News in Brief
Australia: A February 2021 ruling by the Supreme Court in the Australian province of Victoria presented “a rare win” for a prisoner contesting prison procedures, according to a report by The Conversation. The convict, 56-year-old Craig Minogue, argued that Barwon Prison’s random drug testing and strip-searching policies violated protections of his dignity and privacy guaranteed by the state’s human rights charter. Justice Melinda Richards largely agreed, ruling that the state had failed to demonstrate why a strip-search—in which the naked prisoner must spread open his sphincter for examination—was necessary before a drug test, nor why the random collection of a urine sample was preferable to less-invasive testing means. However, she allowed that strip-searching prisoners before and after contact visits was reasonable in a high-security lockup like Barwon, where Minogue is serving a life sentence for a 1986 Melbourne street-bombing that killed Constable Angela Taylor and injured 21 others. Taylor was the first Australian police woman to die in the line of duty.
California: A former county jail guard in California was convicted on February 5, 2021, after pleading no contest to felony charges of having sex with a prisoner and smuggling contraband to him, according to a report by the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The 12-year veteran guard at the Santa Cruz County Jail, 35-year-old Jenna Baldwin, resigned after her arrest in October 2020. A month earlier, in September 2020, her fellow guard Jessica Smith, 31, was arrested on the same charges. A five-year veteran, Smith also resigned. So did former guard Jesus Villareal after his October 2020 arrest on domestic violence charges. Another former guard at the jail, Marco del Real, was convicted in 2018 of having sex with a prisoner. At the time, Sheriff Jim Hart called him “an embarrassment to our profession.” Since Hart took office in 2015, at least two inmates have died at the lockup: Tamario Smith, who was mentally ill, succumbed to over-hydration in 2020, while German Carillo was murdered by two cellmates in 2019.
California: A convicted Northern California serial killer was murdered in his cell at Mule Creek State Prison on February 28, 2021. According to a report by the Sacramento Bee, the deceased’s cellmate, 40-year-old Jason Budrow, is suspected of killing the “I-5 strangler,” Roger Reece Kibbe. He was serving a life sentence received in 1991 for the rape and murder four years earlier in Lake Tahoe of a 17-year-old Seattle runaway, Darcie Rene Frankenpohl. Her dress had been cut from her body in a similar way to that of other murdered women whom police had found around Sacramento. When DNA testing became available in 2009, Kibbe cut a deal to avoid the death penalty and admitted murdering 21-year-old Lou Ellen Burleigh in 1977 plus five other women in 1986: Stephanie Brown, 19; Lora Heedrick, 20; Katherine Kelly Quinones, 25; Charmaine Sabrah, 26; and Barbara Ann Scott, 29. Kibbe’s probable assailant, Budrow, is a self-professed Satanist originally convicted in 2003 of raping a 14-year-old girl. In 2011, when he suspected his girlfriend, 48-year-old Margaret Dalton, of informing police that he was drug-dealing and pimping in violation of his parole, he strangled her and drove her body in the trunk of his car to a police station to turn himself in. He is serving a life sentence for that crime.
Colorado: A former Colorado prosecutor was suspended from legal practice for two years in March 2021 after pleading guilty two months before to smuggling drugs to a client in the Mesa County Jail. According to a report by the Denver Post, attorney Jason Conley said he committed the crime four times in 2020—once hiding marijuana wax in an envelope containing case discovery materials—out of concern for his client, Dalton Castleberry, who was allegedly being threatened by another jail prisoner. Conley’s suspension from the state bar came a month after the February 2021 sentencing of a state prison guard who smuggled drugs to a prisoner. According to a report by the Mountain Mail, former Buena Vista Correctional Facility guard Trevor Martineau, 28, will serve four years in prison plus two years of probation for smuggling methamphetamine hidden in a burrito in his lunchbox. At least one other Colorado guard went to jail for the same crime in the last two years. According to a report by Denver TV station KCNC, Jefferson County Jail guard Myriah Lovato was sentenced in November 2019 to 45 days in prison plus two years of probation for smuggling contraband to prisoner and gang member Justice Espinoza, with whom she was having regular phone sex.
