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News in Brief

Afghanistan: As fighting continued between Taliban forces and the Afghan military on September 3, 3020, both parties announced they had nearly completed a prisoner exchange negotiated the previous February. According to a report by Japan’s public broadcasting company, HNK, the Taliban said all 1,000 Afghan prisoners it agreed to release had been freed. The Afghan government still held a few of the 5,000 Taliban prisoners who were part of the agreement because charges against them were serious enough to require review by the government’s international partners. In early August 2020, while the two sides were observing a three-day cease-fire during Eid al-Adha religious festivities, members of the Islamic State attacked a Jalalabad prison, apparently in retaliation for the killing of one of its senior members by Afghan forces. The day-long siege began with a suicide car-bomb outside the prison, and it resulted in 39 deaths and at least 50 injuries. About 400 prisoners escaped, officials said.

Alabama: On October 30, 2020, the second of two detainees who escaped the previous July from the Calhoun County Jail surrendered to U.S. Marshals at a gas station in Talladega, Alabama, according to a report by the Birmingham News. Larry Dewayne Gaither, 43, turned himself in after a call placed by his mother, Shirley Gaither Bowman, who had been fired from her job at another prison when she was arrested immediately after her son’s escape and charged with first-degree hindering prosecution. Also arrested on the same charge was another of her sons, Richard Franklin Gaither, and a friend, Larry Adam East. The second escapee, 31-year-old Bryant Deandre Johnson, had been recaptured in the Atlanta area on August 3, 2020, three days after he and Gaither took advantage of a broken door lock to flee the county lockup in Anniston. Gaither was originally jailed on a parole violation and first-degree robbery charges, as well as two counts of possessing and disseminating child pornography. Johnson’s original charges included failure to appear to face first-degree robbery charges, promoting prison contraband and first-degree sodomy. 

Arkansas: Two men from Mountain Home, Arkansas, were sentenced in August 2020 for separate incidents of introducing drugs into the Baxter County Jail, according to reports by The Baxter Bulletin and radio station KTLO. On August 2, Jared Lee Coddington received a nine-year prison term after pleading guilty to conspiracy and possession charges stemming from two February 2020 incidents. On August 17, Thomas Bruce Wheeler, was sentenced to five years after accepting a plea deal related to two incidents that also happened earlier in the year. Coddington, 24, first used a fishing line to pass methamphetamine from his holding cell to inmates on the female side of the jail. When he went to appear before a judge on those charges, he was caught on surveillance video sharing tobacco and marijuana with a woman in the bathroom of the county courthouse. Wheeler, 53, first got a cell mate at the jail to inject him in the neck with methamphetamine, though he complained to Circuit Judge Gordon Webb that he “didn’t get a buzz off it.” Later, he showed up for a meeting with a parole officer and, when patted down upon entry, was found to have a pipe with a residue inside that tested positive for meth. After Webb announced fines accompanying the convictions, Wheeler asked him to dismiss them. When the judge said no, he asked for a loan to pay them.

California: A brawl erupted September 5, 2020, at the Pitchess Detention Center in Los Angeles County, eventually growing to include 160 inmates from three dorms, according to a report by The Santa Clarita Valley Signal. No fatalities were reported, and no guards were injured. But five injured prisoners were transported to hospitals for treatment, the county Sheriff’s Office said. The center houses about 850. A week after the fight, the number of inmates diagnosed with COVID-19 had grown to 495.

