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News in Brief

Alabama: On August 21, 2020, Sylvester Hartley became the seventh prisoner to die of complications from COVID-19 at Alabama’s St. Clair Correctional Facility, according to a report in the St. Clair News-Aegis. The 60-year-old, who was serving a life-without-parole sentence for three counts of first-degree kidnapping, was a named plaintiff in a 2014 lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) over a mental health care system that U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson called “horrendously inadequate” in a 2017 ruling, which also placed it under federal oversight. Ebony Howard, a senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the DOC had “utterly failed” to protect its prisoners not only from COVID-19 but also from “unconscionable levels of violence” and “ongoing deaths by suicide,” calling the agency out for “racial violence.” According to its January 2020 statistics, DOC held 21,154 prisoners in facilities designed for 12,412 – 170% of capacity. Though just under 27% of the state’s population is Black, like Hartley, almost 52% of its prisoners are.

Arkansas: A year and one day after being hired as a guard at the W.C. “Dub” Brassell Detention Center in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 29-year-old Corey Hayes had already given a two-week notice when he showed up for his last shift on August 27, 2020 — only to be arrested and charged with attempting to smuggle contraband into the jail. The prohibited materials found in his possession included marijuana, rolling papers, tobacco and cellphones, according to Arkansas Online. Hayes’ boss, Jefferson County Sheriff Lafayette Woods, Jr., called it “a clear example of someone not following their training.” He swatted away suggestions posted on his department’s Facebook page that Hayes would receive only “a slap on the wrist,” promising that county prosecutor Kyle Hunter would seek “the maximum penalty, the maximum sentence.” According to Hunter, the charges against Hayes carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison with a $15,000 fine.

Arizona: An Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry corrections sergeant was fired and arrested on August 6, 2020, charged with sexual assault, kidnapping and sexual abuse of two female co-workers at the state prison complex in Florence. But three months later, one of Jason McClelland’s alleged victims said she had been harassed by other co-workers and also feared for her safety since the 47-year-old had been released on bond, according to a report by Phoenix TV stations KTVK and KPHO. The woman, whose identity is redacted in documents charging McClelland, said she was “very upset and disheartened that someone who was my protector became my predator and instead of keeping him in jail the state let him out on an ankle monitor.” But Jason Lamm, a local defense attorney with no connection to the case, said that release with the monitor “is not shocking nor does it represent preferential treatment.”

California: In January 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that the U.S. Supreme Court had declined to reconsider the conviction of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on an obstruction-of-justice charge for conspiring to interfere with an FBI investigation into abusive practices at the jail system in the sprawling California county. The 2011 scandal also led to a prison sentence for former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was one of nine people besides Baca convicted. Baca resigned in 2014 as the trials got underway. As previously reported in PLN, he was sentenced in 2017 by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson to a three-year prison term (see PLN, June 2017, p.42). The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court denied an appeal in late 2019. But the 77-year-old, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, remained free while his case went to the high court. According to a report by Los Angeles TV station KNBC, he reported to prison in February 2020 at Federal Correctional Institution La Tuna near El Paso, Texas.

Florida: According to a January 2020 report by the Bradenton Herald, a sheriff’s deputy who punched a jail inmate in the face in Manatee County, Florida, has made a deal with prosecutors to avoid prosecution. The deputy, Luis Valentin, initially denied the assault until jail surveillance video surfaced proving otherwise. He resigned, but he was never arrested for battery, and by completing the terms of his deferred prosecution agreement, charges against him were dropped at the completion of his probation on February 19, 2020.

Georgia: In January 2020, U.S. District Judge Marc Treadwell sentenced Brandon Ray to a 200-month federal prison term after the 39-year-old from Jackson was caught smuggling contraband into a Georgia Correctional Industries meatpacking plant in Milledgeville in May 2018. After receiving two anonymous tips, agents with the state Department of Corrections, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office found Ray at the plant with 38 cellphones, 25 cellphone chargers, two blue tooth ear pieces, 1,287.2 grams of marijuana, a quantity of cigarette tobacco, a digital scale and more than 5 grams of methamphetamine, according to a report by All On Georgia.

Georgia: After noticing a Georgia jailer had passed out on the job in August 2020, inmates at the Gwinnett County Jail “began pounding on their doors, and ... calling out for the unconscious deputy,” according to a report in the Gwinnett Daily Post. That roused him, but he apparently remained confused and opened the cell doors to help what he thought must be an ailing detainee. The unnamed deputy then passed out again. But instead of attempting to flee, three unidentified inmates rushed to his aid. A statement from the Sheriff’s Office praised the inmates and the deputy who “treats people with the dignity they deserve,” adding that “this incident clearly illustrates the potential goodness found in both ... law enforcement officers and criminals.”

