News in Brief
Alabama: On November 17, 2021, a former Alabama state prison guard was sentenced in federal court in Birmingham to 87 months in prison. As reported by the Birmingham News, a search found the guard, Gary Charles Dixon, Jr., 36, with 497 grams of methamphetamine when he showed up to work in November 2020 at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer. According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama, Dixon pleaded guilty in July 2021 to possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in a state prison.
Alaska: The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Alaska announced that a state prison guard in Wasilla pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy charges on November 23, 2021. The guard, Angela Lincoln, 43, had been employed by the state Department of Corrections (DOC) since 2014 at Goose Creek Correctional Center (GCCC), where between 2019 and 2020 she smuggled contraband to a prisoner serving a 100-year sentence in the facility in exchange for bribes ranging into the tens of thousands of dollars. GCCC is an all-male prison housing about 1,300 prisoners and staffed by about 333 DOC employees. Lincoln was found to have smuggled items such as Suboxone strips and cell phones to the unnamed prisoner, who would then distribute the contraband to other prisoners and arrange through associates outside of the prison, including family members, to have Lincoln paid. The payments came from laundered funds in the form of cash hidden in items such as bottles and stuffed animals. Lincoln concealed the scheme during a first interview with the FBI. When sentenced she faces up to 15 years in prison.
California: A federal prison guard in Los Angeles pleaded guilty on November 10, 2021, to having a sexual relationship with a prisoner and then lying about it during a subsequent investigation. According to a report by the California News Times, the guard, 53-year-old Abel Concho, knowingly broke both the law and federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policy in pursuing a sexual relationship with the unidentified prisoner at BOP’s Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown L.A. Prosecutors added that Concho made multiple misleading or outright false statements about his activities when questioned, including denials and downplays. Besides having sex with the prisoner numerous times, he smuggled in a phone for the prisoner to send him nude photos. Concho faces up to five years in prison upon sentencing. In his plea agreement he promised not to seek employment again where law enforcement and possession of a firearm are necessary, as well as to complete 100 hours of community service and pay the victim $9,500 in restitution.
California: On November 9, 2021, a guard at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) was charged with attempting to smuggle methamphetamine into the Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A. According to a report by local TV station KTLA, the guard, a 42-year-old jail custody assistant identified as Jose Flores, was caught in the parking lot of the jail with more than 100 grams of methamphetamine in November 2018. He faces a felony count of attempted smuggling of an illegal substance into a jail and a felony count of transportation of a controlled substance. It is not yet known why the charges took so long to be filed, but an investigation is currently underway by LASD. Flores’ arraignment is set for March 8, 2022.
California: On December 3, 2021, San Joaquin County Jail guard Alex Tafoya was charged with multiple counts of assault and fraud for allegedly forcing himself on prisoners, through both penetration and oral copulation. That’s the same lockup where another former guard, 34-year-old Zachary Simmons, raped and sexually assaulted multiple female prisoners between 2015 and 2018, receiving an eight-year prison term in October 2021.
California: On December 2, 2021, a now-former state prison guard in Chowchilla, California, who is accused of soliciting sex from a minor, was allowed to resign rather than be fired. According to the Sacramento Bee, the unidentified 39-year-old guard was caught in an August 2020 sting exchanging lewd messages with someone on an adult dating app he believed to be 16, but who was really an undercover investigator posing as the minor. Even after the investigator informed the guard he was sexting with someone underage, the guard continued. After months of this, the guard arranged to meet the minor and was arrested—bearing condoms—by police. Dismissed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the guard appealed, and in a subsequent State Personnel Board hearing, CDCR chose to settle and allow him to resign, leaving him able to apply for law enforcement jobs in the future. It is the latest in a number of “sentinel case” reports in which CDCR is said to have applied uneven discipline toward guards.
District of Columbia: In November 2021, a 26-year veteran prison guard with the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) sued the city, alleging he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety from being discriminated and retaliated against by other guards, city officials and prisoners for being openly gay. According to a report by local TV station WTTG, the suit by the guard, Sgt. Deon Jones, describes years of name-calling and threats of physical and sexual violence, followed by inaction when he complained about it to DOC officials. In one instance Jones said a prisoner threatened to rape him, but when he called for backup no one answered. The D.C. chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Jones in court, claims that inaction toward allegations of anti-gay discrimination and retaliation go to the top of city government, including Mayor Muriel Bowser (D).
