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News in Brief

Alabama: According to Birmingham Real-Time News, a kidnapper was recaptured after being erroneously released from jail in Jefferson County, Alabama, on December 17, 2021. The prisoner, Matthew Burke, 35, was apprehended during a traffic stop after being released from the Jefferson County Jail on Dec. 11 due to paperwork confusion. The Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Taskforce (GCRFT) is said to have worked expeditiously after Burke’s release to apprehend the fugitive, who had dyed his hair blonde and shaved his facial hair. He had been serving time for the 2020 kidnapping of Birmingham businessman Elton B. Stephens. Burke and a co-felon, Tabitha Hodges, held Stephens against his will for eight hours after breaking into his house, cooking his food and joyriding in his car with Hodges’ adolescent children in tow. They released him after being wired $250,000. Burke is said not to have resisted when re-arrested in December and was subsequently moved to Shelby County Jail. He now faces up to five more years on his sentence for the escape, on top of the 17 years of his original sentence.

Alabama: An Alabama state prison guard was booked into the Jefferson County Jail on December 9, 2021, after being charged with smuggling drugs into work with him at William Donaldson Correctional Facility (WDCF), in Jefferson County, Alabama. According to Birmingham Real-Time News, the guard, Trevonterrious Randall, 27, was charged with felonies including possession of a controlled substance, conspiracy to possess marijuana, promoting prison contraband, and use of his position for personal gain, after an investigation into his conduct was performed by the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC). According to DOC, the investigation into Randall is ongoing and his employment at WDCF has been terminated. He was released on $35,000 bond.

Arkansas: On Christmas Eve, 2021, two prisoners at the Sebastian County Jail (SCJ) in Fort Smith, Arkansas, escaped by rappelling down the outside of the facility using a water hose. According to the Laredo Morning Times, the prisoners, Jeremiah Slavens, 39, and Dustin Smith, 36, escaped on the night of December 24, 2021. Slavens was recaptured later that night, while Smith was recaptured on Christmas Day, having crossed the border into Oklahoma. The pair had escaped by climbing through the ceiling of a housing pod and making their way to the roof, where they found a watering hose that they used to aid in their descent. Smith was being held at SCJ on charges of parole violation, possessing a firearm as a felon, and theft and possession of drug paraphernalia. Slavens was being held on charges of theft, possession of drug paraphernalia, and failing to appear in court. According to Sebastian County Sheriff Hobe Runion, the escape was made possible by staff failures and policy violations, and he promised that there would be discipline administered for the failure.

Arkansas: On October 21, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that a former private prison transport guard had been sentenced by a federal judge for sexually assaulting two women under his supervision and also possessing a firearm in connection with one of those assaults. The man, Eric Scott Kindley, 53, was sentenced in Little Rock after being convicted on counts of sexually assaulting two female prisoners, one in 2014 and another in 2017. He was convicted on March 12, 2020, on all counts he was charged with. Kindley ran a private prison transportation company and transported female prisoners alone on trips ranging hundreds of miles. Though he was charged with two assaults in the jurisdiction of the Eastern District of Arkansas, a total of six women from multiple states testified during the trial that Kindley had transported them alone through isolated areas while they were handcuffed and shackled, and that he threatened their lives, made inappropriate and depraved comments with increasing severity, and in some cases sexually assaulted them. Kindley is set to serve life in prison plus five years.

Arizona: According to The Arizona Republic, a prisoner convicted of murder was found dead in his cell at the state prison in Florence, on December 29, 2021. The prisoner, Kenneth Thompson, was convicted of killing his sister-in-law and her boyfriend, having travelled from Missouri to Arizona to commit the crime. He murdered the pair with a hatchet and a knife before pouring acid on their bodies and burning their home down. Thompson’s defense team used his affiliation with the Church of Scientology as part of his defense. They did not dispute during the trial, held in 2012, that Thompson had committed the acts, but instead that his scientology beliefs were the justification. They claimed his motive was to protect the children of his sister-in-law from the psychologist she was sending them to, since Scientology preaches that the practice of psychology is an evil scam. His death is now under investigation as a homicide, and two prisoner suspects are reported to have been identified by investigators.

