News in Brief
Alabama: The Montgomery County jail uses NaphCare, a private company, as its medical provider. Sasha Garvin, 27, had Crohn’s disease; she was held at the jail for failure to appear for traffic violations. Garvin told the nurses she needed to go to the hospital on May 17, 2017. She was clammy, her vital signs were off and she had severe abdominal pain. The nurses ignored her and she never saw a doctor. Two days later she was dead. Jail officials said they suspected a drug overdose, but the Montgomery County Coroner reported she “died of an acute small bowel obstruction.” Garvin’s family filed a wrongful death suit in May 2018, raising medical negligence claims against five nurses and a NaphCare doctor. According to attorney Douglas Brannon, mediation in the case was canceled in February 2019 and, “[b]ased upon some things we’ve learned in the discovery process,” Sheriff Rob Streck and the Montgomery County commissioners were added as defendants. There have been at least 11 lawsuits filed against the jail and its staff in recent years.
California: After initially pleading not guilty in October 2018 to charges of felony assault and misdemeanor sexual battery of a female prisoner while she was shackled, San Joaquin County sheriff’s deputy Danny Swanson changed his plea to guilty on December 14, 2018. The unnamed prisoner reported the sexual misconduct began in September 2017. She needed a series of hospital visits, and during one of the visits she and Swanson were alone in an exam room. She said Swanson put her hands on his “private parts” under the guise of having trouble releasing her handcuffs. On other trips to the hospital he went off course, taking a dirt road to be alone with her and show her naked pictures of himself on his cell phone. Swanson was sentenced to 120 days in jail, five years of probation and mandatory counseling, and ordered to stay away from the victim. He had been a deputy for 16 years.
California: In August 2018, an outbreak of chicken pox among immigrant detainees held at a federal prison in Victorville caused great disruption. Half of the detainees were in quarantine and Local 3969 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents guards at the facility, complained about staff shortages and too few health care workers to address the problem. Asylum seekers could not meet with their attorneys during the outbreak. Nearly 1,000 immigrant detainees were transferred to FCC Victorville from the southern border in June 2018. The first cases of chicken pox appeared soon after, followed by the highly contagious skin disease scabies, which causes an itchy rash. The ACLU filed a second conditions of confinement lawsuit in August 2018, citing inadequate food and medical care at the Victorville facility.
Connecticut: Dana Gibson, 46, a former UConn Health Center nurse at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, was arrested by state police and charged with felony sexual assault in May 2018. Her unnamed lover, a male prisoner who worked in the medical unit, confessed to their six-month affair “because he was tired of looking over his shoulder and worrying about what would happen if someone found out.” Gibson resigned in March 2018 during questioning. According to police interview reports, the couple used burner phones to call each other every day. Gibson deposited $300 into the prisoner’s account; she said they did not have intercourse. On August 21, 2018, she dodged jail time by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor sexual assault charge. She was sentenced to two years’ probation. Additionally, Gibson’s nursing license has been suspended for an unspecified period. The prisoner did not object to the plea deal, but his attorney suggested he may file suit in the future. UConn Health no longer provides medical care for Connecticut state prisoners. [See: PLN, Aug. 2019, p.34].
Florida: Miami-Dade corrections officer Patrick Harris, 57, had struggled at his job since 2015, when another law enforcement officer committed suicide. He was placed on paid leave in April 2018. Then, on August 15, 2018, he caused a security scare at his former workplace, the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center (TGK). That night, Harris was in the parking lot of a gas station when he made threats to two co-workers, which were recorded on cell phone video. “Tell them to get their [expletive] news trucks ready. I told you that before, right? Ain’t [expletive] you can stop. Ain’t [expletive] they can stop. Tell them to get their news trucks ready and put their vests on, [expletive].” Not on the video were his reported comments that “he was going to shoot up the facility.” Forty-five minutes later, Harris showed up at TGK, telling another deputy, “You are going to work hard later on.” An alert went out and he was picked up two days later and booked into his former workplace.
