News in Brief
Arizona: A Maricopa County grand jury indicted Daniel Davitt, 60, on January 14, 2020 on charges of second-degree murder in the death of Lower Buckeye Jail guard Gene Lee on October 30. Buckeye Jail video shows Davitt talking to Lee on October 29, then suddenly grabbing Lee by the throat and pushing him backward, using his right leg to knock Lee off his feet. Lee sustained a head injury that put him in a coma; he died the next day. Davitt was moved to the Pinal County Jail on Halloween. The Arizona Republic uncovered records that Davitt had filed a civil rights complaint against Lee over a December 2018 incident, that Davit characterized as sexual harassment and voyeurism. It was dismissed on October 22, 2019 for failure to “state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Davitt was notified of the complaint’s dismissal the day before the attack. Pinal County records show Davitt is being held without bond.
Australia: The British Medical Journal Case Reports published a story in October 2019 on the first case of a “prison-acquired marijuana-based rhinolith.” A rhinolith is a calcium and magnesium stone that forms around a foreign body in the nose. It was found in a 48-year-old man with recurrent headaches after a CT of his brain was performed, which revealed “an incidental” 19x11mm calcified lesion in the right nasal cavity. In a follow-up interview, the patient remembered that 18 years earlier he had been in jail and stuffed a balloon with marijuana in his nose to hide it from guards during a visit from his girlfriend, who supplied it. He never got to smoke it, because he couldn’t get the balloon back out and concluded that he must have swallowed it. Despite chronic nasal problems, he never made the connection. Doctors removed a “rubber capsule containing degenerate vegetable/plant matter.” The patient reported his nasal problems were swiftly resolved.
California: Otay Mesa Detention Center is run by CoreCivic and holds ICE detainees and prisoners of the U.S. Marshals Service awaiting trial or sentencing in federal criminal cases. By June, more than 200 prisoners, nine medical staff and 29 CoreCivic employees had tested positive for coronavirus. In April, Otay Mesa Detention Resistance revealed that CoreCivic was requiring prisoners to sign liability releases in exchange for masks. Women reported being threatened with pepper spray. CoreCivic denies that force was used. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, Otay Mesa Detention Resistance, and others groups tried to deliver masks to the prisoners, but they were barred. Now CoreCivic has blocked Otay Mesa Detention Resistance phone numbers. CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist stated, “We took this action at the direction of our government partner,” referring to ICE. The agency says, “ICE has temporarily blocked detainee calls at Otay Mesa Detention Center to a specific San Diego-area phone number after detainee calls to this number resulted in detainees exhibiting highly disruptive behavior.” Pueblo Sin Fronteras member Alex Mensing’s number was also blocked, which he verified with Telmate, the facility’s call provider.
Cambodia: In late May 2020, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said Cambodia had been looking for ways to relieve overcrowding in prisons. The country’s “war on drugs” has caused the prison population to increase nearly 78 percent. Several reports had circulated saying 10,000 prisoners would be released, raising some alarm. Kheng sought to assure the public, “Those who are incarcerated or convicted for misdemeanors and have nearly completed their sentences are almost certainly able to be released, except for criminal cases.” He said the government was looking at alternative ways to rehabilitate the offenders and that authorities would be monitoring the progress of those released. Minister of Justice Koeut Rith agreed that pardoning minor offenders to avoid overcrowding was allowed by law. Kheng released statistics in March, indicating that there were 39,000 detainees in Cambodian prisons, only 11,000 of whom had convictions, leaving two-thirds in pre-trial status. Actual prison capacity is about 26,593. Rith’s office is also taking steps to relieve the courts’ logjam, authorizing judges to fast-track misdemeanor cases, increase bail approvals and offer more suspended sentences.
