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News in Brief

Arizona: Prisoners at ASPC-Douglas, just north of the Mexican border, had to drink bottled water and use portable toilets in early June 2019 after a dry well and a leak caused a water system failure. Cochise County supplies water to the prison, which shares the system with the Bisbee-Douglas International Airport. Well No. 8 has had problems since 2016, so Well No. 7 became the only water source in spring 2018. Problems began at ASPC-Douglas early on June 7, 2019, but Cochise County’s Office of Emergency Services was not alerted until 5 p.m. Prison staff filled trash cans with water for prisoners to clean themselves. A family member reported that at the Eggers Unit, the trash cans had been placed “in the middle of the yard. It’s like the Hunger Games.” The evaporative air conditioning system at the Mohave Unit was out most of the weekend, as temperatures hit the mid-90s. Cochise County was reportedly accelerating the completion of a third well.

Arkansas: Maxine Feldstein and Nicholas Lowe were arrested and held at the Washington County Detention Center in July 2018 for controlled substance possession with intent to deliver. Feldstein bonded out, but Lowe was facing other charges in Ventura, California. Weeks later, “Deputy Kershaw with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office” showed up with documents authorizing Lowe’s release, saying Ventura County was “having issues with overcrowding and all low-priority extraditions have been suspended.” As a result, Lowe was freed. But two days later an actual Ventura County sheriff’s deputy called, saying he was on his way to pick up Lowe. The couple was re-arrested in Fayetteville in August 2018. In January 2019, Lowe pleaded guilty to third-degree escape and was sentenced to one year in prison. Feldstein pleaded guilty in May 2019 to forgery, third-degree escape and second-degree criminal impersonation; she was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with 15 suspended. Jail video confirmed the escape plan was Lowe’s idea, but Feldstein carried it out while on parole for previous felony drug convictions.

California: When the California Correctional Peace Officers Association’s contract expired on July 1, 2019, state prison guards received a five percent pay increase thanks to the legislature and former Governor Jerry Brown. The pay raise “recognizes the critical work and the dangerous environment that our correctional officers face every day protecting Californians and the inmates in their custody,” stated CalHR Director Richard Gillihan. It was the biggest one-year pay raise in the past decade, and will cost California taxpayers $338 million over two years. The Legislative Analyst’s Office noted that California prison guards’ wages have outpaced inflation since 2001, and the state does not have the retention or recruitment issues that plague other states. The CCPOA, whose slogan is “walking the toughest beat in the state,” spent $1 million for TV ads supporting democratic lawmakers, including newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom, who signed off on the contract and pay raise.

California: Although Kern County Deputy District Attorney Robert Carbone believes that former death row prisoner Vicente Benevides is guilty of killing 21-month-old Consuelo Verdugo in 1991, his office stated, “Our professional and ethical standards require us to decline to retry the case when, upon an objective review of the facts, there is insufficient evidence to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Benevides spent 25 years in San Quentin State Prison before the California Supreme Court overturned his conviction and he was released in 2018. The state-funded Habeas Corpus Resource Center found that the prosecution’s expert witness, Dr. Jess Diamond, never saw key medical records and photographs of the victim before testifying that the child was sodomized, resulting in death. “I am convinced that this case presents a tremendous failing of the criminal justice system,” Dr. Diamond declared in 2012. Benevides filed a lawsuit in July 2019 against Kern County officials for allegedly fabricating evidence. Benevides, the fourth prisoner exonerated and removed from California’s death row since 1980, was 41 years old when he was arrested. He is now 70.

Canada: Four British Columbia jail guards will stand trial in early 2020 on charges of assault causing bodily harm on Anthanios-Tom Mavros, a mentally ill prisoner, at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre on September 18, 2017. Very few particulars about the alleged assault are known. Dean Purdy, vice-president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, circulated a bulletin to the group’s membership stating: “In September 2017, a living unit officer [guard] at a regional correctional centre in the Lower Mainland was the victim of an unprovoked, violent attack by an inmate. A number of your brothers and sisters responded to this emergency and eventually secured the prisoner.” Fraser Regional’s warden and eight guards involved in the incident were fired, and six others were disciplined. Mavros has been in court many times since 2004. In 2011, police described him as bi-polar with schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorder. Purdy complained that “We’re really becoming the default mental health facilities in this province, and that’s wrong.” The Fraser Regional facility was designed for 300 prisoners and houses 500.