Florida: According to a November 11, 2021, report by Corrections One, a probe into allegations of prisoner mistreatment at the Marion County Jail in Ocala, Florida, has found no policy violation committed by guards who left photos in a suspect’s cell of his alleged murder victim. The probe was launched after prisoner Marquee Dashawn Williams accused guards of mistreating him by withholding food, taking unnecessary photos of him and plastering images in his cell of a guard who died in 2016, Ronnie Charles Damion—whom Williams is now accused of murdering. After the investigation, Sheriff Billy Woods concluded that there was no food deprivation and that the photos of the dead guard and those taken of Williams’s tattoos were part of the investigation into Damion’s murder, which was a cold case until investigators zeroed in on Williams, leading to his arrest in October 2021.
Georgia: Five days after they escaped from the Pulaski County Jail in Hawkinsville, Georgia, five prisoners had all been recaptured by November 17, 2021, according to a report by Savannah TV station WSAV. The five prisoners—Tyree Williams Jr., Lewis Wendell Evans, Brandon Pooler, Tyree Mantan Jackson, and Dennis Penix Jr.—escaped on the night of November 12, 2021, after attacking and threatening to kill a female guard before then driving off in a vehicle stolen from the jail parking lot. Two of the men are murder suspects, but all were being held on suspicion of committing violent crimes. No other jail prisoners or guards were reported hurt in the escape.
Georgia: On November 16, 2021, six guards at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta were indicted on counts including felony murder and violation of oath of office. According to a report by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the six guards—Arron Cook, Guito Delacruz, Omar Jackson, Jason Roache, Kenesia Strowder, and William Whitaker—are accused of excessively tasering, pepper-spraying, and beating prisoner Antonio May, 32, resulting in his death in 2018. May had been arrested after allegedly throwing rocks at a window of the American Cancer Society building. He was reported to be suffering from a mental health episode and was under the influence of amphetamines. He had also been diagnosed with Substance Abuse Psychotic Disorder by physicians at Grady Memorial Hospital. Instead of being taken to the Special Medical Observation Unit at the jail, though, guards put him into a general holding cell. There they said that May exposed himself, and the six guards responded, with excessive force. May became unresponsive after being decontaminated for pepper-spray.
Indiana: A drunk driver who rammed into the front gates of the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City—and then fled—was captured a few hours later on November 9, 2021, according to a report by Chicago TV station WLS. A later report by South Bend TV station WSBT identified the 62-year-old driver as Robert D. Merriman. No one was reported harmed in the incident. Merriman was eventually stopped and caught after police broadcast a description of his car and numerous 911 callers reported spotting it. Upon testing, the alcohol content of his blood was measured at .14%, fully .06% above the legal limit for driving. He was subsequently taken to LaPorte County Jail, where he now faces three misdemeanor charges: operating a vehicle while intoxicated, operating a vehicle while intoxicated endangering others, and criminal trespassing.
Kazakhstan: The metaverse has arrived at a prison in Kazakhstan, according to a report from The Times on November 27, 2021, which said that virtual tours were being provided to prisoners to improve their emotional experience while incarcerated. The prison, AK-159/11, in the Karaganda Oblast Department of Correctional Service, is also the subject of accusations by prisoners of torture by guards. Psychologists at the facility claim that the virtual reality goggles allow prisoners to take tours of international museums like the Louvre in France and the Hermitage in Russia, as well as tours of the capital of Kazakhstan, Nur-Sultan. The deputy head of the AK-159/11 facility, Lieutenant Colonel Yulia Ivanova, claims that prisoners have so far been appreciative of the tours, though accusations of torture still hang over the facility.
Kansas: On November 15, 2021, a prisoner held at the Shawnee County Jail (SCJ) in Topeka, Kansas, had more than 54 years added to his sentence after he was convicted of attacking a guard and sending her to a hospital. According to a report by local TV station KSNT, the prisoner, Ray Anthony Miles, 57, was originally serving time for breaking into another Topeka TV station, WIBW, and attacking three station employees there with a knife in 2012. He was set to be released in November 2019 before he attacked SCJ guard Kourtney Flynn with a pen on July 31, 2019, earning him an additional 653 months for attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery and battery against a corrections officer. Flynn was rushed to a hospital after the attack with multiple face and head injuries, but she has since recovered and returned to work at the lockup.
Kansas: According to a report by Kansas City TV station KCTV, a guard was attacked by a state prisoner for the second time in a month at Lansing Correctional Facility on November 29, 2021.
