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News in Brief

California: A guard at San Quentin State Prison and one of two outside co-conspirators were arraigned on September 8, 2021, on federal charges they smuggled cellphones to an unnamed prisoner on death row at the California lockup. According to a statement by the U.S. Department of Justice, the condemned man had a relationship with the other co-conspirator, 45-year-old Tanisa Smith-Symes of Las Vegas, who was arraigned the following day. The guard, 37-year-old Keith Christopher of Pittsburg, California, allegedly accepted a $500 bribe for each of at least 25 cellphones he smuggled into work with him and passed to the prisoner. Christopher got the cash and phones from 32-year-old Isaiah Wells of Tracy, California, the other indicted co-conspirator, who served as a go-between for Smith-Symes. Once her boyfriend inside the prison received the contraband, he allegedly resold the phones to other prisoners for up to $900 each.

California: A prison store supervisor at California’s High Desert State Prison was arrested on September 19, 2021, after he allegedly shot another off-duty prison employee in nearby Susanville. The suspect, 63-year-old Kenneth Hunter, was placed on leave and charged with felony attempted homicide, according to a report by the Sacramento Bee. A post on the Facebook page of the Susanville Police Department said the unnamed victim was in stable condition and that “the shooting was domestic violence-related.” A bomb threat the following day put the prison on lockdown, but it was not determined if the two incidents were related, according to Dana Simas, spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The lockdown was lifted the same day, after an investigation failed to find any evidence of a bomb. CDCR officials were seeking information that might help identify who called in the threat.

Colorado: Wearing nothing but his underwear, a man who was filmed sexually abusing a horse was apprehended in a creek near the jail from which he escaped in Durango, Colorado, on September 22, 2021. According to a report by the New York Daily News, 25-year-old Jonah Barrett-Lesko had been locked up after he was caught on surveillance video assaulting the horse in its stall at the La Plata County Fairgrounds in June 2021. After making bail, he was picked up again on trespassing charges related to a series of robberies in which a car was broken into and six bicycles went missing. He pleaded guilty in August 2021 to felony burglary and was awaiting sentencing when he escaped, shedding his jail uniform and leading Durango Police on a 26-minute pursuit before he was recaptured. He now faces additional charges of felony escape.

Florida: An investigative report by the Internal Affairs (IA) division of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) was released on September 15, 2021, detailing how a guard fired from the county lockup in Ft. Myers, Florida, told a prisoner he looked like George Floyd and asked him to say, “I can’t breathe.” The guard, former LCSO Deputy 1st Class Rodney Payne, was immediately reprimanded by a supervisor, according to a report by the Fort Myers News-Press. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died on May 25, 2020, after former Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for over nine minutes, prompting Floyd to speak the words that Payne asked to be repeated in the July 2021 incident. One of several other prisoners who overheard him filed a complaint. Payne was then investigated by IA and admitted his improper conduct. He was fired on August 26, 2021.

Georgia: In Atlanta on August 29, 2021, a federal prison guard was beaten and robbed of his dog at gunpoint in his own home—while dressed as a woman. According to a report by local TV station WAGA, the off-duty guard for the federal Bureau of Prisons, who did not identify himself to the media, said he stopped his vehicle to pick up another man he thought he recognized. The rider turned out to be a stranger, but the two men struck up a conversation, and the guard invited the man to his home. After excusing himself to use the bathroom, the guest emerged brandishing a pistol and began beating his host, who, though dressed in feminine attire, managed to escape and alert neighbors who called police. Meanwhile the gunman robbed his home and stole his pitbull puppy, Buddy. Atlanta police said the robber was last spotted leaving the apartment complex carrying a pink-and-black bag with Buddy inside.

Hawaii: Seven Hawaii prisoners had to be treated for drug overdoses in what the state Department of Public Safety (HIDPS) confirmed was a “mass casualty incident” on September 16, 2021. According to a report by local TV stations KGMB and KHNL, two of the prisoners were still in serious condition the next day, though all had by then returned to Halawa prison in Honolulu. After prison staff called 911 to report the ill prisoners, HIDPS dispatched a truck equipped to test for hazardous materials. Meanwhile, at the hospital where the prisoners were taken for treatment, they were diagnosed with “drug intoxication.” Sources speculated that the prisoners had gotten high from licking letters mailed to them laced with “spice”—synthetic cannabinoids. Guards were dispatched to search the prison for the contraband, which Kat Brady, coordinator of the local Community Alliance on Prisons, called “a huge problem.”