Florida: A lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on February 21, 2019, stemming from an incident caught on surveillance video at the Everglades Correctional Institution. Several handcuffed prisoners were ordered to the ground in July 2017. As one of them, Mazzard McMillian, began to obey, Colonel Patrick Riggins “sprayed him with pepper spray without provocation or justification.” McMillian dropped to the ground, convulsing in pain. The video footage was not released until May 15, 2018. In a press release, prosecutors alleged that Colonel Riggins later ordered Captain Lindsay Bethel to write up a “false incident report,” claiming McMillian had tried to slip his restraints. The Inspector General’s office for the FDOC investigated the incident, and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said, “That video really cinched his fate.” Riggins was charged with felony official misconduct and misdemeanor battery on a detainee, and fired. McMillian’s lawsuit remains pending. See: McMillian v. Riggins, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Fla.), Case No. 1:19-cv-20684-RNS.
Georgia: “It destroyed my family,” Ilya Zaretsky told reporters after his release from the Gwinnett County jail. “I had a career that I built over 17 years and it destroyed my career. My son actually attempted suicide while I was incarcerated because he missed his father.” Zaretsky, 45, spent a year at the jail after being accused of drugging a teen relative with sleeping pills and having sex with her. On September 12, 2018, District Attorney Danny Porter declined to prosecute the case. “When you break down the original statement, it is impossible for the act to have occurred in the way it was described,” he said. “This was the detective’s first rape case,” explained Zaretsky’s attorney, Jay Abt. “She had not collected any DNA. She had not collected the clothing from the victim, the sheets from the house, she never even went and inspected the crime scene where the alleged rape occurred. She didn’t question several people who were in the house that night.” Zaretsky believes the accusations were retaliation by his wife’s relatives after he filed for divorce.
Italy: Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, elected in 2016, has been criticized for the decrepit state of the city. In 2018, low-risk prisoners were used to clean up parks and gardens; now the “I redeem myself for Rome” program has expanded. Rebibbia prisoners who were trained by Autostrade per l’Italia to lay asphalt began fixing Rome’s potholes in January 2019. “On the one hand we give them the possibility of integrating back into society, on the other we provide them with an opportunity to make themselves useful to the community,” Raggi said. She did not disclose whether the prisoners are paid for their work. Potholes have been blamed for motorcycle deaths, and citizens who spray painted circles around them for visibility were threatened with fines. Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic, rejected having the army tackle the job instead of prisoners, noting, “the role of the armed forces must not be distorted to assigning them to tasks incompatible with their high specialisation.”
Louisiana: St. Bernard Parish sheriff’s captain Andre Dominick shot and wounded himself after the fourth day of his trial over the 2014 death of jail prisoner Nimali Henry. Previously, PLN reported the FBI’s investigation into Henry’s death from a known rare blood disorder. [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, p.41]. The federal trial of Dominick and jail employees Debra Becnel and Lisa Vaccarella on charges of failing to provide Henry proper medication and treatment, as well as lying to the FBI, began on November 5, 2018. Another former guard, Cpl. Timothy Williams, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge and was expected to testify against his former co-workers. Prosecutors wanted the trial to continue after Dominick shot himself, arguing that since his wounds were self-inflicted, he was voluntarily absent from court. Two witnesses had already died before the case went to trial, and “under these circumstances, it would be a significant burden to indefinitely postpone or retry this case, which the defendant, through his actions, chose to not attend.” U.S. District Court Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle disagreed, declaring a mistrial on November 14, 2018 and ordering a mental evaluation for Dominick, who remained in a hospital as of January 2019.
Michigan: On November 2, 2015, Janika Edmond, 25, incarcerated at the Huron Valley Correctional Facility, asked for a “Bam-Bam” (slang for a suicide prevention vest) in the segregation shower unit. Guard Dianna Callahan was then heard on video saying, “Somebody owes me lunch.” Callahan and her co-worker, Kory Moore, discussed “the Subway sandwich” that Moore owed Callahan for winning a wager that Edmond, who had a history of mental illness, would ask for a suicide prevention vest. Edmond didn’t receive the vest, and four minutes later a choking noise was heard and another prisoner called out, “Sarge, Sarge.” Edmond had attached her bra to a showerhead and wrapped it around her neck but the bra broke, causing Edmond to fall to the floor, where she struck the back of her head. Days later she was taken off a ventilator at a hospital and died. [See: PLN, Dec. 2016, p.19]. Both Moore and Callahan were fired in March 2016, but Moore later got her job back through arbitration. Callahan, 49, pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced on December 20, 2018 to two years’ probation and six months of jail time, plus she will never work in corrections again. A federal lawsuit against the Michigan DOC, filed by Edmond’s family, settled for $860,000 in May 2019. See: Clarke v. Michigan Department of Corrections, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Mich.), Case No. 2:17-cv-10528-RHC-DRG.
