News in Brief
Alabama: Anthony Cortez Oliver, 22, was sentenced to 15 years with three to serve, followed by five years of probation, after pleading guilty on April 24, 2018 to two counts of robbery for trying to take food from another Dallas County Jail prisoner in December 2016. At the time he was in jail facing unrelated charges of burglary and arson. Oliver and four others approached a prisoner and demanded his food tray. When he refused, they attacked him and a second prisoner intervened. Both received minor injuries – one ended up with a swollen and bloody nose and the other had bruising along his left shoulder and upper back. The cases of Oliver’s four co-defendants are still pending. “We take robbery cases very seriously, even when the victims are inmates,” said Dallas County District Attorney Michael Jackson. “The food must have been delicious that day.”
California: To avoid yet another prisoner death on his watch, on June 1, 2018, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson sought a “compassionate medical release” for Bruce Allen McKnight, 65, “to see his family and focus on his health and well-being.” Judge Ginger Garrett declined the request, since no medical records were produced and parties to McKnight’s case could not be notified. She was surprised to read about his release in the newspaper the next day. Parkinson had obtained approval after midnight from retired San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy, husband of sitting Judge Jacquelyn Duffy. There have been 12 deaths at the San Luis Obispo County jail since 2012, and the FBI is investigating civil rights abuses at the facility. Parkinson was reelected last year with 60 percent of the vote, despite calls for his resignation over the deaths.
Colorado: Sarah Nicole James, 25, a former jailer at the Fremont Correctional Facility, turned herself in on August 13, 2018 to begin a 60-day sentence for bringing methamphetamine and opiates into the prison in 2017. James, who worked at Fremont from February 2016 to December 2017, reportedly fell in love with a prisoner, which prompted her to smuggle the drugs to him in her lunchbox. On her last day at the prison, investigator Chris Barr with the Inspector General’s office opened James’ lunchbox in front of her, revealing two packages of drugs and a love letter from the prisoner. James admitted to being paid $2,000 for each of two previous deliveries. She will serve two years of supervised probation after completing her sentence.
Florida: The actions of Jorge Porto-Sierra, 50, inspired numerous Facebook comments after people shared his story on social media. On March 7, 2018, The Friendly Village Inn in Kissimmee was the site of Porto-Sierra’s confessed attempt to “barbecue all child molesters and kill them,” by setting fire to the motel and a car. Two victims escaped a motel room through a window after Porto-Sierra doused the door with gas, then broke a window and splashed more gasoline inside while yelling, “I’m going to kill you, child molester!” Before starting the intended blaze, he rammed a car with his vehicle and splashed gas inside it. Despite smoking a cigarette the whole time, Porto-Sierra never ignited the fires. He told the responding cops, “You got here too soon.” Three of the victims are registered sex offenders. Porto-Sierra remains at the Osceola County jail, charged with four counts of attempted premeditated murder.
Georgia: A four-count indictment was filed on April 12, 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. Bobby Joe Smith, a 77-year-old former probate judge in Hart County, was indicted on one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and three counts of deprivation of rights under color of law in connection with sexual assaults committed between May 2013 and May 2014. Smith met separately with three different women in his office regarding various traffic citations they had received. In one case, Smith met on multiple occasions with a woman facing two DUI charges and a charge of driving on a suspended license. According to the indictment, “Smith told Person A that she would be on private probation with him and required her to report to his office regularly and make cash payments to him.” During those visits, Smith allegedly kissed the woman on the lips and groped her multiple times without her consent. He subsequently reduced her charges and punishments for all of her pending offenses. Smith resigned in May 2014. The charges against him remain pending.