Indonesia: A fire tore through an overcrowded prison near the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on September 8, 2021, killing at least 41 prisoners. Another 81 prisoners suffered injuries attributed to the blaze, according to a report by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, including eight with severe burnsand nine treated at a prison clinic. The remaining 64 were moved to a mosque in the prison compound to be observed for symptoms of smoke inhalation. The dead included a convicted guerrilla and a murder convict. However most of those who succumbed were serving time for drug convictions, including a South African man and another who was Portuguese. When the fire erupted in the prison’s C block, its 19 cells were stuffed with over three times its design capacity of 40 prisoners, according to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, which added that 15 guards on the block were uninjured. As of July 2021, the country of 273 million people held 268,610 prisoners in facilities with a capacity of just 132,107.

Israel: On September 19, 2021, the last two prisoners were recaptured out of a group of six who escaped Gilboa prison in Israel almost two weeks earlier. According to CNN, the group that broke out of the prison on September 6, 2021, included Zakaria Zubeidi, a “commander in the militant wing of the Palestinian political party Fatah.” The other five reportedly belonged to Islamic Jihad, which issued a statement calling the escape a “severe slap to the Israeli army and the entire system in Israel.” The prison sits near the West Bank town of Jenin, where two of the fugitives, Ayham Nayef Kamamji, 35, and Monadel Yacoub Nafe’at, 26, were the last of the group to surrender, along with two alleged accomplices who helped hide them. That was eight days after Zubeidi, 45, and fellow escapee Mohammed Qassem Ardah, 39, were cornered in a truck stop in northern Israel by police who had been tipped off by an Israeli-Arab man in a dune buggy with whom the duo tried to hitch a ride. A day earlier, the other two escapees, Mahmoud Abdullah Ardah, 46, and Yaqoub Mahmoud Qadri, 49, were captured after they were spotted rummaging trash cans for food in Nazareth by Arab residents, who reported them to the police.

Italy: Using a gun likely smuggled via drone aircraft, an Italian prisoner shot through the bars of neighboring cells in a high-security lockup outside of Rome on September 19, 2021. According to a report by the Guardian, the unnamed 28-year-old prisoner, who has ties to the Neopolitan mafia, targeted three fellow prisoners with whom he had argued, but no one was injured in the attack. He shot into their cells after trying and failing to unlock their doors with keys he had stolen at gunpoint from a guard, who had let him out of his own cell to shower. The prisoner then used a contraband cellphone to contact his attorney, who convinced him to surrender himself and his weapon. Officials said they assumed the gun had been delivered by drone. Italian prisons operate on average at 120 percent of design capacity, making them the most overcrowded in the European Union. Protests over lockdowns to combat the spread of COVID-19 have led to violent beatings of some prisoners by guards.

Kentucky: After power went out at the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women on August 25, 2021, four of six units housing the facility’s 683 prisoners remained without cooling for six days, despite excessive late-summer heat, because state prison officials said the $82,500 cost to install generators was “too high.” According to Louisville radio station WFPL, three days had already passed after the outage began when that conclusion was reached by Gunvant Shah, the chief engineer for the state Department of Corrections (KYDOC). It then took another three days for the decision to be revisited and generators installed—though not before the prison administration building got the first one. At least one prisoner required treatment for exposure to excessive heat, her fellow prisoners reported. The facility’s main power was not fully restored for another week, 13 days after the initial outage occurred. KYDOC spokesperson Lisa Lamb blamed the delay on a shortage of necessary supplies resulting from widespread power outages caused by Hurricane Ida, a powerful Category 4 storm that the passed through the region after roaring ashore at Louisiana’s Gulf Coast on August 29, 2021.

