News in Brief
Alabama: A 20-year-old guard at the Lauderdale County Detention Center in Florence, Alabama, was arrested on October 29, 2021, on charges that he attempted to smuggle methamphetamine into the jail. According to a report by Huntsville TV station WHNT, the guard, Matthew Moran, faces one count of attempting to commit a controlled substance crime, one count of distribution of a controlled substance and one count of promoting prison contraband. At the time of his arrest, he had worked at the jail for about a year. The county Sheriff’s office was still investigating and said it anticipated more arrests would follow.
Alabama: A former guard employed by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) at the Federal Correctional Institute in Aliceville, Alabama, was sentenced on October 26, 2021, to an 18-month prison term, followed by five years of supervised release. According to a statement by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ), the guard, 32-year-old Eric Todd Ellis, pleaded guilty to one count of sexually abusing a ward for having sex with a BOP prisoner in the prison laundry room on June 11, 2020. He also pleaded to guilty to a second count of witness tampering for phoning another BOP guard to whom he had admitted the incident with instructions not to report what he said but rather to lie and say Ellis had reported “nothing happened.” By then, however, DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General was already investigating the matter and so investigators were able to record the incriminating phone call.
Alabama: A former guard at the Morgan County Jail in Decatur, Alabama, pleaded guilty on October 20, 2021, to four counts of third-degree assault after spraying a chemical irritant on cigarettes that were then smoked by a prisoner who had insulted him. According to a report by Huntsville TV station WAAY, four prisoners ended up suffering “respiratory issues” after smoking the poisoned cigarettes. All four were treated and released by a local hospital. The guard, Jaylend Edward Handley, was fired and arrested immediately after the incident took place in October 2020. If he filed no appeal by November 5, 2021, he was due to begin serving a one-year sentence, followed by two years of probabtion.
Australia: A woman imprisoned for decapitating her mother and dropping her head on the lawn of their Sydney home was charged with attacking a guard at her New South Wales prison on October 10, 2021. According to the Daily Mail, 28-year-old Jessica Camilleri had previously attacked another guard on August 14, 2021, at the Silverwater Women’s Prison, where she is a serving a 21-year sentence for a 2019 manslaughter conviction in the fatal stabbing that took off the head of her 57-year-old mother, Rita. Camilleri is accused of grabbing the guards by the hair, tearing it from one woman’s head and ripping it from the scalp of the other. A magistrate ordered Camilleri to appear in January 2022 on assault charges stemming from the attacks.
California: A long-time criminal informant (CI) in Southern California died of an apparent suicide in Huntington Beach on September 14, 2021. According to Los Angeles radio station KFI-AM, the CI, 40-year-old Oscar Daniel Moriel, began cooperating with law enforcement in 2009, providing “unique information that allowed the FBI to get authroization for wiretaps,” the station reported, citing Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe McNally. He then successfully prosecuted former Orange County Mexican Mafia leader Peter Ojada based in part on three days of testimomy Moriel provided during the December 2015 trial. Ojada was sentenced in May 2016 to federal prison, where he later died. McNally also credited Moriel with stopping a jail killing ordered by Ojada rival Armando Moreno when Moriel intercepted a “kite”—a note with instructions to kill another prisoner—and thereby saved the man’s life. In December 2017, Moriel took a plea deal in which he admitted to the 2005 shooting of rival gangster Joe Elias. That led to a 17-year sentence that Moriel finished by 2020 because of time he’d already served. But he was arrested again that year on a weapons charge, pleading guilty in June 2021 to possession of a firearm by a felon. He was scheduled to be sentenced the month after his death to an expected term of two years for that crime.
California: A couple arrested and charged with using prisoners’ personal information to defraud the state of unearned unemployment insurance compensation (UIC) pleaded guilty to the crime in San Diego on September 30, 2021. According to local TV station KNSD, Ryan Kubista and his wife, Maereichelle Marquez, both 34, were arrested in March 2021, along with a third alleged co-conspirator, Marquez’s 62-year-old mother, Stacy Wright. Each was charged with one count of making false statements on an unemployment application. Wright’s preliminary hearing was set for November 2021. On November 1 Kubista was sentenced to five years in prison and Marquez was sentenced to six years and four months imprisonmnet. The trio’s scheme involved using the personal identies of 64 prisoners to apply for $1.3 million in benefits they received from the state Economic Development Department, which does not check UIC applicants against state prison records. A legislative fix to that loophole, SB 39, was introduced in 2020 and is currently working its way through the State Assembly.