California: On December 7, 2021, a jail guard in Kern County, California, was sentenced to 180 days in jail for sexual misconduct with prisoners. According to The Bakersfield Californian, the guard, Brandon Lawrence, 21, was convicted of sexually assaulting detainees and was given terms for his probation in which he is required to find psychiatric care, is barred from voluntarily entering a detention facility, is not permitted to contact any of his victims for 10 years and is required to pay them restitution. Lawrence’s crimes took place at the Lerdo Pre-Trial Facility, where he was working at the time. Deputy District Attorney Ken Russell has gone on record as disagreeing with the final sentencing, saying, “He took advantage of that position of trust to victimize people. It was very coercive in nature.”

Florida: According to WFTV-9, a news station in Orlando, a former federal prison guard in Sumter County, Florida, is now a federal prisoner, after being convicted for his role in a scheme to smuggle contraband into the prison where he was employed. The guard, Wayne Grant, Jr., 28, pleaded guilty to receiving a bribe in September 2021 and was sentenced in December 2021. Grant was caught when an undercover operation was launched by federal authorities. They found that he had begun taking bribes in December 2020 in exchange for helping a prisoner smuggle methamphetamine into the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex, where he was working. Grant was found by investigators to be picking up the drug from his post office box, depositing the money into his bank account, and was even spotted in the act of giving the prisoner the drugs and smuggling paraphernalia into the facility. The federal judge in the case sentenced Grant to 20 months and two years of supervised release.

Georgia: According to the Augusta Press, the Georgia city saw a slew of prison guard firings and arrests in late 2021 in connection with a widespread contraband scheme. First, former guard Keyera Barnes, 32, was arrested on September 26, 2021, and charged with felonies related to the smuggling of contraband, including methamphetamines, into the Augusta State Medical Prison, where she was employed at the time. Barnes was indicted on December 14, 2021. She was sent to another lockup at which contraband was also a major issue. Within days five more guards at were fired and arrested for smuggling contraband into that facility, the Charles B. Webster Detention Facility. All five guards, Davion Deboskie, Jaquan Tyreez German, Hunter L. Piper, Gabriella Onyaa Anthony and Jackie Jamal Campbell, were caught during an investigation carried out by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation identified shanks, clubs, cellphones, a phone charger, pills, and drugs, including marijuana and methamphetamine as the smuggled contraband.

Illinois: A guard at the Peoria County Jail in Illinois died of COVID-19 on December 5, 2021. According to ABC-7, a news station in Chicago, the guard, Cameron “Cam” Passie, 25, died within days of being sent home from the jail where he worked. Passie’s infection with the virus and subsequent death were connected to a large outbreak of the coronavirus at the facility where he was employed. The jail was placed on outbreak status after guards and prisoners tested positive. Passie was publicly mourned by Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell, who said that “Heaven has gained a team member.”

Illinois: According to Law & Crime, two white supremacists serving sentences at a federal prison in northern Illinois were indicted for the murder of a prison guard they believed to be Jewish. The two prisoners, Brandon C. “Whitey” Sominson, 37, and Kristopher S. “No Luck” Martin, 39, were indicted on December 7, 2021, on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, second degree murder, assault, and committing a hate crime. The pair brutally beat guard Matthew Philips, 31, to death on March 2, 2020, because they believed he was Jewish. According to the indictment, the pair are affiliated with a white supremacist group called the Valhalla Bound Skinheads. The U.S. Attorney in the case, John R. Lausch Jr., said the two prisoners had taunted Philips for his race and religion before murdering him. He also said that they “espoused white supremacist views and possessed various Nazi memorabilia…” If they are convicted, they face life in prison.

Iowa: In late December 2021, a jail guard was charged with aiding a prisoner in escaping the facility where she was employed in Fort Dodge, Kansas. KCCI, a news channel in Des Moines, reported that the guard, Michelle Valenti, 30, helped prisoner Jordan Mefferd, 43, escape from the Webster County Jail. Authorities discovered that Mefferd had escaped on December 12, 2021, and after searching and engaging in a vehicle pursuit, they recaptured the prisoner. Upon further investigation authorities found that Valenti was involved in allowing Mefferd to escape and was charged with that crime, as well as introducing electronic contraband, introducing contraband cell phones, furnishing a controlled substance, and sexual misconduct with offenders. Sheriff Luke Fleener has indicated that the investigation is ongoing. Valenti is no longer an employee of the facility and is being held in the Webster County Jail on a bond of $22,000.