Louisiana: A teacher contracted by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections was arrested on September 13, 2021, on charges he smuggled cellphones, cigarettes and alcohol to prisoners at Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson. According to the Houston Chronicle, 61-year-old Mark Shamburger was charged with introduction of contraband into a penal institution and malfeasance in office. He reportedly confessed to investigators before he was taken into custody. Prior to that, he worked under contract for the state Special School District to teach at the prison. If convicted on both counts, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Michigan: A guard at the Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek, Michigan, was arrested on October 1, 2021, and charged with assault and battery for punching a restrained prisoner. According to a report by Kalamazoo TV station WWMT, the guard, Sgt. Jeffrey Worden, had by then resigned. The sheriff’s office released jail surveillance video of the incident, which happened on September 6, 2021. The footage shows the former guard enter a cell where Keir Watson, who was being detained on a parole violation, had been placed in a five-point restraint chair to prevent him from harming himself. Watson managed to free one of his hands, which Worden attempted to restrain again. A scuffle ensued, during which Watson spit in Worden’s face. At that point the guard punched the detainee several times. Sheriff Steve Hinkley said Watson was uninjured and had been returned to prison. A March 2019 post on his office’s Facebook page had congratulated Worden on 20 years of service.

Mississippi: A manhunt that began when a prisoner escaped a privately-managed Mississippi lockup on September 10, 2021, ended four days later with his capture 900 miles away in Ohio. According to the Mississippi Clarion Ledger, U.S. Marshals who nabbed 33-year-old Garnett Hughes found he was still sporting a handcuff worn when he eluded two guards from the East Mississippi Correctional Facility in Lauderdale County, who were escorting him to the funeral of his mother, 54-year-old Dorothy Mae Hughes, in Belzoni. The prison is operated for the state Department of Corrections (MSDOC) by Utah-based Management & Training Corporation, which runs 20 prisons in eight states. At the time of his escape, Hughes was serving a pair of life sentences earned with 2014 convictions for kidnapping and sexual battery. He had previously made two other escapes in June and November of 2014, but he was recaptured on both occasions. MSDOC also announced the arrest of his girlfriend, 51-year-old Yvette Mendoza, on charges she abetted his most recent escape.

Missouri: A former jail nurse charged with poisoning her husband and burning his corpse was indicted by a grand jury in Cole County, Missouri, on September 22, 2021, on additional charges of having sex with a prisoner at the Jefferson City Correctional Center (JCCC) when she worked there. According to the local News Tribune, 43-year-old Amy Murray also now faces one count of first-degree sexual abuse and three counts of offender abuse, one for each time she allegedly had sex at the lockup in September 2018 with prisoner Eugene Claypool. He is serving a life sentence for a fatal stabbing in 2000. The following month, October 2018, Murray stopped working at JCCC. Then, in December, her husband, Joshua Murray, was found dead in the couple’s home after a fire. She was arrested and charged with his murder in February 2019, after an autopsy determined he had also been poisoned with antifreeze and cellphone records indicated she had been home just a half-hour before the blaze. Investigators also began looking into her relationship with Claypool, to whom she allegedly outlined in a January 2019 phone call a plan to hire defense counsel to secure Claypool’s release so they could marry. Corizon Health, the private firm which provides healthcare at JCCC, said Murray had been fired, though it didn’t say when.

Montana: The Montana Department of Corrections (MTDOC) announced on October 6, 2021, that two prisoners who died the month before at Montana State Prison (MSP) in Deer Lodge committed suicide. According to a report by the Montana Free Press, Edward Bailey, 40, was serving a 20-year term for aggravated assault and criminal endangerment when he was discovered on September 20; and Jerry B. Cramer, 47, was serving a life sentence for homicide when he was found on September 28. In a statement, nonprofit advocacy group Disability Rights Montana said that “suicide and self-harm is always preventable,” adding that the number of suicides at MSP “is cause for alarm.” Two other MTDOC prisoner deaths in 2021 resulted from self-harm. But Shaun Duncan Morrison, 39, did not intend to commit suicide, a coroner ruled after his May 2021 death. The following month, 50-year-old Lisa Ann Nester died by hanging, but that also has not been confirmed a suicide. In addition to those four deaths, MTDOC reported 13 others in the first nine months of 2021.

