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News in Brief

Alabama: A former guard at the Mobile Metro Jail was scheduled to be arraigned on May 19, 2021, after being indicted for his role in an alleged scheme to smuggle cellphones into the Alabama lockup in exchange for bribes. According to a report by local TV station WALA, Taeric Montez Sims, 26, was fired after he was caught in the jail parking lot picking up a cellphone, charger and batteries from Shakera Annquell Richardson, 27, the wife of 29-year-old convicted murderer Darnell Davis, who allegedly used a cash app on the phone to pay Sims $500 for delivering it to him. The couple and Sims were all charged in the same indictment on April 23, 2021. All three face sentences up to 10 years for the felony crime of promoting prison contraband and bribery.

Alabama: As the effort to vaccinate Alabamians against COVID-19 stalled, and hospitalizations in the state soared 440 percent in the five weeks ended July 23, 2021, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) began offering prisoners a cash incentive to get inoculated. According to a report by, state prisoners who received the vaccine would get $5 in canteen credits to buy candy, snacks or personal hygiene supplies. ADOC spokeswoman Kristi Simpson said the same credit would be given to the state’s 11,000-plus prisoners who had already received their shots—less than half of ADOC’s approximately 24,000 prisoners. Meanwhile Gov. Kay Ivey (R) continued to resist incentivizing regular citizens to get vaccinated, even though just 33.9% of the state was fully inoculated on July 23, 2021, the nation’s lowest rate. At a news conference that day, she vented her frustration with “the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”

California: A prisoner found unresponsive in his cell at the Riverside County lockup in Southern California on July 21, 2021, died later that day, and his cellmate was arrested for killing him. According to a report by The, the housing area of the John Benoit Detention Center was secured as a crime scene after paramedics were unable to save 48-year-old John Hemmer. There was no mention of a motive or weapon for his fellow prisoner and suspected killer, 42-year-old Luke Hanchett, who has prior felony convictions in the county and is awaiting trial on a 2018 assault charge. Hemmer was in jail pending trial on felony kidnapping and assault charges stemming from a domestic disturbance with his girlfriend at a Desert Hot Springs RV park in 2019.

California: A pair of California prisoners and an outside accomplice were indicted on July 15, 2021, for fraudulently collecting over $270,000 in unemployment insurance compensation (UIC) during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by, California Correctional Institute prisoner Telvin Breaux, 29, along with 30-year-old Darryl Richmond, who is held at Kern Valley State Prison, were charged in the scheme, along with 39-year-old Holly White of Los Angeles. The trio allegedly used false addresses and employment information to claim over $1.4 million in benefits from the state Economic Development Department (EDD) between March and August 2020. EDD does not check UIC applicants against state prison records, an apparent gap in oversight that state Sen. Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) immediately filed legislation to fill. In January 2021, the Los Angeles Times reported that EDD had been hit with a total of $11 billion in fraudulent claims since the start of the pandemic, representing about 10 percent of the total paid. Another 17 percent of the total payments were under investigation.

Ecuador: Rebellions broke out at two of Ecuador’s largest prisons on July 22, 2021, leaving at least 18 prisoners dead, according to a report by al Jazeera. Eight prisoner deaths were reported at the jail in Guayas, near Guayaquil. Another ten died at the jail in Cotopaxi, south of Quito, where 35 prisoners and five police officers were reported injured. Another 45 prisoners who attempted to escape during the uprising were captured. The violence follows clashes between rival gangs at the two prisons and one other jail in February 2021 which left 79 dead and prompted the resignation of Interior Minister Patricio Pazmino. About 38,000 prisoners are held in the country’s prisons, which are plagued by overcrowding. A series of violent uprisings in 2019 led then-President Lenin Noreno to declare a state of emergency.