California: On August 27, 2020, Juan M. Boyzo became the sixth prisoner in nine months to die at the hands of fellow inmates using homemade weapons at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California. The first, Edgardo Herrera, was killed by Roger Vasquez and Douglas Leon on November 27, 2019, according to a report by Sacramento TV station KVOR. All three men had previously received additional sentences for possessing weapons or controlled substances in the prison, and Vasquez had also been given an additional term for assaulting another prisoner. In January 2020, two more prisoners were stabbed to death by fellow inmates: Richard Leyva, 37, who died on January 7 at the hands of Luiz Ortega, 36, and Vincent Martinez, 37, and Richard Prieto, 44, who was killed by Jose R. Castillo, 26, and Victor M. Zapien, 31, on January 28. Leyva had also received extra time for an earlier assault on another prisoner, while Castillo had been given an additional sentence for possessing a weapon in the prison. On May 1, 2020, Michael M. Ramadanovic, 65, was fatally stabbed by fellow prisoners Rodney Rice and Robert Smith, both 28. Smith and the victim had each been sentenced to extra time for assaulting fellow prisoners. The most recent victim, 25-year-old Boyzo, was stabbed to death by Joseph M. Gama, 22, and Joseph B. Sua, 29, who is serving an extended sentence for possessing a controlled substance in the prison. The 25-year-old maximum-security facility in Lassen County employs about 1,200. As of April 2020, it held 3,286 prisoners, more than 141 percent of its design capacity of 2,334. It is located in Lassen County, along with the minimum-security California Correctional Center and the medium-security Federal Correctional Institution at Herlong. Together the three hold 9,414 prisoners in a county with a population of just 30,573.

Chad: The BBC reported in August 2020 that authorities in the Republic of Chad had found 44 prisoners dead in a shared cell the previous April at a prison outside the capital of N’Djamena. Justice Minister Djimet Arabi said they were part of a group of 58 suspected Boko Haram militants captured by the Army after 98 Chadian soldiers died in a March 23 attack on their base near Lake Chad. Arabi also said traces of poison were found in some of the corpses and suggested the group may have died in a mass suicide. But the National Human Rights Commission learned from survivors that the prisoners were actually farmers and villagers who had been arrested arbitrarily and held in the overcrowded cell with just a few dates to share for food. The men began dying when the cell heated to a temperature of 46 degrees Celsius — 114.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Arabi denied the prisoners had been mistreated and promised an inquiry into their deaths.

Florida: After 22 use-of-force incidents in 10 months, a Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) guard at the Lake Correctional Institution near Clermont was arrested and charged in the June 18, 2020, beating that led to the death two days later of prisoner Christopher Howell, 51. According to a report by the Miami Herald, two of the earlier incidents involving the guard, 27-year-old Michael Riley, were deemed out of compliance with DOC procedures by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General. Yet Riley remained on the job. DOC Secretary Mark Inch was quoted as calling it an “isolated incident,” but Riley was the sixth DOC guard fired and arrested for beating prisoners in less than a year. In July 2019, a month before Riley’s rampage began, four other guards were fired from the prison and arrested on charges of beating prisoner Otis Miller, leaving the 47-year-old with broken ribs and a fractured jaw. That same month, another DOC guard at the Central Florida Reception Center in Orange County beat prisoner Carlton Hart, leaving him with a broken jaw that had to be wired shut. After DOC determined the guard, Jetsyn Rashard Allen, had lied about the incident in his official report, the 33-year-old was fired and arrested on battery and perjury charges in October 2019.

Georgia: On September 11, 2020, the Georgia Department of Corrections announced that Bobby Carpenter had been fatally stabbed two days earlier in a fight with another inmate at Valdosta State Prison. The 30-year-old was serving a sentence for armed robberies at an Atlanta-area Burger King, Little Caesar’s, RaceTrac and QuikTrip in 2016. According to a report by The Valdosta Daily Times, his was the sixth death at the hands of a fellow inmate at the prison in just over two years. The others were Joshua Roman, 26, in August 2018; Kealy Williams, 37, in March 2019; Elander Johnson, 26, in July 2019; Prince Blige, 55, in February 2020; and Orvanta Tillman, 37, in June 2020. Three other prisoners committed suicide during the same period.

