News in Brief
Alabama: The Birmingham News reported that an Alabama prison guard had been arrested for drug trafficking after a search of his vehicle when he arrived for work at the St. Clair County prison turned up 138 grams of methamphetamine and 16 grams of heroin. Ivan Caldwell, 26, was then booked into the county jail. He resigned in October 2019 from the state Department of Corrections (DOC), for which he had worked since 2017. DOC is “deeply committed to eliminating contraband” in its facilities, said the director of its Investigations and Intelligence Division, Arnaldo Mercado.
Arizona: A guard at Arizona’s Eyman state prison complex in Florence was arrested in October 2019 and charged with aggravated assault on a prisoner. Sgt. Jose Verdugo, 38, allegedly beat up theprisoner, whose name was not released, in August 2019, according to a report in the Arizona Republic. After he was booked into the Pinal County Jail, Verdugo resigned his position with the state Department of Corrections, which issued a statement insisting it “does not tolerate the unjustified use of force against an inmate.”
California: In an unusual turn of events, a prisoner serving a life term at California State Prison and Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran published his confession to the brutal murder in January 2020 of two convicted child molesters with whom he was housed. Jonathan Watson, 41, sent a letter in February 2020 to the San Jose Mercury News, which detailed how he used a cane belonging to fellow prisoner David Babb, 48, and beat him to death, after becoming enraged that Babb was watching children’s TV programming in the prison common area. Using the same weapon, Watson then clubbed to death Graham De Luis Conti, 62. All three men were serving life sentences, Watson for first-degree murder and the other two for aggravated sexual assault of a child under 14. Watson’s letter claims he confessed to clinical staff he was on the verge of violence and asked them to move him from the housing unit, but the request was ignored.
California: Known as the voice of Charlie Brown in the Peanuts TV specials of the 1960s, Peter Robbins is also a former felon, according to an October 2019 report by Fox affiliate Fox 8 in Ohio. Now the 63-year-old actor, who was convicted of a felony under California’s two-strike law for criminal threats made to San Diego County Sheriff William Gore, among others, plans to write a book titled, Confessions of A Blockhead, about the bipolar disorder that fueled the manic behavior that eventually landed him at the California Institution for Men in Chino. From there, he was transferred to a state mental health hospital in Atascadero before being released to a sober-living home in northern San Diego County in October 2019 to complete the last year of his five-year sentence. He advises anyone who “has bipolar disorder to take it seriously because your life can turn around in a span of a month.”
Colorado: Two Denver County Sheriff’s Office deputies were fired in June 2020 after a reckless driving incident the preceding January, while carrying three prisoners in a transport van. According to a report by Denver TV station KDVR, Deputy Jason Martinez was riding shotgun in the van when Colorado State Police clocked Deputy James Grimes driving the van at 100 mph on I-25 in a construction zone with a 60-mph speed limit. When stopped, Grimes claimed he was speeding to a toilet so that one of the prisoners could relieve himself, denying eyewitness reports that he was drag-racing a pickup whose driver was charged with DUI. In 2010, Grimes was one of five guards at Denver’s Downtown Detention Center involved in a use-of-excessive-force incident that resulted in the death of Marvin Booker, a homeless street preacher. Denver paid Booker’s estate $6 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit in 2014, but no deputy was charged by then-District Attorney Mitch Morrisey. According to attorney Mari Newman, all five continued to work in law enforcement until Grimes’ arrest and termination.
Florida: A demeaning Twitter post has stirred up controversy for the sheriff’s office in Pasco County, Florida. According to an October 2019 report in Orlando Weekly, the image of a work crew from the county jail was accompanied by the caption, “Never give up on your dreams!” The sheriff’s office said the men in the work crew were “volunteers” filling sandbags for use during Hurricane Dorian in August 2019. Sheriff Chris Nocco did not explain why he or his staff might consider that a dream task.