Florida: On August 10, 2021, a spat over alleged mistreatment of a mentally ill prisoner went public in Broward County, Florida, when Public Defender Gordon Weekes accused a deputy of Sheriff Gregory Tony of pouring bleach into a cell at the county’s special-needs lockup in Pompano Beach because he’d been spit on by a prisoner. But Tony told Miami TV station WSVN that he reviewed security camera footage from the July 26, 2021, incident and found the allegation against Deputy Paul Macintosh untrue. The sheriff refused to release the video, however. He also wouldn’t speculate on what sent the prisoner, 33-year-old Nathaniel Calhoun, to the hospital for a week afterward. But Tony said that Calhoun, who suffers from bi-polar disorder, “was throwing feces and urine in common areas as well as his cell,” so he was removed from his cell while it was cleaned. Weekes said Calhoun stripped himself naked to cover his face with his clothes in an attempt to breathe through the fumes before he passed out and was “taken to the hospital in grave condition.” According to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, the Broward State Attorney’s office is now investigating the matter.

Georgia: After pleading guilty to selling his cellmate a fatal overdose of illegal drugs, a Georgia man was convicted of distributing fentanyl and sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on July 27, 2021. According to a report by First Coast News, 36-year-old Joshua Swing of Kingsland had a record of past felony drug convictions in state court when he was booked into the Camden County Detention Facility on a weapons charge in May 2020. Five days later, his cellmate—identified as J.D.—was found unresponsive. He later died. An investigation by Sheriff’s deputies from both Camden County and Loundes County led to Swing, who confessed to selling J.D. the drugs that killed him. In addition to his prison term, Swing agreed to pay the victim’s family $12,919.52 in restitution for J.D.’s funeral expenses. When his sentence is completed in 2041—there is no parole in federal prison—Swing will also serve three years of supervised release.

Georgia: On July 23, 2021, a second former guard at the Coffee County Correctional Facility pleaded guilty to smuggling methamphetamine and marijuana into the Georgia lockup, which is operated by Tennessee-based private prison giant CoreCivic. The Valdosta Daily Times reported that 41-year-old Jessica Azealea Burnett joined Idalis Qua Dazia Harrell, 24, to await sentencing for the crime, which carries a maximum federal prison term of 20 years. They are part of a group of 48 people charged in a massive 57-count indictment handed down in January 2021 after federal agents uncovered a scheme run from inside the state prison system by members of the Gangster Disciples to smuggle drugs and other contraband to prisoners. As part of her plea deal, Burnett agreed to give up five firearms seized during the investigation, which began in 2018 when the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office Drug Unit responding to calls about increased crime in a Douglas neighborhood found several “trap houses” used to store methamphetamine and other illegal drugs. Agents with the FBI infiltrated the operation, seizing drugs weighing several kilograms in total, along with almost two-dozen illegal firearms, seven vehicles and over $12,000 in cash proceeds from drug trafficking.

Illinois: A former Juvenile Justice Specialist at the Illinois Youth Center (IYC) was sentenced to thirty months of probation on July 27, 2021, after she pleaded guilty to having sex with an unnamed 18-year-old prisoner, according to a report by Plano radio station WSPY. In exchange for her plea to official misconduct, 33-year-old Antoinette Perkins must also complete 100 hours of community service, and she is barred for life from government employment. She resigned from the Illinois Department of Corrections a month after the October 2020 incident. Because her job description said she was supposed “to ensure safety and well-being of youth” at IYC—many of whom come from backgrounds that include physical or sexual abuse—Kane County State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser said that Perkins’ crime was made worse because she violated that trust.

Indiana: On July 23, 2021, a guard at the White County Jail in Monticello, Indiana, was charged with felony counts of official misconduct and misdemeanor battery against two prisoners she repeatedly Tasered. According to a report by, Melanie Burns, 46, discharged her Taser in “drive stun” mode three times between April 21 and May 29, 2021, against two prisoners: Eric Maxson and Zachary Lovely, who was stunned twice. The “drive stun” setting is designed to inflict pain without incapacitating a suspect. In one stunning of Lovely, Burns and a kitchen staffer appeared to be “joking around” before she stunned him. In another, she was in the presence of fellow guard Nigel Turner, who did not stop her. While stunning Maxson, she was apparently aided by another fellow guard, Aiden Baker. Investigators reviewed jail surveillance camera footage of the three incidents, including the 37-second stun of Maxson that “brought him to his toes,” they noted.