Hawaii: After a riot erupted on September 8, 2020, involving 26 prisoners at Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo, 25 were flown the next day to Halawa Correctional Center on Oahu, according to a report by Honolulu TV station KHON. The uprising followed a shakedown by prison officials searching for contraband in the Waianuenue housing unit, where prisoners serve felony conviction sentences shorter than two years. The facility was damaged by smoke from fires set to mattresses, chairs and books, as well as water used to extinguish the blaze. Prisoners also broke windows and security screens. No damage estimate was available. Eight inmates and a staff member were treated for minor injuries and released.

Illinois: OnNovember 26, 2020, Western Illinois Correctional Center prisoner Quincy Ivory died at a nearby hospital, according to a report by the Decatur Herald & Review. The state Department of Corrections said the 36-year-old’s death was under investigation. It comes almost a year after three guards at the prison were indicted in December 2019 for the death of inmate Larry Earvin. The guards — Todd Sheffler, 51, Willie Hedden, 41, and Alex Banta, 28 — were charged with beating the 65-year-old while he was handcuffed during transport in May 2018. His death from the injuries six weeks later was ruled a homicide. Trial for the three guards in federal court had been delayed three times. All remain free on a $100,000 recognizance bond.

Madagascar: Only 25 of 88 inmates who escaped squalid conditions at Farangana prison in southeastern Madagascar remained on the lam a week after their August 2020 breakout. Some 380 prisoners took part in the attempt, splitting into two groups, one to overpower guards and another to force a path to freedom. Malagasy security forces fired on the fleeing men, killing 22 of them, according to a report by Voice of America. The U.N.’s human rights office condemned the killings, which spokesman Rupert Colville said occurred during a breakout motivated by fear of the spread of COVID-19. It was the country’s seventh attempted prison escape since the pandemic began in early 2020.

Michigan: After building a business by flipping $50 million worth of Detroit real estate, Annetta Powell was arrested in 2011 and convicted of scamming mortgage companies before the 2008 real estate crash by illegally making undisclosed loans for down-payments to buyers. According to a January 2020 profile in Black Enterprise, the now-44-year-old went broke and served a five-year federal prison term. After her release in 2016 — “reclaimed and redeemed” — she returned to real estate, but she diversified her businesses to include a tax-planning franchise and a party bus, as well as a consulting practice called “Wealth Connect” that focuses on helping budding entrepreneurs. “I gave myself a new life sentence,” she said, “on my terms.”

New Jersey: Despite attacks from the union representing New Jersey prison guards, two members of the Democratic majority of Cumberland County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders won reelection in November 2020. According to a report two months earlier by, members of PBA Local 231 had targeted George Castellini and Carol Musso for their support for a plan to scrap a new $65 million jail just getting underway and lay off 121 prison guards because reforms in bail and criminal justice had cut the daily inmate population nearly in half. Union President Victor Bermudez said “laying off 10% of the county workforce in the midst of a pandemic is inexcusable.” But in a series of party-line votes on October 9, 2020, the board opted to write off about $13 million spent so far on the jail project in order to cancel it and ship its 234 remaining inmates to adjacent counties whose jails had unused capacity. As a result, the county expects to save about $10 million annually.

New Jersey: A 12-year veteran guard had to give up his job at the jail in Essex County, New Jersey, after he pleaded guilty in August 2020 to threatening his mother-in-law with a handgun during an argument the previous December over a college loan. According to a report by the Morristown Daily Record, 44-year-old Elie Chalet was also sentenced to three years of probation and banned for life from owning firearms. He was also forced to forfeit his state firearms purchaser’s ID. He had been jailed since his March 2020 arrest, despite having conditions that put him at heightened risk of dying if he contracted COVID-19, because Superior Court Judge Stephen Taylor said the state had provided no guidance to grant a release.

New York: On September 11, 2020, a grand jury in Rockland County, New York, returned indictments on over 100 counts against a pair of guards at the county jail accused of sexual mistreatment of female minority inmates. John Kezek, 35, was charged with multiple counts of felony official misconduct, felony tampering with official records and misdemeanor falsifying of business records. Christopher Taggert, 39, also faces multiple counts of felony official misconduct, as well as felony promoting of contraband. The charges follow an investigation prompted by accusations of intimidation and sexual harassment of non-White female inmates. The guards are also accused of falsifying records to cover their tracks. Taggert’s attorney said his client was an eight-year veteran who got into a relationship with an inmate that should have been handled as a disciplinary matter, rather than a criminal one. He had sought to block prosecutors from shielding the identity of the women who provided testimony, but a state appellate court ruled against him on October 6, 2020.