Israel: According to The Times of Israel, state prosecutors ordered the reopening of an investigation into claims of pimping at Gilboa Prison in northern Israel on December 14, 2021. Police were ordered by prosecutors to re-open the case, which alleges that female guards at the prison were “pimped out” to Palestinian prisoners being held on terrorism charges. The case was originally opened after female guards alleged in 2018 that they had been forced to get in close contact with the prisoners and were used as “sexual bargaining chips.” They said that as a result they had been harassed and assaulted. However, the initial case was closed due to a reported lack of evidence to substantiate the accusations. Then, in mid-December 2021, the State Attorney’s office announced that the case would be reopened after the facility’s warden came forward alleging that female guards had indeed been used as sexual bargaining chips to keep prisoners in line. One guard who came forward explained a scenario in which she was ordered to escort a prisoner around the facility. This prisoner, she says, sexually assaulted her while she led him, and her superiors ignored it in exchange for him using his sway with other prisoners to keep the population calm for guards.

Kentucky: A Central City, Kentucky, prison guard was arrested on December 29, 2021, and charged with sexually assaulting another man he was guarding, according to reporting from the Louisville Courier Journal. The guard, Irvin D. Ware, of the Green River Correctional Complex (GRCC), was charged with third-degree sodomy after an investigation by the Kentucky State Police. GRCC, a facility used to hold adult men, with a capacity of 982, was reported to hold about 400 as of early December. Ware has been taken to Muhlenberg County Detention Center for holding. The investigation into the matter is ongoing.

Maryland: As of January 3, 2022, almost 30 prisoners in Baltimore were dealing with the effects of smoke inhalation from a fire that blazed at the Baltimore City Jail, according to The U.S. Sun. As a result of the incident, 28 people required treatment for injuries they sustained, including one guard and three prisoners who were taken to a hospital for treatment. The facility, which holds more than 500 people awaiting their trials, went up in flames after a mattress caught fire on the fifth floor around 8 p.m. on January 2. The incident commander responding to the fire reached out to the Maryland Department of Emergency Management for help in managing the incident. Because local hospitals were nearly full of COVID-19 patients, first responders decided to treat the majority of the victims on location.

Michigan: On December 11, 2021, a prisoner in Muskegon County, Michigan, was found dead in his cell. According to MLive, the prisoner, Marleon Danell Johnson, 32, was being held at Muskegon County Jail on an outstanding warrant for carrying a concealed weapon when he was found unresponsive at 4:30 in the morning. After failing to respond to CPR administered by guards and medical personnel, Johnson was declared dead at 5:18 a.m. Four days later, in the Saginaw County Jail, another prisoner was found dead in his cell. At 1:00 in the morning on December 15, 2021, the prisoner, Joshua A. Aldrich, was found unresponsive. Responding personnel performed lifesaving treatment on Aldrich, but after failing to respond to the treatment, Aldrich was also declared dead at 1:45 a.m. According to logs at the jail he had arrived at the facility less than six hours earlier. He had been living with a warrant out for his arrest since he was charged in March 2021 with armed robbery and violating the terms of his probation in relation to two counts of assault. The cause of neither death has been reported.

Michigan: A prisoner and a jail worker were both charged in connection with a contraband smuggling scheme in Detroit in late November 2021. According to Local 4 News, the jail worker, Ashton McDougal, 28, and the prisoner, Dawaun McQueen, 25, both were found by authorities to have taken part in a scheme that brought an influx of drugs, cigarettes, and cellphones into the Wayne County Jail. McDougal was caught on November 29, 2021, entering the jail for her shift with 24 grams of marijuana on her. Police say that she was selling the contraband to multiple prisoners, two of whom have since been moved to a high security facility. She is said to have charged $500 for marijuana and $1,000 for a cellphone. McQueen, who is serving time at the jail on charges of assault and intent to murder, is said to have received a phone from McDougal. McDougal has admitted she smuggled marijuana and cellphones but denies that she smuggled in the fentanyl that has since been found in the facility as well. The investigation is ongoing.

