News in Brief
Arizona: On January 31, 2019, dramatic footage was released of a two-hour hostage incident in the library at ASPC-Lewis in Buckeye. The video shows a librarian working alone when prisoner Timothy Monk enters, closes the door, bends over, then grabs the librarian by the neck with one arm while brandishing a homemade shank with the other. The librarian manages to pepper spray Monk several times as he is dragged toward a supply closet. Both men suffer the effects of the spray. Eventually a tactical unit throws in a flash bang before eight guards and a dog storm the room. No one was seriously hurt during the December 26, 2018 incident. Monk wanted a transfer to another prison. On December 31, he was found guilty of possession of a weapon, aggravated assault on staff and hostage taking, and was moved to ASPC-Eyman. Monk has been in prison since he was 16 years old; in 2006, he used a shank to demand a move to Montana during a five-hour hostage-taking at ASPC-Tucson.
Arizona: Luis Moreno turned himself in to the Pima County jail to serve 30 days on an outstanding DUI arrest warrant on December 27, 2018. By 2 p.m. the next day he was gone after reportedly escaping out a “back dock” near the jail’s kitchen. On January 10, 2019, Moreno was found dead in Mexico; no details surrounding his death have been released.
California: A tower guard at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy was put on paid administrative leave after firing one round from a Mini-14 rifle and wounding a prisoner, when breaking up a February 7, 2019 two-on-one attack on the facility’s basketball court. Two prisoners wielding handmade weapons attacked a third at 2:20 p.m. in the main recreation yard. Guards ordered the assailants to stop and drop to the ground, but were ignored and the intended victim was stabbed in the head and chest. The victim and the prisoner who was shot were taken to a hospital for treatment, while the second attacker was treated onsite for a hand laceration. The names of the prisoners involved were withheld by prison officials.
California: On December 16, 2018, Concord police circulated surveillance video from the Sunvalley Mall to media outlets and the department’s Facebook page, asking the public for tips after a customer accidentally dropped his gun near a Cinnabon restaurant, which discharged as he picked it up. No one was injured. The man and a female companion hurried out of the mall after the incident. The customer contacted the Concord Police Department the next day, and he turned out to be a state prison employee with a concealed carry permit. Although the gun appeared to have gone off accidentally, Lt. Mike Kindorf said they had referred the matter “up the chain of command” to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s human resources department.
California: Employees at the Mule Creek State Prison were surprised on January 25, 2019 when FBI officers showed up, confiscated Warden Joe Lizarraga’s computer and escorted him out. Lizarraga began as acting warden at the facility in 2013 and had worked for the State of California for 20 years. CDCR press secretary Vicky Waters stated, “I can confirm there’s an ongoing investigation, and Mule Creek State Prison Warden Joe Lizarraga is currently on Administrative Time Off. As this is a personnel matter, we are unable to provide additional information. The prison’s administrative duties are being overseen by CDCR leadership while the investigation is being conducted.” Lizarraga has not been arrested or charged.
Colorado: Former Weld County jail guard Zachariah Cullison pleaded guilty in January 2019 to unlawful sexual contact in a correctional facility for having sex with a female prisoner on suicide watch. Cullison faced a possible one to three years in state prison, and Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams stated, “Whatever he gets, I hope it’s to the fullest extent of the law. What he did was not only a despicable act, but despicable to law enforcement in general. He took advantage of a person who was not in a good position to make decisions for herself in the first place.” However, Cullison will not serve prison time. His attorney, David Kaplan, negotiated two possible options: one to three years in community corrections, or a court-determined term of sex offender intensive supervised probation and 90 days in jail or two years of work release. It is unclear which sentence option the court imposed, but Cullison is now listed on Colorado’s sex offender registry.
Connecticut: Fans of Dateline NBC’s To Catch a Predator had some excitement in January 2019 after an arrest warrant was issued for the show’s host, Chris Hansen. Philip Russell, Hansen’s attorney, called the situation “unfortunate,” but Peter Psichopaidas, owner of Promotional Sales Ltd., had been waiting to be paid $12,998.05 owed by Hansen since September 2017. The former TV show host had purchased mugs, T-shirts and decals for a Kickstarter campaign to fund a proposed new show, Hansen vs. Predator. He paid with a business check, which bounced. In April 2018, a $13,200 check also bounced and Psichopaidas filed a complaint with Stamford police. Hansen told an investigator that he would come in to make a statement, but was a no-show. On January 14, 2019, Hansen was arrested for larceny and then released, signing a promise to appear in court. By the time a hearing was held nine days later, he had paid the debt; consequently, the charge will be dismissed if no other action is taken within 13 months. “As a practical matter, this case is in the dead letter office,” said Russell. Numerous backers of the Kickstarter campaign complained they had never received their donation premiums, including mugs and T-shirts.