Florida: Noah D. Stirn, 24, sent his first threatening letter to the U.S. District Court in Miami in April 2019, writing, “There is an improvised explosive device inside of your building .... This is an orchestrated attack in the name and for the cause of the Islamic State.” His May 2019 letter said, “Death to America, truly.” Altogether, Stirn mailed 21 threatening letters to courthouses and government offices throughout Northern Florida from his cell at the Blackwater River Correctional Facility, where he was serving time for witness tampering and grand theft auto. Blackwater is run by GEO Group. Stirn signed all the letters and admitted to the FBI that he sent them, saying “he disagreed with various policies of the United States government and these letters were his attempt to change the policies of the United States.” He pleaded guilty on November 8, 2019 to a dozen federal charges related to threatening communications involving explosives and mailing communications threatening to injure others.

Georgia: Mark Edward Jeffery, 34, was sentenced to five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Harold L. Murphy on April 29, 2019. Jeffery was working at the Hays State Prison in February 2018 when a co-worker noticed “a large rectangular object, wrapped in black electrical tape,” concealed in Jeffery’s beverage container. The co-worker alerted a supervisor. Jeffery consented to a search later that day and the guards found a brown glass “smoking utensil,” four cell phone chargers, four smartphones, two bags with 190 pills, another plastic bag with methamphetamine and a water bottle filled with alcohol. In a February 11, 2019 plea deal, Jeffery pleaded guilty to one count of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. “Smuggling illegal contraband into a prison jeopardizes the safety of jailers and inmates alike,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “Correctional officers like Jeffery, who disgrace their badge, can expect to be prosecuted and join the prison population,” he added.

Indiana: Former Aramark food service employees at the Clinton County jail, Lindsay Ferguson, 25, and Amanda Gilman, 39, were charged with sexual misconduct in March 2019. The women’s cell phones revealed they had allowed prisoners to use their phones, and that they had sexual relationships with two prisoners. Gilman had sex with Joshua Arreaga, 37, at a Frankfort gas station during his work release shifts. Stolen Aramark deli meat was found in a search of her car, and she was also charged with theft. Ferguson shared sexually explicit calls with prisoner Eric Markwith. She was also charged with trafficking with an inmate. Arreaga was charged with failure to return to lawful detention from his work release job.

Louisiana: In April 2019, a shakedown involving more than 250 officers and 16 K-9 dog teams was conducted at the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. A contraband cell phone led to the June 2019 arrest of prison guard Courtneé Anderson, 30, for having an illicit relationship with a prisoner. She resigned during the investigation. Anderson was booked on one count of malfeasance in office by the West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Department; she had worked at Angola since January 2019. Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said, “I applaud our employees at Louisiana State Penitentiary for what they are doing to fight the smuggling. We are making progress in our fight to rid our state prisons of contraband, but we must stay the course and continue our aggressive efforts.”

Maryland: Fellow prison guards thought Sergeant Coyd Cole looked “under the influence” when he showed up for work at the Western Correctional Institution on March 15, 2019. He was searched and 60 oxycodone pills were discovered. Cole had worked for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for 18 years. An Allegany County grand jury indicted him on charges of possession of a controlled dangerous substance and possession of contraband in a place of confinement on June 21, 2019. Cole was suspended pending the outcome of the charges. Secretary Robert L. Green stated, “Drugs fuel prison violence and puts our dedicated officers at risk. We commend our correctional staff for remaining vigilant in stopping those trying to bring narcotics into our facilities.”

Mississippi: Investigators believe fear of more jail time may have prompted the suicide of Brian Lloyd Talley, 43, outside the Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs on June 25, 2019. Talley had been serving time at the jail for burglary since March 2019, and was due to be released in August. He was a “trustee,” granted privileges for good behavior. On the day he committed suicide, detectives from Senatobia, Mississippi questioned Talley about an embezzlement case involving credit card fraud. Around four o’clock that afternoon, when Talley was outside the jail, he broke into a locked sheriff’s department truck, found a pistol and shot himself. Deputies were alerted when the bullet went through the truck’s rear window and triggered the car alarm.