Missouri: A federal prisoner pleaded guilty on December 17, 2021, to taking part in a massive methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. According to his plea deal, the prisoner, Tarik Mazhar, who was serving time for armed bank robbery at the federal Bureau of Prisons’ Great Plains Correctional Institution (GPCI) in Hinton, Oklahoma, worked with a co-defendant “and other persons” in Franklin County, Missouri, to acquire and distribute methamphetamine at GPCI between January 1, 2019, and July 29, 2020. Mazhar was caught during an investigation by federal agents while unknowingly working with an undercover police officer between June 24, 2020, and July 29, 2020, to arrange a deal to purchase $120,000 worth of methamphetamines. Mazhar’s guilty plea was accepted by District Court Judge Matthew T. Schelp. He is set to be sentenced on March 18, 2022. The maximum sentences for the crimes Mazhar has pleaded guilty to are potentially life in prison and a $10 million fine. He will also be required to complete 10 years of supervised release after his prison term.

New Hampshire: According to the Concord Monitor, two prisoners in Manchester, New Hampshire, died in custody in early November 2021. Prisoner Randy Hall, 48, who was being held at Walley Street Jail, reportedly did not have COVID-19, though there was then an outbreak of the disease at the facility. The cause of his death remains unclear. He died on November 9, 2021, just six days after being admitted to the jail. Another unidentified prisoner held at New Hampshire Men’s Prison in Concord also died on the same day. The New Hampshire Department of Corrections announced that there is an ongoing investigation into the cause of his passing, but it said that no more information would be released before the family was informed and an autopsy performed.

New Jersey: A former prison guard at an all-women’s prison in Union Township, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to having sexual contact with a prisoner there. The guard, Ronald Coleman, 43, pleaded guilty on December 16, 2021, to a count of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact. Coleman is said to have inappropriately touched a prisoner while working at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility. He had both disciplinary and supervisory power over her at the time of the incident. The terms of his plea agreement stipulate that Coleman, a resident of Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania, will forfeit his pension, will no longer be allowed employment by the State of New Jersey, and will be required to go through a psychosexual evaluation. His sentencing was scheduled for January 28, 2022.

New York: Beginning on January 7, 2022, a prisoner at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex was allegedly beaten “for days” by fellow prisoners while a guard ignored his cries for help. According to local TV station WPIX, the prisoner, Tyrefe Kelly, identified himself as a gang member from a hospital bed and said his attackers were members of a rival gang. “They beat me. They spread my legs apart, they kicked me in my testicles, they kicked in my rectum,” he said. “I went unconscious. When I finally came to and woke up, I didn’t have no eyebrows. I didn’t have no hair. I could barely breathe.” As for the guard, Kelly said that he “was trying to flag him down and he just put two manila envelopes on the bubble and went back to sleep.” As reported on the cover of this issue of PLN, there is an understaffing problem at Rikers Island, but it is mainly due to guards taking advantage of union-negotiated leave and reassignments to less dangerous positions.

North Carolina: A prison guard in Lincolnton, North Carolina, was charged with engaging in sexual activity with a prisoner on December 13, 2021. According to WCNC, a news channel in Charlotte, the guard, Ashley Danielle Hubbard, 26, admitted to the inappropriate conduct after the sheriff’s office received a report on the matter on November 2, 2021, saying that she had a relationship with the prisoner and engaged in sexual activity with him. After an investigation, Hubbard, who had been working at Lincoln Correctional Center, was arrested and subsequently presented to a magistrate of Lincoln County. She was then put under bond for $2,500 and taken to Harven A. Crouse Detention Center.

Pennsylvania: Two prison guards in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, were fired on December 16, 2021, for sleeping on the job. According to Penn Live Patriot News, the two guards, who were not identified, were caught on camera sleeping when they were supposed to be guarding a prisoner at a Harrisburg hospital on December 3, 2021. The prisoner did not escape, but the incident took place just days after another pair of guards resigned under pressure following another prisoner’s escape from the same hospital. The prisoner in that case was subsequently recaptured and charged with new crimes. The two incidents have resulted in a number of reforms, including frequent procedure spot-checks by supervising guards at hospitals, restructuring of transport units to permit only vetted guards to supervise prisoners in transit, and new staff training on transporting prisoners scheduled for January 2022.