Minnesota: The headline of a February 13, 2019 article published by the Free Press read, “Sexually dangerous male accuses female guard of sex assault.” Claudia Kogo, 57, was a security counselor at the St. Peter Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program in 2017 when the sexual activity, which led to two felony counts of criminal sexual conduct, allegedly occurred. The unidentified resident at the facility said it began as flirtation and escalated to Kogo touching his penis over his clothes, sending him masturbation photos, then engaging in oral sex and intercourse. He said she gave him condoms and asked him to “provide her with his seminal fluid.” Search warrants revealed hundreds of calls between the two. DHS Deputy Commissioner Chuck Johnson stated, “Sexual relationships between staff and patients or clients at DHS treatment facilities are unacceptable under any circumstances.” In addition to St. Peter, the Minnesota DHS operates one other maximum-security facility for civilly committed sex offenders.
Missouri: Tiffani Webb, 23, a guard at the St. Francois County jail, was released on $5,000 bond after being charged with having sexual contact with Jason Adams, a prisoner at the facility. Webb was booked on February 9, 2019; she admitted during an interview that she took Adams to a medical room and performed oral sex on him. Jail records indicated they were in the medical room for seven minutes. Adams gave investigators sexual letters that Webb had sent him while he was at the jail. There was no indication that Webb had been fired from her job, though she is not allowed to go onto any St. Francois County jail property or have contact with any jail prisoners while out on bond.
Nebraska: Andrea Gassman, 23, a former corporal at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, was suspended without pay in July 2018 for suspicion of performing a sex act on a prisoner – twice. At the time, her name was withheld and formal charges were not recorded. That changed on January 18, 2019, when she was arrested and booked into the Lancaster County jail after it was discovered that she had created an email address under a pseudonym to communicate with convicted murderer Bryton A. Gibbs, 24. Gibbs was serving a 100-year sentence for fatally stabbing an Omaha pizza delivery man in 2010. The email exchanges included comments about their families and sexual liaisons. Gassman was charged with a class four felony of unlawful acts by a corrections employee. She posted $5,000 bail and was released on January 22, 2019.
New York: The ban only lasted two days but sparked outrage among journalists and visitors to the “Brooklyn House,” aka the Brooklyn Detention Complex in New York City. Visitors to the jail during the last weekend of 2018 were confronted with a sign stating, “New York Post Newspaper is no longer accepted.” The Post is known for its local news coverage and snarky headlines. “I’ve never come across the wholesale banning of a non-pornographic, mainstream newspaper before,” said Ronald Kuby, a civil rights lawyer. When asked about the policy a guard explained, “I don’t know. It comes from the higher-ups.” A December 30, 2018 email from a city DOC spokesman declared, “No media outlet, including the New York Post, is banned from any of our facilities. No such policy exists and we’re looking into this one egregious case.” Critics speculated that a September 26, 2018 article about prisoners fashioning “fishing poles” to pull contraband up from outside the facility had sparked the ban by causing jail officials embarrassment, but the three-month delay between the article and the posted notice suggested that explanation was unlikely. The ban has not been reinstated thus far.
New York: Teeka Perkins, 44, was charged in July 2018 with rape, promoting prison contraband and official misconduct, stemming from her year-long sexual affair with a prisoner at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility, where she worked as a guard. A routine search of the prisoner’s living area prompted the investigation. Perkins was suspended without pay and remanded to the Sullivan County jail with bail set at $25,000. She made bond and resigned before her grand jury indictment on March 27, 2019. If convicted, she faces up to four years for each of the seven counts of third-degree rape and one count of third-degree criminal sexual act. She also faces eight misdemeanor counts of official misconduct. Under New York law, a prisoner held in a state correctional facility is “deemed incapable of consenting to sexual contact.”
New York: On December 13, 2018, Bronx district attorney Darcel D. Clark said the Mac Balla Bloods, a particularly powerful street gang operating within the city’s jail system, ran “an enterprise of violence emanating from Rikers Island.” Twenty-nine people were named in seven indictments, which described a smuggling operation that moved contraband among city jails and the Southport Correctional Facility. Thirty scalpel blades, “tiny instruments of terror” according to Clark, were intercepted during the year-long investigation. Smuggled suboxone strips were selling for $100 each at Southport. Authorities are still searching for six of the Mac Balla gang members named in the indictments. Wiretaps and social media monitoring revealed crack cocaine sales in the Bronx and counterfeit large-denomination currency. Jewelry heists were planned by trolling Instagram posts. Police also believe they thwarted a vendetta killing by a pair of gang members in June 2018, recovering a loaded .357 Smith & Wesson revolver. Those two members were charged in a separate indictment.