Missouri: Travis Davis, 30, broke out of the Pettis County jail on March 10, 2019, where he was being held on charges that included kidnapping, endangering the welfare of a minor, domestic assault, resisting arrest and parole violation. He may have hopped a train. In Oklahoma, on March 13, Davis kidnapped a woman and forced her to drive. She was able to call police to the Choctaw Travel Plaza when Davis fell asleep. Police officers handcuffed him behind his back and put him in the back of the police car, behind a cage. The car was left running. Davis worked his way to the driver’s seat and drove off before crashing about 1.5 miles away. He was captured again on March 19, 2019, after he returned to Pettis County.

Nebraska: The Lancaster County Attorney’s Office has charged DeVaunte J. Taylor, 35, a prisoner in Nebraska, with first-degree forcible sexual assault and terroristic threats, for events that occurred at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in 2016. Taylor allegedly choked, threatened and raped another prisoner. When questioned, he denied the assault. The victim had been taken to Bryan West Campus for an examination that found evidence consistent with his description of the rape. Taylor moved to have the state’s DNA sample, which matched DNA found on the victim’s boxer shorts, excluded in June 2018. He had provided a sample on May 8, 2018, but the investigator failed to wear gloves. Taylor refused to provide a second sample ten days later, as he said he found the second request “suspicious.” His motion argued that his DNA was obtained illegally in violation of his due process rights. By February 2019, the judge had still not ruled on the motion. Prisoner-on-prisoner sexual assaults are rarely prosecuted.

New Hampshire: Rumors of bugs in the food prompted 220 prisoners to skip dinner at the Valley Street jail in Manchester on June 2, 2019. The original “insect” turned out to be a piece of burnt turkey found in one prisoner’s meal. Over the previous 10 months, worms were discovered in the jail’s food twice. On April 29, 2019, a corn weevil was found in frozen corn and on November 19, 2018, an Indian meal moth larva was discovered in dried rice. The bugs were non-native to New Hampshire and did not originate from the jail. According to Superintendent David Dionne, in July 2018 Hillsborough County signed a new contract with Trinity Food Service, which specializes in supplying food to prisons. Trinity changed its food supplier after the second bug complaint. Dionne met with prisoners to discuss their concerns, and regular food services resumed the day after the prisoners skipped the dinner meal.

New Jersey: Over 30 Jewish protestors were arrested on June 30, 2019 for blocking the Elizabeth Detention Center, a CoreCivic-managed ICE facility. Jewish activists in association with immigrant rights group Movimiento Cosecha organized the event, which drew Jews from across the U.S. Protestors met at Kellogg Park and walked 1.6 miles to the facility, chanting in Hebrew and English and blowing ceremonial shofars. Elizabeth police arrested those who were blocking access to staff and visitor parking lots. Protesters shouted, “which side are you on, my people, which side are you on?” Invoking the Holocaust, they called for “closing the camps” and said they wanted ICE abolished. Alona Weimer, a member of New York’s Yeshivat Hadar, said, “All types of Jews want to end the detention. They don’t want their activist selves and religious selves to be bifurcated.” More protests were in the works to focus attention on the role of private prison companies, like GEO Group and CoreCivic, that profit from immigrant detention.

New Mexico: “Less-lethal” shotgun rounds and pepper ball grenades were used to stop an attack on a sergeant and guard at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Las Cruces on July 16, 2019. Alex Bencomo and Sergeant Mitchell Lamb were taken to a local hospital with severe but non-life-threatening injuries. Prisoners Gabriel Sedillo, Robert Dyment, Martin Cuevas, Irvin Ramirez, George Cervantes and Daniel Aragon were identified as the perpetrators from surveillance video released on August 1. Warden Daniel Peters said the attack was “random.” Lamb and Bencomo were overwhelmed when they returned to the pod to place it on lockdown. The “deadly weapons” used during the attack were a radio and flashlight. The prisoners quickly surrendered after other guards swept into the pod to break up the fight. Cervantes and Cuevas have since been paroled, while the other prisoners involved have been moved to “other locations,” according to the NM DOC’s website.

Ohio: There are plenty of problems at the Cuyahoga County jail. Several investigations were sparked after eight prisoners died in 2018. A Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas document states that jail guards Stephen Thomas, 28, and Marvella Sullivan were part of a drug ring inside the facility from January 1, 2017 to July 1, 2019. Prisoner Lamar Speights allegedly directed the operation, which smuggled heroin, fentanyl, marijuana and cell phones. In May 2019, sheriff’s investigators watched Thomas deliver drugs to a prisoner on a video surveillance camera. Searching the cell soon after, 10 oxycodone pills were found. Investigators impounded a cell phone that Thomas used to conduct drug transactions, as well as $1,409 in cash. Prosecutors believe Thomas worked for the Heartless Felons street gang; he and Speights were indicted on a laundry list of charges in August 2019. Federal attorneys have opposed a bankruptcy that Thomas filed in early 2019, as he had not included his smuggling earnings in his financial filing. Sullivan resigned on August 3, 2019 after refusing to give blood and urine samples.

