Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

News in Brief

Alabama: Jesse Bailey, 28, a former FCI Aliceville prison guard, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to one count of abusive sexual contact and one count of making false statements. Despite leaving an email and telephone trail with his victim, Bailey lied about having had such communication and sexual contact with the female prisoner. The “flirtation” began in January 2016 and lasted several weeks. Emailing and calling prisoners was strictly prohibited, as was the sexual activity that occurred in a staff bathroom near the prisoner’s assigned dorm. On May 22, 2018, Bailey was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. He could have received up to 15 years on the sexual abuse charge and eight years for lying. “This defendant now enters the prison system as an inmate rather than a guard and will learn how critically important it is that corrections officers honor their responsibility to supervise and protect inmates,” stated U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town. The allegations were investigated by the DOJ and the Office of the Inspector General.

Arizona: “They knew they had fleas or parasites or something,” said Valorie Kitaj. Her son Matthew, incarcerated at Arizona State Prison Complex-Tucson, initially thought his scabies was a spider bite. He submitted written requests for treatment for weeks, with no response. The rash spread among other prisoners. Fed-up with efforts to contact the Arizona DOC and Corizon Health, the prison system’s health care provider, Katij contacted NPR radio station KJZZ on October 16, 2018. A spokesman for Corizon claimed they had reported the outbreak to state and county officials within the required 24 hours, and that all 30 cases had been treated by October 10. The state and county agencies denied being notified. Matthew did not receive adequate treatment until after his mother contacted KJZZ. In July 2018, the Mojave Unit at ASPC-Douglas had a scabies outbreak that lasted three months.

California: He only had a four-day sentence at the North County jail on a DUI charge, but Marc Schwartz, 22, couldn’t wait, so he escaped on day two. He climbed the jail’s fence, injuring himself on the razor wire, then jumped another fence before dropping to freedom on the other side. Once the escape was noticed, a lockdown and prisoner count revealed Schwartz was missing. A helicopter, Santa Rosa police K-9 units, over 20 Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputies, CHIPs and Santa Rosa Junior College Police were dispatched to the area. Someone noticed Schwartz running through a field after his description was broadcast, and he was caught, wet and bleeding in a creek, 38 minutes after his escape. Schwartz was treated for his injuries and moved to the higher-security Sonoma County Jail in Santa Rosa; he now faces up to one year for felony escape.

California: Donovan State Prison has a gang problem, but the gang is comprised of prison guards. Attorney Mark Merin, who filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of prisoners at the facility, said, “I am hopeful that, as the litigation proceeds, we’ll get the information necessary to get these rogue guards criminally charged and the administrators who have shielded them fired.” The plaintiffs allege that “The Green Wall” gang is run like the Mafia, ordering hits and smuggling phones and drugs to sell to prisoners. The guards’ Green Wall gang in California’s prison system has been referenced as far back as 1990 in Madrid v. Gomez, a class-action suit over conditions at the Pelican Bay facility. At that time the guards used “G/W” and “7/23” as identifying symbols. California prison officials did not comment on the lawsuit.

Colorado: The Aurora Detention Center, where Ronnie Keys was incarcerated, had only one doctor for 600 prisoners. Keyes was already paralyzed and wheelchair bound when he was first housed at the facility, run by the GEO Group, in June 2016. He needed an air mattress to prevent bed sores but never received one. He developed ulcers that bled and began to smell; one on his ankle “became a crater” and turned black. The doctor contended that “Mr. Keyes’ complaints were lies and a ploy to get out of detention.” Keyes was finally taken to a hospital on September 12, 2018 after running a high fever. Eight days later his leg was amputated below the knee to save his life, but sepsis and osteomyelitis had progressed. Further surgeries and amputations have not improved his chances for survival. A medical negligence suit, Keyes v. United States, filed in June 2018, asserts the U.S. Marshals were responsible for assessing Keyes’ medical needs, and their failure to do so resulted in his potentially fatal condition.

Florida: Former FDC Miami guard Michael Mazar, 39, pleaded guilty to federal RICO, mail/wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property charges in March 2018. He was sentenced to five years in prison plus three years of community supervision on June 13, 2018, and ordered to pay $8.9 million in restitution. Mazar smuggled cell phones to prisoner Jimmy Sabatino, 40, who is reportedly associated with the Gambino crime family. Sabatino contacted high-end retailers, convincing them to send jewelry, handbags, wristwatches and clothing that would be featured in films and music videos. [See: PLN, Jan. 2017, p.63]. He posed as a representative of Sony Music Entertainment and RocNation, and conned companies such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik and Audemars Piguet, getting them to mail the items or have them made available for pickup. Rather than appear in films, the expensive items were sold to pawn shops. Sabatino pleaded guilty in September 2017 and was moved to the federal ADX supermax in Colorado.