New Jersey: A former federal prisoner is returning behind bars after a federal judge sentenced him to a 43-month term on September 13, 2021, for using drone aircraft to deliver contraband to the Federal Correctional Institution at Fort Dix, New Jersey. According to a report by the Cherry Hill Courier Post, 30-year-old Jason “Juice” Arteaga-Loayza used a pair of accomplices to make drone drops of cellphones, accessories and drugs, as well as weight loss supplements and even eyeglasses, beginning a month after he was released from the lockup in September 2018. The scheme continued until June 2019, using drones with taped-over lights flown into the prison at night by the other two men—Adrian Goolcharran and Nicolo Denichilo—to fulfill orders for the contraband arranged by a fourth co-conspirator, Johansel Moranta, who was imprisoned inside. Goolcharran and Denichilo are awaiting trial for their roles in the plot.

Nigeria: All but 54 of 294 prisoners held in a Nigerian prison escaped when it was attacked by an unknown group of heavily armed men on September 12, 2021. The gunmen destroyed three sides of the perimeter fence and overwhelmed a staff of 35 guards at the prison, a “medium-security custodial centre in Kabba, Kogi state,” according to Nigerian Correctional Service spokesman Francis Enobore, as quoted in a report by al Jazeera. He said two guards were killed in the attack on the 13-year-old prison, which was operating at 147 percent of its design capacity of 200. Only 70 of its prisoners had been convicted of crimes. The remaining 224 were pre-trial detainees. Human rights groups say pre-trial detention in the country often lasts for years.

North Carolina: When water service was cut off in Danbury, North Carolina, on August 22, 2021, it also left about 100 prisoners unable to wash themselves or flush toilets at the Stokes County Jail. As reported by the Winston-Salem Journal, one man even used an empty potato chip bag to clear a clogged toilet, according to Angela Frazier, the mother of a jail prisoner. Acting County Manager Shannon Shaver said “the entire Town of Danbury was out of water” for about three hours after the jail’s storage tanks ran so low that its water service had to be cut off. Stokes County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Eric Cone said the problem had recurred three or four times over the preceding several months. He and his staff worked quickly, he said, to deliver bottled water to prisoners while a county crew repaired a broken service line.

North Dakota: After two prisoners being held for the North Dakota Department of Corrections in the Wash County Jail overpowered a pair of guards and escaped, an investigative report released in September 2021 concluded that the county needed to do nothing more than improve training for its dispatchers. As reported by the Grand Forks Herald, one of the prisoners, 29-year-old Bo Carrier, was recaptured and sentenced to a two-year prison term on July 8, 2021, for his role in the breakout. His fellow escapee, 30-year-old Karlin Dahl, was also recaptured and is awaiting trial on similar charges arising from the incident on May 28, 2021. That’s when the two men overpowered a guard and tried to take her keys. They failed, but they locked her in the cell they shared. They then overpowered a second guard and tried but failed to lock him in an office. When they yelled for someone to open the door, a 911 dispatcher working for the County Emergency Management Department did so, letting the two escape.

Ohio: A guard at the Columbiana County Jail in Lisbon, Ohio, was arrested on October 7, 2021, and charged with smuggling drugs into the lockup. Sheriff Brian McLaughlin told Cleveland TV station WJW that his deputies and the jail’s warden found suspected crack cocaine on the guard, 53-year-old Keith McCoy, along with what was believed to be methamphetamine and suboxone. McCoy now faces a third-degree felony charge of conveyance into a detention facility. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for October 14, 2021.

Oklahoma: An administrator at an Oklahoma county jail wanted for helping himself to cash confiscated from prisoners was captured and arrested on August 31, 2021. According to a report by Oklahoma City TV station KFOR, the now-fired administrator for the Pawnee County Jail, John Paul Thompson, had been on the run since a warrant was issued four days earlier for his arrest. He was charged with two felony embezzlement counts after a recently released prisoner showed up to claim $800 taken from him at booking, and jail officials discovered the money had never been deposited in the jail trust account. When Thompson was questioned, he turned in an envelope he claimed had been misplaced which contained $800, but in different denominations of bills than what had been taken from the released prisoner. That led to a search of Thompson’s car, which turned up an empty cash envelope, and an audit of the trust account that came up $400 short. Thompson was then fired and the charges filed against him. A ten-year veteran law enforcement officer, he had worked for the Pawnee County Sheriff’s Office since January 2021.