Delaware: “Patience is a very beautiful thing,” declared Elmer Daniels, a 57-year-old black man, at a press conference on December 18, 2018. Daniels was released from the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution just five days earlier, after serving nearly 39 years on a rape conviction handed down by an all-white jury in 1980. Daniels’ attorney, Emeka Igwe, noted there were many problems with Elmer’s original trial, but key to the prosecution’s case was FBI analyst Michael Malone’s testimony involving hair microscopy – which has since been proven to be “junk science.” The U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to the Delaware attorney general in 2018, stating that Malone’s testimony “exceeded the limits of science.” Delaware offered a pardon or commutation but Daniels said no, asserting his innocence. In 2018, fingerprints from the scene were run through the FBI’s database; they did not match Daniels. A motion to dismiss his conviction was granted on December 13, 2018. Daniels testified in June 2019 before the Delaware legislature, which is considering creating a compensation fund for people who were wrongfully convicted. The bill was voted out of committee and remains pending.
Florida: In December 2018, former prison guard Terrance Reynolds was arrested on charges of conspiring to violate the civil rights of three “youthful offenders” (under 24 years old) at the South Florida Reception Center in Miami-Dade. On June 18, 2019, Reynolds’ attorney, Antonio Valiente, said, “My guy just, flat out, did not do this. This other guy admits to doing it and is already in prison.” Valiente was referring to Brendan Butler, Reynold’s supervisor, who had cooperated with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, and pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in May 2018. Butler was sentenced to two years in federal prison. According to the indictment, Reynolds allegedly conspired with Butler “to physically assault and intimidate youthful offenders for conduct perceived by the officers as disruptive or disrespectful.” The assaults occurred in a mop closet at the facility. Because he testified against Reynolds, Butler will be eligible for a Rule 35 motion that may reduce his sentence.
Florida: Lake County jailer Marcus Moore, Jr. was arrested on January 31, 2019 for solicitation of prostitution. According to Sergeant Fred Jones, a former high school classmate contacted Leesburg Police in September 2018 after Moore persistently “offered her his paycheck for sex,” which she declined. On October 18, Moore again offered the woman money for sex. Police confirmed that messages such as “You can take all my check, you throw it at me on the low and you can have it idc [I don’t care]” came from Moore’s phone and SnapChat account. Despite being suspended and facing possible termination at the time, Moore appears to have kept his job. He began working for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office in 2016.
Florida: On December 14, 2018, Marion County jail guard Kelly Robert resigned. In June 2018, Robert came to work claiming that former prisoner Dustyn Purser had taken her agency-issued Glock 9mm, held it against her head and threatened to kill her. She said their relationship began after his release from the jail. An investigation revealed that Purser had sold the Glock to a mechanic for $60 while Robert waited outside the shop. They bought it back a week later. Jail guards are issued guns, but do not carry them in the jail. Robert had also pawned her Sheriff’s Office flashlight for $35. When prisoner Jeffrey Brown was interviewed, he said he acted as a lookout for the couple when Purser was in jail, adding that Purser “started to get careless with his contraband and relationship with Deputy Robert.” The State Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute due to “numerous inconsistent statements in this case.”
Georgia: It is unclear whether charges will be filed after a Floyd County Prison work release prisoner was killed on December 26, 2018. Lester Robert Baker, 43, was nearing the end of his sentence when he volunteered to work with the Cartersville Sanitation Department, picking up after-Christmas trash. The prison has work-release contracts with Bartow County Public Works and Cartersville. Baker and another prisoner were riding on the back of a garbage truck. “While the driver of the truck was backing, he ran off the road to the right, making contact with a utility pole with the right rear of the truck,” the Georgia State Patrol reported, and Baker was pinned to the utility pole. He was transported to the Cartersville Medical Center shortly after the accident and was pronounced dead, said Floyd County Prison Warden Mike Long.
