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News in Brief

Alabama: A former Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) guard was indicted on April 22, 2022, for assaulting three prisoners and then filing a false report to cover it up, the Associated Press reported. The guard, Lorenzo Mills, 55, was charged with beating three male prisoners with a wooden baton at Draper Correctional Facility in Elmore in October 2020 and then falsifying his report about the incident. Prosecutors say the three men were not resisting. The indictment comes on the heels of the sentencing of a guard at the nearby Elmore County Correctional Facility on April 10, 2022, for assaulting two prisoners there on February 26, 2019. Alabama News Network reported that the guard, Ulysses Oliver, Jr., 47, was given 30 months in prison with three years of supervised release for the attack, for which he pleaded guilty in 2020. [See: PLN, Jan. 2021, p. 62.]

AlabamaAlabama News Network reported that a state prisoner was recaptured on April 30, 2022, after escaping that same day. The prisoner, Mitchell Dillan Lindsay, 29, escaped around 8:30 a.m. from Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery County only to be returned by 3:00 p.m. that afternoon, after he was found nearby. Lindsay will go back to serving his life sentence for the murder of Bessie Louise Stovall, 68, who died when he sped past a stop sign and drove into her car while leading police on a chase in a stolen vehicle in Morgan County in 2012, earning his sentence for reckless murder three years later. No further details of his short-lived escape have been made public.

California: A federal prison employee in Merced turned himself in to authorities on April 13, 2022, after he was accused of kidnapping and injuring a child the month before. The Merced Sun-Star reported that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) employee, Earl Stokes, 50, chased down a group of juveniles in his truck after one of them kicked the door of a residence on March 18, 2022. The residence did not belong Stokes nor was he there, but he chased the children and threatened to shoot them if they did not stop running. When one did stop, Stokes allegedly assaulted him, throwing him in the bed of his truck and driving him back to the residence. He was charged with making criminal threats, reckless driving, assault, battery, suspicion of kidnapping, and child endangerment. Stokes, who works at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atwater, was booked into the Merced County Jail and released on bail.

California: Standing next to a blown-up photo of a Los Angeles Times reporter at a press conference on April 26, 2022, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva railed against the leak of a video she reported that showed one of his deputies kneeling on a restrained detainee’s head, and he promised an investigation. Hours later, he walked back those comments, insisting reporter Alene Tchekmedyian was not being investigated, KTTV reported. The day before, Tchekmedyian had reported a whistleblower claim filed in advance of a lawsuit by Allen Castellano, a Sheriff’s Office Commander who disputed Villanueva’s protestations that he was unaware of the video showing deputies abusing the detainee, murder suspect Enzo Escalante. In another whistleblower claim filed the same day, former Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon said she was forced to retire after clashing with Villanueva over his alleged coverup of the video, which she claims she watched with the Sheriff in the days immediately following the March 2021 incident at the county courthouse. On May 4, 2022, a third whistleblower came forward, former Chief Lajuana Haselrig, who accused the Sheriff of growing so “desperate and panicked for a cover story” that he “turned around and illegally fabricated” allegations that she and Limon were responsible for the video’s coverup, a charge for which Haselrig was then demoted.

California: A detainee was found dead in an Escondido jail on February 14, 2022, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Gilbert Gil, 67, had been arrested two days earlier on suspicion of DUI by California Highway Patrol officers who were unaware that he suffered dementia, diabetes and possibly hyperglycemia. As they were arresting him, Gil’s daughter arrived to inform them of her father’s condition and explained that she was having his ability to drive assessed. Yet the officers continued believing that Gil, who did not drink or use drugs and had no history of reckless driving, was under the influence. They took him to Vista Detention Facility, where for two days guards continued to think him intoxicated, despite repeated refutations from his family. After his release, Gil began acting strangely. The family called police, who arrested him again. He was back in custody when he took a dose of insulin and was allegedly left for 15 hours without being checked, after which he was found unresponsive. The exact cause of his death will be determined by an independent autopsy. 

FloridaFirst Coast News and News 4 Jax reported in April 2022 that Duvall County Jail guard Hunter Jean had been sentenced to 13 months in prison for his role in a smuggling scheme. Jean was arrested on November 8, 2020, accused of smuggling marijuana, methamphetamine and other contraband into the Jacksonville lockup. An investigation had been launched on October 20, 2020, when accusations of contraband smuggling at the jail surfaced.

