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News in Brief

Alabama: According to a report by the Alabama Political Reporter, a state prisoner was fatally stabbed by another man incarcerated with him at Fountain Correctional Facility in Atmore on May 4, 2021—just one day before his scheduled release, which would also have been his twenty-fourth birthday. Pending an autopsy on Ian Rettig, 23, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) would say only that he died from “an apparent inmate-on-inmate assault.” He was serving an 18-month sentence for identity theft and property crimes. In June 2017, reported that Rettig, who was then 20, was arrested for stealing a Mercedes idling in the service lane of a Hoover car dealership. That incident occurred just four months after his indictment for another vehicle theft in 2015, when he was 18. The Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative said Rettig was the 56th Alabama prisoner to die since a federal Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation began in 2016 into ADOC’s prisoner mortality rate. That rate doubled between 2008 and 2018, DOJ concluded in its April 2019 report, leading to a December 2020 lawsuit to force ADOC to improve prison conditions. The state settled that suit, but it missed a June 2021 deadline to reduce prison overcrowding after a deal to lease two privately financed new prisons fell apart the month before.

Alabama: In early June 2021, a triple-murder suspect rode with an Alabama sheriff’s deputy from the state prison in Montgomery to the Marshall County Jail—a three-hour trip—with a shank hidden in his pocket, according to a report by Huntsville TV station WAAY. No one knows how long Jimmy Spencer had kept the weapon in his cell at the state lockup, where the 55-year-old was being held for violating his parole in July 2018 when he committed the three Guntersville slayings for which he is set to stand trial in Marshall County in January 2022. State Attorney General Steve Marshall announced in May 2019 that the state would pay $1 million in damages to the families of the victims, Marie Martin, her 7-year-old great-grandson, Colton Lee, and Martin’s neighbor, Martha Reliford.

California: On April 27, 2021, a former California jail guard pleaded no contest to having sex with a prisoner and giving him a cellphone, according to a report by the Fresno Bee. Tina Gonzalez, 26, also admitted smuggling alcohol to the unnamed prisoner at the Fresno County Jail, where she worked from 2016 until her arrest in May 2020 for the incidents, which occurred late in 2019. She faces a maximum prison sentence of 44 months, though some or all of that may be served on probation. By agreeing to accept the charges that she did, Gonzalez avoided others that might have put her in prison up to five years, prosecutor Vanessa Leona said.

California: A former Southern California jail guard is facing prison after pleading no contest on May 30, 2021, to charges he had sex with a prisoner. According to a report by U.S. News, former Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Leonard Lopez, 49, initially denied the charges. County Superior Court Judge Gilbert Romero accepted his revised plea to two misdemeanor charges related to a 2019 encounter with an unnamed prisoner, who was recovering from medical issues in a special housing unit at the county lockup where Lopez worked. She sued Lopez and the county for civil rights violations in February 2021. Lopez was placed on paid leave for a year after the incident while it was investigated by the sheriff’s office. He was fired in September 2020.

California: Authorities with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) identified two prisoners in the fatal stabbing of a third prisoner on June 11, 2021, at Kern Valley State Prison. According to a report by the Merced Sun-Star, the dead man is Artemio Gomez, 40, who was imprisoned in 2002 to serve over 29 years for a carjacking, robbery and unlawful sex with a victim under age 18. While in prison he collected additional convictions for battery and drug possession. CDCR identified the suspected attackers as Marcos Lomeli, 37, and Alberto Mejia, 27. Both men are serving life without parole, Lomeli for murder and carjacking, and Meija for second-degree murder among other crimes. Both added convictions for assault with a deadly weapon while in prison. Lomeli added an additional conviction for making or possessing a deadly weapon while behind bars.