Florida: A former Florida prison guard was arrested on October 21, 2021, on charges he sexually abused a child. The former state Department of Corrrections employee, 40-year-old Derrick LeWon Davis, was picked up by deputies from the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, according to a report by Jacksonville TV station WJAX. The charges against him were filed after the girl who was victimized came forward in March 2021 to report the abuse, which allegedly lasted for several years. He faces one count of felony sexual battery on a child 12 years old and another of first degree felony lewd and lascivious behavior on a child 12 to 16 years old. He had quit his job with DOC and was working in Palm Coast, where he was headed when he was arrested. Flagler County Sheriff H.D. “Gator” DeLoach called the ex-prison guard a “monster.”
Florida: An apparent brawl at the Florida Department of Corrections’ (FDOC) Hardee Correctional Center left one prisoner dead and nine others injured on October 28, 2021. According to a report by Tampa TV station WTVT, no identities were released of those injured or killed in the fight at the prison, which can hold 1,541 men. A search of FDOC’s website on November 9, 2021, still did not turn up any identifying information.
Illinois: Thanks to a global supply chain gummed up by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving prison commisary shelves emptied of many needed items, the Illinois Department of Corrections (ILDOC) will soon start handing out free packages of hygiene products and food items worth $25 each to state prisoners, according to a report by Chicago TV station WLS. The announcement by ILDOC Director Rob Jeffries accompanies a videotaped message he prepared explaining the supply shortages and what the agency is doing to address the problem. ILDOC officials also announced a menu improvement in prison dining halls, which will begin serving a special meal of Italian beef with peppers and potatoes, plus a baked dessert.
India: The government in the Indian state of Odisha announced on October 20, 2021, that it would begin deploying drone aircraft to combat the flow of contraband into prisons. Quoting Director General of Prisons Santosh Upadhyay, the Hindustan Times reported that the drones will “record any wrongdoing by inmates in areas not covered by CCTV cameras” as well as assisting in “searches when inmates return from courts and hospitals.” Upadhyay also promised to use the new surveillance devices “while shifting notorious criminals to hospitals,” along with 20 new body-worn cameras for guards at two prisons, Jharpada Special Jail and Choudwar Circle Jail. Jharpara’s chief warden was suspended in May 2021 after a prison sweep turned up a cache of contraband, including mobile phones, SIM cards, chargers, batteries, a pen drive and cannabis. Prison officials were also embarrassed by a video leaked on social media showed prisoners dancing and smoking marijuana.
Indiana: A guard at the Clark County Jail in Jeffersonville, Indiana, was fired and arrested on October 24, 2021, after admitting he gave prisoners his jail keys in exchange for a promised $1,000 bribe. According to corrections1.com, jail officials caught up with the guard, 29-year-old David J. Lowe, hours after receiving a tip. A review of security camera footage then revealed that while Lowe was in a jail housing pod with a blood-pressure cart, he turned his back to let several prisoners access the pod office—using his keys—from which two of them then left carrying items hidden beneath their clothes. Sheriff’s Deputy Scottie Maples promised that the keys were to interior doors only and would not have allowed any prisoners to escape the jail. Pushing a cart to distribute pills was one of the jail duties assigned to Lowe, who was hired in November 2020. He faces a level 5 felony escape charge, a level 6 felony charge of official misconduct and a class A misdemeanor charge of trafficking with an inmate. He is being held on a $10,000 bond.
Kansas: The Kansas Bureau of Investigation was called in after the death of a state prisoner at Lansing Correctional Facility on October 22, 2021, according to a report by the Kansas City Star. The prisoner, 32-year-old Lawrence A. Brown, Jr., died at a St. John’s Hospital in Leavenworth, officials with the state Department of Corrections said. The cause of death did not appear to be related to COVID-19, they added, but an autopsy was planned. Brown was serving a sentence of ten years and two months for a conviction in Sedgewick County of battery of a corrections officer or employee.