Hawaii: Authorities can’t get enough of Isaiah McCoy, the former Delaware death row prisoner who was released after being found not guilty at retrial in January 2017. The prosecutor in his original trial was suspended for misconduct. [See: PLN, May 2016, p.56]. McCoy became a sought-after public speaker and moved to Hawaii. In January 2018, he and his then-wife, Army sergeant Tawana Roberts, were indicted separately for sex trafficking following an undercover prostitution sting at a Waikiki hotel. Prosecutors claimed McCoy was building a prostitution empire. On August 6, 2018, Jonathan Cadet pleaded guilty in federal court to witness tampering in McCoy’s case. The charges against Tawana Roberts were dropped in October 2018 after evidence was not turned over to the defense. McCoy was freed a month later. “They picked the wrong person to frame,” he said upon his release. The next day, McCoy was on his way to a speaking engagement when TSA agents at the airport flagged him and picked him up on an outstanding $200 traffic warrant.
Idaho: “Some of the inmates have been taking up to five showers a day,” stated Shawn Riley, the building and grounds director for the Kootenai County jail. The facility plans to save at least $80,000 by installing timed shower technology in the low-security area. County commissioners approved new rules on December 18, 2017 that included changing shower access from any time before 10 p.m. to between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. Kootenai County spent $263,759 on water and gas in 2016. It cost $18,000 to install the shower timers. “The way we’re going to set it up is the inmate will push it, they’ll get five minutes of shower water, they’ll push it again, they’ll get another five minutes,” Riley said. It is unclear if the timer installation was part of a recent $12 million jail expansion project; the sheriff’s office claimed the project was finished $600,000 below budget when it opened in October 2018. Before the expansion, Kootenai County was sending prisoners to jails in Washington state.
Illinois: A Chicago White Sox groundskeeper is back on the job after 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Nevest Coleman was 25 when he was arrested for abduction, rape and murder. No forensic or physical evidence linked him to the crime, but he was convicted in May 1997 and sentenced to life without parole. In 2016, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s conviction integrity unit began re-investigating, and evidence in the case was sent to the Illinois State Police crime lab for testing. Coleman was excluded from the DNA profile, which matched a man convicted of several other rapes who had lived near the victim. In prison, Coleman followed White Sox games, watching former colleagues scramble to protect the field during rain delays. His first wish upon release was to go back to Comiskey Park (now called Guaranteed Rate Field), and his first day back on the job was March 26, 2018. “It has been a long time, but we’re thrilled that we have the opportunity to welcome him back to the White Sox family,” said a spokesman for the team.
Indiana: In a public/private partnership, The Last Mile joined the Indiana DOC to launch a software coding program at the Indiana Women’s Prison in April 2018. The Last Mile began at San Quentin in California, and Indiana was the first new state to partner with the non-profit. With no Internet access, the students learn to code using a simulated online experience. The first class of 14 Indiana prisoners earned certificates for the first phase of the program on December 4, 2018. That same day, Governor Eric Holcomb announced a youth version of the program was beginning at the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility with a grant from Google. “I am beyond thrilled to be growing this life-changing program,” Holcomb said. The governor sees the program as a way to boost Indiana’s workforce; he plans to have 1,000 state prisoners complete certificate programs each year by 2020.
Japan: Three prisons in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture were in turmoil on June 26, 2018 after 249 prisoners awoke with abdominal pains and diarrhea from food poisoning. Sendai city health officials shut down the cooking facility that services all three prisons – Miyagi prison, Sendai Detention Center and the Tohoku Juvenile Detention Center – for three days, and interviewed the 23 prisoners in charge of cooking and food preparation. All of the prisoners who became sick had eaten the same meals. Prison director Rei Abe pledged to enforce strict hygiene and cleanliness at the three facilities. Two days later, at Kyoto Prison, 621 out of 1,132 prisoners came down with food poisoning. There too, food preparation was suspended for three days. No source for the outbreaks was reported.
Kansas: The maximum-security El Dorado Correctional Facility, the second-largest prison in the state, has been dogged by overcrowding and understaffing. In June 2017, an uprising occurred and prisoners broke windows and lit fires, prompting a five-day lockdown. Just over a year later, prisoners again rioted by breaking windows and setting fires. Although no one was hurt, Sarah LaFrenz, president of the union representing state employees, said “much more damage” was sustained and visitation was canceled after the July 4, 2018 incident. More than 75 prisoners were involved in the disturbance, which lasted 4½ hours. On February 12, 2019, a staffing emergency was declared at El Dorado. Newly-elected Governor Laura Kelly told reporters, “The shortage there is really a huge safety and security issue.” Her budget includes $3 million for increased prison staffing. According to a February 5, 2019 news report, the state spent at least $414,000 to repair damage and replace equipment after the 2017 and 2018 riots.