Florida: Mia Martinez-Welch, 22, a former guard at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution in Milton, Florida, was sentenced in October 2019 to an 18-month prison term for smuggling tobacco, methamphetamine and other drugs to a prisoner under her watch, according to a report by Tampa cable TV station Bay News 9. The felony was revealed when her cellphone was found inside the prisoner’s cell in November 2018, and she was fired by the state Department of Corrections. Five other women who worked at the prison also were fired and charged with introducing contraband.
Georgia: According to an October 2019 report by TV station WMAZ in Macon, Georgia, federal Judge Tillman E. Self dismissed a clutch of lawsuits filed against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) by eight prisoners who claimed they were injured when the transport bus they were riding was commandeered by two other prisoners making an escape. The eight said DOC’s lax policies and procedures had contributed to the June 2017 incident in Putnam County. But Judge Self ruled the state was immune because any harm had not been directly caused by its employees. The escapees, Ricky Dubose and Donnie Rowe, overpowered two guards on the bus, shooting and killing them. Both prisoners were recaptured and charged with the murder of the guards, Curtis Billue and Christopher Monica.
Georgia: In June 2020, the Board of Commissioners of Gwinnett County, Georgia, voted to pay $202,500 to former detainee Shelby Clark for injuries she received at the County Jail in August 2018. The then-26-year-old, whose father claimed she is mentally ill, had been jailed on a battery charge when she was punched in the face by Deputy Aaron S. Masters, who allegedly lied about the incident in his official report, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and TV station WSB. Masters, 27, was fired from the county sheriff’s office and indicted by a federal grand jury in January 2020 for using excessive force in the incident. The jail’s Rapid Response Team, of which he was a part, was also being investigated by another federal grand jury for use of excessive force by holding inmates in “restraint chairs” that improperly immobilize them.
Illinois: Transgender prisoners held by the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) had been routinely mocked in social media posts made by about 25 DOC employees, resulting in an investigation of at least half of them and disciplinary action against some of those, according to an October 2019 report by CNN. A review of two private Facebook groups byInjusticeWatch, a nonprofit journalism group, found posts by DOC guards, a counselor and a parole officer that referred to transgender prisoners as “it” and “a f****** joke.” The groups, “Behind the Walls – Illinois Dep’t of Corrections” and “Behind the Walls – Illinois Department of Corrections,” have over 4,000 members each. Many of the posts referenced Strawberry Hampton, a transgender prisoner who has sued DOC, alleging sexual and physical abuse by guards and retaliation for her complaints about them while held at Pinckneyville Correctional Center and Menard Correctional Center. A spokesman for the guards’ union, Anders Lindell, said that while his group doesn’t condone inmate abuse, every one of its members deserves “fair representation and due process.” Hampton’s attorney, Vanessa Del Valle, claimed the posts reflect the “horrid” way transgender women are treated by DOC. The agency has recently introduced mandatory training for its employees on transgender-related issues, according to acting DOC Director Rob Jeffreys.
Illinois: Millions of dollars in surplus military gear became available when President Trump erased restrictions on an Obama-era federal surplus program run by the Department of Defense, according to the Chicago Tribune in August 2020. For Illinois lawmen alone, that means gear such as armored vehicles and assault rifles and apparel. But not everyone agrees thisis a good public relations move in light of the May police killing of George Floyd and others. “Since August 2017, Illinois law enforcement agencies have obtained 1,319 items worth $4.7 million through the program, according to a Tribune analysis of federal data,”the newspaper reports. Aislinn Pulley, co-founder of the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter, told the newspaper: “It’s a message of intimidation and terror. It’s the same message that is used overseas when our militaryoccupies someone else’s country. And what is that message? The message is we will destroy you; we will kill you if you step out of line.” Crystal Lake police Chief James Black said if the equipment is “ being used properly ... if you’re using it for things to keep people safe, it’s a positive.”