Louisiana: Eric Prudholm, 58, walked out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola on January 10, 2019, 37 years and three months after his wrongful conviction for aggravated rape and robbery. It took five years, help from the Innocence Project of New Orleans and a trip to the Louisiana Supreme Court to have DNA evidence in the case tested. In 1982, Prudholm was sentenced to life in prison without parole for aggravated rape plus 50 years for armed robbery. Once the DNA eliminated him as one of the rapists, Prudholm entered an Alford or “no contest” plea to simple robbery and was resentenced to time served. Asked why Prudholm didn’t push for a full exoneration, Innocence Project staff attorney Kia Hayes said, “This compromise allows him to be released immediately so that he can enjoy the remainder of his life with his family in freedom, rather than lose precious years while we fight in court.” The Alford plea, however, bars Prudholm from seeking compensation for his wrongful imprisonment.
Louisiana: On January 28, 2019, a Washington Parish grand jury indicted two prisoners, Toby J. Walker and Samuel E. White, on charges of first-degree rape for sexually assaulting another prisoner. They and 14 other prisoners at the parish jail were also charged with simple battery in connection with a separate incident. Additionally, five former Washington Parish Sheriff’s deputies were indicted on charges ranging from malfeasance in office to aggravated battery and second-degree battery. “In early September  I learned of an incident in the jail that I believed merited immediate investigation,” stated Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal. He contacted the Louisiana State Police and the FBI. Deputies Frank Smith, Elliot Smith, John Donaldson, Pamela P. Willis and Austin Rogers were charged with malfeasance in office. Frank and Elliot Smith were also charged with aggravated second-degree battery for using a power cord to beat a prisoner sometime between July and September 2018.
Nevada: The Crime Stoppers program has moved into the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas. The Metropolitan Police Department announced on February 14, 2019 that they have been showing pictures and videos of wanted persons and details of unsolved crimes where prisoners and jail visitors can see them. “At the jail, we have a captive audience, right?” said Police Captain Harry Fagel. “Everybody’s there. They’re gonna be there for a little while. They don’t have a whole lot to do all day, so we thought we’d provide them with the same information that we push out to the public.” Prisoners can submit information using kiosks that they already use for commissary services, filing grievance and absentee voting. Fagel noted that using the kiosks allows prisoners to pass along tips “a little bit more covertly within their general population so their safety isn’t compromised at the same time.” Tracking the success of the program will be problematic, since Crime Stoppers reports are anonymous. Prisoners are eligible for cash rewards if a tip leads to a conviction.
North Dakota: Standup comedian Spencer Dobson performed a series of shows in state prisons in December 2018. “You do your show for the most part. There’s a new minefield of issues that you didn’t have to take into account at a normal show. You still want to stay away from religion,” Dobson commented. “They did say, don’t go too deep into sex stuff, and don’t graphically go into drug stuff. It’s amazing how much you touch on things [in regular shows] that you don’t think about.” He was originally contacted by someone at the Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck. One comedy show there turned into a mini-tour. During the shows, he talks about ubiquitous ramen noodles and the many ways to embellish them, and about loneliness. “Most aren’t actually bad people. They are in prison because they were working with the best tools available to them at the time,” Dobson said. “When you see a smile go across a really hard face, there’s something great about that.”
Ohio: Google searches on Sylvia Davis’ phone, including “can you go to jail for lying about a cop raping you,” cast doubt on her claim that Parma Heights Police Chief Steve Scharschmidt had picked her up in a car on July 26, 2018 before raping her in his office at the police station. Davis filed the rape report at the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department in August 2018. The day that Davis claimed she was raped was memorable for Scharschmidt, because his mother had suffered a fall, requiring him and several family members to take her to an emergency room. Surveillance video confirmed his alibi. Cell phone records revealed Davis’ incriminating Google searches, and she was unable to accurately describe the police chief’s car or office. Within two weeks, Davis, 42, admitted to concocting the story. Prosecutors dismissed extortion charges against Davis because Scharschmidt said she never asked him for money, but she will serve a maximum of three years at the Ohio Reformatory for Women followed by three years’ probation after pleading guilty in January 2019 to intimidation, tampering with records and evidence tampering.