Hawaii: Two Hawaii men died in separate inmate-on-inmate attacks during the last two weeks of August 2020, according to a report by Honolulu Civil Beat. On August 19, 70-year-old Harry Hoopii was killed at Halawa Correctional Facility, the state’s largest prison housing 900 men. He was serving two life sentences for a pair of 1983 crimes, one the stabbing of another man and the other a sexual assault on a six-year-old girl. His alleged murderer is fellow prisoner Kumulipo Sylva, who is serving a manslaughter sentence for fatally stabbing another man in the restroom of a Maui shopping mall in 2018. The second inmate to die was Vance Grace, 62, who was awaiting trial on a contraband charge in the COVID-19 isolation area of the Oahu Community Correctional Center. At the time of his death on August 31, there were 352 staff and inmate infections at the jail, which is the state’s largest with 864 men and 109 women incarcerated. Grace’s alleged murderer, 27-year-old Ezequiel Zayas, had reportedly received unwanted sexual demands from him. Zayas was already facing charges of first- and second-degree burglary.

Kentucky: In September 2020, Florida-based rapper Kodak Black alleged he was subjected to religious discrimination by the federal Bureau of Prisons because in-person visits from his rabbi and other clergy had been curtailed at Big Sandy Penitentiary in Inez, Kentucky, due to concerns over COVID-19. His attorney, Bradford Cohen, promised TMZ that a civil rights lawsuit would follow if the restrictions continued. Born Bill Kapri, the rapper is serving a prison term after pleading no contest to strong-arm robbery charges in Florida. In October 2019, he was charged with assault after allegedly grabbing a Miami corrections officer by the testicles so hard that surgery was required. In May 2020, a representative claimed in an Instagram post since deleted that Black had been beaten by seven Big Sandy guards. The following month he sued the federal government for a photo tweeted of him in handcuffs after his arrest on weapons charges a year earlier, just before a scheduled performance at Rolling Loud Miami. He is currently scheduled for parole consideration in 2022.

Maryland: Four Maryland prisoners injured in January 2020 when a state Division of Corrections van crashed in Frederick County brought the total number of inmates injured in prison transport vehicle accidents in the state to 25 in less than eight months. According to a report by Frederick radio station WFMD, the four were traveling from the Maryland Correctional Training Center near Hagerstown, where they are housed, when the van attempted a U-turn and was struck by a dump truck. A van carrying 12 other prisoners was disabled in a “single-vehicle accident” in Davidsonville in May 2019. A third accident near Baltimore in November 2019 involved two vehicles, one a private prison van transporting nine Tennessee inmates. All 25 prisoners involved in the three incidents were treated on the scene or at local hospitals. No fatalities were reported.

Michigan: In March 2020, prisoner Chris Sampson of Detroit filed lawsuits seeking relief from U.S. Corrections for injuries he sustained in a Michigan accident two months before while being transported by the for-profit extradition firm. According to a report by Personal Injury News, the 26-year-old suffered injuries, including broken vertebrae when the van he was riding in struck another vehicle on I-94 near Battle Creek. At least two crash victims ended up in critical condition in local hospitals. All were bound for a prison in Illinois. Sampson said guards failed to employ vehicle safety restraints that he was unable to operate for himself because he was shackled. A report by state police confirmed that Sampson was not wearing a seatbelt, nor were the three other prisoners and two U.S. Corrections employees involved in the crash.

Michigan: A 59-year-old Michigan man who told a state judge returning him to prison that he had “lost the ability to function normally with society” jumped to his death at a state facility in an apparent suicide in January 2020. According to a report by the DetroitFree Press, Mark James Wilson had several convictions for assault and armed robbery, most recently a sentence of 25-40 years received in December 2019 for the attempted armed robbery of a Delta County Hardee’s the previous July. After that attempt, Wilson waited in a restroom for police to arrive. His attorney, Tim Cain, said the crime was part of Wilson’s ploy to return himself to prison. He was being held at the Charles Egeler Reception & Guidance Center when he jumped 40 feet to his death from a fourth-floor railing over the building’s gallery. State Department of Corrections spokeswoman Holly Kramer said a note was found and turned over to state police, but its contents were not disclosed.