Kenya: A Kenyan prisoner ran naked onto the roof of his prison to protest the small size his of food rations on October 21, 2021, according to Nairobi online newspaper tuko.com. To reach the roof of Kakamega prison, said its police commander, Japhet Onchiri, the unnamed prisoner broke out of his cell and ran across the prison yard before scaling a 100-foot-high wall. Onchiri added that it was unclear what the prisoner intended to do if he didn’t get more food, but he insisted that increased rations are given only “to those who are sick and (who) have been given a letter of approval by the doctor.” The prisoner eventually climbed down from the roof after nearly being overwhelmed by heat on a hot, sunny day.
Mississippi: A Mississippi Department of Corrections (MSDOC) probation officer was arrested on September 22, 2021, and charged with embezzling funds paid by probationers to satisfy their court-ordered debts. According to the Clarksdale Press Register, the probation officer, Dendrick Hurd, allegedly instructed probationers to purchase money orders for their payments and leave the payee information blank, after which he then filled in his own name and cashed the checks himself. Investigators caught up with him after two probationers complained their accounts failed to reflect payments they made. If convicted, Hurd faces up to 20 years in prison and $5,000 in fines for each of two embezzlement charges filed against him so far. Investigators are still looking for more victims. A similar indictment handed down in 2019 charged a guard with stealing over $1,000 from paychecks at Flowood Restitution Center, where women prisoners are sent to work off court-ordered debts. Shortly after that, state Auditor Shad White admitted MSDOC had actually kept some prisoners locked up longer than necessary because the state’s accounting was too sloppy to clearly indicate when they’d satisfied their debt.
Nebraska: A former nurse for Wellpath, a private health care provider contracted by a jail in Lincoln, Nebraska, was arrested on October 29, 2021, on suspicion that she trafficked narcotics to prisoners. According to Omaha TV station WOWT, the nurse, Amanda Danekas, worked at the Lancaster County Jail for Wellpath, from February 8 to October 21, 2021. County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Ben Houchin said that his investigators, acting on a tip, searched Danekas’ home and found a glass pipe with a substance inside that tested positive for methamphetamine as well as 230 prescription-medication pills that included Metformin, Hydrochloride and Clonazepam. She was taken to the jail and charged with possession of a controlled substance and unlawful acts by a correctional employee. Tennessee-based Wellpath, formerly known as Correct Care Solutions, is one of the largest for-profit health care providers for prisoners in the nation, with estimated annual revenues of $1.6 billion.
Nigeria: Armed gunman attacked a Nigerian prison on October 22, 2021, allowing 575 prisoners to walk free. According to the Canberra Times, the escape from the Oyo correctional center was the country’s third prison outbreak this year. An armed attack on a Kogi prison on September 13, 2021, freed 240 prisoners, and another 1,800 escaped when a prison in Imo was blown up on April 5, 2021. That makes 2,615 prisoners freed so far in 2021, representing just over half of more than 4,300 who have escaped from the country’s prisons since 2017. Only about 27 percent of the nation’s 70,000 prisoners have been convicted, with the rest enduring long waits for trials.
Oklahoma: A guard at a Cushing, Oklahoma, prison owned by private prison corporation CoreCivic was arrested on September 23, 2021, and charged with smuggling meth to two women prisoners. According to local radio station KUSH-AM, the guard at Cimarron Correctional Facility (CCF), Wesley Johnlee Weiesnbach, 31, was picked up by Cushing Police shortly after they received a report from CCF investigator Greg Jones, who said he recorded phone calls made on Weiesnbach’s prison-issued cell phone to two prisoners named Georgina and Heather. The trio allegedly discussed plans for the guard to pick up and deliver two cans of nicotine and cans of Red Bull, as well as three small water bottles. Inside of those was a liquid that tested positive for methamphetamine when Jones seized them from Weiesnbach as the guard reported for work. The investigator then obtained a statement in which Weiesnbach admitted to taking a $500 bribe for an earlier delivery of contraband and said he expected the same amount for the delivery that was seized. If convicted on his felony charge of introducing contraband into a correctional facility, he faces up to five years in prison and a $1,000 fine. CoreCivic, a Tennessee-based firm with 2020 revenues of $1.981 billion, is the country’s second-largest private prison operator.