Florida: Video visitation calls at the Pasco County Jail in Land O’Lakes, Florida, have exposed naked prisoners showering in the background, according to an April 2021 report by Tampa TV station WFLA. Prisoner Bruce William Rogers filed a handwritten complaint after he was filmed in the nude behind another prisoner making a video call. In response he was warned about violating the jail dress code policy. Amanda Hunter, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, said there was nowhere else to set up the camera, so prisoners are instructed not to undress until closing the curtain on their shower stall. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person visitation has been suspended at the jail. HomeWAV, the St. Louis-based firm that provides the jail’s video visitation service for a charge to prisoners of 50 cents per minute, had no comment.

Florida: Jacob Younger, a 31-year-old guard at the Palm Beach County Jail, was arrested for battery and placed on leave by the sheriff’s office on May 4, 2021, after video surfaced of an altercation with a prisoner the previous month which contradicted his official report. According to the Palm Beach Post, Younger wrote that he subdued Tavarious Jones at the West Detention Center in Belle Glade on April 22, 2021, after Jones took a swing at him and then refused to comply with an order to get on the ground. But detectives reviewing video of the incident saw that Jones’ fist was actually clenched around a face mask he was holding while talking to Younger, who “instantaneously” swung at the prisoner, threw him to the ground and hit him several more times. Jones was treated for bruises to his head, face and back. His family said he still has trouble opening his jaw. His mother said he suffers from sickle-cell disease, which could have aggravated the injuries he sustained in the beating. She is discussing a lawsuit with an attorney. Two other guards who stood by and watched the attack were also placed on leave with Younger, though they have not been charged.

Georgia: After prisoners “created a disturbance” on May 7, 2021, at the Spalding County Jail in Griffin, Georgia, Sheriff Darrell Dix called in the county’s SWAT team. According to a report by Atlanta TV station WGCL, prisoners used metal bunk beds to barricade the entrance to a housing area around 6:45 a.m. They also attempted to disable surveillance cameras. Over the next several hours, Dix and his deputies tried and failed to regain control of the situation through negotiations. He did not say how many prisoners were involved, but a screenshot shared from jail surveillance video showed guards interacting with 21 men. When negotiations broke down, Dix sent in the SWAT team, which deployed a “distraction device,” he said, after which prisoners complied with guards’ commands without any use of force.

Georgia: On May 20, 2021, federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to cancel or end contracts to hold immigrant detainees at two county jails, the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia and the Bristol County House of Correction and Jail in Massachusetts. According to a report by the Washington Post, federal authorities are investigating complaints of detainee abuse at both jails. A DHS official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that because the number of ICE detainees had declined at the jails, they were “operationally unnecessary.” Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, an outspoken supporter of former President Donald J. Trump and his proposed southern border wall—Hodgson even offered to send jail prisoners to help with its construction—blasted the move as a “political hit-job” by the Biden administration. LaSalle Corrections, the private owner-operator of the Georgia jail, had no comment.

Georgia: Four prisoners were transferred from Wheeler Correctional Facility in southeast Georgia to the state medical prison in Augusta after they were confirmed or suspected to have tuberculosis, the prison’s private operator announced on June 8, 2021. As reported by Georgia Health News, CoreCivic—the nation’s second-largest private prison firm, with 2020 revenues of $1.91 billion—said it was also conducting contact tracing among the 600 remaining prisoners and staff members at the facility, which was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 172 cases and 13 deaths. TB is a highly contagious disease that carries a relatively high death risk—much higher than COVID-19, for example. It is caused by a bacteria that has proven increasingly resistant to the antibiotics which have held it at bay since their introduction in 1946.

Louisiana: A Louisiana defense attorney proclaimed his innocence to TV news reporters covering his booking on May 12, 2021, on charges he smuggled prescription pain medication to a prisoner at the West Baton Rouge Parish Jail, according to a report by the Associated Press. U.S. Marshals had arrested 71-year-old Michael Fontenot at home that morning on charges of criminal conspiracy and attempting to bring contraband into a prison, both felony counts. He allegedly coordinated with a work-release prisoner to smuggle Percocet to another prisoner at the jail. The sheriff’s office got wind of the plan during a phone call that deputies were monitoring between the attorney and the work-release prisoner. Prior to his arrest, Fontenot’s four-decade career as a lawyer was unblemished. He posted a $45,000 bail and was released to await trial.