This time the unnamed guard was brutalized after he was left alone to watch a group of 100 prisoners. The last time, on November 4, 2021, it was a female guard who was hit in the face with a padlock by a prisoner. The president of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, Sarah LaFrenz, claims that the attacks are the result of understaffing at the state Department of Corrections (DOC). The number of vacant guard positions at the prison had risen to 83 at the end of November 2021, up from 27 the previous January. The problem of understaffing in DOC is reportedly a statewide phenomenon, with nearly 500 total vacancies. To reduce that number, Gov. Laura Kelly (R) has introduced hiring incentives, including base-pay increases of five percent or more. LaFrenz was supportive of those moves, but she noted that even what is considered full staffing is not necessarily enough to keep guards and other prison employees safe on the job. Both guards injured in the recent attacks are recovering from their injuries.
Kenya: According to a report by The Standard, as of November 29, 2021, a prison boss, 11 guards and another suspect had been released on cash bail after being accused of aiding three political prisoners in their escape from Kamiti Prison in Nairobi, Kenya. The three convicted prisoners that they have been accused of aiding in their November 14, 2021, escape from the maximum security prison have since been re-captured and charged with escaping from lawful custody and posing a threat to national security. The three men, Musharaf Abdulla, Joseph Juma Odhiambo, and Mohamed Abdi Abikar, were captured in Kitui County. Abdulla has been imprisoned since he was convicted of an attempted attack on Parliament in 2012. Abikar was convicted for participating in a 2015 attack on Garissa University for which credit was claimed by al-Shabaab, a Somali-based guerrilla group. Odhiambo had been planning to join al-Shabaab when he was caught on the border between Kenya and Somalia in 2019.
Lithuania: In late 2021, a former prison warden from Vilnius was found to have helped Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, evade European Union sanctions. According to a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Lithuianian national and former Vilnius prison warden, Aleksejus Liniovas, struck a deal with the Belarusian truck production company BelAZ, signing a contract worth $1.1 million to use Lithuanian ports to transport Belarusian-made trucks to Chile. Liniovas had ownership of a Belarusian logistics firm, and so he was able to make the transportation possible. The plot came together after the E.U. banned member nations, including Lithuania, from doing business with BelAZ. But Belarus, a landlocked nation, required a port through which to transport the trucks BelAZ was selling, especially given the dictatorship’s economic reliance on such income. The Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that the move probably violates E.U. sanctions. Liniovas has since transferred ownership of his company to another party.
New Jersey: According to a report by Pensacola, Florida, TV station WEAR, a 27-year-old federal prisoner in New Jersey was stabbed in the eye by another prisoner on November 5, 2021.
The incident involving the unnamed prisoner took place at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Fort Dix, part of ongoing issues within the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) involving violence, deaths, escapes, staffing shortages and employee misconduct. The warden of FCI Fort Dix at the time of the attack, Lamine N’Diaye, was previously warden of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, New York, when billionaire accused pedophile and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein died under mysterious circumstances. N’Diaye was transferred to FCI Fort Dix despite being under investigation for the circumstances of Epstein’s death. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called for BOP Director Michael Carvajal to be fired in response to media reports that agency officials overlooked the criminal activities of BOP employees. As of November 17, 2021, the prisoner in this case remains in the hospital but is expected to survive.
North Carolina: A prisoner at Tabor City Correctional Facility in Tabor City, North Carolina, overdosed on November 12, 2021, according to a report by Wilmington TV station WWAY. The prisoner, Dustin Goodson, 31, died five days later, after which guard Wesley Thompson was charged with trafficking and smuggling drugs into the facility, including synthetic cannabinoids known as K2 or “spice.” It is possible that other guards may be involved as well, and Thompson has yet to be directly linked to Goodson’s death. But according to John Bull, of the state Department of Public Safety, the North Carolina prison system stops smuggling attempts every week. Suboxone, K2/spice, and fentanyl are known to be prevalent in prison drug smuggling, according to Assistant Tabor City Police Chief Russel Conway. Guards are known to engage in this illegal activity because of financial insecurity and then, once they begin smuggling, threats from prisoners to reveal them prevent the guard from stopping. An investigation into the death and the ongoing drug smuggling is underway.