New York: A fire in the Manhattan Detention Complex on August 4, 2020, caused a brief evacuation of the 648 inmates held at the 12-story jail, which is also known as “The Tombs.” In 2016, it was the site of a tabloid-ready story when Linda Shapiro, 69, showed up with $30,000 cash to bail out her son, only to have the money stolen by crooks who tasered and beat her inside the bail office, in full view of corrections officers who did nothing, she claims in a lawsuit still pending. Only when she wandered onto the sidewalk and collapsed did a passing attorney call for help. The next day, after she was released from a hospital, the determined mom borrowed another $30,000 from family members and returned to get her son out of the jail.

New York: A fight with another prisoner at Elmira Correctional Facility on August 11, 2020, left Isaac Rodriguez Quinones with a fatal stab wound in the neck, according to the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DCCS). The 39-year-old was transferred to nearby Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania, where he died when his family removed life support three days later. According to a report by the Albany Times-Union, there were only two nurses on medical staff at the time, and the medical nurse could not be located, leaving just the infirmary nurse to attempt to safe Quinones’ life. DCCS said he had served about two years of an eight-and-a-half-year sentence for a trio of 2016 burglaries in Nassau County.

North Carolina: One prisoner died and another was hospitalized in an apparent dispute between inmates at the Scotland Correctional Institution in Laurinburg, North Carolina, on August 29, 2020. Officials with the state Bureau of Investigation and its Division of Prisons said Mario S. Organistas, 37, was fatally stabbed with homemade weapons and a companion injured when they and four other prisoners entered another inmate’s cell. The prison was placed on lockdown while officials investigated, according to a report by Raleigh TV station WRAL. Organistas had served about 10 years of a 28-year sentence for a second-degree murder conviction in Union County.

North Carolina: After posting a spreadsheet to social media in February 2020 that implied the Burke County, North Carolina, finance director knew a new jail would cost almost four times its approved cost, a Republican on the county’s Board of Commissioners admitted that he made it up. Commissioner Maynard Taylor had shared the document with other commissioners in June 2019, when it was picked up and posted to social media by three fellow GOP candidates to join him on the board: Cristy Gupton, Ron Lewis and Bryan Blanchard. Neither survived the GOP primary election in October 2020, according to a report by the Morganton News-Herald. The county jail is under a November 2019 order from state Superior Court Judge Karen Eady-Williams to stop sharing prisoners’ mail with law enforcement, after jail officials sent copies of correspondence between inmate Greydon Keith Hansen and his attorney to Hickory Police.

Oregon: While dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic in early September 2020, nearly 1,500 Oregon prisoners had to be evacuated from four state prisons in the path of uncontrolled wildfires, according to a report by Oregon Public Broadcasting. About 1,300 men crowded into the state penitentiary in Salem from three prisons east of the city: Santiam Correctional Institution (SCI), the Oregon State Correctional Institution, and Mill Creek Correctional Facility (MCCF). Another 300 men and 1,000 women were also transferred out of harm’s way from Coffee Creek Correctional Facility near Portland to Deer Ridge Correctional Institute, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive east. By September 16, 2020, fires had abated to let inmates from SCI and MCCF return. Gov Kate Brown (D) had also used her powers to release 57 of the state’s 14,000 prisoners.