Florida: On April 22, 2022, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida announced that a former state prison guard had pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs into the Fort Myers facility where he worked. The guard, Troy Alexander Cole, 28, admitted smuggling methamphetamine into Charlotte Correctional Institution in June 2021, taking bribes of $5,400 from prisoners in exchange. He now faces a potential sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

Florida: A state prison employee at the South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach County was arrested in April 2022 after he was caught on audio and video boasting of connections to a Mexican drug cartel and discussing killing his girlfriend’s estranged husband. The Miami Herald reported that after a judge heard the recordings of Jose Alcazar, 49, a Mexican national who works as an academic instructor at the prison and runs a tae kwon do studio on the side, he decided to keep Alcazar in custody until his trial on charges including solicitation of first-degree murder. An undercover police officer posing as the nephew of a prisoner recorded Alcazar, who is known as “Master Jo” in his studio, talking about smuggling contraband, offering to smuggle more, and asking the undercover officer to murder his girlfriend’s husband.

Florida: Four Florida prison guards in Miami were arrested in April 2022 for fatally beating a mentally ill state prisoner, CNN reported. Three guards, Kirk Walton, 34, Christopher Rolon, 29, and Ronald Conner, 24, were taken into custody on April 28, 2022. The fourth, Jeremy Godbolt, 28, was arrested the following day. The four were charged with second-degree murder, conspiracy, and other crimes in connection with the beating of prisoner Ronald Ingram in a mental health unit at Dade Correctional Institution on February 14, 2022. Ingram, 60, was being transferred from the facility when he allegedly threw urine on a guard, after which he was handcuffed and beaten so badly that he was unable to walk without help, so he was carried to a transport van, placed in the back, and left unattended. Somewhere along the 345-mile journey to Ocala, he died on from internal bleeding caused by a punctured lung. The arrests were not the only responses to the incident. Among other changes, the warden was transferred.

Georgia: A jail guard in Troup County was arrested on April 12, 2022, for stealing money from prisoners’ funds. WRBL in Columbus reported that the guard, Douglas Robert Meserole, was charged with theft as a fiduciary. Meserole, who resigned from the Troup County Jail for unrelated reasons in late 2021, was in charge of managing prisoner funds. After an audit, he was accused of depositing stimulus money into prisoner accounts before withdrawing the money on a prepaid debit card for himself. During the audit, prisoners informed authorities that they were missing funds, and soon investigators were looking to the once-trusted guard. He allegedly stole up to $2,800 from two prisoners. The jail’s finance system has since been updated, with money passing through more hands in the process of safeguarding prisoner funds.

Georgia: WJBF in Augusta reported that a jail guard in Richmond County was arrested on March 30, 2022, and accused of engaging in sexual activity with a female prisoner. The guard, Daerieus Fluellen, 22, was charged with two felonies, sexual assault and violation of oath by public officer. He was hired at the Charles B. Webster Detention Center in September 2021, and his employment was terminated as a result of the accusations.

Hawaii: Hawaii Department of Public Safety (DPS) Public Training Officer J. Marte Martinez, who oversaw the training of thousands of state prison guards and deputy sheriffs working as guards in county jails, was arrested on April 7, 2022. The Associated Press reported that she was charged with perjury, tampering with a government record, and unsworn falsification to authorities. Questions first arose about her qualifications after Hawaii News Now procured documents regarding Martinez’s education and experience in 2019. At a hearing that was then held before the state Labor Relations Board, authorities now allege that Martinez lied while answering questions under oath about her education and school transcripts. Those alleged falsifications include a bachelor’s degree from Southern Oregon University and a liberal arts degree from a Virginia community college that doesn’t grant them. Martinez offered to take a polygraph, attend meetings, and self-surrender, but Attorney General Holly Shikada (D) rejected that proposal. Martinez pleaded not guilty on April 14, 2022. She is now on paid administrative leave with a trial set for June 13, 2022. 

Illinois: The bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease was found in the water of multiple Illinois prisons between April 2021 and April 2022, the Equal Justice Initiative reported. The bacteria, known as Legionella, was found during routine quarterly testing in the water supplies of at least five state lockups: Graham Correctional Center (CC), Kewanee Life Skills Re-Entry Center, Joilet Treatment Center, Stateville Northern Reception and Classification Center, and Stateville CC. This is not the first instance of Legionnaire’s disease in Illinois prisons. Two prisoners at Pontiac CC tested positive in 2020. Another prisoner tested positive at Stateville CC in 2015. The state DOC admitted to the 2021-2022 outbreak, but complaints about water contamination span decades. Legionnaire’s disease has also cropped up recently at prisons in Indiana, New Jersey, Connecticut and California.

Kentucky: The Louisville Courier Journal reported that a Letcher County Sheriff’s deputy has been accused of trading favors for sex by a second woman detained at the county jail where he worked as a guard. As previously reported by PLN, the guard, Ben Fields, was arrested on February 1, 2022, and fired the next day, after he was accused by the first former detainee, Sabrina Adkins, 45, of coercing sex from her in exchange for waiving fees for electronic monitoring provided by a business he ran on the side. [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.62.] The new accusations were leveled by Jennifer Hill, who said Fields tried to coerce sex from her in exchange for being placed on home confinement instead of going to jail. When she denied him, she said he had her arrested. When her fiancé tried to file a report, Fields’ fellow deputies allegedly wouldn’t take it and instead stopped him three times in 12 hours to warn him to drop his complaint. Hill was added as a plaintiff in a federal civil rights lawsuit Adkins filed in January 2022 that also accuses Sheriff Mickey Stines of failing to properly supervise the guard. See: Adkins v. Fields, USDC (E.D. Ky.), Case No. 7: 22-cv-00007.