Florida: Private prison operator GEO Group filed a lawsuit in May 2020 against Netflix over its new series Messiah. In episodes three and four, the protagonist is held at an immigration facility in Texas, which GEO claims is identified with the company’s logo. GEO Group claims that use of the logo and the depiction of the facility defames the company. In the show, the detainees are held in overcrowded cells, without beds, surrounded by chain-link fencing. In the complaint, GEO Group states, “Unlike in Messiah, GEO does not house people in overcrowded rooms with chain-link cages at its Facilities, but provides beds, bedding, air conditioning, indoor and outdoor recreational spaces, soccer fields, classrooms, libraries, and other amenities that rebut Messiah’s defamatory falsehoods.” The complaint continues, “Netflix’s use of the GEO Trademarks served no purpose other than to harm GEO’s good will and reputation.” Although the depictions take place in Texas, GEO Group, which is headquartered in Boca Raton, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida.
Florida: House Bill 1125, known as the Jury Duty bill, was introduced to the Florida House in January 2020. The bill sought to prohibit jail time as a sanction for missing jury duty. The bill arose from a September 2019 incident that received national coverage. Palm Beach County Judge John Kastrenakes ruled Deandre Somerville, 21, guilty of contempt of court for missing the start of a civil trial as his jury duty. Somerville, who had no criminal record, had overslept and missed his ride to court. Somerville was sentenced to 10 days in jail, 150 hours of community service, a year of probation, and a $223 fine. He was also ordered to write a “sincere” apology. The sentence sparked national outrage. Daily Show host Trevor Noah, quipped, “You know racism is bad in America when a black man can get thrown in jail at someone else’s trial.” Ultimately, Kastrenakes vacated the charges after Somerville had spent 10 days in jail and submitted the written apology. Nonetheless, HB 1125 died in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee in March.
Idaho: Miranda Ackerman, 29, turned herself in to the Ada County Jail in June 2020, after a warrant was issued for her arrest; she was released on her own recognizance. Ackerman was known as Miranda Jefferds during her stint as a guard at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution. She resigned in April when an investigation was initiated concerning sexual relations between her and an unnamed prisoner between February and March of 2020. The prison barbershop was their preferred trysting spot. Ackerman was charged with felony sexual contact with an adult inmate while a prison guard, and misdemeanor introducing of contraband. The contraband in question are graphic, racy photos of herself she gave to the prisoner. Her first court date was scheduled for June 29.
Indiana: Former Madison Correctional Facility guard Kristen Wolf, 28, was formally charged on May 28 in a bizarre double homicide that occurred on May 11 at the Carriage House West in Indianapolis. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office filed two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of attempted battery with a deadly weapon. Wolf is being held at the Marion County Jail without bond. Her pre-trial conference is scheduled for September 30. Victim Victoria Cook, 24, was dead at the scene from stab wounds. Dylan Dickover, 28, died later at Eskenazi Hospital, also by stabbing, and the third victim, Elizabeth McKugh, 33, was in critical condition. A black, blood-stained, knit watch-cap with an Indiana Department of Corrections patch, found at the scene, led to Wolf. Investigators later uncovered an alleged “manifesto,” dated May 11, in a search of Wolf’s home, suggesting Wolf was inspired by serial killers and was prepared to die. Police believe Cook and Wolf had dated the same man. Wolf was fired on May 22.
Kansas: “For a bail bondsman agent who’ll go the extra mile to get you out of a bad position, reach out to A Girard Bonding Co.,” promises the firm’s owner on his MapQuest listing. However, owner Merlin “Jack” Nelson, 87, of Girard, had expectations that a Crawford County Jail prisoner might “go the extra mile” for him. In October 2019, the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office stated they were investigating allegations that Nelson had attempted to get a woman at the jail to perform sex acts in exchange for bond. Sheriff Danny Smith said there was only one victim “that we know of right now.” The victim’s identity has not been released. Nelson was arrested on October 30, 2019 and posted a $5,000 bond the same day. It is a felony under Kansas law for a bail bondsman to have any form of consensual sex with a person who is the subject of a surety or bail bond agreement.