District of Columbia: Rayful Edmond, the “kingpin” who directed much of D.C.’s cocaine trafficking in the 1980s―allegedly earning $2 million every week—had his sentence reduced by a federal judge in February 2021. According to a report by local TV station WUSA, the 56-year-old’s current location is classified because he is in the federal witness protection program after providing prosecutors information that helped convict a killer with 30 victims and unwind the U.S. operations of Columbian drug cartels. Edmond told Judge Emmet Sullivan he hopes to become a pastor when released. But it was unclear when that would happen. When he was originally sentenced in 1990, Edmond’s mother, sisters and several cousins were also sent to jail for their roles in his gang. He then continued to direct his drug enterprise from a federal prison in Pennsylvania on contraband phones until he was caught and sentenced to an additional 30 years in 1996. That’s when he became a government informant. He still faces that 30-year sentence for drug-dealing from prison. Cocaine remains as plentiful as ever despite the army of police and informants dedicated to its eradication in the US.
Florida: A Sheriff’s deputy working at an Escambia County Jail annex near Pensacola, Florida, was arrested in April 2021 and charged with smuggling drugs to a prisoner, according to a report by local TV station WEAR. The deputy, 29-year-old Bryon Jermaine Banks, allegedly used his knowledge as a camera operator at the Cantonment annex—commonly known as the road prison—to position himself outside the view of surveillance equipment when he passed a potato chip bag full of methamphetamine, cocaine and synthetic cannabinoids, or “spice,” to prisoner Alexander Maynard, 30, on March 29, 2021. Maynard was caught and promptly ratted out Deputy Banks, who then admitted to investigators that he picked up the drugs at a nearby address. He was released on a $20,000 bond.
Florida: Investors were dumping shares of The GEO Group on April 7, 2021, after the country’s largest private prison operator—with 2020 revenues of $2.35 billion—was forced to suspend its quarterly dividend payment to preserve cash, according to a report by the Motley Fool. From a high of $33.30 in June 2017—just after receiving new contracts to operate detention centers for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the administration of former Pres. Donald J. Trump (R)—shares of the stock sank to close at recent low of $5.51 on April 30, 2021. As reported by the Miami Herald, the firm’s new $57 million headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida, was the site of a December 2019 protest demanding the release of immigrant asylum-seekers held in ICE facilities the company operates. Some of the nine protestors arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges were also charged in February 2020 with felony counts of false imprisonment for blocking the building’s exits. Undeterred, protestors in May 2020 targeted Broward Transitional Center—which The GEO Group runs for ICE—leaving body bags outside toe-tagged with the names of a dozen immigrants who had recently died in ICE detention.
Georgia: The second of three Valdosta State Prison guards charged with beating a handcuffed inmate pleaded guilty on April 21, 2021, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice. Jamal Scott, 33, and fellow guard Brian Ford—who made his plea in November 2020—admitted guilt in the December 2018 attack on the unnamed prisoner, which was allegedly carried out at the instruction of their supervisor in retaliation for an earlier assault by the inmate on another guard. The supervisor, Sergeant Patrick Sharpe, was indicted along with Scott in December 2020. Ford, 23, and Scott face up to ten years in prison and fines up to $250,000. Sharpe was also charged with beating another prisoner in September 2018 and later lying about it to FBI investigators.
Haiti: A breakout at a Haitian jail on February 27, 2021, left 25 people dead, according to a report by Caribbean National Weekly. More than 200 prisoners escaped during the uprising at the Croix-des-Bouquets prison, a nine-year-old facility that was operating at 172 percent of its design capacity. Among the dead was gang leader Arnel Joseph, who was the country’s most-wanted criminal prior to his 2019 arrest. He was fatally shot at a prison checkpoint attempting to flee on a waiting motorcycle, leading authorities to suspect that the incident may have been organized to free him. Also killed were Divisional Inspector Paul Hector Joseph, who was in charge of the prison, as well as several citizens in the neighborhood who were murdered by escaping prisoners. A week later, 60 escapees had been recaptured, according to officials.