Ohio: The U.S. Marshals Service called Cuyahoga County’s jail system “one of the worst in the country.” [See: PLN, Mar. 2019, p.12]. John McCloud, yet another Cuyahoga County jail guard accused of using excessive force against a prisoner, resigned on December 1, 2018. Jail surveillance video of the incident was not released until April 2019. Speaking of the unnamed prisoner he attacked, McCloud said, “He threw a banana peel at me and I didn’t like it, so I went over to confront him and I just kind of snapped.” McCloud waited an hour before consulting with his union representative about whether he had to report the use of force. According to an October 26, 2018 incident report, “McCloud initiated the altercation and never followed protocol by calling for assistance.” The report quotes the guard as saying, “I can’t remember. It was kind of like a blur, like I blacked out or something.” The video, however, was clear – as well as graphic: McCloud put the prisoner in a head lock, threw him down and dragged him during the nearly seven-minute incident. The former guard has not been charged.
Oregon: Joseph Anaya, 25, received a ticket for reckless driving on January 9, 2019, after his Chevrolet Express van plowed into the rear of an Oregon Department of Transportation pickup. A four-man work crew from the Multnomah County jail was clearing tree branches and brush along Highway 224 in Milwaukie, near the Southeast Lake Road exit, at the time. One prisoner was thrown from the bed of the truck and another was hit on impact. Rogelio Miguel Francisco, 26, and Robert Adam Miller, 32, were taken to a nearby hospital for assessment and returned to the jail by the afternoon. The front of the van was crushed but Anaya was unhurt. Despite driving recklessly, Anaya was not under the influence at the time; he remained at the scene and cooperated with police.
Russia: When Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of the feminist rock group Pussy Riot, was convicted in 2012, she was sent to the IK-14 women’s penal colony in Mordovia. On her arrival at the facility, prison head Yuri Kupriyanov reportedly said, “You should know that when it comes to politics, I am a Stalinist.” Of the labor code, another prison administrator, Colonel Kulagin, added, “The code is one thing – what really matters is fulfilling your quota. If you don’t, you work overtime.” In December 2018, President Vladimir Putin stated at his end-of-year press conference: “Any violation of the law, especially torture, is a crime. These crimes should be punished.” One week later, Federal Penitentiary Service (FPS) inspectors carried out a surprise inspection at IK-14, and Kupriyanov was suspended. Valery Maximenko, deputy head of the FPS, reported, “Women were threatened with isolation and being deprived of food for the slightest transgression.” The prisoners were sewing clothing for Kupriyanov’s family and friends, often being forced to work from 7 a.m. until 1 a.m. the next morning.
South Carolina: The state Department of Corrections began a pilot program in 2016 with the Riley Institute at Furman University, called “A Mother’s Voice.” The first participants were female prisoners at the Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia. Twenty-five women met to review six recordable books and choose one to read aloud that would be mailed to their children. As the child turns each page, the words are heard in their mother’s voice. “The average age of children with a mother in prison is eight,” said SCDC Director Bryan Stirling. “It is easy to forget that when a parent is sentenced their children are forced to pay for that crime as well through no fault of their own.” The program expanded to women in the Leath Correctional Institution in 2017, and to male prisoners, as “A Father’s Voice,” at the Kirkland Correctional Institution in time for Father’s Day 2018. Participants must maintain good behavior to stay in the program; the cost of the books is covered through grants and donations. Men at the Tyger River Correctional Institution recorded their first “A Father’s Voice” books in March 2019.
Texas: Employees at the Rio Grande Detention Center have not had a pay raise in six years. That fact prompted the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America to stage a protest rally on January 16 and 17, 2019. Rio Grande is run by The GEO Group, a private prison company, under contract with the U.S. Office of the Federal Detention Trustee. The union’s position is that the cost of living in the area has increased while staff wages have not. Employees are overdue for a raise of one to two percent per year, for a total of six to twelve percent; some of the protesters have worked at the facility since it opened in October 2008. At the time of the protest, they had not been able to reach an agreement with GEO Group. The company’s spokesman, Pablo Paez, told reporters that GEO is engaged in negotiations with the union and is confident they will “come to a mutually beneficial solution.”