Missouri: Not even a presidential pardon could keep Carroll J. Flowers out of prison. The 69-year-old Kansas man received a 20-year federal sentence in 2002 for conspiring to distribute 3.2 kilograms — just under 7.1 pounds — of methamphetamine. But he was released in May 2017 following a pardon received that January from outgoing President Barack Obama, who acted under the same concerns about overly draconian drug sentences that prompted President Donald Trump to sign the First Step Act in 2018 to reduce some federal drug penalties. After his pardon and release, Flowers remained free just under seven months before he was arrested again in December 2017 by an FBI special agent and members of the Ozarks Drug Enforcement Team. They had staked out the Joplin home of 44-year-old Melissa A. Lowry after a controlled buy of drugs from her by a confidential informant. According to the Joplin Globe, Flowers was found with 83.1 grams of pure methamphetamine and $2,731 in cash. A search of Lowry’s home turned up another 14 grams of meth, a digital scale and unused plastic bags. Flowers pleaded guilty in May 2019 and was sentenced to a federal prison term of 11 years and three months in January 2020.

Mississippi: On August 14, 2020, Mississippi recorded at least its 60th prisoner death in less than eight months, the Associated Press reported. The state Department of Corrections said that Lester Andre Henderson, 36, died after he was attacked by another inmate at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, a private prison operated by Tennessee-based CoreCivic, the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company with 2019 revenues of $1.981 billion. Henderson was serving a 15-year sentence for unlawful touching of a child in Harrison County.

New Jersey: An April 2020 report by the federal Department of Justice found that staff and inmates at the 709-bed Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women — the only women’s prison in New Jersey — called sexual abuse there an “open secret” involving coercing sex from prisoners, groping them and “routinely” using demeaning terms to denigrate them as “bitches” and “dykes.” In January 2020, former guard Ciera Roddy was sentenced to a 90-day term for touching the “intimate body part” of an inmate under her supervision at the prison, according to a report in the Hackensack Daily Voice. In addition to losing her job, the 32-year-old also forfeited her pension and is barred from public employment in the state for the rest of her life. After investigating the March 2018 incident, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) had Roddy arrested in April 2019. She pleaded guilty in November of that year. DOC spokesman Matthew Schuman said Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks had since instituted reforms, including an “early warning system” and creation of a “third-party all female” board of trustees to serve in an advisory capacity as DOC addresses problems at the prison.

New York: Six Rikers Island prison guards in New York City were arrested in January 2020 and charged with taking part in a drug-smuggling scheme that also involved five inmates and seven citizens outside the prison, according to a report by AM NY. The guards were Darrington James, 30, Patrick Legerme, 29, Aldrin Livingston, 31, Michael Murray, 28, Christopher Walker, 28, and Angel Rodriguez, 23. According to U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue, the scheme brought marijuana, synthetic marijuana (K2) and suboxone into Rikers over a nearly year-long period. The arrests came two months after another Rikers guard, Sandy Arkhurst, avoided serving any time for punching 18-year-old detainee Rodolfo Rodriguez in the face and breaking his teeth in a 2016 incident in the prison showers. Arkhurst, a veteran of a Rikers “probe team” — inmates call them “beat-up squads” — admitted to falsifying reports after the unprovoked attack. He lost his job, but kept his pension, Gothamist reported. Ignoring the request of Assistant Bronx District Attorney Allison Green for a one-to-three-year sentence in state prison, acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary sentenced Arkhurst in November 2019 to five years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

North Carolina: A guard at Columbus Correctional Institution in Whiteville, North Carolina, was forced to resign, arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession of tobacco products in a confinement facility after a routine search before his shift on August 20, 2020, turned up a bag of tobacco in the boot of the guard, JuJuan Lowell Lambert. The 33-year-old had been employed by the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office since 2019. He was released on an unsecured bond, according to a report by Wilmington TV station WWAY.

Ohio: A 28-year-old trans prisoner died at the Cuyahoga County Jail in Cleveland on August 30, 2020, according to a report by the online affiliate of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Devauntae Daye, who went by the name Lee, had been at the lockup since her arrest in May 2020, after she hit a man with a brick during an altercation at the 2100 Mens Shelter, where she sometimes stayed. Daye was homeless, just like 52-year-old Michael Wormick, another resident of the same shelter whose July 2020 death was the last recorded at the jail before Daye’s. PLN has previously cited a November 2018 report by the U.S. Marshals Service slamming the 1,436-bed jail complex as “one of the worst in the country” (See PLN, Mar. 2019, p.12). Daye’s mother Felicia found a letter her daughter had written complaining of food served at the jail by private contractor Trinity Services, a Florida-based company that has been the subject of complaints at other correctional facilities, as PLN has previously reported (See PLN, Jun. 2018, p.52). No cause of death for Daye has yet been released.