Pennsylvania: In September 2020, a man and woman attempted to pass drugs between them while appearing to face charges at the Westmoreland County courthouse in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, according to a report by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The couple, Takeya Shantail Woods and Maurice Williams, both 24, had been arrested September 13, 2020, during a drug bust at their home, with Woods freed on a $15,000 bond and Williams held in the county prison pending a $50,000 bond. When they appeared before District Judge Joseph DeMarchis on September 26, 2020, Sheriff’s deputies tailed Woods and her toddler daughter into the bathroom and found she had taped a piece of paper to the back of the toilet which had been sprayed with synthetic marijuana, or K2. The judge then revoked bail for both Woods and Williams, setting a new bail of $50,000 each on fresh charges of possession, contraband and child endangerment. It is the second couple in just over a year to attempt a drug handoff while seeing Judge DeMarchis. On August 1, 2019, deputies following a tipoff tailed 44-year-old Maria Harshey into the courthouse bathroom, where they found she had wedged a glove filled with suboxone strips, pills and tobacco behind the toilet tank, allegedly to be retrieved by her husband, Adam Brandonio, 46. He was awaiting trial at the time on multiple shoplifting charges and had been in the county prison for 15 months, for which he was not given credit when county Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio sentenced him on September 8, 2020, to a term of nine to 23 months in jail plus four years’ probation. His wife was freed on a $15,000 bond awaiting trial for her role in the attempted smuggling.

Pennsylvania: Five years after storming in rage from the 2015 trial and acquittal in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, of the man who had sold his 20-year-old son, Sage, a fatal dose of heroin three years before, Carmen Capozzi told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he no longer believed it effective to charge someone with the crime of Drug Delivery Resulting in Death (DDRD). Instead, during the September 2020 interview, Capozzi said the federal government needed to improve its interdiction efforts to keep illegal drugs from ever entering the country. But Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck disagreed, calling DDRD prosecution “an appropriate response.” Since the Capozzi case, his office has filed 51 of the 871 DDRD cases in Pennsylvania, a rate per capita more than twice the state average. Capozzi now runs an anti-drug support and advocacy program called Sage’s Army. Westmoreland County, after years of rising overdose deaths, has seen its number fall to 77 so far in 2020, down from 200 three years ago.

Pennsylvania: Officials at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia have been investigating the cases of four prisoners who overdosed on fentanyl in early March 2020. Three of the unidentified prisoners died, according to a report by the Associated Press. The prison had featured in headlines after the November 2019 acquittal of two guards charged with assaulting an inmate. Despite surveillance video that showed 30-year-old Lamar Rozier did not attempt to fight them, guards Robert Berger, 35, and Nathaniel Morris, 43, were not convicted for repeatedly punching and kicking the detainee during the 2018 incident. A prison disciplinary panel had determined in 2019 that Berger used excessive force and suspended him for a month without pay. Morris also received citations from the panel, but they were dismissed on appeal. Both had been on leave during their criminal trial. By the time it ended, Rozier had returned to the jail on a theft charge.

South Carolina: On August 20, 2020, the South Carolina Parole and Pardon Board unanimously denied a request for release from a terminally ill prisoner whose doctors have given her less than a year to live. Kayla Marie Cook, 28, who suffers incurable cancer of the neck and head, was a year into a life sentence she received in August 2019 for the beating death two years earlier of 3-year-old Lillian Schroeder while the toddler was in her care. The child’s surviving family members opposed the pardon for Cook, who lived with them at the time of the crime. She returned to Graham Correctional Institution in Columbia.

South Dakota: The state’s first live-streamed hearings from a courtroom inside a jail began on September 14, 2020, filming within a new expansion of the Minnehaha County Jail in Sioux Falls. According to a report by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the twice-daily hearings will each accommodate up to 75 inmates, eliminating the need to transport them from the jail to the county courthouse. No juvenile cases will be streamed. Recording the stream is not permitted and is punishable as a criminal offense, said state Chief Justice David Gilbertson, who approved the program for use in a six-month pilot.