Florida: The Walton Academy for Growth and Change, a mental health treatment center in DeFuniak Springs, was where a 15-year-old juvenile was subjected to sexual abuse by three 17-year-olds and a 16-year-old, while youth worker Antoine Davis, 27, looked on and did not intervene. The boys grabbed the victim and sodomized him with “a travel-size shampoo bottle.” Security cameras caught Davis by the door, where he “appear[ed] to be laughing.” After the attack, the victim started acting out and Davis began documenting that behavior. The 15-year-old grabbed the report, prompting Davis to shove the boy into a table. It was unclear who made the July 5, 2018 call to 911 that brought police officers to investigate. Davis, arrested for battery, was released on July 30, 2018 without being prosecuted, but on a $1,390 bond for a 2016 out-of-county felony arrest warrant. Nevada-based Rites of Passage is the contractor responsible for hiring staff and providing programs at the Walton Academy.

Georgia: The home of Georgia’s “Old Sparky” is gone. The Georgia State Prison Farm in Milledgeville was built in 1911. Thirteen years later, the first Georgia prisoner was executed in the electric chair at that facility. The State Prison Farm was chronically overcrowded, and replaced by the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville in 1937. Baldwin County took possession of the “Old State Prison” on July 8, 2013 when no one purchased it at a tax sale. It would have cost over $5 million just to stabilize the crumbling infrastructure. Edwin Atkins and Mary Esther Lord Smith said an important piece of the state’s history was lost when demolition began in July 2018. They host a Facebook page devoted to the prison, where Atkins’ great grandfather was a chaplain for 14 years. “To me that was wrong,” Smith commented, “because I have gotten attached to the history of this building and doing research, and when I rode by here, it was like seeing a friend who had been killed.”

Georgia: In May 2018, graphic video footage was released of the tasering of a restrained prisoner at the Polk County jail, which occurred on July 7, 2016. Brandon Coffman is seen strapped to a restraint chair while he is tasered repeatedly by jail supervisor Harry Dallas Battle. “Dallas took his taser, took the cartridge out of his taser and dry stunned Mr. Coffman while he was strapped in his chair,” a deputy who was in the room with Battle told Coffman’s attorney, Harry Daniels. “Battle walks around Polk County Jail with tasers on inmates. He walks around with the taser out. It’s a show of force. It’s just like an officer on the street walking around with his gun out,” Daniels stated. Although Battle was arrested after investigators saw the video, the Polk County grand jury did not return an indictment and he was allowed to resign. Coffman has filed a civil suit over the incident. 

Idaho: Idaho county jails are dangerously overcrowded. “Right now we have a correction crisis in our state. The time-bomb is still ticking. And we need some help,” stated Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen. Twenty-seven prisoners in the maximum-security section of the Bannock County jail rioted for 2½ hours, flooding their cells and damaging sprinklers on July 11, 2018. Calls to 911 were relayed to other agencies so Bannock County deputies could deal with the crisis. On November 2, 2018, three of the prisoners, who broke off sprinkler heads, were charged with two felony counts related to the riot. On July 16, 2018, twelve gang members at the Canyon County jail were indicted for felony rioting, which carries a 5-20 year sentence plus 2-5 year gang enhancements. Counties are stuck; they need new jails, but taxpayers do not want to pay for them. “It’s hard to tell what voters like less – raising property taxes at all or raising taxes to build a new jail,” noted Lewiston Tribune reporter Marty Trillhaase. 

Illinois: Kane County jailer John H. Johnson, 52, has been charged with the sexual assault of a prisoner that was reported on June 25, 2018. Kane County Sheriff Donald Kramer asked the county’s Major Crimes Task Force to investigate. The charges include criminal sexual assault, custodial sexual misconduct and two counts of official misconduct. Bail was set at $150,000. The criminal sexual assault charge, a Class 1 felony, carries 4 to 15 years in prison if Johnson is convicted. He has worked at the jail in St. Charles since 2004, was put on administrative leave on June 26, 2018 and surrendered to authorities the following month. “I expect all officers and staff to treat all members of the community with dignity and respect,” Sheriff Kramer stated.

Louisiana: Laurie Ballard, 44, was arrested on May 17, 2018 on charges of sexual battery and malfeasance in office, and posted a $5,000 bond. She was placed on administrative leave pending disciplinary action. Ballard had worked as a nurse at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel since October 2007. She admitted to having sex with an unidentified male prisoner several times “over the past few months,” and to emailing the prisoner using an alias. 