Kentucky:It’s still not clear what prompted maximum security prisoners at the Louisville Metro Department of Corrections jail to break an interior dorm window with a water cooler in the early morning hours of May 31, 2020. Nine prisoners climbed through the broken window into a walkway, where more windows were broken, encouraging 20 more prisoners to join in the destruction, causing damage to more windows, a computer, chairs and other equipment. There were ongoing protests over the police murder of Breonna Taylor at the time, but none of the prisoners involved in the destruction were arrested protesters. Four prisoners were treated for minor injuries by LMDC medical staff, three were taken to the hospital by EMS and released back to Louisville Metro. No staff were hurt.
Louisiana: Livingston Parish was shocked when SWAT team leader Dennis Perkins and his wife, Cynthia Perkins, a teacher at Westside Junior High School in Walker were arrested for alleged child pornography in October 2019. On December 17, the two were indicted on 150 felonies. A Westside parent filed a lawsuit against the couple and the school board over cupcakes her daughter ate at school that were prepared by the Perkins and contaminated with Perkins’ semen. In March 2020, a third suspect, Melanie Curtin, was indicted for aggravated rape and video voyeurism. She is accused of facilitating the November 2014 rape of an adult. Curtin posted $350,000 bond. The Perkins are being held without bond. A new 404(B), described as “extremely graphic,” was filed in April 2020. It includes a secret video made during a traffic stop of a woman’s cleavage and genitals as she searches for her driver’s license. Prosecutors allege, “The unidentified female is ‘clearly unaware’ she is being recorded.”
Mexico: Los Zetas cartel boss Moises Escamilla May, also called “Fatty May,” died in a hospital on May 8, 2020, two days after being diagnosed with COVID-19. He was serving a 37-year sentence at the maximum-security Puente Grande State prison in Zapotlanejo, Jalisco state, for weapons and drug offences as well as for organized crime. A regional leader of the “Old School Zetas,” the main cocaine supplier for Cancun, “Fatty May” was known for the savage beheading of 12 people in the Yucatan in 2008. The Mexican health ministry reported on the cartel boss, without naming him, on May 7, “He wasn’t suffering from any disease and started showing breathing symptoms on May 6,” it said. It was the Jalisco public prosecutor’s office that confirmed the death of “Fatty May” and his identity to Agence France-Presse (AFP). It is not known how many more COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed at the Puente Grande State prison.
Mississippi: Shelley Griffith, 29, was a prison guard at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl in 2016. In May of that year, she and fellow guards Reginald Brown, 27, and Sharalyn McClain, 28, entered the cell of Leon Hayes. They were all wearing boots. The three kicked, punched and stomped on Hayes. All three were indicted in June 2019 for the assault resulting in bodily injury to Hayes, involving the use of a dangerous weapon, “a shoe with a foot in it.” All three pleaded guilty in 2017 to “violating the civil rights of an inmate by using excessive force against him.” Brown was sentenced to 60 months in prison and a $1,500 fine in March 2019; he began his sentence the following month. Griffith was sentenced to 70 months in prison in January 2020, and McClain had still not been sentenced as of press time. The DOJ would not explain the delays. Hayes is representing himself in a federal lawsuit against the former guards.
Morocco: Morocco’s General Delegation for Prison Administration and Reintegration (DGAPR) moved swiftly to contain COVID-19 and announced that 75 Moroccan prisons were coronavirus-free as of June 7. The DGAPR had instituted a comprehensive action plan in May to inhibit the spread of the virus in the prisons. New prisoners were given medical exams, and vulnerable groups were identified. Movement within the facilities was limited. In April, DGAPR coordinated with the judicial authority to switch to remote hearings. More than 2,890 were held April 27 to June 26. Each prison has been assigned a mobile medical unit to treat infected prisoners, while minimizing contamination. Large-scale testing began at all prison facilities in late April. Of the 66 confirmed COVID-19 cases at “Tangier 1,” 48 patients had recovered and 14 were in quarantine, two died, two were released and one was still in treatment. Eleven of the 26 “Tangier 1” infected employees were still in quarantine and 15 had recovered.