Kentucky: In October 2019, a Sheriff’s deputy employed at the McCraken County Jail in Paducah, Kentucky, was fired and charged along with two women and two prisoners in a scheme to smuggle tobacco, marijuana, prescription pills, cellphones and other contraband into the lockup. According to a report by TV station WPSD, the former guard, Raheem Tenner, 23, accepted bribes to smuggle the contraband from the women, Savannah Sutton, 19, and Ricosha Young, 27, to inmates Shawn Sutton and Epionn Lee-McCampbell. Tenner was apprehended after a tip from fellow jailer David McKnight. Young and Savannah Sutton were then captured in the jail parking lot in a sting operation when they allegedly attempted to deliver more contraband.
Louisiana: According to an October 2019 report by New Orleans, Louisiana, TV station WWL, a pair of Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies lost their jobs the previous August after an investigation revealed they had engaged in sex with inmates outside the jail on a work-release program. The prisoners, who were not identified, were removed from the program and returned to jail. The deputies, Ariel Breaux and Quiera Joseph, were not charged because they were off-duty at the time of the incidents. Breaux resigned while under investigation. Joseph was fired after a disciplinary hearing. A third deputy, Oshen Heilman, was fired in an unrelated 2017 incident for having an ongoing relationship with an inmate. Because her actions happened on-duty, she was criminally charged, pleaded guilty and sentenced to three years of probation.
Michigan: The Michigan State Capitol has seen multiple protests in the past year. Last fall, a crowd of more than 100 rallied outside the capitol calling for prison reform and a reduction in the use of life sentences, according to a report by Lansing TV station WLNS in October 2019. Protestor Patrice Ferguson said she thought the life sentence that her husband received for a 1984 assault should have been considered complete after 20 years, not the 37-and-counting he has served. Another protestor, William Hawkins, said his father has served 30 years on a life sentence without any chance to prove he was, in fact, rehabilitated years ago. The 2.3 million incarcerated Americans counted by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics represent a population larger than all but four U.S. cities, and one of every seven is serving a sentence of life or more than 50 years – called “virtual life” – according a 2017 report by the nonprofit Sentencing Project.
Michigan: A pair of veteran Michigan prison guards who died in October 2019 at the Paradise Township home they shared were apparently killed in a murder-suicide sparked by jealousy over an affair one was having, according to a December 2019 article in the Detroit News. Tara Kelley, 53, and Angelina Winn, 49, served 19 and 20 years, respectively, with the state Department of Corrections (DOC), working at Pugsley Correctional Facility in Kingsley until it closed in 2016 and they moved to Oaks Correctional Facility near Manistee. Both women“were valued members of the team at the Oaks and will be missed by many,”said DOC Director Heidi Washington. Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office Capt. RandyFewless said that Kelley’s body was found close to the recliner in which she apparently shot and killed Winn before turning the gun on herself. Police said a text-message exchange recovered from Winn’s phone – lasting right up to the moment she died at 10:00 p.m. on October 23, 2019 – indicated she was romantically involved with another woman in the Manistee area.
Missouri: In January 2020, Michael Allen Byrd II, a former guard at the Daviess-DeKalb Regional Jail in Pattonsburg, Missouri, was sentenced to four years in state prison for a guilty plea he entered in July 2019 to a charge of sexual conduct with a Daviess County prisoner under his supervision, a felony under state law. Byrd had previously pleaded guilty to an identical charge with a Caldwell County prisoner in April 2019. The warrant for his arrest given to the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office said he had coerced several women incarcerated at the jail to perform oral sex on him, according to a report by radio station KTTN in Trenton. His two four-year sentences will be served consecutively with the state Department of Corrections.
Nebraska: Christmas Eve church service attendance was cut short in December 2019 for off-duty guards at the Nebraska state prison in Lincoln, who rushed back to work when a disturbance erupted. According to a report in the Omaha World-Herald, the prison went on lockdown when a group of 14 prisoners in the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center disabled surveillance cameras, broke furniture and cracked a window after guards confiscated “food items” and “homemade alcohol” from them. The state Department of Correctional Services (DCS) said the lockdown had been lifted by the next morning, with the prison running “modified operations,” meaning prisoner movement was more closely controlled and some prisoners were confined to their cells. DCS Director Scott Frakes commended the swift response to the disturbance by guards from the Corrections Emergency Response Team.