Maine: In a deal to avoid a murder conviction, Maine state prisoner Zachary Titus, 36, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on June 4, 2021, and was sentenced to an additional 18 years for the June 2018 killing of 28-year-old Dana R. Bartlett, a fellow prisoner at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren. According to a report by the Portland Press Herald, Bartlett started an argument over cigarettes with Titus, who then put him in a choke hold and strangled him to death. Titus completed the sentence he was serving at the time in September 2020, but he remained in custody at the Knox County Jail until pleading guilty in the county’s Superior Court in December 2020. Justice Bruce Mallonee also ordered Titus to serve four years of probation after completing his new prison term.

Michigan: One prisoner was left dead after a fight broke out June 11, 2021, in the breakfast line of the dining room at Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson, Michigan. According to a report by Kalamazoo TV station WWMT, guards detained 13 prisoners after the melee. State Department of Corrections spokeswoman Brianna Brugel said that one of the men was treated at a local hospital and returned to the facility. The name of the dead man was not released, nor were the names of the others involved.

Minnesota: As of May 12, 2021, a Minnesota Department of Corrections (MNDOC) guard caught on video harassing racial justice protestors near his home the previous month no longer works for the agency, according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio. PLN previously reported the incident involving Paul Gorder and his wife, who can be heard on the video hurling the n-word at protestors outside the home of Washington County Attorney Peter Orput, who lives near Gorder in Stillwater (See PLN, Jun. 2021, p.62). After the video circulated on social media, MNDOC launched an investigation, at the conclusion of which Gorder’s 26-year tenure with the agency had ended, according to Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell. He did not say whether Gorder resigned or was terminated. The protestors outside Orput’s home were demanding that he file criminal charges against Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter for the in-custody death on April 11, 2021, of an unarmed 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright. A 26-year police veteran, Potter apparently shot Wright accidentally when she thought she was firing her TASER. She resigned two days after his killing. A judge ruled on May 17, 2021, that probable cause existed to charge her with second-degree murder. Four days later, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot asked state Attorney General Keith Ellison to take over the prosecution, just as he did in the trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted on April 20, 2021, of murdering another unarmed Black man, George Floyd, the previous May.

Minnesota: On June 9, 2021, former Minnesota prison guard Randy Beehler, 54, was sentenced to 120 days in prison and seven years probation for trading a McDonald’s meal for sex with a prisoner he was transporting, according to a report by the Duluth News Tribune. A 25-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections at the time of the September 2019 incident, Beehler at first denied it happened. But he later confessed to investigators that when the prisoner said she would “do anything” for a meal, he bought one for her and let her move to the front seat of the transport he was driving, where he exposed his penis to her and she performed oral sex on him.

Mississippi: Also on June 9, 2021, a Central Mississippi Correctional Facility guard was arrested and charged with trafficking drugs at the prison in Pearl. According to a report by the Clarion-Ledger, Brenda Denise Hicks had been on the job just 18 months when she was nabbed in an ongoing crackdown on contraband in state prisons. Ten of her fellow employees at the prison—six of whom worked for the state Department of Corrections—had been fired or suspended in September 2020, including the warden, the security chief and the head of the K-9 officer unit. That same month, a South Mississippi Correctional Facility guard supervisor, Lt. La Shawn Lynette Coleman, was arrested and fired when she was caught smuggling cash and what appeared to be alcohol and marijuana into the prison.

Missouri: On May 26, 2021, a grand jury in Missouri returned indictments against two fired guards at the St. Louis County Jail for assaulting prisoners there. According to a report by the local Post-Dispatch, Justin Mohler and Curtis Bromeier, both 37, were charged with beating the prisoners in unrelated incidents the previous July and June, respectively. Doug Moore, spokesman for County Executive Sam Page, said that Mohler had been hired in 2006 and Bromeier in 2009. They were among 184 guards working at the jail, which holds 1,000 prisoners. Mohler is accused of punching a prisoner in the face and neck. Bromeier allegedly hit a disabled prisoner in the head. The county’s prosecuting attorney, Wesley Bell, noted that the fired guards had “extremely stressful and difficult jobs,” but they were “not above the law.”