Mississippi: Prisoners were returned to the Stone County Regional Jail on October 12, 2018, a week after a carbon monoxide leak forced an evacuation and sent two prisoners to a local hospital. More than 85 prisoners were moved to the George County Regional Correctional Center while officials searched for the source of the leak; the culprit was eventually identified as the kitchen boiler, which had to be replaced at a cost of $3,600. Warden Dewayne Brewer told TV station WLOX, “The equipment malfunctioned. It was possibly something defective. The boiler was only three years old; we may try to get some reimbursement.”

Missouri: David Robinson was sentenced to life without parole in 2001 for murdering Sheila Box. “That bothered me more than anything, to be wrongfully accused of killing a woman,” he said. In 2004, Romanze Mosby confessed on tape to killing Box, but he wouldn’t sign off on the tape, so it was not admissible in Robinson’s appeals. Prosecutors had a cellmate testify that Robinson confessed to him, but the two had never been cellmates. The supposed cellmate and a paid informant later recanted their testimony. In 2017, the Missouri Supreme Court asked Jefferson County Judge Darrell Missey to review Robinson’s case. Missey wrote, “David Robinson did not kill Sheila Box on the evening of August 5, 2000, but is actually innocent of that crime.” He found lead detective John Blakely “lacking in candor or competence, or both.” Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley recommended the dismissal of all charges, and Robinson was released on May 14, 2018. He hopes for an exoneration by the Missouri Supreme Court, and in March 2019 filed suit against the City of Sikeston and various police officers. He served 17 years in prison.

Nebraska: Brandon Weathers was one of 78 Nebraska prisoners who refused to give a DNA sample despite a law requiring convicted prisoners to provide samples for the federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). In 2017, the Omaha World-Herald and Forensic Magazine began asking the state why some prisoners had not provided samples. Nevada had 8,000 uncollected DNA samples, and the publicity pushed the state into action. The DOC issued a directive on May 12, 2017 for forced DNA collection to close the compliance “loophole.” Weathers’ DNA was forcibly taken that month and subsequently linked him to four cold case rapes that spanned 15 years. He was already serving 100 to 160 years for raping his foster daughter, who ended up pregnant. His new first-degree sexual assault convictions, on June 4, 2018, resulted in 40 to 50-year sentences each, to be served consecutively.

Nevada: Kyle Eng began training to be a guard in January 2018. His first posting was at the Las Vegas city jail in June 2018; a month later, on July 19, 2018, he was found unconscious after being “involved in a fight with an inmate,” and died shortly afterwards. A Facebook post by the jail citing the fight was soon removed. A new post indicated that Eng had “a minor incident with an inmate in the city jail prior to him being transported to the hospital. However, we cannot confirm whether or not this incident had anything to do with the cause of death, which is yet to be fully determined by the Clark County coroner’s office.” The coroner’s findings were published in August 2018, and stated: “Eng, 51, died from a cardiac arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, and hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, which can cause heart attacks.”

New Mexico: Christopher Riviers, a former guard at the Curry County Detention Center, was arrested and charged with two counts of criminal sexual penetration and voyeurism on September 6, 2016. After being transferred to the De Baca County Detention Center, the female victim reported she had been raped by Riviers. A State Police investigation revealed that Riviers had specifically targeted the prisoner and sought a future relationship with her via handwritten notes; however, prosecutors dropped all charges against Riviers in May 2018 after they were unable to locate the victim, who had been released.

New York: Multiple New York prison guards were recently convicted for sexually abusing prisoners. A contraband cell phone at the Taconic Correctional Facility led to an arrest and an “off-shoot” investigation and two more arrests by the Office of Special Investigations’ Sex Crime Division. Iran Colon, a former guard at Taconic who was suspended without pay on May 2, 2018, provided a cell phone to a female prisoner with whom he had multiple sexual encounters. Colon was indicted on 19 counts, and pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual act and first-degree promoting prison contraband on November 7, 2018. Garth Trail, a former Taconic cook, pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual act on November 13, 2018 for having sex with a prisoner in the facility’s kitchen. And Melissa Hill, a guard at Sing Sing, had “romantic relations” with a male prisoner from November 2017 to January 2018. She was arrested in May 2018 and later pleaded guilty to official misconduct. 