New Jersey: A lawsuit filed in October 2019 by New Jersey prisoner Raymond Skelton seeks class-action status to extend to all of the 12,000-plus inmates held in the state’s six prisons by its Department of Corrections (DOC), according to a report in The Press of Atlantic City. The suit also demands that DOC cease substituting high-sugar and high-sodium processed food for more nutritious meals. Skelton, 69, is held at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton. He suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so he complains that his Eighth Amendment protection from cruel and unusual punishment has been violated by deprivation of properly nutritious food, claiming that “virtually every” fruit and vegetable has been replaced with food paste, white flour and low-nutrition starches like potatoes and rice. In addition, he alleges that healthy meat and fish have been replaced with processed meat, and the commissary stocked with chips, cookies, pies and other “sodium bombs.” He also claims that prison staff have been ordered “to water down vegetables, hot cereals, mixed foods, sauces and liquid cheese products, and to load meal products with expired, old bread scraps and similar fillers.” As a result, he says, DOC’s menus no longer accurately portray the meals prisoners are served. His suit seeks injunctive relief in the form of a more nutritious menu, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.
New York: New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) held a VIP reception in October 2019 that was promptly crashed by over 200 prominent members of the art world, who gathered outside to demand the museum and its board member Larry Fink disinvest from private prison companies. The New Sanctuary Coalition, which released a statement on behalf of the protesters, gathered signatures of such luminaries as Cuban-born performance artist Tania Bruguera, German-born filmmaker Hito Stevrl and Princeton-based art critic Hal Foster. Board member Fink is CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest investment firm with $6 trillion in assets, including the second-largest stakes in the country’s two largest private prison operators, Florida-based GEO Group and Tennessee-based CoreCivic. In January 2020, 37 artists connected to a MoMA PS1 exhibition on the Gulf War wrote the show’s curators to call on the museum to cut ties to Fink due to his profiting from “the suffering of others.”
North Carolina: According to a January 2020 report by TV station WNCT in Greenville, North Carolina, a former guard at the Craven County Confinement Facility has been charged with attempting to smuggle drugs into the jail. The guard, 28-year-old Terrance Tremayne Outlaw, was fired immediately, according to Sheriff Chip Hughes. Charged in the scheme with him were Joshua Joel Duncan, 27, an inmate at the jail who allegedly planned to deal the drugs there, and his girlfriend, 31-year-old Reba Louise Williams, who delivered the contraband to the ironically named Outlaw. No update on the charges was available, but Hughes gained notoriety in May 2020 when he publicly announced that his office would do nothing at churches that violated the 10-person limit on indoor gatherings announced by Gov. Roy Cooper (D) in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ohio: Less than a year after an Ohio deputy sheriff was lauded for nabbing a burglary suspect, he was fired after surveillance video caught him repeatedly punching and pepper-spraying a handcuffed detainee. According to a report in the Portsmouth Daily Press, Jeremy Mooney resigned from the Pike County Sheriff’s Office in November 2019 after he placed handcuffed detainee Thomas Friend in a restraint chair and punched him 11 times in the face before moving him and his chair to the parking lot, where he then pepper-sprayed Friend in the face. At the same time his firing was announced, Sheriff James E. Nelson said he had launched an investigation into a possible excessive-use-of-force charge. He also turned over surveillance video of the incident to County Prosecutor Rob Junk, who told ABC News he found it “disturbing.” All of this came just 11 months after the sheriff praised Mooney for recognizing a Lexus allegedly stolen by a burglary suspect. In that January 2019 incident, Mooney gave chase by car and on foot until he found the car thief, 25-year-old James Widdig, lying in the grass with a syringe. Widdig admitted he was high on drugs, but he denied the syringe was his.