Oklahoma: Just before dawn on July 31, 2020, two Oklahoma County Detention Center inmates shimmied down a makeshift rope to freedom from their cell on the 12th floor of the 13-story downtown Oklahoma City jail, but they were recaptured shortly after their escape, according to a report by the New YorkPost. Jose Balentin Hernandez, 33, and Pablo Daniel Robledo, 34, used bedsheets to make a 100-foot rope, which they secured to the leg of a desk in their cell. After cutting through a metal grate and glass blocks, the two escaped, leaving behind a hand-drawn diagram of the jail in the cell they shared. But Hernandez, who was being held on charges of rape and indecent exposure, fell the last four floors and fractured his ankle. It was when guards discovered him injured on the ground outside that they realized there had been an escape. Meanwhile, Robledo, who is a suspect in a fatal gang shooting, changed clothes and put on cowboy boots, in which he was walking when he was found about six miles away several hours later. Both men were charged in September 2020 with escape, conspiracy to commit a felony and malicious injury to property. Court documents estimate the repair bill from their escape exceeds $5,000.

Oregon: On November 3, 2020, Oregon voters made their state the first in the nation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of so-called “street drugs,” including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, LSD, psilocybin, methadone and oxycodone. Those now caught with small amounts of these drugs will get a non-criminal citation — like a traffic ticket — that carries a $100 fine, which can be waived in exchange for agreement to be screened for a substance abuse disorder. The success of the ballot measure follows a January 2020 report by the PortlandTribune, whichconcluded that, “in a city where a large portion of crime is driven by addiction,” the local Multnomah County jails “are not helping people get clean.” That report detailed the July 2019 overdose death of 37-year-old detainee Richard Jason Forrest in the county’s Inverness jail, which occurred almost three months after his arrest — meaning he not only failed to get clean in the jail but also continued to get drugs there. An investigation followed, leading to indictments against a dozen people allegedly involved in a smuggling ring that used inmate work crews to supply heroin and meth. Sheriff Mike Reese also bought a pair of X-ray body scanners for the jails and promised to beef up observation of inmate work crews in an effort to deter more smuggling.

Pennsylvania: On July 2, 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania obtained an indictment against a former guard who allegedly tried the previous summer to smuggle a cellphone to inmates at the Dauphin County Prison, according to a report by Harrisburg TV station WPMT. U.S. Attorney David J. Freed said investigators with the county and the FBI employed an undercover agent with whom the guard, 24-year-old Addie Isaac Reid, arranged a meeting to obtain a bribe for his smuggling effort. He faces up to five years in federal prison, along with an unspecified fine and a period of supervised release.

South Carolina: More than 40 years after his 1979 escape from a prison work-release assignment in Aiken, South Carolina, Jose Chico Romero was found in January 2020 in Dover, Delaware, where he had been arrested late the previous month for loitering. Released on his own recognizance after providing a state photo ID card with the name Arnaldo Figueroa, he was arrested again on New Year’s Day when a routine fingerprint analysis flagged his real identity. He was booked into Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, Delaware, on an $18,000 bond. Romero, now 64, was serving an 18-year sentence for an Aiken armed robbery when he escaped. Once extradited to South Carolina, he faces the remainder of that term — about seven years, according to state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Chrysti Shain — as well as possible additional time for his escape. Only three other fugitives have been on the run longer than Romero, DOC added.

Texas: On September 9, 2020, U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield handed an 18-month prison term to 35-year-old Tavorris Bottley, a former federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) guard who pleaded guilty in December 2019 to violating the civil rights of a prisoner he attacked in 2017 while employed at the Federal Correctional Institution in Beaumont, Texas. According to reports in the Houston Chronicle, Bottley had already tried to provoke a fight with the prisoner, identified as A.A., before locking him in a cell to await testing on suspicion of alcohol use. Apparently frustrated, A.A. threw a food tray at the cell bars. Bottley’s supervisor, 33-year-old Khristal Ford, then unlocked the cell and instructed the guard to “take care of it,” after which he assaulted and injured the prisoner. Ford pleaded guilty to abetting the assault in May 2019. She was sentenced in January 2020 by U.S. District Judge Marcia A. Crone to a two-year prison term followed by one year of probation. BOP fired both employees for their roles in the assault and for omitting details about it in their official reports.