New York: Another prisoner who was wrongfully convicted due to retired New York City Police Detective Louis Scarcella’s corrupt “investigative” methods has been exonerated. PLN previously reported on Scarcella’s questionable tactics. [See: PLN, June 2016, p.63; Dec. 2015, p.54]. John Bunn, now 41, was convicted in 1991, when he was 14 years old, for murdering an off-duty prison guard. He was a model prisoner and made parole in 2009, but never stopped trying to have his conviction expunged. An emotional court proceeding on May 15, 2018, in which Bunn was exonerated, prompted tears by the judge and many in the courtroom. “It has been 27 years, I’ve been fighting for my life and I’ve been fighting for my innocence,” Bunn said. Judge ShawnDya Simpson’s voice cracked as she held his hands. “I am more than emotional about this day. You were 14 at the time. This shouldn’t have ever happened,” she stated. Scarcella has never been charged and continues to collect his NYPD pension.

Oklahoma: “Doctors stated that he was likely going to die within a week if he had not been found,” said Assistant District Attorney Adam Panter about the 15-year-old son of Jimmy Jones, Sr., 34, a former guard at the Cimarron Correctional Facility, a private prison operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America). On July 12, 2018, a passerby saw an extremely gaunt teen eating berries and called DHS. At OU Children’s Hospital, doctors discovered he had been eating twigs, leaves and grass, and weighed less than 80 pounds. The family was well nourished and the house stocked with food. The boy’s father, stepbrothers Johnathan Plank, 20, and Tyler Adkins, 24, as well as stepmother Amy Jones, 46, were arrested on neglect charges. Jimmy Jones, Sr. was also charged with child abuse, and a four-year-old girl was taken into state custody. A stepbrother told detectives he believed Jones, Sr. would have disposed of the teenager’s body had he died. The family claimed the boy was a “manipulative liar.”

Oregon: Christopher Bartlett, who was homeless and mentally ill, reached a $251,000 settlement with Columbia County on October 30, 2018 after filing suit claiming cruel and unusual punishment for being mauled by a K-9 in his jail cell. Security video did not support the guards’ story that Bartlett was threatening them with his lunch tray. Instead, he had ignored an order to be handcuffed through the cell bars, then cowered when the door was opened and the dog was barking. “Mr. Bartlett was not offering resistance. However they then allow the K-9 to maul him for about 20 seconds,” said Bartlett’s attorney, Jacob Johnstun. No incident report was filed by jail staff until the video surfaced two months later. “Those reports, they did not match what the video showed, at all,” Johnstun noted. “I also thought that it was odd that many of the reports had the exact same language, the same typos – so we were fairly confident that there was a high level of coordinated efforts going on to get their story straight.” 

Pennsylvania: John Kunco’s 1991 rape conviction, which relied on now-discredited bite mark testimony, was overturned in May 2018. His was the 31st case overturned due to junk science bite mark testimony. DNA evidence also proved Kunco was not at the crime scene. He was free for 85 days before new child molestation charges brought him back to jail on August 20, 2018. Assistant District Attorney Barbara Jollie said they will retry Kunco’s 1991 case, and Judge Christopher Feliciani revoked his $10,000 bond in November 2018. “The new allegations are unrelated to the overturning of Mr. Kunco’s 1991 conviction for a crime he did not commit. Mr. Kunco was convicted by discredited and erroneous bite mark testimony that has been refuted by DNA evidence and new evidence of a solid alibi proving his innocence. None of these facts of innocence have changed,” said Karen Thompson, a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project.

Tennessee: The Bradley County jail failed an inspection by the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI), which inspects county jails, in February 2018. It still did not meet minimum TCI standards during a re-inspection in April, even though sheriff’s spokesman James Bradford said the re-inspection report indicated the jail would be recommended for re-certification, because the problems cited in the first inspection had been corrected. On May 25, 2018 the jail was put on full lockdown, with no religious services, due to staffing shortages. Commissioner Jeff Yarber said 40 of 68 guards are within their first year of employment and need supervision; six staff positions were open and other employees were on medical leave. Jail ministry programs were allowed to resume on May 29, 2018, though the facility remained on lockdown.

Tennessee: Four prisoners escaped from the Hawkins County jail during recreation time on May 23, 2018. Guards noticed the fence in the exercise yard had been pulled back, and a pair of jail-issued shoes were found nearby. Three of the fugitives were captured the same day, but Aaron Lee Morelock remained at large, prompting the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office to ask the public for help. The next day, Morelock holed up in a vacant house in Rogersville, and the renovation crew was surprised to find him there when they came to work. Prior to his arrest, he had worked for the contractor that was renovating the house. The workers said they would bring Morelock some breakfast; instead, they contacted law enforcement. Sheriff’s deputies and Rogersville police surrounded the house and Morelock surrendered without incident. He was charged with felony escape and may also face burglary charges. 