Idaho: Harlan Hale, a leader of the Aryan Knights white supremacist prison gang, was sentenced to life in federal prison on April 1, 2021, after pleading guilty to his role in an Idaho prison drug trafficking scheme. According to a report by Twin Falls TV station KMTV, the 55-year-old won’t begin serving his new prison term until he completes his current sentence of 25 years to life in Idaho and a pending 32-year sentence in Wyoming. Three of his fellow gang members pled guilty and were sentenced in 2020 to additional terms of two to 14 years: Christopher Foss, 32, Buck Pickens, 31, and Michael McNabb, 36. Five other members of the gang face trial later in 2021.
Idaho: An inmate at a women’s prison in Pocatello, Idaho, was charged on February 11, 2021, with sexually assaulting a fellow prisoner. According to a report by the Idaho State Journal, Deborah Suzanne Young, 25, could face life in prison for the felony count of “forcible penetration,” which stemmed from a January 2020 incident. In 2017, when she was 21, Young was charged with rape after becoming pregnant by a 16-year-old boy. She bargained a plea to injury of a child and was sentenced to probation. But in 2019 she was sent to the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Facility after violating the terms of her probation by having sex with others in her sexual abuse treatment program. If convicted of her most recent charge, she also faces a fine up to $50,000.
Indiana: On February 22, 2021, a backup generator failed during an overnight power outage at an Indianapolis jail operated by private contractor CoreCivic, plunging the facility in darkness and leaving 28 prisoners injured in fights or falls. Sheriff Kerry Forestal told local radio station WFYI that prisoners at the Marion County Jail II were locked in their dorms during the blackout, which lasted more than 90 minutes. CoreCivic, the nation’s second-largest private prison operator with 2020 revenues of nearly $2 billion, houses 1,226 men at the facility. It is separate from the main county jail in downtown Indianapolis. Indiana Power & Light blamed cold weather for the initial power outage, while Sheriff Forestal said the generator suffered a dirty switch. There were no security breaches during the blackout, he added, so he remains committed to his partnership with CoreCivic, despite a 2018 order to end it from Mayor Joe Hogsett (D), who wants a new criminal justice center. After the lights came on just before 5:00 a.m., eleven of the injured men had to be treated at a hospital, where five of them remained at the end of the day.
Iowa: While vaccinating prisoners for COVID-19 on April 20, 2021, at the Iowa State Penitentiary, two nurses overdosed 77 prisoners with up to six times the recommended amount of the Pfizer-manufactured version of the vaccine. According to a report by the Des Moines Register, vaccinations have been paused at the maximum-security prison in Fort Madison and the nurses placed on leave while the state Department of Corrections conducts an investigation into the incident. The Pfizer vaccine is not shipped pre-mixed but must be diluted with a significant quantity of saline, the company said. No serious symptoms were reported among the affected prisoners.
Italy: A mafia boss imprisoned in Italy has won the right to play music in his solitary confinement cell. According to a February 2021 report by The Guardian, 48-year-old Domenico Strisciuglio was sentenced to a 20-year term at a Sardinian prison under a 1999 law that allows prison officials to restrict the electronic activities of convicted mobsters in order to prevent their communication with accomplices outside of prison. But a judge in Sassari said that exclusion shouldn’t apply to the CD player Strisciuglio wants and that his music-listening tastes couldn’t be satisfied by any of the TV channels he’s allowed to watch. The mafioso, who was convicted of murder and other mob-related crimes, had previously won a 2019 court case to watch TV after midnight. Other Italian prisoners have been learning winemaking. According to an October 2019 report by Toledo, Ohio, TV station WNWO, vintner Lamberto Frescobaldi employs 100 prisoners at Gorgona prison, a former monastery on an island 20 miles off the Tuscan coast, to produce a mix of Vermentino and Ansonica white wines. Revenues from sales provide each man with up to €40,000—about $48,000 USD—by the time he is released, when Frescobaldi also offers a two-year stint working at one of his firm’s mainland vineyards.