Ohio: Possible “incriminating statements” will not be suppressed at trial, ruled Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Dennis Langer in early March 2019, in response to a defense motion on behalf of former Montgomery County jail guard Franco Villella. Villella, 23, had been on electric home detention since he was indicted in December 2018 for forcing a female prisoner to engage in sex in a jail bathroom. In April 2019, he pleaded not guilty to four more counts of sexual battery related to an attack on a different prisoner between August and October 2018. “They’re there in their shirt and tie, and they’re getting their picture taken, and they’re smiling and they are in front of that flag ... I’m showing them that picture of that CO, and then I’m also sliding over to the next picture, which is their [jail] book-in picture,” lamented Major Jeremy Roy, about his orientation slide show for new guards. In the past two years, there have been 50 resignations and eight firings at the Montgomery County jail.
Ohio: Erica R. Douglas, 27, was indicted in February 2018 on four counts of sexual battery involving a prisoner she was supervising as a contractor at the Lebanon Correctional Institution in November and December 2017. She was acquitted on September 26, 2018. Her defense attorney proved she was a kitchen worker for food provider Aramark, not a supervisor. Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell said the law they had used to charge Douglas was intended to protect victims coerced for sex by someone with authority or power over them. “It sounds like the jury felt like the imbalance went the other way,” Fornshell stated after discussing the case with court staff who spoke with the jurors. Whitney K. Fields, 34, another Aramark employee at the same facility, was indicted in July 2018 for conveyance of drugs onto prison grounds and aggravated possession of drugs. She allegedly smuggled prepackaged Cathinone, a type of amphetamine, in her bra for a prisoner paramour.
Oregon: “Lucy the dog was not shot. Lucy the dog is alive and well,” Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel’s office said in a statement. The discovery of the still-living dog disputed a victim’s trial statement that her estranged father had shot the black Lab to punish her for refusing sex. “He was just trying to touch me again, and I really had enough of it and Lucy had to pay for it,” the unnamed victim claimed. She said the abuse lasted seven years, beginning in 2006 when she was five and her parents divorced. Her father, Joshua Horner, was indicted in 2014, convicted of sexual abuse of a minor and sentenced to 50 years. He denied the claims of sexual abuse and shooting the dog, and asked the Oregon Innocence Project for help. The discovery that Lucy was alive cast doubt on the victim’s testimony. In July 2018, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed Horner’s conviction and ordered a new trial. He was released from prison on August 3, 2018, and Hummel’s motion to dismiss the charges was granted the following month.
South Carolina: Little is known about the fate of Sheik S. Johnson, the Lieber Correctional Institution guard arrested on February 5, 2019 for punching a handcuffed prisoner four months earlier. Lieber is a maximum-security facility for men in Dorchester County. Johnson allegedly punched the unnamed prisoner in the head several times, causing an injury. In an interview with South Carolina Department of Corrections Police Services, Johnson admitted to striking the prisoner. He was charged with misconduct in office and third-degree assault and battery, but there the trail goes cold. Johnson can’t be located at area jails and there are no reports of his court appearances.
Tennessee: The warden of the Morgan County Correctional Complex, Shawn Phillips, was transferred to the Northwest Correctional Complex after prisoner Robert Fusco escaped, then was caught trying to sneak back into the prison with drugs, cell phones and tobacco in a bizarre contraband scheme in January 2018. Fusco, who was serving 68 years for kidnapping, pleaded not guilty on September 25, 2018. Three other MCCX prisoners accused of participating in the conspiracy appeared during his arraignment. Fusco’s former cellmate, Jarrett Tolley, who was on probation at the time, reportedly smuggled in hacksaw blades. The indictment accuses former guard Megan Jones of bringing in cell phones, tampering with evidence and having sex with Fusco. Past local correctional officers’ union president Josh Sexton allegedly smuggled in unspecified items “under his groin.” Tolley, Sexton, Jones and Jones’ cousin, former contract worker Elizabeth England, did not appear at the arraignment and are out on bond.