Texas: Eleven prisoners were taken to the Ben Taub Hospital in Houston with minor injuries after an alleged drunk driver crashed into their transport bus. The prisoners were being moved from the city jail in Houston to the Harris County jail on May 25, 2018. The driver who caused the accident turned illegally, drove in the wrong direction and collided with the bus; he was not injured but failed a sobriety test. Police Chief Art Acevedo stated, “We are the worst state in the nation for drunk-driving fatalities and crashes, and we happen to be the worst of the worst in Harris County.” The accident would not have happened had the move occurred on schedule in March, but the Harris County Sheriff’s Office’s Joint Processing Center wasn’t operational until later.

Texas: Following a six-day trial, federal prisoners Ricky Fackrell, 34, and Christopher Cramer, 36, both from Utah, were convicted of first-degree murder on May 9, 2018. They were sentenced to death in June for fatally stabbing a fellow prisoner and white supremacist gang member, Leo Johns, at USP Beaumont in 2014. Prosecutors contended that Fackrell and Cramer plotted the killing over three months. “White supremacists subscribe to a repugnant, hateful ideology and use it to justify criminal activity,” stated Attorney General Jeff Sessions. U.S. Attorney Joseph D. Brown added, “These defendants had a violent history, and when the murder happens in a prison, it is clear that the defendants are always going to be a danger. This was an appropriate case for the death penalty and we will continue to seek that punishment in the worst cases.” 

Utah: The nearly $1 million cost of cancer treatment for Gerardo Valerio Romero, an undocumented immigrant charged with sexually abusing his step-daughter, sparked public outrage. The medical expenses were also bankrupting the Utah County jail where Romero was being held. Once a prisoner is booked into the jail, he or she must be provided necessary medical care. While deportation was an option, Romero would have had to be released without facing the sex abuse charges. Sheriff Jim Tracy resigned on August 3, 2018 over the seemingly unresolvable issue. The Utah County jail is just one of many across the country grappling with the issue of skyrocketing prisoner medical costs and limited budgets.

Virginia: Edward Kovari was a pre-
trial detainee in 2016 when he was scheduled to be moved from a jail in Winchester, Virginia to Houston, Texas on charges that were later dropped. What followed was an 18-day odyssey described in a federal lawsuit filed on April 24, 2018. Kovari was shackled in the back of a transport van that only stopped two or three nights to allow prisoners to sleep in a bed. With no scheduled bathroom breaks, the prisoners urinated in bottles and one man defecated on the vehicle floor. “He spent the duration of the transport sitting in human waste and filth,” stated Kovari’s attorneys, who said the company’s business model was “transporting as many detainees, with as few stops for rest or care, as possible over their obligation to safely transport those in their custody.” PLN managing editor Alex Friedmann told reporters that federal laws focus on preventing escapes, not ensuring prisoner safety. “Dropping people off in a timely manner is not the priority,” he said. On November 9, 2018, the district court denied the company’s motion to dismiss in Kovari’s suit, which remains pending. See: Kovari v. Brevard Extraditions, LLC, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Vir.), Case No. 5:18-cv-00070-MFU-JCH.

Washington: ICE learned of Viacheslav Poliakov’s hunger strike in protest of conditions at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), an immigration detention center in Tacoma run by the GEO Group, on August 22, 2018. Poliakov, a Russian citizen, sought better access to medical care for detainees. He and Raquel Martinez Diaz, another asylum seeker and hunger striker, sought to prevent being force-fed by ICE in a lawsuit filed September 13, 2018. A week later, their motion for a temporary restraining order was denied. “Viacheslav Poliakov began accepting scheduled meals Sept. 21 and continues to do so without intervention,” ICE said in an email to The News Tribune. The hunger strikers claimed that ICE retaliated against their protest by placing them in solitary confinement. ICE denied that allegation, but noted that NWDC staff work for GEO Group and, as a federal agency, ICE cannot be “held liable for the actions of its contractors.” NWDC hunger-striker Amar Mergensana, 40, died in November 2018 after being hospitalized following a suicide attempt.

Wisconsin: A guard at the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution was facing up to 40 years in prison for performing a sex act on a prisoner she had a crush on, but on June 11, 2018 she was sentenced to 10 days in jail plus two years of probation. Katy Moon, 31, initially denied the charge, then said she had been forced and was scared. Investigators, however, produced two partial love letters that Moon had sent to the prisoner. Another prisoner informed on the couple, after seeing Moon put her hand down the pants of her paramour. The informant said Moon offered him a hand job too, “if he didn’t say anything.” [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.63]. 

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login