New Jersey:Bayside State Prison guard Joseph DiMarco was suspended and banned from state facilities “pending a thorough and expedited investigation” for mocking the police killing of George Floyd in a video. NJDOC did not name DiMarco in a Facebook posting on June 9, but said, “We have been made aware that one of our officers participated in the filming of a hateful and disappointing video that mocked the killing of George Floyd.” The NJDOC post thanked the public for alerting it to the video. Local media identified DiMarco, who took part in the video, which was filmed during a Blue Lives Matter counter protest against a peaceful Black Lives Matter march in Franklin Township on June 8. Marchers passed a white man kneeling on the neck of another white man in a reenactment of George Floyd’s killing. The video shows a man yelling, “Comply with the cops and this wouldn’t happen.” Trump 2020 signs and American flags served as the backdrop.
New York: U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas sentenced former Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccini, 55, to 18 months in federal prison. Marraccini, who reported to prison in July 2019, pleaded guilty to tax evasion six months earlier. He served with the Harrison Police Department for 32 years and was chief from 2010 until 2016, after which he was put on paid administrative leave for falsifying time sheets, in a matter separate from the IRS issue. Over six years Marracini hid more than $2.5 million in revenue from his Coastal Construction home improvement business and failed to report rental income from properties in Purchase and Rye. He owed $782,000 to the IRS and almost $120,000 in state taxes. Judge Karas gave Marraccini less than the 24-30 months sought by prosecutors, citing Marraccini’s “exceptional police career.” Marraccini was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and will serve a year of post-release supervision.
North Carolina: Lauren Del Zimmerman, 31, was a guard at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh, where she is alleged to have participated in a prison drug distribution ring. The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office released an organizational flow chart in October 2019 of the suspected operatives and the path of Suboxone from the Urgent Care in Durham to state prisons. Samuel Lee Perkins, 62, was alleged to be the ringleader. Zimmerman was charged with felony conspiracy to sell and deliver a Schedule III narcotic and released on $50,000 secured bond. Most of the nine arrested were charged with conspiracy to sell and deliver a schedule III-controlled substance. Perkins’ charges also include manufacturing a schedule III-controlled substance. The drug ring focused on Suboxone and Adderall. Despite much posturing and outrage at the time, little seems to have resulted. A number of female prisoners originally implicated had charges dropped or received suspended sentences. Zimmerman and Perkins had not been tried as of press time.
Oklahoma: Former Mabel Bassett Correctional Center prison guard Christopher Adams, then 48, was arrested in October 2017 on 11 felony counts, including eight counts of lewd, indecent acts with a child under 16 and two counts of forcible oral sodomy. He resigned his corporal position in November 2017. Prosecutors alleged that Adams sexually assaulted a girl between the ages of 12 and 13 over a two-year period, beginning in 2012. Adams pleaded no contest, admitting no guilt, but allowing the court to determine punishment. The no contest plea allowed Adams to avoid a jury trial. Adams was sentenced to 20 years in prison in September 2019.
Pennsylvania: In April, convicted “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli sought to get out of prison to research coronavirus treatments. [See: PLN, May 2020, p.62] On May 16, U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto stated in her nine-page ruling, “The court does not find that releasing Mr. Shkreli will protect the public, even though Mr. Shkreli seeks to leverage his experience with pharmaceuticals to help develop a cure for COVID-19 that he would purportedly provide at no cost.” She further stated that Shkreli “is a healthy, 37-year-old man with no recent history of preexisting medical conditions that place him at higher risk for COVID-19,” so he is not eligible for compassionate release. Shkreli is currently at FCI Allenwood in White Deer.