Nebraska: On May 28, 2021, a Nebraska grand jury indicted a state prisoner on charges he murdered his cellmate, according to a report by the Lincoln Journal Star. Angelo Bol, 31, who is serving a life sentence for murder, shared a State Penitentiary cell with Kevin C. Carter, who was found unresponsive under a sheet on November 6, 2020. Carter, 20, died later that night. He was less than eighteen months away from parole eligibility on the six-to-nine-year sentence he was serving for making terroristic threats and using a deadly weapon to beat and stab a man in Douglas County in 2019. Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon said no weapon was used in Carter’s killing, but he declined to add specifics. Bol—who shot and killed 34-year-old Karel Perez-Almaguer, his co-worker at a Gibbon meat-packing plant, in December 2015—has been moved to Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.

Nevada: A federal prisoner is facing another 12 years behind bars after pleading guilty in a Las Vegas federal court on May 7, 2021, to a tax fraud scheme. According to a press release from the federal Department of Justice, 43-year-old Jabari Laquan Marshall directed the crime from his cell, providing co-defendant Jalen Tony Henry, 27, with a forged receipt for a $25 million sale of trade secrets in 2014 that contained stolen Social Security numbers. Henry then filed a tax return claiming that over $5 million of the sum had been withheld and requesting a refund for just over $1.35 million. He received and deposited a U.S. Treasury check for about $80,000 more than that, which Marshall instructed him to split among family members. But the IRS got suspicious and froze the account before Henry could withdraw more than $5,078. In return for that amount, he now faces a ten-year sentence for his guilty plea to theft of government money. Marshall’s sentence—also for theft of government money, as well as aggravated identity theft—will be added to a 20-year term handed down in Las Vegas in 2014 for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme that fleeced $35 million from lenders. He was on supervised release from federal prison when he committed that crime between 2005 and 2007, having already been convicted twice before in a federal court in Nevada.

Nevada: On May 14, 2021, charges were announced against a Nevada Department of Corrections (NVDOC) guard and a Las Vegas school employee in a cellphone-smuggling scheme at Nevada’s High Desert State Prison (HDSP). According to a report by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the scheme first began to unravel in 2019, when HDSP officials discovered cellphones in the cells of prisoners Semaje Evans and Jenar Matthews. The phones were found to have made calls to fellow prisoner Alistaire Houp and Deneasha Vega, an employee of the Clark County School District. Investigators then discovered she had purchased the phones at a Walmart before meeting with Jovan Motley, an HDSP guard. He told investigators he was never paid $5,000 he was promised for smuggling them into the prison. But he is charged with misconduct and bribery. Vega has already pleaded guilty to attempted bribery and is slated for sentencing July 26, 2021. Houpe, who is serving time for robbery and home invasion, faces bribery and contraband-smuggling charges. Matthews, who is serving time for attempted murder, assault and robbery, also now faces a smuggling-related charge. No charges have been filed against Evans.

New Jersey: Two guards were injured in a May 3, 2021 melee involving immigrant prisoners at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, New Jersey. According to a report by, two prisoners also had to be treated for the effects of pepper spray that guards used to regain control over a group of five men, all of whom were being held at the jail for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The incident began when guards noticed the men passing around an unidentifed object. That led to a search of their cells, which uncovered potentially incindiary devices. The objects were confiscated, and a standoff ensued. After the fight was quelled, all five prisoners were placed on lockdown. Sheriff Anthony Cureton referred the matter to county prosecutors for further review.