Texas: According to a January 2020 report by San Antonio, Texas, TV station KSAT, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) suspended a deputy from her post at the county lockup after she gave jail keys to an inmate to open a cell door for another deputy so as not to interrupt a phone conversation she was having at the officer’s station. The incident happened the previous July. The deputy, Synnamon Carabajal, served a five-day suspension for the infraction in December 2019. KSAT reported several BCSO deputies received shorter suspensions for more serious infractions. Deputy Carlos Sifuentes, whose negligence allowed inmate William Castillo to be wrongly released in March 2019, served a two-day suspension the following October. Corporal Susan Palomo, who attached the wrong bond to paperwork releasing inmate Erica Morales in September 2019, also served a two-day suspension that October. Another jail employee, Sergeant Stephanie Flores, served a one-day suspension for her role in Morales’ bungled release. Sergeant John Paul Garcia also had his suspension shortened to one day in November 2019 despite erroneously releasing inmate Esquiel Hernandez the previous September.

United Kingdom: In a “royal prerogative of mercy,” the UK Ministry of Justice in October 2020 granted a 10-month sentence reduction to prisoner Steven Gallant for his “exceptionally brave actions” during a terrorist attack on London Bridge in December 2019. According to the BBC, Gallant, 42, was on day-release to attend a prisoner rehabilitation event at Fishmonger’s Hall when he joined 38-year-old Darryn Frost after the latter grabbed a narwhal tusk off the wall, and the two men helped subdue Usman Khan after he carried out a knife attack that left two dead and three injured. The 28-year-old terrorist, who was wearing a fake suicide vest, was then shot and killed by police. He had been released from prison a year before after serving time for a 2012 plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange. Gallant was at the event with Khan’s two murder victims, Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, who worked with the event’s sponsor, a Cambridge University program called Learning Together that was devoted to reforming former prisoners like Gallant and Khan, too. Gallant is serving a 17-year sentence handed down in 2005 for the murder of Hull firefighter Barrie Jackson, whom Gallant mistakenly believed had attacked his girlfriend. Merritt’s father, David, said that the prisoner “fully deserves” the sentence reduction. Jackson’s 21-year-old son, Jack, agreed it was “fair enough.”

Washington: After Shane Goldsby discovered his new cell at a Spokane, Washington, prison was being shared with the convicted molester of his underage younger sister, the 25-year-old beat and kicked the man to death in June 2020 — and now he feels authorities at the Airway Heights Correctional Center (AHCC) set him up to do it. According to reports by the San Francisco Chronicle and The Daily News, 70-year-old Robert Munger had been convicted on charges of child sex abuse and child rape against seven underage victims in separate 2019 trials, receiving sentences totaling 43 years in December of that year. Goldsby had multiple charges for altercations with law enforcement dating back to a 2017 joyride in a Kelso Police vehicle that he crashed into a State Patrol car, leaving an officer injured. He was transferred between several prisons before arriving at AHCC on June 2, 2020. Once he found himself housed in a cell with Munger, he said he twice asked for “a new cellie,” but his request was ignored by staff. Two hours later, Munger was dead, and Goldsby was convinced that murdering him “is what they wanted to happen.” Janelle Guthrie, a communications director for the state Department of Corrections, said that AHCC was investigating the incident, but she added that there was no “clear indication” in the documentation accompanying Goldsby’s last transfer of a “potential conflict.”

Wisconsin: Three nurses at a Wisconsin boys’ reformatory were formally reprimanded in January 2020 by the state Board of Nursing for leaving a 14-year-old to suffer three days with appendicitis before he was finally sent for surgery. Despite his complaints of severe abdominal pain and numbness in his legs, as well as his racing pulse — 120 to 125 beats per minute — Lincoln Hills School for Boys nurses Kurt Dieter Bartz, Corey Brandenburg and Kitty Hasse gave him ibuprofen and advised eating crackers and soda over a three-day period in February 2016. Dr. Kristen Wells, who performed the boy’s emergency appendectomy, told an investigator from the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office that “if this had happened at the hospital, I would demand that the nurse be fired for absolute incompetence.” Nevertheless, county District Attorney Galen Bayne-Allison in 2017 refused to seek any criminal indictments. The Board of Nursing assessed a $450 fine on each of the three nurses and required them to take patient-assessment courses. The board’s action, which took a year and a half, was delayed by a two-year investigation the state Department of Corrections (DOC) conducted into the incident. Hasse was fired for her role in the incident in June 2016, but no other disciplinary action resulted from the DOC inquiry. Bartz resigned in October 2016. Brandenburg still works at the school near Wausau, where problems have led to lawsuits costing the state about $25 million to settle, though this boy’s case is not one of those, according to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

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