Indiana: A prisoner at the Kosciusko County Jail in Warsaw, Indiana was sentenced to 40 years in prison on July 23, 2021 for giving his cellmate a fatal overdose of methamphetamine and heroin. According to a report by South Bend TV station WBND, Christopher Aaron Susaraba, 30, will get credit toward his 30-year sentence for dealing and trafficking for the 762 days he has spent in jail since March 9, 2019, when fellow prisoner Dennis McCrory, 39, was found unresponsive in the cell the two men shared. He later died. For being a habitual offender, Susaraba received an additional ten-year sentence to be served consecutive to the first one. He had been arrested on a warrant for failure to appear when investigators believe he extracted the drugs from a body cavity where he had secreted them and gave them to McCrory. Susaraba is also charged with providing a fatal overdose of fentanyl and heroin to another fellow prisoner at the lockup, 28-year-old Cody Woody, who died on Christmas Eve 2017. Yet another prisoner there, Alexander Traxler, is also charged in Woody’s death.

Maine: Two former police officers in Maine are headed to jail for a fatal beating—of porcupines. According to a report by CNN, fired Rockland Police Department officers Addison Cox and Michael Rolerson pleaded guilty to charges of animal cruelty and night hunting on July 15, 2021, receiving sentences of 90 and 270 days, respectively, for killing 11 of the animals. They must also pay fines, perform community service and undergo treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The two were in uniform and on duty when the incident occurred in June 2020. After it was brought to the attention of Police Chief Chris Young two months later, an investigation led to the officers’ firing and indictment. A third officer was placed on leave for filming the other two while they fatally bludgeoned the porcupines with their batons. Sagadahoc County District Attorney Natasha Irving said she fought for the PTSD treatment because “we want these guys to get the treatment they need.”

Maryland: A Maryland prisoner will proceed from a state lockup to a 63-month term in federal prison after being sentenced on August 5, 2021 for his role in a racketeering conspiracy that also snagged eight other defendants, including a state prison guard. According to a statement by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, the prisoner, 41-year-old Darnell “Hook” Smith, was incarcerated at Jessup Correctional Institution when he met former guard Chanel Pierce, 28, conspiring with her, two fellow prisoners and several outside facilitators to smuggle drugs into the prison in exchange for bribes paid in money that was then laundered. Pierce also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. The other two prisoners charged in the scheme, Page Boyd, 37, and Marshall “Boosie” Hill, 29, pleaded guilty, too, each receiving a four-year federal prison term. The outside facilitators include 38-year-old Satya Hall, the mother of Smith’s children, 37-year-old Trinesse Butts and Chaz Chriscoe. All three pleaded guilty and were sentenced to federal prison, as well. Six more defendants indicted in the scheme still face charges.

Missouri: A trio of detainees who allegedly attacked a guard and escaped the McDonald County Jail in Pineville, Missouri, were recaptured three days later on July 27, 2021. According to a report by the Kansas City Star, the three men—David Molina, 49; Carmelo Miguel Burgos, 27; and Shun’tavion Ladarrias Thomas, 23—left the unidentified guard with minor injuries when they escaped the jail 190 miles southwest of Kansas City. The guard is recovering. All three men now face charges of escape and assaulting an officer. Molina was being held on charges of attempted murder and shooting at a law enforcement officer. Burgos is also charged with attempted murder. Thomas is facing a second-degree murder charge.

New Jersey: A New Jersey jail guard busted for “skip scanning” $1,320.90 in merchandise from multiple retailers—while wearing her work uniform—pleaded guilty to shoplifting on July 27, 2021. According to a report by Trenton radio station WKXW, Suzanne Simmons, 53, had worked at the Monmouth County Jail for 22 years when she admitted stealing the goods by scanning and paying for cheaper items during self-checkout at local Target and Home Depot stores. She has been suspended from her job and banned from both stores, and she may not hold public office in the state. At her sentencing on September 24, 2021, she is expected to receive a probated sentence, provided she agrees to pay restitution to the stores in the amount of her theft.