Pennsylvania: Eight days after Richard Lenhart, 49, of Pittsburgh was found unresponsive in his cell at the Allegheny County Jail, advocacy groups held a vigil on April 19, 2020 at Point State Park to remember prisoners who have died inside the jail. The Radical Youth Collective, Jailbreak, 1Hood Media, and Bukit Bail Fund wished to draw attention to the problem of prisoner suicide at Allegheny. Just weeks later, Robert Blake, 36, was found hanging by his uniform at the jail on May 28. Prisoner advocates have recommended that Allegheny County Jail integrate behavioral care with primary care and improve training and staffing to reduce the number of prisoner deaths. They have also suggested that fixtures be replaced with ones that are suicide-resistant. The U.S. Department of Justice reported in February 2020 that suicide is the leading cause of death for prisoners in county jails across the country and accounted for 31 percent of all county jail deaths between 2006 and 2016. Of 104 statewide, Allegheny County Jail has reported eight suicides in the last five years through March.
Russia: Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was convicted of espionage in a Moscow court and sentenced to 16 years’ hard labor on June 15, 2020. Whelan also carries Irish, British and Canadian citizenship. He was detained by Russian authorities in December 2018 under suspicion of spying. He has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison since his arrest. The closed trial began on March 23. U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan has said, “This secret trial in which no evidence was produced is an egregious violation of human rights and international legal norms.” Standing behind a glass screen, Whelan held a sign, “Sham Trial! Meatball Surgery! No Human Rights! Paul’s Life Matters! Decisive action from POTUS and PMs Needed! Happy Birthday Flora!” Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, says Whelan was caught “red-handed” with a flash drive containing “state secrets.” Whelan’s family says he had gone to Moscow for a wedding. Whelan’s lawyer contends that Whelan thought the flash drive held family photos. Whelan had been director of Global Security for auto parts supplier BorgWarner.
South Carolina: Lloyd Ray Franklin, 76, was fired by the South Carolina Department of Corrections after his arrest in September 2019. Franklin worked at the Livesay Correctional Institution in Spartanburg. He was assigned to drive the prisoner litter crew. According to the arrest warrant, Franklin would drive to specific locations along Interstate 85, so prisoners could pick up contraband left for them “by unknown individuals.” No information was available about how the scheme was uncovered or what type of contraband was retrieved. Franklin was arrested on a charge of providing contraband to prisoners and released the same day.
Texas: “She felt like she made a mistake. She’s remorseful about it and hopes to move on,” said Brenda Alicia Fuentes’ attorney, Rudy Moreno, during a video conference on May 26, 2020 in which Fuentes pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a prisoner at the 1,300-bed East Hidalgo Detention Center. East Hidalgo is owned by GEO Group and holds prisoners for ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service. Fuentes was a cook supervisor there when she performed fellatio on a prisoner in 2018. Her sentencing is scheduled for August 2020. She faces a maximum sentence of 15 years. In November 2019, a grand jury also indicted a medical assistant and four prison guards accused of giving prisoners contraband for cash. In a twist, former East Hidalgo guard Amber Marie Estrada, 21, Fuentes’ daughter, was indicted in March 2020 under suspicion of smuggling contraband into the facility in exchange for cash and a horse.
Texas: A former ICE prisoner filed a federal lawsuit on May 27, 2020 against CoreCivic, for a rape she says happened in June 2018 at the Houston Processing Center, the day before she was deported. CoreCivic operates eight such ICE sites. The plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe, says she and two other women were moved to an isolated part of the prison and sexually assaulted for over an hour by three men wearing plainclothes and face coverings. The women were put on a bus to Laredo the next day. Soon after, in Mexico, Jane Doe found she was pregnant. A daughter was born in early 2019, after a traumatic C-section. The defendants include CoreCivic, Houston Processing’s Warden Robert Lacy Jr., and Assistant Warden David Price, four CoreCivic subsidiaries, the U.S. government and the “assailants.” ICE renewed CoreCivic’s Houston Processing contract through 2030 for $50 million in March 2020. The two years prior to 2018 saw at least eight reported sexual assault allegations per year. CoreCivic claims to have “a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment.”