Louisiana: Jamie Lee Coutee, 19, was out on $1,500 bond after causing a “commotion” on the morning of July 11, 2018 at the Rapides Parish Courthouse. Coutee and Miguel Camille Glorioso, 20, were having sex in the fifth-floor stairwell when the noise attracted a nearby employee. The Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office stated, “When the two saw the employee, they quickly gathered themselves and fled the area.” The witness recognized Glorioso, who was picked up nearby. He was acting as a janitor at the courthouse while serving an eight-year sentence. His “trustee” status, which allowed him to work unsupervised, was revoked. Both Coutee and Glorioso were charged with obscenity; according to court records, Coutee had previously been charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Massachusetts: Everette L. Hopper, Jr., 70, a retired Middleton jail guard, was sentenced on March 28, 2018 to 11-14 years in state prison following his conviction on two counts of child rape and a charge of indecent assault and battery for sexually abusing a boy in the 1980s and 1990s for more than ten years. Proposed guidelines by the state Sentencing Commission called for a 3½ to five-year term. Superior Court Judge Thomas Drechsler called Hopper’s crimes “an awful pattern of repeat and intentional abuse” of a child entrusted to his care. Hopper had watched the boy when his mother was at work, and had acknowledged his misconduct in a series of Facebook messages that were entered into evidence at trial. The victim, now an adult, came forward after he began to have panic attacks during his wife’s pregnancy. He told jurors he was in fear that he too would become an abuser. Hopper will be eligible for parole in 7½ years.
Minnesota: Reporters and critics are asking why prisoner Edward Muhammad Johnson, who is suspected in the July 18, 2018 murder of prison guard Joseph Gomm, was allowed to work in the Stillwater Prison Industry program around heavy tools. Prisoners make products for public agencies and private companies in the industry program. Johnson, serving a life sentence, had a history of troublesome behavior, including weapons possession and assaulting other prisoners. Gomm was pronounced dead at Regions Hospital after being attacked with a hammer in the welding and paint shops, where there are no security cameras. Johnson was moved to MCF-Oak Park Heights after Gomm was murdered. Joe Miller, one of three guards who quit after Gomm’s death, said he believed the DOC cares more about prison industry program profits than the safety of staff members.
Missouri: John Thomas Dunn, a former Corizon Health employee serving as a mental health counselor at the Chillicothe Correctional Center, pleaded guilty to felony sexual conduct with a prisoner in April 2018. Dunn’s four-year sentence was suspended and he was placed on five years of supervised probation. He received credit for time served to reduce his 120 days of shock detention. On May 29, 2018, a former Chillicothe prisoner, Karen Keil, filed a federal lawsuit naming Dunn for molesting her after she confided to him that she had been raped by prison guard Edward Bearden. Keil served six years of a 15-year sentence for embezzlement before a judge reduced her sentence. She completed her term of parole and moved to Georgia. Now, the Missouri AG’s Office, which is defending Bearden in Keil’s civil suit, is seeking to reinstate her original sentence and send her back to Chillicothe. Kent Gipson, her attorney, said returning Keil to the facility where she was raped serves no practical purpose and would be “bad optics” for Missouri.
Nebraska: Armon Dixon and Timothy Clausen hid in a laundry cart on June 10, 2016 to escape from the Lincoln Correctional Center. [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.63]. They punched a hole in the laundry truck’s roof and fled. 911 calls about the pair alerted prison officials to the escape. Dixon and Clausen stole a van and were soon being chased by state troopers; the chase ended when the stolen van crashed into the passenger side of a parked SUV in which Kathy Soto-Day was eating lunch with Donavon Phillips. In June 2018, Soto-Day and Phillips filed suit against Scott Frakes, head of the Department of Correctional Services, the Department itself and the State of Nebraska for negligence. They are seeking nearly $16,000 in medical expenses plus $8,200 to cover the cost of the damage to the SUV. Their lawsuit alleges prison officials failed to prevent the escape, failed to catch the two prisoners before they could steal a van, and failed to follow procedures preventing the procurement of a cell phone and access to the laundry room, which facilitated the escape.