Oklahoma: On May 10, 2019, just after noon, a privately owned fuel tanker truck delivering gasoline to the Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown blew up at the Oklahoma Correctional Industries fueling station. The explosion spread debris onto the median of U.S. 69 and destroyed the tanker. “It’s a blessing that no one was hurt in this accident, said ODOC Director Joe M. Allbaugh. This was a violent explosion.” All area fire departments, emergency crews and police responded. No buildings at the Mack Alford prison were affected.

Pennsyvlania: Rick Allen Davis, Jr., a former food service instructor at SCI Houzdale, was sentenced by Court of Common Pleas Judge Fredric J. Ammerman on July 9, 2019 to two to five years for bringing drugs into the prison. Officials began investigating Davis in March following a report that he had brought a vial of Muslim oil (oil without alcohol or animal byproducts) to a prisoner. He was given a pat down search, revealing a baggie with ten 8x10 sheets of paper soaked in synthetic marijuana, methamphetamine and two Suboxone strips. Davis’ vehicle, towed to the impound lot, contained K2 in various forms, 44 packages of Suboxone, 18.9 grams of methamphetamine and 14 international money orders payable to himself, totaling $4,341. He admitted his involvement and pleaded guilty to contraband-controlled substance and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. Davis’ public defender advocated for a five-year maximum sentence, making him eligible for placement in a boot camp.

South Carolina: In 2017 and 2018, the South Carolina Department of Corrections miscalculated the release dates for 10 prisoners who were let out early, having served less than 85 percent of their sentences. The miscalculation was discovered in February 2019 during a parole records review. SCDC spokeswoman Chrysti Shain admitted that the public was not informed, but victims’ families had been alerted. Six of the 10 former prisoners were quickly apprehended; warrants were issued for the other four. Another early release mistake happened in July 2019 when a prisoner was freed 20 days early, then recovered two days later. In a July 22, 2019 letter to the South Carolina House Legislative Oversight Committee, SCDC director Bryan Stirling outlined steps that were being taken to prevent similar errors. “SCDC implemented a 2-person record audit prior to release,” he said. Prisoners with sentences shorter than six months will be designated “day-for-day inmates,” and “if any date prior to the projected maxout date is entered in the scheduled release date on the maxout screening application,” an error message will appear.

Tennessee: Brittany Leigh Ann Calderon, 28, was arrested on December 17, 2018 and admitted to having sex with prisoner Kuantraveous Williams at least three times in the Charlie Pod storage closet in Unit 7 at the Lois M. Deberry Special Needs Facility. Williams has since been moved to the Northwest Correctional Complex. Calderon was a clerk employee of Corizon Mental Health, a contractor that provides mental health services at Tennessee state prisons. The sexual relationship came to light through recorded phone calls between the two. Calderon was sentenced on September 20, 2019 to one year in the Davidson County jail, suspended to probation. She owes court costs of $577.50 and will not be required to register as a sex offender.

Texas: Billie Wayne Coble, 70, was the oldest prisoner executed in Texas since capital punishment resumed in the state in 1982. He was given a single dose of pentobarbital at 6:13 p.m. at the Huntsville Unit on February 28, 2019, and pronounced dead 11 minutes later. Coble’s son, Gordon, Gordon’s wife Nelley and his son, Dalton, attended the execution. Gordon burst into tears and banged on the viewing window. Guards dragged him and his son from the room. Nelley screamed, “Why are y’all doing this? They are killing his daddy.” Gordon and Dalton were arrested and charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. They were released the next day on $1,000 bond. A Vietnam vet, Coble was convicted of the 1989 fatal shooting of his in-laws, Robert and Zelda Vicha, and his brother-in-law, Waco police sergeant Bobby Vicha, in 1990. Coble’s last words were, “Yes sir. That will be $5. I love you, I love and I love you. Mike, I love you. Where’s Nelley at? I love you. That will be $5. Take care.”