Pennsylvania: A federal prisoner was convicted of possessing a weapon while in prison on December 16, 2021, at the U.S. Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. According to the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the prisoner, Hugo Reynosa, 26, was found guilty on charges that he possessed a weapon while serving time in May 2020. Reynosa was caught on May 12, 2020, when guards at the facility conducted a mass search of the cellblock where he was being held. One of the guards spotted Reynosa exit his cell with other prisoners, but instead of coming out with nothing in his possession as instructed, Reynosa brought a bag with him and threw it in a trash can. Upon retrieving the bag, a guard found a metal shank inside. The maximum penalty for this offense is five years time served, three years supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.

Pennsylvania: A federal prison guard will be serving a decade in prison after being sentenced on December 14, 2021, for attempting to solicit sex from a minor near Kingston, Pennsylvania. According to Law & Crime, the guard, Earnest Lee Pittman, 46, was arrested in August 2020 after he was caught by an undercover detective posing as a 15-year-old girl. Pittman is said to have attempted to lure the detective, who he believed to be the minor, into a sexual relationship, asking for the “girl’s” private email address and requesting nude pictures. Pittman was arrested when he tried to organize a meeting between himself and what he believed to be the 15-year-old. During the arrest authorities found in his possession two guns, his Bureau of Prisons (BOP) credentials and his BOP-issued stab-proof vest. He was subsequently charged with multiple counts of unlawful contact with a minor and formally indicted and charged with child enticement by a grand jury on September 1, 2020. After initially pleading not guilty, Pittman entered into a plea agreement in January 2021 and formally pleaded guilty in May that same year.

Texas: According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, a former prison guard at a juvenile detention center near Waco sought a deferred probation after she was found to have had a sexual relationship with a former youth offender. The guard, Tori Renee Landmesser, 27, pleaded guilty to having an improper sexual relationship with a teenaged male who was a former detainee at the facility where she was employed, and where he had once been held. She was recommended for a $500 dollar fine and two years of deferred probation by a prosecutor with the Texas Special Prosecution Unit, which is charged with prosecuting crimes committed at state correctional facilities. Landmesser and the former prisoner had met while he was being held at the Texas Juvenile Justice Department facility located in Mart, Texas, before he was released on parole in February 2020. Their relationship is said to have started after that. Though the former prisoner was 18 at the time, he was still under juvenile supervision, so Landmesser was breaking the law. She was caught after the prisoner was rearrested for a carjacking in Houston, and his mother told authorities about the relationship.

Vermont: According to My Champlain Valley, Vermont State Police are investigating the New Year’s Day 2022 death of a prisoner at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport. The prisoner, Michael Cornell, 34, is said to have been in need of medical attention around noon on January 1, 2022. Guards and EMS reportedly gave him first aid until he was transported to North Country Hospital, where he died shortly after 1 p.m. The cause of death is unknown, but the Chief Medical Examiner is set to perform an autopsy, and toxicology tests will also be administered. So far, investigators say they do not see the death of Cornell as suspicious.

Virginia: A prisoner and his visitor at the U.S. Penitentiary in Jonesville, Virginia, pleaded guilty to introducing the opioid buprenorphine at the facility in early December 2021. According to the Augusta Free Press, the prisoner, Michael Selvidge, 37, and his visitor, Deborah Townsend, 36, were both charged with possession of a prohibited object and possession with intent to distribute buprenorphine. Selvidge was also charged with conspiracy to provide a prisoner with a prohibited object. Buprenorphine is a Schedule III narcotic. The FBI is conducting an investigation into the matter.

Wyoming: A former prison guard in Campbell County, Wyoming, was charged in mid-November 2021 with having sex with a prisoner. According to County17, the guard, Sean Isaac Allen, 30, who is also a U.S. Army reservist, is said to have had sex multiple times from May through July of 2021 with a person who was then being held in state prison. He has now been charged with two counts of second-degree sexual assault and one count of third-degree sexual assault. The investigation into the matter was carried out by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation after a female prisoner came forward alleging a guard had sexual intercourse with one of her fellow prisoners. The investigation subsequently found that Allen and the prisoner had spent a great deal of time together alone in her cell, and that they had been openly flirtatious. Allen is said to have snuck into the prisoner’s cell in May and coerced her into having sex, initiating the string of illicit liaisons. He faces between two and 20 years in prison, according to sentencing guidelines. 

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