Sri Lanka: On September 9, 2020, a convicted murderer was sworn into the Sri Lankan Parliament, according to a report by CNN. Premlal Jayasekera, a member of the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Party, now represents Ratnapura District, a gem-mining district near the capital of Colombo. He was convicted of murdering an activist before the 2015 presidential election and sentenced to death. But the country hasn’t carried out an execution since 1976. After Jayasekera’s election, the national Court of Appeal ruled that he must be allowed to leave Welikade Prison in Colombo to attend sessions of Parliament. In that he joins Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, a former Tamil guerrilla rebel jailed since 2015 as a suspect in the death 10 years earlier of a more moderate Tamil, Joseph Pararajasingham. The Tamil minority fought a long civil war against the Singhalese majority in Sri Lanka from 1983 to 2009.

Tennessee: A Tennessee therapist was indicted August 31, 2020, on charges that she passed contraband to a state prisoner she was treating and had sexual contact with him, too, according to a report by Nashville TV station WZTV. The state Department of Corrections said that Carolynn Kolensikoff admitted violating the DOC’s prohibition against intimate contact with prisoners under her care. She was a private contractor providing mental health counseling to DOC prisoners at the DeBerry Special Needs Facility, where a July 2020 audit determined that information related to the Prison Rape Elimination Act was “posted throughout the facility.”

Texas: A woman who avoided prison for three years by faking stomach cancer was sentenced to an additional 60 months by a federal judge in Texas on August 25, 2020, after admitting to submitting at least nine sets of forged medical records. The attorney for Kassie Bond Carpenter, 42, had withdrawn from her case in January 2019, saying that the Dennison woman had made him “an unwitting tool in a fraud on this Court.” Her sentence will be served consecutively to her original 41-month term received in 2017 for embezzling $372,000 from a property management company where she worked, according to a report by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Texas: Seven employees of a Texas prison operated by GEO Group have been fired and charged in federal court with bribery and sex abuse at the facility, the East Hidalgo Detention Center in La Villa, according to the McAllen Monitor. Commissary officer Jayson Catalan, 37, pleaded guilty on March 2, 2020, to accepting bribes to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the prison. Guard Jhaziel Loredo, 32, also pleaded guilty two days later. On May 28, 2020, cook supervisor Brenda Alicia Fuentes, 48, pleaded guilty to sex abuse of an inmate for performing oral sex on prisoner “RRH.” She is required to register as a sex offender. Guard Domingo Gonzalez Hernandez, 25, pleaded guilty on May 29, 2020, to accepting bribes, including a pickup truck. Still awaiting trial on bribery charges are Veronica Ortega, 43, a certified medical assistant, guard Erasmo Loya, 54, and former guard Amber Estrada, 21, who is Fuentes’ daughter.

Texas: A Walker County grand jury in Huntsville, Texas, returned an indictment on February 28, 2020, charging former state prison guard Yancey Lett with aggravated assault in the beating dearth four months earlier of prisoner Frank Digges, according to a report by The Texas Tribune. The 63-year-old was serving a life sentence for aggravated robbery when he got into an altercation with guards at the Wynne Unit on October 22, 2019. Lett and four other guards then stormed Digges’ solitary confinement cell, injuring him so badly that he had to be flown to a Houston hospital. He died three days later. Lett, 28, was fired after a disciplinary review committee determined he used excessive force in the incident. Of the other guards involved, the committee declined to review one and cleared another of wrongdoing. Two more, John Schmidt and Vanessa Stanford, were demoted for their role in Digges’ beating, one of 7,501 major use-of-force incidents in Texas prisons in 2019.

Utah: With a guilty plea on August 29, 2020, Ramon Rivera avoided the death penalty for fatally stabbing Jeffrey Vigil, a fellow prisoner at Utah State Prison. According to a report by The Salt Lake City Tribune, the two prisoners got into a fight that left the 24-year-old Vigil dead not long after he arrived at the Draper prison in March 2016 on a parole violation. Rivera, now 34, was serving time on an attempted aggravated murder charge for a Clearfield shooting in August 2009. The state settled a lawsuit in June 2018 with Vigil’s widow for $450,000, without admitting any fault or liability in his death. 

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