Texas: A Hays County Jail prisoner escaped for a few hours on November 14, 2019 before he was picked up at a nearby restaurant. Shaun Haenes, 41, swapped IDs with his cellmate, then bonded out of jail under the cellie’s name at 8:13 p.m. Jail officials realized their mistake 30 minutes later and called the San Marcos police, who discovered Haenes at the restaurant and returned him to jail at 9:37 p.m. The Hays County Sheriff’s Office said the escape plan should not have worked, but a deputy didn’t follow proper release procedures. Haenes was in jail for various charges that included unlawful carrying of a weapon and drug-related offenses. New charges may include escape while arrested, four counts of tampering with a government record and failure to ID/fugitive with intent to give false information.

United Kingdom: Jailers at HMP Bullingdon in Oxfordshire were puzzled by phone signals that detection equipment picked up on the morning of August 4, 2018. They honed in on and searched the cell of Dylan Martin. The four-inch Samsung phone wasn’t under the mattress; it was hidden in Martin’s buttocks. He expressed surprise and denied all knowledge of the device. The phone’s SIM card refuted his protestations of innocence, as it contained a contact list that included Martin’s friends and family. He was scheduled for release in April 2019 on a prior three-year sentence, but received six more months for having the contraband cell phone. Judge Ian Pringle told him, “I am afraid that release will be a little bit delayed.... It is a scourge on our prisons up and down the country the possession of mobile phones, and you deserve punishment for that.”

Virginia: Located inside the Virginia Department of Corrections’ headquarters is the Fresh Start Bakery. “You can’t be in an environment where people aren’t willing to help you grow, so this is definitely a growing environment,” said baker Briijya Brockington. Brockington and 11 other female prisoners participate in the Fresh Start program, operating the bakery and its neighboring cafe and restaurant five days a week. Items produced at the Fresh Start Bakery are available to the public and include gluten-free options. The bakery is a re-entry program focused on culinary arts and business skills to prepare the women for jobs following their release. Brenda Reed, the food operations director, said, “Our part here in DOC when they first get here is to start working on them and make sure that we give them something so they can give back when they get ready to leave.”

Washington: Grays Harbor County jail officials noticed James Bartholomew, 40, was missing at 3 p.m. on June 26, 2019. Bartholomew was a trustee in the jail’s kitchen; he hid inside a garbage bin that was wheeled outside by another trustee. Bartholomew was already facing a long sentence on drug and weapon possession charges. Media alerts were quickly distributed. He remained on the lam until 12:35 a.m. on July 19. Tumwater Police noticed a woman acting strangely at the local Motel 6 parking lot. She hurried off at their approach. Inside her car, under a blanket, with what looked like heroin and methamphetamine, was Bartholomew. The combined bail on all his charges was $3 million. Bartholomew was transferred to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla on September 6, 2019.

West Virginia: A grand jury returned indictments for first-degree murder against Anthony Lee Johnson, 41, Thomas Antwan Jones, 33, Eugene Lane, 36, Dallas Allen Lauschin, 21, and Galen Stewart, 54, for the February 16, 2019 beating death of fellow prisoner Kevin Brent Whittaker, 38, at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver. Whittaker had been in the jail on a DUI charge. The five defendants were arraigned in Raleigh County on October 2, 2019. The criminal complaint indicates Whittaker had pressed a call button in his cell 90 minutes after the alleged beating, and was later found unresponsive. Senior State Trooper E.W. Boothe said that Whittaker had been “beaten pretty severely,” and he was pronounced dead at the hospital due to head and chest injuries. On February 20, 2019, Lauschin, Jones and Johnson were charged with murder. Following an investigation, charges were also filed against Stewart and Lane.

Wisconsin: Two former female civilian Green Bay Correctional Institution (GBCI) employees were charged with smuggling marijuana, hand sanitizer, food and soft drinks to prisoners with gang ties who worked in the prison canteen. “Once you do something that violates the rules, well, now they’ve got you,” said Brown County Sheriff’s Captain Dave Poteat. It started with bringing in chips and sandwiches, then escalated. Rachelle M. Ritchie, 36, admitted to having sex with a prisoner and smuggling the marijuana. She said she refused to bring in a cell phone, but told investigators, “Bringing contraband into GBCI was super easy.” Ritchie was charged in May 2019 with delivering marijuana, delivering illegal articles to an inmate and misconduct. An overheard conversation about the sex by another GBCI employee sparked the investigation. The second employee accused of smuggling contraband was not identified. 

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