Kentucky: A prisoner at a federal prison in Kentucky died in on March 6, 2021, after a fight with another prisoner. According to a report by the Louisville Courier-Journal, prisonerBrian Bennett was critically injured in the incident and transported to a hospital, where he died the same day.The 50-year-old had been at the U.S. Penitentiary McCreary for two months, serving a 10-year sentence for methamphetamine distribution and firearms violations. The high-security facility in Pine Knot houses about 1,500 men.
Massachusetts: Two guards employed by the federal Bureau of Prisons at the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts, were charged in February 2021 in connection with an incident the preceding June, when one allegedly kneed a handcuffed prisoner in the head and the other then destroyed video evidence of the assault. According to a report by Boston TV station WBTS, guard Seth Bourget, 39, also used a protective shield to hit the unnamed “vulnerable” prisoner, who was housed in the prison’s mental health unit. Fellow guard Joseph Lavorato, 51, is accused of failure to fully the report the incident, in addition to destroying the video.
Minnesota: After video surfaced capturing a Minnesota prison guard cursing at racial justice protestors on April 26, 2021, Sgt. Paul Gorder was placed on leave and an investigation was launched by the state Department of Corrections (DOC). According to a report by Huffington Post, Gorder is a 30-year DOC veteran employed at the state correctional facility in Stillwater. In the video, as he watches the protestors—most of whom appear to be Black—Gorder, who is white, can be seen saluting them with his middle finger and hurling obscenities. A blond woman with him uses the n-word. Later identified as his wife, Kelly Beer, she was fired from her job at Fantastic Sam’s. The protestors were gathered in the street outside the home of Washington County Attorney Pete Orput to demand he bring murder charges against Brooklyn Center policewoman Kim Potter for fatally shooting—apparently by mistake—an unarmed Black man named Daunte Wright earlier in the month. Potter resigned her job April 14, 2021, when she was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter in Wright’s death.
Mississippi: Two guards at the Tate County Jail, in the Mississippi suburbs of Memphis (TN), were charged in August 2020 with having sex with a prisoner, according to a report by local TV station WREG. Sheriff Brad Lance asked police in the county seat of Senatobia to investigate, leading to the arrests of Stephen Crabb, 43, and Charles Lebo, 24. Both men were fired and charged with the felony of having sex with a prisoner. Their arrests followed the October 2019 conviction of another prison guard on the same count in another Memphis suburb. But according to a report by Arkansas Online, that guard, Lakeisha Brown, avoided prison by convincing U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. that she and prisoner Markavious Anderson had fallen “completely and madly in love” and planned to marry after his release in June 2023 from the federal prison in Forest City, Arkansas. Brown was fired from her job there after admitting she twice had sex with Anderson. Judge Marshall fined her $1,000 and sentenced her to three years of probation plus 150 hours of community service. She is barred from law enforcement work for life and must register as a sex offender. She and Anderson must also receive permission from the federal Bureau of Prisons before resuming their relationship.
Missouri: Prisoners rebelled at the St. Louis City Jail on April 5, 2021, smashing windows and tossing furniture outside. It was the second uprising at the jail in two months, according to a report by NPR. During the earlier disturbance on February 7, 2021, about 100 people were able to manipulate door locks on their cells, freeing them to roam the fourth floor for several hours, breaking windows and setting fires until control was re-established by jail officials. Jail Commissioner Dale Glass said it would take weeks to repair the broken locks. The most recent incident involved a smaller number of prisoners on the third floor of the 20-year-old facility. About 200 prisoners are held at the jail. Three earlier protests had been staged there since December 2020 to highlight conditions the prisoners called inhumane. The complaints have included long waits for court hearings due to a backlog of cases caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with prisoners in the most recent uprising chanting out broken windows, “We want court dates!”