New York: A 23-year-old woman and former intern at the Islip Town Attorney’s Office awoke in her family’s home on March 29, 2018 to find their neighbor, Suffolk District Court Judge Robert Cicale, in her room after he had taken several pairs of used panties from her laundry hamper. Police responded and found Cicale pretending to knock at another neighbor’s door. He has been removed from the bench and faces up to 15 years in prison. Cicale pleaded not guilty to burglary, but confessed to stealing the woman’s panties on several occasions after feeling “urges.” He wrote an apology to his victim and is expected to undergo mental health treatment; his bond was set at $50,000. Cicale, a married father of three young children and formerly a respected judge, was described by neighbors as a friendly family man. His attorney, William Wexler, filed papers in May 2018 asking for a special prosecutor because Suffolk County’s “supervisory ADA in the major case bureau stands to benefit personally from Cicale’s conviction.”
North Carolina: The Lanesboro Correctional Institution is one of the most dangerous prisons in the state, where gangs are in charge and corruption is rampant, according to former FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker. Ex-Lanesboro guard Evangeline Hunt was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison on March 23, 2018 for her role in gang-related contraband smuggling. A high-ranking Crips member, James Cannon, gave Hunt a cell phone and she smuggled drugs, tobacco and other contraband into the maximum-security prison in exchange for bribes. At least eight other guards at the facility have been caught doing the same between 2013 and 2017. Even as she was cooperating with the FBI, the smuggling continued and Hunt was tipping-off Cannon. North Carolina now has cell phone detection devices at all state prisons, but Swecker believes there must be a major overhaul to address the contraband problem.
Ohio: Michael Shane, 33, and Harley Rawson, 31, hated the privately-run Northeast Ohio Correctional Facility in Youngstown so much that they were willing to risk more prison time to get out. The prison is operated by CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, under contract with the U.S. Marshals Service and state of Ohio. Shane was serving a 20-year sentence for attempted murder, Rawson seven years for robbery. On April 11, 2018, they allegedly kidnapped a fellow prisoner and threatened to kill him if they were not transferred to another facility. On May 31, 2018, a Mahoning County grand jury indicted both men on charges of kidnapping with repeat violent offender specifications and two counts of possession of weapons under detention. The type of weapon they used was not specified. Shane and Rawson pleaded not guilty in June 2018, and both were moved to the state-run Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.
Oklahoma: Stephen Michael Paris, 58, was arrested without incident on April 12, 2018 at an office in Houston, Texas, where he worked under a pseudonym. He had eluded law enforcement for 37 years. The U.S. Marshals Service tracked him down after an obituary for his mother listed a son named Stephen Chavez – his assumed name. Fingerprints confirmed his identity. When he was 22 years old, Paris escaped from the Jess Dunn Correctional Center in Muskogee County in October 1981 after serving 19 months of a nine-year sentence for drug possession and distribution. He had been featured on the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ “most wanted” list for years. “Identity theft is very prevalent in the United States today,” said Johnny Ray Williams, chief deputy for the Oklahoma City office of the U.S. Marshals, in regard to how Paris had eluded capture for so long.
Pennsylvania: Rasheem Drummond, 34, robbed and pistol whipped a date he had originally met online in January 2017. He was convicted of robbery and carrying a firearm without a license, and on June 13, 2018 was sentenced to 7½ to 15 years in state prison. He now faces further charges of aggravated harassment by a prisoner. At his pre-trial hearing, Drummond represented himself. He handed Deputy District Attorney Katie Adam an envelope that she expected to contain a pretrial letter; instead, she found “only fecal matter.” According to the DA’s office, in Pennsylvania it is illegal “for an inmate to cause or attempt to cause another individual to come into contact with a bodily fluid or feces.” Drummond waived his right to a preliminary hearing on the new charges.