Texas: The Harris County jail used to have a five-book-per-pod limit, but that changed after public defender Amalia Beckner ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to get more books into the facility. A pod houses more than 24 prisoners. Beckner’s project started in 2015, when she printed out book passages for one client at the jail, then other prisoners made requests. In June 2018, she shared an Amazon wish list for the jail on social media, which raised almost $5,000. Two months later the Harris County Public Defender’s Office and the sheriff’s office held a book drive that collected 500 books. Donations of books directly to the jail also increased, and the book limit was lifted. Beckner was thrilled. “I wanted to be part of making a change,” she said. “I am really heartened by the jail’s response. It’s great that they’re open to making some changes.” Don Savell, the jail’s chaplaincy manager and a former sheriff’s lieutenant, suggested a book club for prisoners. The first title chosen was Lethal White, a crime novel by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling).
Texas: Sylvia Hidalgo waited until her fiancé was released from the Goodman Unit in August 2018 before she came forward about a guard who fondled her during a vehicle search at the prison in the fall of 2017. She was “shocked” the first time but ready the next time, with her cell phone camera recording from her car’s floor. The video shows guard Joe Cunningham’s hand going down Hidalgo’s shirt. “I remember him putting his finger over his mouth saying for me not to say anything,” she said. Cunningham resigned during an investigation. Local activist Quanell X said, “She was very terrified that something would happen if she came forward and told the truth.” He believes Cunningham fondled other prison visitors, too. “They gave him a sweetheart of a deal, we will let you keep your pension, and still to this day he has not been indicted after they already admitted to me that yes this is a sexual assault,” Quanell X added. Prison officials said an investigation by the Inspector General’s Office is “ongoing.”
Utah: Central Utah Correctional Facility guard Brittney J. Bryan was placed on administrative leave on August 26, 2018, the day she turned her Toyota Tacoma into the path of motorcyclist Tyrel Prior, resulting in his death. Bryan was turning left onto I-15 southbound from SR-164. She was booked into the Utah County jail on charges of failure to yield the right of way, possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, open container in a vehicle and possession of a controlled substance. She was released without bond the same day. The crash happened about 2:40 p.m. Bryan admitted to drinking two six-packs of beer the night before. Field sobriety tests were inconclusive and blood was drawn, but the results were not publicly released. In addition to having an open drink, Bryan had marijuana edibles and a rifle with ammunition in her truck.
Wisconsin: Rosemary Esterholm was a guard at the Copper Lake School for Girls in 2015 when Sydni Briggs, 16, attempted suicide. A PLN article about the $18.9 million settlement in a civil rights case filed by Briggs reported that Esterholm was terminated as of March 2018. [See: PLN, May 2019, p.26]. She subsequently filed an appeal with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. On September 12, 2018, chairman James Daley issued an order stating: “The discharge of Rosemary Esterholm by the State of Wisconsin Department of Corrections is rejected and modified to a one-day suspension without pay. Esterholm shall immediately be reinstated and made whole in all respects.” While she had falsely filled out paperwork, Esterholm contended it was “amid chaos of the day.” She had been assigned to the unit where Briggs was housed, but only after the suicide attempt occurred. Esterholm will get her job back plus about $29,000 in back pay. Copper Lake and its corresponding juvenile male facility, Lincoln Hills, were slated to close by 2021 in favor of regional facilities, but Governor Tony Evers’ two-year budget proposal indefinitely suspends the closure deadlines.
Wyoming: A 2017 investigation into a warehouse theft at the Wyoming State Penitentiary unexpectedly revealed shipping and receiving clerk Shantell Wyant’s sexual affair with a former prisoner that began in 2015 and lasted until 2017. After prisoner David “Day Day” Edgerson was released, Wyant discovered that he was seeing another woman, which ended their relationship. Wyant was found guilty on three counts of second-degree sexual assault on September 28, 2018. Jurors heard graphic testimony from Edgerson about their sexual activity near the “paper towels and bulk items” in the prison warehouse, and later at a Ramada Inn near the Volunteers of America halfway house where he was staying after his release. Edgerson said he knew Wyant was taking a risk but minimized his own risk, saying, “I’ve been put in the hole for dumber things. It would have been worth it for a brief moment of pleasure.” On January 31, 2019, Wyant received a three-year suspended sentence with supervised probation; she must also register as a sex offender.