New Jersey: Citing a “long history of abusive incidents,” New Jersey Gov. Philip D. Murphy (D) announced on June 7, 2021, that the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility—the state’s only women’s prison—would be permanently shuttered. According to a report by the New York Times, Murphy did not give a timeline for the shutdown, nor did he say where the 384 women incarcerated at the prison would go. As previously reported by PLN, the prison has been plagued by scandal, with a 2020 investigation by the federal Department of Justice describing its “culture of abuse” (See PLN, Mar. 2021, p.60). A day after that report was released, Corrections Commissioner Marcus O. Hicks resigned. But problems persisted, with a January 2021 melee resulting in injuries to several prisoners. Prison officials suspended 32 guards and other employees, three of whom were arrested and charged the following month.

New York: Eight guards were injured breaking up a fight between two prisoners at Coxsackie Correctional Facility near Albany, New York, on April 29, 2021. According to a report by HudsonValley360, five of the guards were treated at the prison infirmary and returned on duty. The other three were treated at a local hospital and released. Their injuries resulted while separating the two prisoners, who did not respond to repeated pepper-spraying. The two were not identified. Both were also treated at the prison infirmary and released, one to a special housing unit, the other to a cell. Disciplinary charges were pending against both, according to James Miller, spokesman for the guards’ union, the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association.

New York: In a deal reached with prosecutors in May 2021, two federal Bureau of Prisons guards will avoid jail time for failing to monitor Jeffrey Epstein the night he allegedly committed suicide at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, according to a report by the Washington Post. The accused pedophile and sex-trafficker, a billionaire whose wealth came from sources still poorly understood, supposedly hanged himself with a bedsheet in his cell in August 2019. The two guards who were supposed to be monitoring him, Tova Noel and Michael Thomas, were allegedly sleeping and browsing the Internet instead of making routine checks, which they admitted falsely recording. Both were working overtime due to staffing shortages. In exchange for their cooperation, federal prosecutors agreed that neither will serve time behind bars, recommending instead a sentence of 100 hours of community service.

North Carolina: A North Carolina jail guard was among 11 people arrested and charged between April 22 and May 2, 2021 in a drug-smuggling scheme at the Yadkin County Detention Center. According to a report by the Winston-Salem Journal, night guard Wendy Kaye Nelson, 44, had developed an “inappropriate personal relationship” with 33-year-old prisoner Christopher Cody Caudill when sheriff’s office investigators determined that she helped move drugs and other contraband to him from Edgar Owen Strickland, 76, and Scott Adam Strickland, 28. Both were arrested, along with Bobbie Lee Davis, 42, and an unnamed sixth suspect. The other five arrests stemmed from a separate incident in which illegal narcotics were mailed to the jail. Those charged in that scheme were: Chadwick Taylor Essick, Johnathan Welborn Yarboro, Selena Rae Calhoun, Joseph Bryan Walker and Cory Ryan Parrish.

North Carolina: A North Carolina state prison employee pleaded guilty on May 12, 2021, to smuggling drugs to prisoners in exchange for bribes, according to a press release from the federal Department of Justice. The former Caledonia Correctional Institution case manager, Ollie Rose III, admitted to smuggling contraband—including Oxycodone, marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids—to prisoners, accepting bribes in return totaling over $40,000, paid in increments of $500 to $1,200 either in cash or with mobile apps. He also sometimes accepted drugs in lieu of payment. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

Ohio: A former guard at a private prison in Ohio was sentenced on April 29, 2021, for taking bribes to smuggle tobacco and a cellphone to a prisoner she was having sex with. According to a report by Youngstown TV station WFMJ, Barbara Davis, 47, received a five-month prison sentence from a federal judge followed by five months of home confinement. She pleaded guilty in January 2021 to accepting bribes and providing contraband to a ward she sexually abused for almost a year at Northeast Ohio Correctional Center before she was caught in November 2018. The state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction houses about 850 prisoners at the facility, which is owned and operated by private prison giant CoreCivic. The U.S. Marshals Service held another 600 pretrial detainees there until it ended its contract with CoreCivic earlier in 2021.