Massachusetts: Citing a falling incarceration rate and nearly $30 million in needed repairs, the Massachusetts DOC announced the closure of one of its oldest maximum-security prisons on April 7, 2022, according to the Boston Globe. Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) Cedar Junction was designed to hold 568 prisoners and has operated in Walpole since 1955, gaining notoriety in 1973, when prisoners rioted and refused to be locked in their cells, and later that year, when self-confessed “Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo was murdered in his cell. The move comes at a time when the state’s prison population is at its lowest level in 35 years, falling 42% since 2012. Officials point also to their statewide effort to phase out solitary confinement as another reason to shutter the facility. DOC said the closure will occur in three phases between summer 2022 and the end of 2024. WBUR reported that shutting down solitary confinement comes after independent review of DOC operations emphasized how isolation “minimizes the interests of rehabilitation and positive behavior change.” State officials hail the closure as a milestone in their efforts to reform the criminal justice system and reduce recidivism.

MinnesotaBring Me the News reported that a guard in Washington County was charged with smuggling methamphetamine into the state prison where she worked. Bayport Police found the guard, Rose Gratz, 24, in possession of a plastic bag containing a half-pound of the drug when she arrived for work at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater on April 8, 2022.Investigators became suspicious when a prisoner’s cellphone was confiscated in early April 2022, and a text message thread with Gratz was discovered. Gratz eventually admitted to smuggling six packages of methamphetamine into the facility for a prisoner over four months. She faces up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine for the crime of a first-time controlled substance offense.

Mississippi: A fire broke out on the third floor of the Adams County Jail late on the afternoon of April 6, 2022, the Natchez Democrat reported. A detainee amassed clothing and blankets, setting them ablaze during a shift change. The resulting fire filled the jail with smoke. Sheriff Travis Patten announced that arson charges had been filed against the detainee, Jordan Caston, 18, who was being held for the fatal shooting of Marquez Brown, 16, on February 18, 2022. Guards reportedly acted quickly, rushing to evacuate prisoners and put out the fire before firefighters arrived. There were no known injuries from the blaze, but officials complained of insufficient funding for contraband detection as well as the jail’s poor design, which they say helped trap smoke inside. Coincidentally, they had been asking the county to build a new jail.

Mississippi: A Madison man was arrested early on April 15, 2022, accused of tossing contraband over a perimeter fence around the jail in Hinds County. FOX 13 Memphis reported that Jacob Darnell Lewis, 25, was spotted making the delivery at Raymond Detention Center by guards, who chased him when he attempted to flee and soon took him into custody. The contraband was recovered, including marijuana, methamphetamine, alcohol, cigars, pills, a semi-automatic rifle and knives. The gray Dodge Challenger Lewis drove was recognized from a previous attempted contraband delivery at the jail. He is charged with introducing contraband into a correctional facility, possession of a controlled substance, and felony fleeing.

Missouri: ABC 17 News in Columbia reported that a Jefferson City man sentenced to 14 years in prison on April 28, 2022, has filed a lawsuit accusing Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler of failure to protect him and medical neglect, after the prisoner shot himself in the arm in a cell at the county jail in November 2019. That led to a gun charge for Brandon E. McNeese, 36, on top of those he already faced for distributing methamphetamine. McNeese pleaded guilty to those charges in October 2021, leading to his sentence.

Myanmar: The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that the military junta ruling Myanmar began releasing 1,619 prisoners on April 17, 2022, a traditional gesture in celebration of the Buddhist new year. Before the releases, the junta did not specify who would be released, but afterward it was clear that none were political prisoners. The move comes as the country is in political turmoil after the coup staged against the democratically elected government in February 2021, when leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her cabinet were jailed. That was followed by mass uprisings that continue to be brutally suppressed by the junta, resulting in the arrests of 13,282 people and 1,756 deaths. The number released this New Years was just a faction of some 23,000 freed in 2021.

New York: A transgender prisoner who sexually assaulted a female prisoner at Rikers Island on February 8, 2021, was sentenced to seven years for the crime, after taking a deal and pleading guilty to attempted rape on April 7, 2022. According to a report in the New York Post, the transgender prisoner, Ramel “Diamond” Blount, 33, entered the women’s showers and grabbed the other woman as she was exiting, holding her down and assaulting her. The rape is but one of many violent incidents plaguing the Rikers Island complex, which saw 16 prisoner deaths in 2021 alone. [See: PLN, Feb. 2022, p.1.] Mayor Eric Adams (D) has asked for time for his new corrections chief, Louis Molina, to solve the issues at the prison.