Pennsylvania: A former guard at the Indiana County Jail in Indiana, Pennsylvania, was sentenced in federal court to 24 months in prison and 18 months supervised release on November 10, 2021, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Western District of Pennsylvania. The guard, Alex Lewis, 26, admitted to accepting bribes from prisoner Rashon Richardson, who had an intermediary outside the prison pay the bribes to Lewis in person, in exchange for which Lewis would smuggle cellphones into the facility. During the trial Lewis had requested a probationary sentence, but U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon denied the request, deciding to follow federal sentencing guidelines instead. The case against Richardson is still pending. He has not pleaded guilty and so is still considered innocent until proven otherwise.
Pennsylvania: On November 17, 2021, a former guard at the Bucks County Correctional Facility (BCCF) in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs into the lockup. According to a press release from the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office, the former guard, Joseph J. Jennings, was then sentenced to two to four years in a state prison. Detectives with the county Drug Strike Force and BCCF investigators found that Jennings had smuggled Suboxone into BCCF multiple times between October 2018 and July 2019. Eight other men have been charged in the scheme, including a prisoner, William McCandless, Sr., 36, who pleaded guilty in April 2021 to selling the drugs once they were inside the jail, receiving an extra 35 to 70 months on top of the 52 to 120 months he was already serving. For supplying the drugs to Jennings, a state court ruled McCandless’ juvenile son delinquent earlier in 2021. Another man, Joseph Robert Wilson, 41, was awaiting sentencing in December 2021 after pleading guilty the previous April also to helping funnel the drugs to Jennings.
Pennsylvania: According to a report by the Ellwood City Ledger, Laurence County Jail Warden Brian Covert and his deputy, guard Jason Hilton, were on their way out of their jobs at the New Castle, Pennsylvania, lockup after being placed on administrative leave on November 10, 2021. Both men are negotiating separation agreements with Lawrence County prison board solicitor Jason Medure. The effort to remove them came after a letter was released by Teamsters Local 261 that accused the administrators of mistreating guards and neglecting their duties. Once the agreements are completed, the county Board of Commissioners must vote to approve them, and the prison board must vote to accept the resignations of the two men. The jail is now operating under an interim warden, Cpt. Michael Mahlmeister. The Board also voted to hire Colin Wallace as a sixth jail captain, but the motion is contingent on permission from the county salary board for a sixth captain position to be created.
Pennsylvania: On November 17, 2021, a guard was killed in an altercation with a prisoner at a courthouse in Altoona, Pennsylvania. According to a police affidavit cited in the ABA Journal, the guard, 15-year Blair County Prison veteran Rhonda Jean Russell, 47, was shot and killed by another guard when prisoner Christopher James Aikens used her as a shield and pulled her into the line of fire. Aikens was present at the courthouse for a preliminary hearing on drug and firearm charges related to a violation of his parole when Russell let him out of his cell and uncuffed one of his hands to let him use the restroom. While she was escorting him back to his cell, Aikens attacked her and swiped her gun. Another guard responding to the assault saw Aikens aiming the stolen firearm at him and shot at the prisoner, striking Russell instead as Aikens pulled her in front of him. Aikens now faces charges of aggravated assault, homicide, attempted homicide, and kidnapping, among others related to Russell’s death.
South Carolina: The South Carolina Department of Corrections revealed on November 15, 2021, that a drone and catapult had been used in attempts to smuggle contraband into two state prisons, according to a report by Charleston TV Station WCBD. In one incident at the Kershaw Correctional Institution in Lancaster County, a drone dropped a package into the yard containing marijuana, tobacco, cellphones and other contraband. All of the items were confiscated by responding guards, and the identity of the drone operator is currently under investigation. In the other incident, at Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia, an unidentified suspect used a catapult to send packages over the fences. Responding guards then confiscated cellphones, chargers, headphones, blunt wraps, Airpods, and tobacco, all of which they found housed in PVC pipe wrapped in camouflage paper.
South Carolina: In Bishopville, South Carolina, a prisoner at Lee Correctional Institution (LCI) died on November 15, 2021, after being stabbed in a fight. According to a report by the Danbury, Connecticut, News Times, the prisoner, Marco Siara Sanders, 41, was one of four state prisoners injured in the fight, after which two were transported to a hospital with non-fatal injuries. The others were able to be treated at the prison. An autopsy is planned for Sanders, and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is investigating. LCI was the site of a massive riot that erupted in 2018, during which three cellblocks were controlled by prisoners for time. Afterward 29 prisoners were charged, three with murder. According to The State, law enforcement believes that riot was initiated as a fight between rival prison gangs.