Nebraska: A turf war with the state police could land a Nebraska sheriff in jail after he was convicted on March 4, 2021, of official misconduct for refusing to jail a man the troopers picked up. According to a report by the Rapid City Journal, Dawes County Sheriff Karl Dailey became enraged that the Nebraska State Patrol (NSP) had been contacted before he was to arrest Jesse Sierra, 35, and his brother Dustin, 36, for allegedly kidnapping and raping a woman in the county in July 2019. NSP had tracked the brothers to a hotel in the county seat of Chadron where they allegedly committed the crime. When they called to advise Dailey they would be arresting the Sierras and bringing them to the Dawes County lockup, but sheriff refused to accept the pair in a profanity-laced tirade. Meanwhile members of the victim’s family gave chase to the brothers, who were eventually apprehended and jailed two counties away until their transfer to await trial on federal kidnapping charges. In his trial, Dailey argued that he had sole discretion over whom to accept in his county’s jail, but Judge Randlin Roland disagreed.
Nigeria: Nigerian officials blamed guerrillas for an armed prison invasion that freed 1,844 prisoners on April 5, 2021. According to a report by CNN, officials said the attack on the Owerri Custodial Center in Imo state was carried out by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IBOP), an outlawed secessionist group, and its paramilitary Eastern Security Network. Officials added that a simultaneous attack on the state headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force was “totally and appropriately resisted.” IBOP has denied involvement in either incident. An earlier Biafran separatist movement ended in a 1967-70 civil war that left more than a million people dead.
Oregon: On March 15, 2021, an Oregon judge threw the book at a prison guard convicted of victimizing his daughter and her minor friends to feed his child pornography habit. According to a report by the Baker City Herald, Judge Matt Shirtcliff sentenced David Leon Cernazanu to a 15-year prison term, the maximum punishment for his guilty plea to three felony counts of second-degree encouraging child sexual abuse. The 49-year-old had worked as a prison guard at Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City since 2017. After release, he must serve three years of probation and register as a sex offender. He will also have to undergo sex offender treatment.
Pennsylvania: After an 80-year-old father pled guilty in a Pennsylvania court on April 15, 2021, to stalking and terrorizing his neighbors and slashing their tires—in violation of a protective order—his daughter argued that he should be released to a VA hospital for further treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. But according to a report by the Pike County Courier, Robert Bernathy—the attorney who negotiated the guilty plea for John Curwood in Pike County Court—said he was unaware of any mental health issues with his client. He also told Joy McCann that her dad would likely commit more crimes if released from the Pike County Correctional Facility (PCCF), where the Air Force veteran has been held since the string of incidents between November 2020 and January 2021 landed him in the lockup. Bernathy’s partner in his law practice is the solicitor for PCCF. McCann promised to take her complaint to state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D).
Pennsylvania: A Pennsylvania prison guard convicted of serially raping and kidnapping or attempting to kidnap five women will likely spend the rest of his life in jail after his sentencing on March 2, 2021. According to a report by the Daily Item, John Kurtz, 46, who worked as a guard at the State Correctional Institution in Coal Township, received a term from Northumberland County Court President Judge Charles H. Saylor of 59 to 270 years for the crimes, which were committed between 2012 and 2017. He confessed to another 2002 rape but was not charged because the statute of limitations had expired. That victim, Susan Dimm, identified herself and read a victim impact statement to the media in which said she feels neither anger nor compassion for Kurtz.
Pennsylvania: For allegedly extorting sexual favors from the prisoners he guarded at a Pennsylvania state prison, Sgt. Brian T. Scott was charged with providing contraband and institutional sexual assault on April 21, 2021. According to a report by PennLive, the 50-year-old guard was suspended without pay while he awaits trial on the charges stemming from five incidents between October 2020 and January 2021 at the State Correctional Institution near Muncy. It housed 1,056 women as of March 31, 2021, including all women in the state awaiting execution. The contraband Scott allegedly provided included e-cigarettes with suboxone as well as feminine pads. The sexual activity ranged from rubbing genitals and breasts through clothing to having sex in a closet.