Ohio: On May 14, 2021, a former Ohio jail guard was found guilty of having sex with a prisoner. According to a report by the Highland County Press, 34-year-old Robert Diskete was sentenced to a two-year jail term and ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. He pleaded no contest in February 2021 to having sex with a prisoner under his watch at the Highland County lockup from July to October 2020. The two continued talking by phone after the woman was released to the STAR probation program, where authorities monitoring her calls caught wind of the affair. An investigation followed, leading to the charges against Diskete, who is married. Because he was a new employee still under probation, Sheriff Donnie Barrera fired him immediately.

South Carolina: On May 25, 2021, Charleston County, South Carolina, agreed to pay $10 million to the family of Jamal Sutherland, a mentally ill Black man who died at the county lockup in January 2021 after being repeatedly Tasered and pepper-sprayed for refusing to exit his cell for a bond hearing. According to a report by the local Post and Courier, the 31-year-old schizophrenic had been taken by his parents to a mental health clinic, where he got into a fight that led to his arrest on a misdemeanor assault and battery charge. In their effort to extract him from his cell, guards Lindsay Fickett and Brian Houle stunned him six times with a Taser and used pepper-spray twice before putting him in handcuffs and a spit mask. Less than two hours later he was dead. The coroner listed the cause of death as undetermined, though he noted Sutherland’s “excited state” as described by the guards, both of whom are white. They remain under criminal investigation by Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson. Newly-elected Sheriff Kristin Graziano fired both on May 17, 2021, promising reforms at the jail to prevent a recurrence of what happened.

Tennessee: On June 3, 2021, private prison operator CoreCivic announced that an employee had been arrested the week before when she was caught trying to smuggle seven ounces of marijuana into the company’s prison in Hartsville, Tennessee. According to a report by the Lebanon Democrat, 30-year-old Jesheria Tynese Moses had been brought on as a temporary employee to fill a vacancy at Trousdale-Turner Correctional Center. She was caught with the contraband—which was packaged for resale—on May 25, 2021, by agents with the state’s 15th Judicial District Drug Task Force.

Texas: After prisoners became belligerent with guards on May 25, 2021, at the Carrizales-Rucker Detention Center in Brownsville, Texas, Cameron County Sheriff Eric Garza deployed both his SWAT team and the Correctional Emergency Response Team (CERT). According to a report by local TV station KVEO, the standoff then ended with guards separating prisoners into single-man cells. It was the second time that month that CERT had to be called in to break up a disturbance at the lockup. KVEO also reported that a fight broke out between prisoners on May 8, 2021, which CERT ended. No injuries were reported in either incident.

Texas: After an investigation into the fatal beating of a prisoner at the Harris County Jail in Houston, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez announced on May 28, 2021, that he had fired 11 guards and suspended six others without pay, according to a report by the Washington Post. PrisonerJacquaree Simmons died a day after he was stripped naked and beaten in the February 2021 attack, which took place during a winter storm that left the jail without heat. His mother said the 23-year-old was suffering mental health issues. Investigators concluded that guards used excessive force on him—in a jail blind spot not covered by any of its 1,490 security cameras—and then lied about it. The fired guards were: Garland Barrett, Patricia Brummett, Joshua Dixon, Alysheia Mallety, Israel Martinez, Eric Morales, Alfredo Rodriguez, Daniel Rodriguez, Chadwick Westmoreland, Sgt. Jacob Ramirez and Dana Walker. They and the six suspended guards may also face criminal charges, Gonzalez said.

Utah: On May 10, 2021, charges were announced against two men held at the Utah State Prison for a November 2020 incident in which they got drunk on homemade alcohol, locked two guards in a cell and then started a fire with bedsheets to stall other guards trying to rescue their colleagues. According to a report by Salt Lake City TV station KSL, Samuel Lona, 29, and his 24-year-old cellmate, Taniela Salakielu, became irate when guards discovered fermenting fruit and apparently stolen electronics in their cell. At a moment when they were outside and the two guards were inside, a third prisoner shut the door, which locked. An hour later, as a SWAT team prepared to rescue the guards, the two prisoners started a fire with bedsheets. Both men later told investigators they had trouble recalling the events because they were so inebriated. 

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