Pennsylvania: Charges were announced on October 19, 2021, against a prison guard accused of attempting to smuggle drugs into the Delaware County lockup in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, 24-year-old Chloe Vadel is the third guard at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility to be arrested on drug-smuggling charges since August 4, 2021, when 49-year-old Shahonda Groves was taken into custody for allegedly smuggling Suboxone into the prison five times between March and July 2021. Guard Cynthia Rees, 39, was also arrested on September 9, 2021, after she mailed a package to a prisoner containing a substance that tested positive for cannabinoids, the Delco Times reported. Vadel was charged after she arrived at work and consented to a vehicle inspection by tipped-off investigators, who found Suboxone strips and other substances suspected to be marijuana and synthetic marijuana. The 1,883-bed prison holds detainees from Delaware County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania under contract with its manager, the Florida-based GEO Group, the nation’s largest private prison operator.
Rhode Island: The Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) is investigating some of its prison guards for possible dereliction of duty—including falling asleep on the job—according to an October 21, 2021, report by the Boston Globe. It was not known if the guards who nodded off were working overtime, the report said, citing an email from RIDOC spokesman J.R. Ventura. The state is the only one that allows prison guards to work “quads”—four shifts in a row, eight hours each—which are both guaranteed and incentivized for union-negotiated overtime pay. Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers President Richard Ferruccio did not return the newspaper’s request for comment. But Ventura said the 32-hour marathon quads “may be a concern.”
South Carolina: A 35-year-old licensed practical nurse (LPN) at Broad River Correctional Institution in South Carolina was fired and arrrested on September 18, 2021, after she was caught reporting to work carrying 13 highlighter pens stuffed with rolling papers and 195 grams of a substance that field-tested positive for marijuana. According to a report by Columbia TV station WACH, the LPN, Kristen Hair Hildebrand, was charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and furnishing contraband to a prisoner. Her arrest follows by almost six months the discovery of another cache of contraband at the prison. Another Columbia TV station, WIS, reported on March 16, 2021, that a sweep of cells by investigators with the state Department of Corrections had turned up 34 homemade knives, 10 cellphones, three SIM cards, and a bong fashioned from a chicken bone, along with eight lighters, two Pop-Tart boxes stuffed with prescription medication and three bags of homemade wine.
South Dakota: A guard at the South Dakota State Penitentiary (SDSP) was indicted on September 8, 2021, on felony charges of having sex with prisoners. According to a report by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the state Attorney General’s Office and detectives from the state Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) began looking into the intimate interactions between prisoners and the guard, 32-year-old Rien Fitzpatrick, shortly after they were alleged to occur between February 17 and March 2, 2021. He was arraigned on a class 6 felony charge of committing sexual acts between prison employees and prisoners, after which he was given a $1,000 bond. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) axed several officials and employees at the state Department of Corrections earlier in 2021 after anonymous complaints of sexual misconduct at SDSP led to the appointment of a third-party investigator to look into them. That review is still ongoing.
Thailand: The firings of ten officials from Thailand’s Department of Corrections were announced on November 5, 2021, according to Bangkok online news channel thethaiger.com. None of those fired was named, but the reasons for their dismissals were released. They included gross misconduct by one staff member accused of murdering five family members, as well as gross negligence committed by four other employees who let prisoners disguised as staff members walk out prison exits they were monitoring. The remaining five employees were fired for smuggling contraband to prisoners, including tobacco and cell phones, in exchange for bribes.
United Kingdom: A September 2021 report by the U.K.’s Prisons and Probabtion Ombudsman details a horrific incident in which a pregnant teenage prisoner was left to give birth alone in her cell to an infant who died and then—after she was found 12 hours later cradling the dead baby in her arms—it was only the guards at the prison and not the breaved young mother who received grief counselling. As reported by The Guardian, the events unfolded late on September 26, 2019, when the pregnant prisoner’s calls for help went ignored by staff at HMP Bronzefield, a privately operated prison about 20 miles west of London. At some point the unnamed prisoner delivered her infant and passed out, waking to find the child not breathing. She then bit through the umbilical cord and tried to clean up her cell, while nearby prisoners alerted guards. After they arrived and found the dead child, they were provided grief counseling. But no such aid went to the young mother, whom they accused of having a “bad attitude.”