New Jersey: An assistant warden with the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was arrested on August 2, 2021, after allegedly shooting and killing her husband in the driveway of their home in Jackson, New Jersey. According to a report by the Asbury Park Press, 44-year-old Antonia Ashford is charged with the murder of her husband, Roderick, who also took a job with BOP on May 23, 2021, as a drug-treatment specialist at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Fort Dix. Ashford began her BOP career in 2003 and in December 2020 became assistant warden at Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York—the same facility holding famous people like R. Kelly, the R&B singer charged with sexual assault and racketeering, and Gislaine Maxwell, accused along with now-deceased Jeffrey Epstein of sex trafficking minors. Before moving to the 1,416-bed prison in New York, Antonia Ashford worked at the minimum-security FCI in Oakdale, Louisiana.

New York: Nine New York City Department of Correction (NYCDOC) employees were arrested on May 26, 2021, charged with smuggling contraband to prisoners in exchange for bribes totaling over $87,000. According to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the nine are: Manhattan Detention Center (MDC) guards Miguel Compres, 35, Temaine Pelzer, 45, and Brian Harrell, 60; Rikers Island guards Dariel Diaz, 33, Rashawn Assanah, 25, Robert Balducci, 33, and Jonathan Garrett, 32; Rikers Island counselor Tameka Lewis, 41; and NYCDOC exterminator Jasmine Reed, 34. They are accused of smuggling drugs including “K2” synthetic cannabinoids, marijuana and methamphetamine, as well as alcohol, cigarettes, razor blades and cellphones. The three MDC guards allegedly took $20,500 in total bribes between August 2019 and August 2020. The four Rikers Island guards are accused of accepting $25,500 in total bribes between March 2020 and February 2021. Lewis allegedly over $40,000 in bribes between June 2019 and September 2020. Reed is accused of taking bribes in an unspecified amount between September and December 2019.

North Carolina: A prisoner who assaulted a guard in a North Carolina jail with a homemade shank was sentenced on July 21, 2021, to 17 years in a federal penitentiary, according to a report by U.S. News. Troy Lamont Powell, 32, was being held on federal drug and weapons charges for the US Marshals Service in a contracted cell at the Franklin County Detention Center in Louisburg when he attacked the unidentified guard—who was offering Powell a tissue—on December 30, 2019. Powell continued to threaten guards until he was transferred to a new lockup. He pleaded guilty to the assault charge in April 2021.

North Carolina: After prisoners at the Forsyth County Jail in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, staged a protest on August 5, 2021, officials turned off the water, waited for the disturbance to die down and then returned to normal operations. That’s what Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Christina Howell told the Winston-Salem Journal. But the paper also reported from a prisoner that the water was actually off for most of three days beginning August 4, 2021, while guards stopped visitation and put some areas on lockdown as they searched for the source of contraband drugs. Another prisoner’s relative, Alisha Nelson, corroborated much of that story. While Howell said that the water was turned off because prisoners in six housing units clogged drains to intentionally flood their cells as part of their protest of unspecified “restrictions,” she promised that the water was turned back on at regular intervals to allow for washing and toilet-flushing. Nelson said that mail had also been seized from many prisoners in guards’ attempts to trace the source of “K-2” synthetic cannabinoids found in the jail.

Ohio: A riot broke out on August 7, 2021, at the Cuyahoga County juvenile detention center in Cleveland. According to a report by Ideastream Public Media, the disturbance—during which ceiling tiles, windows, a TV, and the fire sprinkler system were vandalized—resulted in the detention of 125 juveniles on the second shift and 126 on the third shift overnight before Sheriff’s deputies arrived and brought the situation under control early the next morning. None of the juvenile residents was injured. One staff member was hurt in a fall during the rush to respond to the uprising. A 2018 report by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Children’s Law and Policy documented problems at the facility that included a lack of activities and overly long confinements, as well as understaffing. Though staffing levels during the disturbance did not fall so low as to violate Ohio law, the ratio of detainees to staff exceeded the maximums prescribed by the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Oklahoma: After a fight broke out between prisoners in a western Oklahoma lockup on June 5, 2021, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) put all of its prisons on lockdown. According to a report by the Associated Press, the restrictions were lifted the next day at all state prisons except North Fork Correctional Center (NFCC), where an apparently random attack by one prisoner on six others sent several of them to a local hospital with stab wounds. None of the injuries was life-threatening and no ODOC staff members were harmed. The Claremore Progress reported that ODOC suffers chronic understaffing, especially at NFCC, which at times has operated with just 20 guards for over 2,500 prisoners.