Vermont: Many state residents might be surprised to learn that since 2018 there have been nearly 250 Vermont prisoners housed at a private prison in Mississippi, namely, Tallahatchie County Correctional in Tutweiler, a maximum-security prison run by CoreCivic. In February, a notice was posted at the prison saying, “All outgoing general correspondence is subject to being read in part or in full and searched for contraband before it is sent to the post office.” Prisoners were told that envelopes should be left unsealed to facilitate the searches. CoreCivic had tried this once before but backed down after the Vermont prisoners complained. Vermont DOC mail policy does not allow for blanket searches of outgoing mail. Jailhouse lawyer Kirk Wool said the searches would have a chilling effect on correspondence. The Vermont DOC contacted CoreCivic, which reversed its position and agreed to handle outgoing mail in the manner of Vermont in-state prisons.
Washington: Spokane County was the only local government in Eastern Washington large enough to qualify for a direct CARES funding payment from the federal government. The county received about $90 million. The money must be spent by December 30, 2020. In May, Detention Services Director Mike Sparber asked the county commissioners to use some of the COVID-19 response and recovery money on temporary fabric buildings, called Sprung Structures, to expand the Spokane County Jail, which has been overcrowded for decades. Sparber argued that the COVID-19 funds could be used because the buildings would allow the county to keep prisoners farther apart during the pandemic. The buildings, which are expected to last 15 years, take a few weeks to build. Expanding the jail was on the commission agenda before the pandemic. Sabrina Ryan-Helton, a client advocate for the Bail Project, said, “This funding is intended to help our economy recover, and incarceration is hell on the economy.” Survey respondents believed the money should go to local business recovery and replenishing nonprofits that have been helping citizens affected by the virus, not redirected to create more jail space.
Washington: Monroe Correctional prison guard Jason Dominguez, 34, was booked into the Snohomish County Jail in October 2019 after a mother found sexual messages on her daughter’s Facebook page. Other messages were texted and Snapchatted. Dominguez, a father of two, is still being held on two counts of second-degree rape and one count of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, on a $250,000 bond. He is on administrative leave from WADOC pending the outcome of the investigation. Dominguez was an avid volunteer with Girl Scouts and his children’s school PTA groups. Both groups say he had passed numerous background checks. The alleged abuse began in 2017 during a sleepover at Dominguez’s house, when the girl was 13. Prosecutors have confirmed that other girls have now said that Dominguez groped or kissed them. At least four trial dates were set and then continued. The current date for a jury trial is set for October 2020.
West Virginia: Pamela Gail Adkins, a prisoner’s mother, and former Huttonsville Correctional prison guard Mark Steven Taylor were sentenced in January 2020 for conspiring to smuggle methamphetamine and heroin to her son. Central West Virginia Drug Task Force had set up surveillance in Craigsville in February 2019. Taylor admitted Adkins had paid him $500. Adkins was picked up in a traffic stop nearby. U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said, “Since becoming United States Attorney, I’ve had many parents tell me they feel a sense of relief when their son or daughter is arrested because at least while incarcerated they won’t have access to drugs. Not Adkins. She wanted deadly meth and heroin delivered to her incarcerated son…Their drug smuggling scheme has them both headed to federal prison.” Taylor got 24 months for possession with intent to distribute; Adkins received 14 months for distribution of methamphetamine and heroin.
Wisconsin: Kuan Barnett, 20, filed a lawsuit in March 2020 against two former prison guards in Madison federal court, relating to an October 2018 beating he was subjected to in his cell at Columbia Correctional. Barnett seeks punitive compensatory damages for conspiracy, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and use of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. In October, Barnett had spit at guard Russell Goldsmith from his cell. The next day he spit at guard Tara Woodruff. Later that day, according to the lawsuit, Goldsmith and guard Michael Thompson went to the cell. They allegedly beat Barnett after Woodruff opened the cell, then dragged him to a restraint chair. A video of the events later surfaced. Goldsmith and Thompson later admitted to lying in their official report, which claimed Barnett had pretended to hang himself. Goldsmith resigned and pleaded no contest to abuse of a penal facility resident and misconduct in public office, serving 18 months’ probation. Thompson was fired and pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct and obstructing an officer. He served a year of probation. Woodruff and three other guards are also named in the suit.