United Kingdom: After recording its fifth suicide in four years, the Polmont Young Offenders Institution is under investigation by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and the U.K.’s Crown Office, according to a November 7, 2021, report by the Glasgow Daily Record. In addition to 20-year-old Jack MacKenzie, the most recent prisoner to take his own life, the facility for offenders aged 16 to 20 has also recorded the suicides of four others since 2017: Katie Allan, William Lindsay, Robert Wagstaff and Liam Kerr. The number of young people held at the prison is down by nearly half since 2005, SPS said. But a prisons expert, Jim Watson, said recent reports highlight that there are too many young people there on pretrial detention, as well as too many using legal intoxicants and spending too much time in their cells.
Utah: A cop who quit or was fired from a Utah police department after insulting his superior with a profanity on a countywide radio channel on September 28, 2021, had already been fired from the state Department of Corrections the year before over social media posts insulting to Muslims, Latinos and Native Americans. According to Salt Lake City TV station KTSU, Utah corrections officials who fired Everett Gist, Jr., told him that the posts “raise serious doubts about whether the department or the public can trust you to protect the civil rights of all people.” Gist then went on to work as an officer for the Moab Police Department, the same force under scrutiny for ignoring potential signs of domestic violence when two of its other officers ran into now-deceased lovers Gabby Petito and Bryan Laundrie. Gist remained employed there until using the countywide radio channel to call Assistant Police Chief Braydon Palmer and fellow cops “a bunch of ****suckers.”
Utah: A prison guard was placed on leave by the Utah Department of Corrections after he was arrested on poaching charges on November 5, 2021. According Salt Lake City TV station KSL, agents with the state Division of Wildlife Resources arrested the guard, Scott Stallard, after searching his home. Charging documents said he picked up his children from school in the same truck in which he was carrying the poached big game, allegedly instructing them to lie about the “items of evidentiary value pertaining to these illegally taken wildlife.”
Utah: Four days after a prison guard was arrested for poaching, the Utah Department of Corrections placed another prison guard on leave when he was arrested on criminal charges. According to a report by the Salt Lake Tribune, the most recent guard arrested was 55-year-old Victor D. Smith, who was picked up on November 9, 2021, and charged with attempted sodomy upon a child, which is a first degree felony, as well as a second-degree felony charge of enticing a minor over the internet. Smith was arrested at a park in Orem, where he had gone to keep a date made online with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl. In reality, he was met by an undercover Orem police officer, with whom Smith had actually been chatting virtually, using an Internet app to engage in “sexually explicit conversations.”
Vermont: On October 8, 2021, Vermont officials announced that Gov. Phil Scott (R) had appointed a new head of the state Department of Corrections (VTDOC). According to online news source vtdigger.com, Scott’s pick for the job, Nicholas Demi, replaces acting VTDOC Commissioner James Baker, who was appointed to the post after the 2020 firing of his predecessor, Michael Touchette, over reported sexual misconduct and harassment at the state’s only prison for women, Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility. Demi comes to the job from the CIA, where he has worked since 2014. Before that, he was an aide in the U.S. Senate. Noticeably absent from his resume is any corrections experience, which the head of the state prison guards’ union, Vermont State Employees Association Executive Director Steve Howard, said “it would probably be helpful to have.”
Virginia: A package of drugs that was probably headed for a Virginia prison was instead dropped by a drone aircraft onto the grounds of a private school just before dawn on September 13, 2021. According to a report by Richmond TV station WRIC, a car retrieved the drone shortly after it was spotted by a school bus driver on the grounds of Brunswick Academy, a private K-12 school that sits next door to Lawrenceville Correctional Facilty (LCF). Saying the drugs were most likely bound there, Brunswick County Sheriff Brian Roberts noted that four LCF guards were arrested in the last year for smuggling contraband into the prison. It is privately operated for the state by the GEO Group, a Florida-based firm whose $2.35 billion in 2020 revenues made it the country’s largest private prison operator.
Wisconsin: A prisoner who smuggled fentanyl with him into a Wisconsin jail and then shared it with another prisoner who overdosed and died was sentenced to a 12-year prison term on October 29, 2021. According to the Wisconsin Law Journal, the prisoner, 33-year-old Jerid Hanson, will also have to serve 12 years of extended supervision for the crime, which left fellow prisoner Justin Hall dead of an overdose at the Manitowoc County Jail in September 2020, where both men were then being held. Hanson pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in a deal with prosecutors that got six other charges against him dropped. He said that he didn’t think he had given a dangerous dose of the drug to Hall, whom he said he “owed from the streets.”
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