Tennessee: Christian Tyrone, 51, a Dickson County probation officer, was charged with two counts of official misconduct on April 23, 2018. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said he received sexual favors as payment from probationers in exchange for leniency from April through September 2017. Tyrone was arrested and booked into the Dickson County jail, and released the next day on $2,000 bond.
Texas: Katrina Carie Douglas, 43, a former Milam County jail captain, pleaded guilty on April 4, 2018 to theft of more than $2,500 but less than $150,000 by a public servant – a second-degree felony. Douglas was sentenced on June 21, 2018 to 10 years deferred adjudication probation. She was ordered to pay $41,000 in restitution to Milam County, $15,000 for a forensic audit and a $5,000 fine, for taking money from the Milam County jail’s inmate trust account. Douglas is the third county employee in the last two years to be connected to missing funds. She joins former county treasurer Donna Orsag and Kolette Barrett Morgan, the county’s former tax assessor/collector, in facing theft charges. In January 2018, Lydia Cervantes, 55, the Milam County tax assessor/collector chief deputy, and her daughter, Laura Cervantes, 26, a tax assessor/collector motor vehicle clerk, were arrested in an unrelated forgery case.
Vatican: In a change that has been added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as of August 2, 2018, Pope Francis declared that the death penalty is no longer permissible “because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” The new stance may complicate the political lives of Catholic governors in death penalty states, such as Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Greg Abbott of Texas. John Gehring, the program director at the Faith in Public Life advocacy group, said, “If you’re a Catholic governor who thinks the state has the right to end human life, you need to be comfortable saying you’re disregarding orthodox church teaching.” Five of the current U.S. Supreme Court justices are Catholic. The United States is the only G7 country that still executes people, and it is estimated that 53 percent of American Catholics are pro-death penalty. Although executions are down worldwide, the practice is still common in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan, in addition to the U.S.
Venezuela: A riot in which two guards and nine prisoners were killed and 28 prisoners injured at the Fenix Penitentiary in Barquisimeto was the second prison disturbance during the presidential election week that saw Nicolas Maduro re-elected. Two days earlier, on May 15, 2018, videos from El Helicoide, a detention center in Caracas housed in the same building as Venezuela’s intelligence agency, showed a man claiming the prison had been “taken over peacefully by all the political prisoners and all the prisoners who are abducted here, who are tortured daily.” It is unclear how jailers reestablished control at the two prisons. Many opponents of Maduro are said to be held at El Helicoide; no deaths were reported at that facility.
Washington: A pilot program at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, part of the Sustainability in Prison Project in association with Evergreen State College, is aimed at preserving wild bighorn sheep. Domestic sheep and goats carry the bacteria Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, which causes deadly pneumonia in bighorn sheep. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife supervises prisoner trainees learning sheep husbandry while helping to raise M. ovi-free sheep for eventual sale to small herd owners. Domestic sheep pass the bacteria to wild bighorns while sharing rural grazing land. The program started with 15 ewes and one ram in August 2017, and 28 lambs were born in the spring of 2018. Prisoners feed, vaccinate and test the sheep. The lambs will be sold in 2019, when they are one year old.
West Virginia: West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry was concerned about court spending in 2017. In a case of poetic justice, the now-former judge, who had a $32,000 blue suede couch in his courthouse office, will spend two years in prison plus three years on supervised probation. Loughry’s attorney had asked for probation or home confinement. At his sentencing on February 13, 2019, Loughry was also ordered to pay $1,300 in restitution, a $1,000 special assessment and a $10,000 fine. He was convicted in October 2018 on seven counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators, after nearly three days of jury deliberation. Before sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge John Copenhaver, Jr. acquitted Loughry on a witness tampering charge. One week later, in a separate hearing, Loughry agreed to be disbarred and to never seek another public office. He must pay $5,000 plus a $3,000 fine to the disciplinary counsel.