Pennsylvania: A guard at the Bucks County Jail outside Philadelphia was arrested on July 20, 2021 for smuggling drugs into the facility. According to a report by, the county detectives’ Drug Strike Task Force picked up Anthony Louis Miller, 28, after learning from a confidential informant that the guard had agreed to smuggle 100 Suboxone strips into the jail in exchange for a $5,000 bribe, which was to be paid in two equal installments. Miller was then found with $2,500 in cash in his pocket and 88 Suboxone strips in his work duty belt. He was arraigned on charges of smuggling contraband controlled substances and placed in the Montgomery County Correctional Facility with a bail set at $150,000.

Pennsylvania: Three prisoners were arraigned on July 22, 2021, on charges they made false accusations of sexual assault against a guard at the Westmoreland County Prison in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. According to a report by the Westmoreland Tribune, a complaint was made under the Prison Rape Elimination Act by prisoners Joshua James Robison, 25; Nicholas John Grindle, 34; and Paul Andrew Pierce, 37. They accused the unidentified guard of sexually assaulting Grindle. A confidential informant then told prison officials their story was fabricated to retaliate for the guard’s being “a bit cantankerous.” In fact, Grindle was charged with threatening to sexually assault a female guard and sentenced on July 21, 2021, to a prison term of five to 12 months. Robison remains in jail on a $30,000 bond. Pierce, who was being held at the time on two assault charges, was sentenced in May and is no longer at the jail.

Pennsylvania: A guard at Pennsylvania prison privately operated by the Florida-based GEO Group was arrested on August 3, 2021, after she allegedly smuggled drugs into the prison. According to a report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, 49-year-old Shahonda Groves is charged with bringing Suboxone strips to work with her at the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Delaware County. The drugs were found in a prisoner’s cell on July 29, 2021, leading to the investigation that resulted in Groves’ arrest. She was observed on surveillance video from a nearby fast-food eatery accepting contraband—while in uniform—from a friend of the prisoner, neither of whom was named. Groves is charged with making such pickups five times between March 2020 and her arrest, either at a local McDonald’s restaurant or at a nearby Wawa gas station. The GEO Group, the country’s largest private prison operator with 2020 revenues of $2.35 billion, promised to work with the county’s district attorney, Jack Stollsteimer, “to eliminate the introduction of contraband” into the prison, which held 1,372 people in June 2021, according to the warden’s report to the county’s jail oversight board.

Pennsylvania: A self-described ISIS fighter was indicted on August 12, 2021, charged with attempted murder for knifing a prison guard and gouging out his eye at the federal penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. According to a report by PennLive, the 51-year-old guard, Dale Franquet, Jr., lost the eye and barely missed being killed when a 14-inch metal shank was shoved into his skull on December 7, 2020, by Kuwait-born Abdulrahman el Bahnasawy. The 23-year-old is serving a 40-year-sentence for plotting to bomb the New York City subway and Times Square in 2016. A Canadian citizen with documented mental health issues, he is now at a maximum security federal prison in Colorado. Because a second guard was also injured in the attack, his indictment lists two charges. Franquet has not returned to work for the federal Bureau of Prisons, but he has recovered sufficiently to resume his head wrestling coach position at Midd-West High School in Middleburg.