Oklahoma: A prisoner at Lawton Correctional Facility was murdered and his cellmate admitted killing him on September 6, 2021, just a week after a half-dozen other prisoners were injured in multiple stabbings at the sprawling prison, which is operated for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections by the GEO Group, Inc., a Florida-based private prison giant. Oklahoma City TV station KFOR identified the dead man as murder convict Riley Walker. His confessed killer, Aaron Stone, was serving a sentence for rape, sodomy, robbery and kidnapping. Prison officials said the incident was unrelated to a rash of stabbings on September 1, 2021, which put five unnamed prisoners in the hospital. A sixth prisoner, also unnamed, had to be flown to Oklahoma University Hospital for treatment after that attack.

Pennsylvania: A woman caught smoking banana peels at the jail in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, tried to slip out of court by admitting to a separate parole violation on September 13, 2021. But according to the Clearfield Progress, Revocation Court President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman told the public defender representing Danielle B. Aughenbaugh, “Not so fast.” As it turned out, jail warden David Kessling had alerted the judge to the banana-peel smoking incident, as well as another in which the 37-year-old prisoner hid another prisoner’s urine in a toothpaste tube that she then stuffed into a body cavity in order to fool a pregnancy test. When the jail nurse became suspicious and ordered Aughenbaugh to repeat the procedure while being watched, she tested negative for pregnancy and admitted the lie was part of a scheme to get methadone treatment offered to pregnant prisoners. In addition to more drying banana peels and a jerry-rigged electric lighter, fermenting fruit was also found in her cell. The judge delayed her hearing for a month in order to learn what other contraband she may have.

Peru: On September 11, 2021, the world’s longest-held political prisoner died. Abimael Guzmán, the founder of the Communist Party of Peru-SL, known as Sendero Luminoso— “the Shining Path”—spent 29 years in total isolation after his 1992 capture before his death at the National Penitentiary Institute. He was 86. Under the leadership of “Comrade Gonzalo,” as he was known, the Shining Path declared war on Peru’s government in 1980, waging a widespread guerrilla war in which it came close to seizing state power. The groups capacity declined significantly after Guzman’s capturecampaign that eventually claimed 30,000 lives over the next two decades, until the 2012 capture of his successor, Florindo Eleuterio Flores Hala, also known as “Comrade Artemio,” which precipitated the group’s decline. Another 30,000 deaths were blamed on an anti-terror campaign the government launched in response to the communist insurgency.

South Africa: A 30-year-old convicted murderer accused of killing a warden at the prison where he was being held appeared briefly in a South African court on August 18, 2021. According the Fourways Review, the case against Nigel Marais was then postponed eight days for what National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phindile Mjonondwane called “further investigation.” Marais received his most recent charge after the discovery of the corpse of Warden Eunice Moloko at the Leeuwkop Correctional Service Centre where she worked on
August 10, 2021. That is also where Marais was serving an 18-year term for murder and attempted murder convictions received in 2014 and 2015.

South Carolina: On September 22, 2021, ten prisoners were charged for a rebellion that broke out 18 days earlier at the Alvin S. Glen Detention Center in Columbia, South Carolina. Along with prisoners JuJuan Council and Anthony Blakney, who were charged the day of disturbance, that brought the total number charged to twelve, according to local TV station WIS. All of the men face counts of first-degree assault and battery, as well as kidnapping and rioting. Two of them, Devonte Spell and Elijah Webb, have also been charged with unlawful escape for breaking the locks on their cell doors and releasing the others in their housing unit. A pair of deputies from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) responding to the disturbance were surrounded by the men, who struck them with chairs, trash cans and other furnishings. A RCSD Special Response Team then moved in and retook control, but not before the 50-bed housing unit was largely destroyed. The two injured deputies were treated at a hospital and are recovering at home. The other eight prisoners charged were identified as Roy Harley, Dontez O. Brown, Iric Bolden, Cameron C. Williams, Denzell McMillan, Derrick Rice, Willie Singleton and Darius Whitener.