South Carolina: On November 22, 2021, a contract medical worker was arrested by the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) at the county jail in Monck’s Corner, South Carolina. According to a report by the Berkeley Observer, the medical worker, Misty Dawn Lee, was charged with furnishing contraband to a prisoner at the jail. She was caught after a guard received a tip, and an investigation was started. Searches of prisoners and cells then found tobacco in the possession of one prisoner, who admitted under questioning that Lee had been supplying him cigarettes, vape pens, and lighters. Lee was caught bringing more contraband into the prison on November 19, 2021, and she was then arrested. BCSO made clear that she was never an employee of the Berkeley County government.
Texas: On December 1, 2021, a guard employed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) was charged with smuggling pills into the Hamilton Unit in Bryan, Texas. According to a report by the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the guard, Lauren Smith, 32, was found to have a multitude of pills on her while working at the prison on the night of November 30, 2021. According to the investigator for the Office of the Inspector General, these pills included controlled substances such as Adderall, Xanax, and Tramadol, which Smith admitted knowing she was not allowed to bring into the prison. She is now being held on $8,000 bail, facing a charge of smuggling a prohibited substance into a correctional facility, a third-degree felony that could result in a ten-year prison sentence.
Virginia: According to Portsmouth, Virginia, TV station WAVY, two Norfolk men were arrested on November 15, 2021, for using a drone in an attempt to smuggle cellphones into Lawrenceville Correctional Facility (LCF). The arrests came just over two months after authorities found a package of drugs on the grounds of a private school next door to the prison on September 13, 2021, after a school bus driver reported earlier that same day seeing a drone land there that was retrieved by an unknown person. On November 15, 2021, another drone flew close to LCF, setting off alarms that sent prison guards scrambling into the surrounding woods. There they found Kendall Jamal Shaw, 31, and Hakeem Jamal Berry, 24, in possession of two book bags, a drone, and three bags containing 11 cellphones. Both men were charged with attempted delivery of contraband to prisoners and taken to the Meherrin River Regional Jail. Further charges may be forthcoming, pending completion of an investigation by the Virginia State Police and the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office, which claims that the two match descriptions provided of the suspects in the previous contraband smuggling attempt.
Virginia: The mother of a former federal prisoner was herself sentenced to 45 months in prison in late November 2021 for participating in a bribery scheme at her son’s former lockup, the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) in Petersburg, Virginia. According to a report by the Augusta Free Press, Kim Williams, 57, facilitated payment of more than $60,000 in bribes from her son, former FCI-Petersburg prisoner Dontay Cox, 38, which she doled out in cash payments and wire transfers to guards Stephen Taylor, 49, and Shanice Bullock, 28. In exchange, the two guards allowed contraband to be brought into the facility and distributed to prisoners. While he was imprisoned at FCI-Petersburg from 2014 to 2019, Cox ran a gambling ring and distributed smuggled contraband including Suboxone, heroin, cellphones, cigarettes, and marijuana to fellow prisoners
Washington: On November 2, 2021, a prison-gang member in Yakima County, Washington, was sentenced for the murder of a fellow prisoner who was a member of the same gang. According to a report by the Yakima Herald, the prisoner, Deryk Alexander Donato, 28, was sentenced to serve 38 years—concurrently with a 25-year sentence he was already serving for a different murder—for his role in the fatal beating of Jacob Ozuna. A member of the Norteño prison gang, Ozuna was awaiting trial for murder when Donato, Felipe Luis Jr., and Julian Luis Gonzales—all members of the Norteño gang as well—set upon him on December 9, 2018, murdering him in retaliation for allegedly killing another gang member without permission. Donato’s defense attorney attempted to lighten the sentence by arguing that his client suffered from mental health struggles. Judge Kevin Naught considered that argument, and the fact that Donato had a family, but he decided that the brutality of the murder outweighed those factors.
West Virginia: According to a report by TV station WDTV from Weston, West Virginia, a state prison guard was arrested on charges of smuggling contraband on November 9, 2021. The guard, Homer Howell, 39, was caught smuggling controlled substances into the Huttonsville Correctional Center and Jail in Randolph County for a prisoner. Between April and July of 2021, Howell allegedly took payments from the prisoner’s parents when he met them on breaks from work, during which they gave him substances and electronics that he brought back into the prison when he resumed his shift. For this Howell made between $1,000 and $2,000 per package, receiving in total between $8,000 and $10,000 from the prisoner’s parents.
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