Texas: Even though Harold Millican, 37, was scheduled to be released from the Gist State Jail in August 2019, he won’t be done with the system. He filed a lawsuit in December 2018 seeking $200,000 and more medical training for prison staff, after a MRSA infection left him disfigured and “permanently handicapped.” Millican, who is represented by attorney Allie Booker, alleged that a fall while on a work assignment at the state jail caused the infection. He pleaded for help, but staff let the injury to his arm fester because there “was no one available to take him to the hospital.” He was only transported to a hospital after he passed out. Millican required several surgeries to control the infection. His lawsuit states that prison officials “knew that allowing an abscess that was yellow and green in color, growing, painful, damaging the skin, eating away at the skin and muscle of Plaintiff and that had a foul odor was dangerous and or harmful to his health.”
Thailand: Just after midnight on Christmas morning 2018, three prisoners at a southern Surat Thani province prison attempted to escape by scaling the 20-foot wall, which was topped with high-voltage electrified barbed wire. One fell on the opposite side, breaking his arm, and was immediately captured. Another managed to make it over and escape for a few hours, before guards found him while searching the perimeter. The third prisoner, Wiwat Aksorsom, 32, touched the electrified wire and was instantly killed. When Colonel Wanchai Palawan, superintendent of Chaiya district police, asked the two surviving escapees what motivated their attempt, they said they were homesick. All three were in jail for drug offences. Thailand has some of the world’s harshest drug laws, causing massive overcrowding in its jails. Recently, it began considering releasing prisoners on electronic monitoring to ease overcrowding.
United Kingdom: In August 2018, Prisons Minister Rory Stewart vowed to resign if he could not reduce assaults inside the ten worst prisons in the UK. As of February 2019, he told reporters that violence was on the decline in seven facilities and he was “pretty confident” he would retain his job, but was “most worried about” the Nottingham and Wormwood Scrubs prisons in west London. Pages of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,found in a Nottingham cell, tested positive for a “spice-like substance” – referring to synthetic marijuana. Staff believe that 400 missing pages were torn into strips and smoked. Prison guard Adam Donegani estimated each strip was worth around £50 ($60). In the past each prison had its own dedicated search team with drug detection dogs, but staff shortages have shifted the burden to one team per five facilities. Spice use has reportedly reached epidemic levels in many UK prisons.
Virginia: On October 26, 2018, Circuit Judge Lynn S. Brice ordered mentally ill prisoner Brandi Leah Gonzales transferred from the Riverside Regional Jail to Central State Hospital, so she could be restored to competency. The move did not take place until December, when Gonzales was due back in court for a status hearing. Jail Colonel Jeffrey Newton and Major Douglas Upshaw were charged with contempt of court, and appeared before Judge Brice on January 10, 2019. They blamed the oversight on a records clerk. Brice found them guilty of misdemeanor contempt and fined them both $100. The judge also chastised them, saying that Gonzales “had been in your jail since July 5 ... and was keeping a blanket over her head and refused to even acknowledge the evaluator, and staff tells the evaluator that she had been like that for two months in your jail. This court’s order was based on that, that she be sent to Central State, and it doesn’t happen for weeks upon weeks – after a period of months that she’s been [mentally unstable]. That’s frightful.”
West Virginia: An elaborate escape was thwarted at the Southern Regional Jail after an informant came forward in November 2018. The jail break was planned for Thanksgiving when administrators would be away. Eight prisoners were arrested on December 17, 2018 on charges ranging from attempted escape to conspiracy and destruction of property. Jonathan Felts was apparently the ringleader. Felts allegedly asked the informant to help create a hole in the cell that Felts shared with a cellmate. Felts was able to loosen the toilet paper holder and get to bolts to remove the sink. State Troopers found an 18-inch hole that provided access to prohibited areas of the facility. The informant said Felts would spend two hours working inside the hole each night after the 7 p.m. head count.
Wisconsin: Former Marathon County jail guard Jennifer Kowalski was freed on a $15,000 signature bond after pleading not guilty to having sexual contact with a prisoner she was guarding at the Aspirus Wausau Hospital in 2015. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p.63]. She pleaded no contest to fourth-degree sexual assault and two counts of obstructing an officer. At a sentencing hearing on January 9, 2019, Circuit Judge Jay Tlusty held off on convicting her on the two obstruction charges, contingent on her successfully completing all terms of her sexual assault sentence. Kowalski will serve 90 days at her former workplace, the Marathon County Jail, followed by three years’ probation and 150 hours of community service. She must pay $1,500 in fines and court costs, stay sober and complete any treatment “deemed appropriate.”