South Dakota: According to a report published on September 2, 2021, by Sioux Falls TV stations KFSY and KDLT, a custom desk ordered by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) from the state prison factory has run $3,000 over budget because of materials cost increases she refused to pay and other changes she ordered. Growing in length from 80 to 100 inches, the now-$9,000 desk included brass embossing, a gun drawer, leather drawer inserts and a footrest, as well as a state map embossed on top. Part of the cost increase was also blamed on the skyrocketing price of the black walnut. It was made by Pheasantland Industries, the state prison workshop. State Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) told The Daily Beast that he was “actively reviewing (the) concerns.” Noem, who has since become embroiled in charges of nepotism—for allegedly abusing her position to help her daughter obtain an appraiser’s license—locked horns with the attorney general earlier in 2021 after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges from an auto crash in a which a man died. He then refused Noem’s demands that he resign. A member of the Correction Commission, state Sen. Troy Heinart (D), said it was “troubling that the Governor needs a $9,000 desk when quite a few South Dakotans don’t have a $9,000 car.”

Utah: On August 27, 2021, a Utah Department of Corrections (UTDOC) guard and two co-conspirators were charged with smuggling drugs into the Utah State Prison (UTSP), where he worked. According to Salt Lake City TV station KSL, the guard, 45-year-old Byron Curt Stoddard, was taken into custody on August 24, 2021, after UTDOC investigators, acting on a tip, trailed him on a drug pickup and apprehended him with methamphetamine, fentanyl and suboxone. He then admitted that he was on his way back to UTSP to deliver the drugs to prisoner Paul William Munster, 46, who was one of those also charged in the scheme. The other, 24-year-old Cella Cherrie Pasillas, allegedly paid Stoddard $1,000—traced on a cash app—for each of two “drops” he successfully completed before he was caught. Stoddard also admitted the meth was for his own use, while Munster allegedly distributed the other drugs to fellow prisoners through the Soldiers of Aryan Culture, a white supremacist prison gang.

Washington: One of two men arrested on September 9, 2021—for violent crimes committed with other members of a nationwide biker gang—was working as a guard at the Washington State Penitentiary. According to the Walla Walla Union Bulletin, 40-year-old Dustin Wendelin was picked up on an indictment issued by a grand jury in Spalding County, Georgia. He and the other man arrested, 29-year-old Charles Montgomery, allegedly led a local Washington chapter of “Pagan’s 1-precenters,” a gang of bikers known for bombings, shootings, assaults and homicides. Both men were charged with aggravated assault, aggravated battery and violations of Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act, after they were apprehended by deputies from the Umatilla Sheriff’s Office, who called their arrests “the first step into a joint investigation” of the gang’s West Coast activities. Montgomery’s extradition status was not known, but Wendelin was on his way to Georgia, with a final courtroom shout-out to a fiancé he said he loved “more than life itself.”

West Virginia: Four years after the fatal 2017 beating of a prisoner at the U.S. Penitentiary in Hazelton, West Virginia (USP-Hazelton), Acting U.S. Attorney Randolph J. Bernard announced the indictment of another prisoner for the crime. As Pittsburgh TV station KDKA reported, 34-year-old Joenell L. Rice is charged with voluntary manslaughter and assault in the death of the other prisoner, identified as “D.G.” If convicted, Rice could face an additional prison term of up to 25 years on the charges. The estate of another prisoner killed at the penitentiary that same year, Khaalid Sharif Frederick, filed suit against the federal Bureau of Prisons in March 2020, alleging that staff negligence was ultimately responsible for his fatal stabbing. Three other convicted men were killed at USP-Hazelton in 2018, including its most famous prisoner, gangster informant James “Whitey” Bulger, who was murdered by fellow prisoners within hours of his arrival at the lockup. 

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