calls started to come in. Christopher Turre and Shawn McCallister were caught within two hours on federal land. They had gotten drunk on hand sanitizer, which contained alcohol, from the jail transport van. Judge A. Michael Adler called it “one of the dumbest things I’ve seen in a while” at Turre’s sentencing on December 17, 2018. Turre, who had surrendered and pleaded guilty, received 90 days for unauthorized use of a vehicle and second-degree escape, plus two years of supervised probation with no use of alcohol “in beverages, or in hand sanitizer.” McCallister, the ATV driver, who fled on foot when the Oregon State Police caught up with them, was sentenced on December 12, 2018 to 25 months for DUI, reckless driving, second-degree escape and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Additionally, the judge revoked his driver’s license for life. 

Pennsylvania: James Dale Harrington was the chief psychologist at SCI Cresson when the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) began looking into the use of solitary confinement on mentally ill prisoners and prisoners with intellectual disabilities. [See: PLN, March 2013, p.18]. Nevertheless, Harrington was promoted that same year to regional psychological manager for the DOC, in charge of at least six state prisons. “Mr. Harrington was one of our strongest licensed psychologist managers,” explained Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. After the DOJ issued its report in 2014, Pennsylvania began its own investigation, which led to disciplinary charges against Harrington that were considered at a hearing in October 2018. Widely reported was an incident described in the DOJ report, in which “three of Cresson’s psychology staff ... witnessed a senior member of the staff telling ... prisoners with intellectual disabilities that they had to sing ‘I’m a little teapot’ if they wanted to improve their living conditions and obtain more mental health treatment.” The disciplinary board has not yet issued a ruling on the charges against Harrington.

South Carolina: After an April 2018 riot at the Lee Correctional Institution in which seven prisoners were killed, Lieber CI and seven other prisons were put on indefinite lockdown. [See: PLN, July 2018, p.14; May 2018, p.12]. “Lockdowns are a means of securing the prisons and not a form of punishment,” said state DOC spokesman Dexter Lee. On December 16, 2018, a dozen prisoners at Lieber CI were additionally burdened by sewage that spilled from cell toilets for twelve hours, into the cells as well as common areas. Brunch and dinner were served to prisoners in the affected cells, raising the risk of a hepatitis A outbreak. Hepatitis A is spread through contact with fecal matter. Lee said the sewage backup was caused by prisoners trying to flush clothes down the toilets, and that the water was turned off and prisoners were immediately given cleaning supplies. How they were supposed to clean without water was not explained. Lieber CI was short staffed, so a cleaning crew from Columbia was called in to help. 

South Dakota: Andrew Henisch, a Minnesota dentist, provided dental services at the Minnehaha County Jail in Sioux Falls through a subcontract with Armor Correctional Health Services. He has been charged with several counts of “attempted sexual contact without consent with a person capable of consent,” after a prisoner sent an email to her public advocate describing her experience with Henisch in April 2018. An affidavit detailed accusations from five female prisoners at the jail, including that the dentist engaged in breast fondling, suggestive remarks, an offer to exhibit his tattoos once the prisoner was released, and sliding his hand inside a prisoner’s shirt. The prisoners feared reprisals if they resisted. Henisch turned himself in on July 19, 2018 and posted a $10,000 bond. He initially lost his license to practice dentistry, but in a surprise reversal the criminal charges were dismissed without prejudice on September 7, 2018, and Henisch’s bond money was released. No explanation for the dismissal was given. The Minnesota Board of Dentistry reinstated his license on September 13, 2018. 

Tennessee: Janel Sands, 26, was employed as a guard at the Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility in Nashville when, on July 26, 2018, she was booked into the Davidson County Jail, charged with two counts of having sex with a prisoner. Sands allegedly had sex with the male prisoner once in March 2018 and again in April 2018. “Not only does this type of behavior violate the TDOC Code of Conduct, this behavior is criminal and strictly prohibited by state and federal law,” prison officials said in a statement. “The safe and secure operation of prisons is key to the Department’s mission and any threat to that mission will be rooted out and dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. As you can see from the vigorous prosecution by the Department, this type of behavior will never be tolerated by TDOC.” Sands’ bond was set at $35,000.

Texas: Two sergeants from the Wayne Scott Unit in Angleton set out on September 21, 2018 for the Ports of America in Freeport to pick up 45 boxes of unclaimed bananas that were donated to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. One of the boxes felt different when they lifted it, so they opened it. Under the bananas they found a box containing “a white powdery substance,” later identified by U.S. Customs officials as cocaine. Further inspection revealed 540 packages of the drug, with a street value of $17.8 million. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Drug Enforcement Administration are investigating. Although the bananas were in standard Dole brand boxes, the source of the shipment and the intended recipient have not been reported. It was also unclear whether prisoners at the Wayne Scott Unit got to eat any of the bananas.

Texas: Ryan Glenn Martinez, 54, pleaded guilty in federal court on October 3, 2018 to one count of wire fraud and one count of filing a false tax return. He originally faced a laundry list of charges that included three counts of money laundering and 10 counts of wire fraud, stemming from an IRS investigation. The week before, he was sentenced in state court to six years in prison. Martinez embezzled over $800,000 from Southern Folger Detention Equipment Company, LLC, where he served as comptroller. The firm, which manufactures locks and electronic security systems for correctional facilities, ran an internal investigation after an employee “discovered discrepancies.” Martinez set up shell companies that he used to capture payments meant for Southern Folger between January 2012 and May 2014, and sent bogus emails and made false ledger entries to cover up his embezzlement. State prosecutors said he used the money for trips to Las Vegas, gambling and male prostitutes. A company spokesman said a 1991 conviction for federal mail fraud had failed to show up on Martinez’s pre-employment background check.

Utah: The Coal Hollow fire started on August 4, 2018 and raged for weeks. By August 21, prisoners had been dispatched to help contain the blaze and man base camps. One of those workers was Idaho prisoner Ruben Hernandez, 27. Hernandez had no history of assault and less than a year left on his sentence. He was part of a 10-person crew that had worked eight days on the wildfire before he was accused of rape. The victim was running a wash trailer when she was first pestered and then sexually assaulted by Hernandez. When she reported it, she said “she did not scream or stop him because she knew he was a prisoner and did not want to get hurt....” The victim identified Hernandez in an immediate line-up of the prison work crew. She agreed to let him take a plea deal on December 24, 2018 to avoid having to testify at a trial. Hernandez pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery, and will serve 116 more days in Utah plus three to four years in Idaho without parole.

Virginia: The Chesterfield Police Department began surveilling attorney Dana Tapper in May 2017, after a Riverside Regional Jail prisoner informed them that prisoner Karon Porter was receiving Suboxone strips from Tapper. A cell phone was seized from Porter in February 2018 that had thousands of texts between the two. It is unclear how Tapper initially became involved with Porter. In 2013, Tapper received a $20,000 award from Shutterfly on the Ellen DeGeneres show for her commitment to working for juvenile justice. “The only reason I went to law school was to work with kids,” she told Ellen. On August 2, 2018, she pleaded guilty in Prince George Circuit Court to providing a prisoner with a cell phone, conspiracy to provide a prisoner with a cell phone and conspiracy to provide a controlled substance, in exchange for three months in prison with 19 years and nine months suspended. Tapper had to surrender her law license and will be on supervised probation until released by the court, then on unsupervised probation for the rest of her life.