Texas: A Texas prison guard and her mother—who was also a fellow guard—were themselves sentenced to prison in April 2020, according to a report by the Mission Progress Times. Amber Marie Estrada, 22, will serve over 24 months for accepting bribes—including a horse—to smuggle food and marijuana to detainees at the East Hidalgo Detention Center. The 1,300-bed jail is owned and operated for the U.S. Marshals Service by Florida-based GEO Group, the country’s largest private prison operator. Estrada’s mother, Brenda Fuentes, received a 366-day term for her guilty plea to sexual abuse of a ward after having sex with a prisoner. Five other prison employees were also arrested in 2019 and 2020 along with Fuentes and her daughter.
Texas: In March 2021, a federal judge handed down 46-month sentences to a prisoner and a former guard at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas, according to a report by the local Gazette. From August 2019 to January 2021, then-guard James Thompson, 55, would pick up “tobacco, cellphones and other substances” in packages addressed to “Bobby Brown” at a Mt. Pleasant post office and smuggle them into the prison to the prisoner, 54-year-old Gilbert Gomez, who would distribute them to other prisoners. Both men pleaded guilty in August 2020. Thompson was ordered to surrender $17,200 in bribes he received in the scheme. Gomez received $15,000 in bribes he was ordered to forfeit. After their scheduled release in March 2025, both men will remain under federal supervision for another three years.
Texas: Four Texas jail guards and a prisoner were indicted in March 2021 on charges of smuggling contraband into correctional facilities. Rio Grande Valley TV station KGBT reported that Reeves County Detention Center guards Eduardo Garcia, 19, and Armando Valdivia, 22, were charged with smuggling cellphones to an unnamed prisoner at the facility in August and September 2020. Meanwhile San Antonio TV station KSAT reported that Bexar County Jail guard Thomas Lucero, 29, was charged along with jail nurse Maricela Leija and prisoner Gabriel Moreno for participating in a scheme dating back to May 2018 to smuggle contraband into the jail. The 39-year-old Moreno, an alleged member of the Mexican Mafia, was acquitted in December 2018 of the fatal beating four years earlier of Jose Luis “PeeWee” Menchaca, a rival heroin dealer. But six months later Moreno was back in the Bexar County lockup on a weapons charge, for which he was later convicted. He is currently held by the state Department of Criminal Justice.
Virginia: A Virginia woman imprisoned for faking credentials as a child psychologist has a court date June 29, 2021, to face civil charges that she harmed children who were patients at a Fredericksburg-area learning disorders center by diagnosing and treating nonexistent conditions. In addition to the phony doctor, 44-year-old Sharonda L. Avery, the $2 million suit alleges that Pediatric Partners for Attention and Learning in Stafford and Aetna Health Insurance Co. are also liable for failing to verify her credentials, according to a report by the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. Avery was sentenced in October 2020 to a 46-year prison term, with all but 11 years suspended. The civil suit against her, her former employer and its insurer, is one of four seeking compensation ranging from $1 million to $242 million.
Washington: A former Washington Department of Corrections (WDOC) guard was sentenced to prison on April 22, 2021, after pleading guilty to his role in a scheme to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the Clallam Bay Corrections Center. According to a report by Seattle TV station KIRO, 37-year-old Alfonzo E. Cofone received a 44-month sentence for his conviction after WDOC investigators acting on a tip inspected his vehicle when he arrived for work at the facility near Port Angeles in August 2020. That led them and members of the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team to another of Cofone’s vehicles at his home, where they recovered 61 grams of a substance suspected to be methamphetamine, 215 Suboxone strips, an eyedropper containing a substance suspected to be marijuana oil, an AR-15 rifle, a 9mm handgun and $2,300 in cash.
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