South Dakota: After anonymous complaints of sexual assault and nepotism at the South Dakota State Penitentiary (SDSP), Gov. Kristi Noem (R) placed prison warden Darin Young on leave, along with the state’s Secretary of Corrections, Mike Leidholt. According to a report by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, it was unknown whether the two men remained on the state payroll. The state’s Bureau of Human Resources opened an internal review of its Department of Corrections (SDDOC) in response to allegations that promotions were based not on merit but on kinship and “sycophancy,” as well as describing a workplace culture in which supervisors have “taken advantage of their position by attempting to persuade employees sexually.” Meanwhile Noem has tapped SDDOC’s retired Deputy Secretary, Tim Reisch, to helm the agency. Current SDDOC Deputy Secretary Doug Clark will serve as acting warden at SDSP.

Sweden: For a few slices of pizza, a Swedish high-security prison lifted a lockdown on July 22, 2021, which had been put into place when a pair of prisoners took two guards hostage. According to a report by, the prisoners—Haned Mahamed Abdullahi, 24, and Isak Dewit, 30—were armed with razor blades when they broke into a guard room at Hallby prison, west of Stockholm, and locked themselves inside with two unidentified guards. After the prison went on lockdown, a mediator arrived, from whom the two prisoners demanded a helicopter before eventually negotiating to accept pizzas for themselves and their fellow prisoners. The ordeal ended nine hours after it had begun with the delivery of the pizzas and the arrest of both prisoners. They were taken to local authorities for further questioning.

Tennessee: A Nashville jail formerly run by private prison giant CoreCivic was taken out of mothballs on July 19, 2021, to quarantine residents of a homeless shelter who tested positive for COVID-19. According to a report by local TV station WTVF, the Nashville Rescue Mission lacked space to house 40 to 60 people displaced by the quarantine, and the city’s earlier quarantine zone at the local fairgrounds had been closed. But the decision to use the Metro Detention Facility (MDF), now run by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, was criticized by Brian Haile, CEO of Neighborhood Health, a nonprofit that assisted the Metro Public Health Department (MPHD) in conducting the testing. He wondered why those displaced were not sent to motels—the cost of which the federal government would reimburse to MPHD—especially since the sight of cell bars “is triggering for a lot of folks who have a history of psychiatric illness.” MDF closed in October 2020 when CoreCivic declined to renew its 30-year management contract. On July 28, 2021, the Nashville Tennesseean reported that Davidson County’s rate of COVID-19 infections had nearly tripled over the previous two weeks to more than 102 new cases per 100,000 residents.

Virginia: A former GOP donor convicted of sexually molesting a pair of children was killed by a fellow prisoner at the Virginia Department of Corrections’ (VDOC) Lawrenceville Correctional Center on August 3, 2021. According to a report by Law & Crime, 63-year-old Mark A. Grethen was serving a 26-year sentence received after entering into a plea deal for his crimes in 2001. The following year, apparently in recognition of his donations, he was named Republican of the Year by the National Republican Congressional Committee—until the group got wind of the Suffolk businessman’s conviction and rescinded the honor. Grethen’s alleged assailant was not named, but VDOC said the man is serving a 22-year sentence for robbery and other crimes at the 1,555-bed prison, which is run by the GEO Group, Inc., of Florida, and is the only privately operated prison in the state.

Virginia: At 8 a.m. on August 11, 2021, twelve hours after prisoners “essentially took control” of a cell block at Virginia’s Lynchburg Adult Detention Center, local police reported the situation had “concluded” with the men’s relocation. The 48-bed maximum security cell block, which held 66 prisoners at the time of the uprising, was left heavily damaged, prison authorities said. Despite chronic short-staffing at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority, Administrator Joshua Salmon refused to speculate on a cause for the short-lived rebellion, which began when prisoners forced guards out of the cell block around 8 p.m. local time on August 10, 2021. The damaged cell block, he added, would be out of commission for some time.

Washington: Two prisoner brawls erupted on consecutive days, July 21 and 22, 2021, at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. According to a report by Pasco TV station KEPR, the first melee involved 18 prisoners, and it was stopped when a guard fired a warning shot. Five prisoners were then transported to a hospital for treatment of injuries sustained in the fight. The fracas the next day was larger, involving 39 prisoners in a different housing unit. Four of them were later transported to a hospital with lacerations. Four of the penitentiary’s twelve housing units were then placed on lockdown. The entire complex holds approximately 2,000 prisoners. 

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