Oklahoma: A former guard at the Oklahoma City Community Corrections Center, 26-year-old Amanda Oatis, has been charged with sexually assaulting at least six female prisoners at the jail, according to a January 2020 report by Oklahoma City TV station KFOR. The incidents, which allegedly occurred between July 2018 and Oatis’ firing from the state Department of Corrections (DOC) in February 2019, involved kissing inmates and touching their genitals. One inmate reported that Oatis performed oral sex on her three times and penetrated her with a finger seven times. DOC has also accused Oatis of providing alcohol and cellphones to one of her victims in the lockup.
Oklahoma: After violence erupted in Oklahoma City during racial protests sparked by the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd – an unarmed Black man killed by Minneapolis police investigating a reportedly counterfeit $20 bill – four activists who were arrested were then released, using $1.4 million in bail funds posted by groups affiliated with Black Lives Matter (BLM), according to Associated Press reports. A $750,000 bail was posted for Eric Christopher Ruffin, 26, who was charged under a state anti-terrorism law with inciting protesters via an enthusiastically-narrated Facebook video of a burning bail-bond business and a torched Oklahoma County Sheriff’s vehicle on May 30, 2020. The next day, Adam Warner Hayhurst, 19, Deshayla Dixon, 24, and James Lovell Holt, 31, were also arrested and released when BLM posted their bail – $300,000 each for Hayhurst and Dixon and $50,000 for Holt. He was caught on video throwing rocks at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, for which Judge Ray C. Elliott imposed a daily curfew and an ankle monitor. Still jailed on terrorism charges was Isael Antonio Ortiz, 21, whose bail was set at $1 million.
Pennsylvania: Two prisoners died and seven others were hospitalized over a catastrophic Christmas week in 2019 at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Thornton, Pennsylvania, according to report in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The jail in Delaware County, which is run by Florida-based GEO Group, is the state’s last privately operated lockup. Late on Christmas night, prisoner Austin Peter Mulhern was found dead in his cell after hanging himself with a bedsheet. The 45-year-old security guard at Delaware County Community College was apparently serving a 20-day term handed down in August 2019 for a DUI conviction. The night before, three other inmates had been hospitalized for drug overdoses, and hours after Mulhern’s death, five more inmates were hospitalized from a mass overdose of heroin smuggled into the lockup by holiday visitors. One of those five hospitalized women apparently was Fatima Musa, 27, who then died on New Year’s Eve. She had been jailed after a trespassing summons from the State Police Gaming Enforcement triggered a violation of a probation sentence she had earlier received for nonviolent drug-related offenses.
Pennsylvania: As previously reported by PLN, Derrick Houlihan, a prisoner with a prosthetic leg, filed suit in federal court in February 2019 claiming his civil rights were violated by a savage beating he received at the hands of guard Alfred Gregory at Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County Correctional Center in December 2016 (See PLN, December 2019, p. 63). That case was dismissed in May 2019. But First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr., who called the guard’s behavior “unhinged,” filed criminal charges against Gregory and four other jail employees who allegedly stood by and watched. A jury acquitted all five men of aggravated assault in February 2019, but it hung on the questions of whether their actions qualified as simple assault or official oppression. After deliberating 14 hours in an October 2019 retrial, the jury again hung on two charges but returned verdicts on nine others, including guilty verdicts for 35-year-old Gregory on charges of simple assault and official oppression. Former guard Lt. Darrin Collins, 54, was found guilty of official oppression. The jury acquitted or hung on the remaining charges against the other three jailers.
South Carolina: South Carolina grand juries indicted 95 people in just a few months on charges of smuggling drugs and other contraband – especially cellphones – into state prisons, according to The State. In November 2019, indictments were handed down to 54 people on 194 charges related to a massive drug trafficking operation dubbed “Prison Empire” because it was run by state prisoners from their cells using contraband cellphones to coordinate with contacts outside. Of the defendants, 14 are former prisoners and 12 are current prisoners, most at high- or medium-security state prisons, though one is now incarcerated in a privately run Mississippi prison. In addition to tracking illegal drugs with a $20 million street value, investigators also seized over 40 firearms during the operation. A similar investigation conducted between November 2018 and September 2019 resulted in indictments against an additional 38 defendants. The last three indictments in February 2020 went to a trio of people - a prisoner, a female friend outside and a prison maintenance worker – for conspiring to bring $350,000 worth of drugs, cellphones and other contraband into a state prison. Another scam run by prisoners with contraband cellphones did not involve drugs but instead lured Army personnel to send nude photos that were then used to extort money from them. According to state prisons director Bryan Stirling, “An illegal cell phone is the most dangerous weapon in our prisons today.”
Tennessee: All five guards charged in the vicious beating of a Tennessee prisoner that they then covered up have pleaded guilty to their roles in the February 2019 assault, which occurred in the mental health unit of the Northwest County Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, according to reports by the Associated Press and Knoxville TV station WVLT. Nathaniel Griffin, 29, pleaded guilty in August 2019 to violating the unnamed prisoner’s civil rights. Tanner Penwell, 22, pleaded guilty in the next month to using unlawful force. Carl Spurlin, Jr., 42, pleaded guilty in October 2019 to covering the surveillance camera during the attack. Cadie McAllister, 21, admitted intentionally failing to document the incident in the jail logbook. The last of the five, 33-year-old Jonathan York, pleaded guilty in June 2020 to taking part in the assault – he alone landed 30 punches on the inmate – and then lying about it. A supervisor identified in court documents as Cpl. T.M. allegedly told the guards to claim the inmate’s injuries were self-inflicted, but no additional information was available about him or her.
Texas: Prisoners at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont, Texas, have been escaping and returning with contraband, including drugs, cellphones and even whiskey, according to an October 2019 report in Newsweek. That month, U.S. Marshals and deputies from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office spotted four prisoners making an escape through a neighboring ranch and then returning with contraband: Julian Lemus, 34, Robert Young, 45, Leo Martinez, 25, and Silvestre Rico, 35. Another prisoner, 41-year-old Anthony Stafford King, did the same the previous month. So did 25-year-old prisoner Joshua Hansen in January 2019. All six prisoners face additional charges. Two other escapees — Salvador Garcia, 59 and Victor Luis Pescador, 56 — did not return after fleeing the prison in June 2019. Both were serving 20-year terms for involvement with a Mexican drug cartel’s operations. Garcia was recaptured in Mexico in December 2019. Pescador’s status was not available.
Texas: A former Texas jail guard who lost his temper with a prisoner and then lost the fight with him gave up his jailer’s license in October 2019, thereby avoiding prosecution in the September 2018 incident. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said that surveillance video captured the former guard, Ta-Vian Gloeckler, as he took off his uniform shirt and fought with the unnamed inmate, who then bested the deputy and held him on the ground until he surrendered. Gloeckler was arrested and charged with assault and official oppression – the same charges dropped in the deal to surrender his license. Neither man suffered any serious injuries, according to a report in The Bexar County Jail blog.
Virginia: A pair of prisoners who escaped a juvenile prison in Virginia in July 2020 were recaptured in Michigan almost two weeks later, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press. U.S. Marshals apprehended Rashad E. Williams, 18, and Jabar Ali Taylor, 20, without incident on July 26, 2020, at a hotel in Battle Creek. The pair had escaped 13 days earlier through a hole in the perimeter fence around the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center near Richmond after using a cord to choke a security guard unconscious. They then fled in a waiting getaway vehicle. A staff member at the center is one of three people charged with abetting the escape. Williams, of Washington, D.C., had been convicted of malicious wounding and robbery. Taylor, from Spotsylvania County, carries convictions for second-degree murder and aggravated malicious assault. Both were returned to Virginia on August 12, 2020.