New YorkThe Daily Gazette reported that a Schenectady prisoner and a Waterford woman were arrested and accused of smuggling contraband into the Saratoga County Jail on March 28, 2022. The woman, Jennifer Landry, 38, was charged with both misdemeanor and first-degree promoting prison contraband. The prisoner, Jason Morelli, was charged on April 5, 2022, with first-degree attempted promoting prison contraband. Landry was arrested again after a traffic stop on April 11, 2022, and charged with two additional misdemeanors of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance on suspicion she had crack cocaine and heroin. 

North CarolinaThe Globe and Mail reported that a nurse in Forsyth County was indicted by a grand jury on April 4, 2022, for involuntary manslaughter of a detainee at the county jail. The nurse, Michelle Heughins, is accused of unintentionally killing John Neville on December 4, 2019. Neville, who is Black, had been arrested just days before a group of guards pinned him to the ground during a struggle and hogtied him in the Forsyth County Jail. During the incident, which was caught on camera, Neville yells for his mother and shouts that he can’t breathe. He died from asphyxiation. [See: PLN, Dec. 2020, p. 18.] The grand jury did not indict any of the five guards involved. Heughins’ lawyer expressed confidence that her client will be exonerated, too, claiming that Heughins was the only one who tried to save Neville’s life. In a challenge brought by several media outlets, the state Court of Appeals ruled on May 4, 2022, that Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill had no right to seal Neville’s death records.

Ohio: A former jail guard in Cuyahoga County was sentenced on April 14, 2022, for sexual assault. Cleveland 19 reported that Andre Julius Bacsa, 35, was handed a four-year prison term after pleading guilty in March 2022 to charges he sexually assaulted prisoners at the county jail, including one count of sexual imposition, one count of sexual restraint, and two counts of sexual battery. He had been arrested in June 2021 and indicted the following month. He then resigned from his position in September 2021, before his eventual guilty plea and sentencing. After his prison term, he will also be required to register as a sex offender.

Oklahoma:On April 5, 2022, federal prosecutors announced convictions in a massive drug-trafficking conspiracy for 125 associates of an Oklahoma-based prison gang, including a state prison guard and the brother of recently executed prisoner Gilbert Postelle. The OklahomanSouthwest Ledger, and KOTV in Tulsa reported that David Postelle, 39, who headed the “Irish Mob Gang,” received an additional life sentence in federal prison for helping to distribute of over 270 kilograms of methamphetamine. He was already serving life without the possibility of parole for his role in the same quadruple murder for which his brother was put to death on February 17, 2022. A state prison guard, Andrew Pranger, 24, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison with two years of probation for smuggling contraband cellphones that the gang used and warning its imprisoned members about cell searches. According to U.S. Attorney Robert Troester, the 113 who have been sentenced so far were given a combined 1,350 years in prison. The state DOC reported seizing an average of over 500 contraband cellphones a month from its 16,000 prisoners between August 2017 and December 2021.

Pennsylvania: A detainee at the Delaware County Prison was charged with the murder of a fellow detainee on April 22, 2022. The Delaware County Daily Times reported that Shad Murray Boccella, 25, originally of Bridgeport, was charged with first- and third-degree criminal homicide and murder in the fatal strangling of Elliot Funkhouser, 54, who was in custody on suspicion of robbery and burglary. Boccella, who was facing charges including theft, identity theft, and access device fraud, had been the subject of a request for a competency hearing filed by his attorney in March 2022. Bocella claimed he got into a physical altercation with Funkhouser and was defending himself, though he did not appear to have injuries. He is still in custody without bail.

Tennessee: A prison guard in Trousdale County was arrested on March 31, 2022, accused of smuggling fentanyl into work with her, according to the Lebanon Democrat. Denise Haggard, an employee of Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility’s privately contracted operator, Nashville-based CoreCivic, was taken into custody and charged with possessing a controlled substance and intending to manufacture, deliver, and sell it. Haggard reportedly signed a waiver allowing authorities to search her vehicle, where the drug was found. It is possible she smuggled other illicit substances as well.

Tennessee: The Associated Press reported that a private prison transport van operated by CoreCivic overturned on I-40 near Waverly on April 20, 2022. A number of injuries were reported, and a CoreCivic employee and a prisoner were flown to nearby hospitals for treatment after the incident. Three other prisoners and a second CoreCivic employee were taken by ambulance to other hospitals. The crash took place about 12:15 p.m. as the van was traveling from Nashville to Hardeman County Correctional Facility in Whiteville, where the prisoners were being held. Another CoreCivic transport van crashed and burned along the same stretch of the highway in 1997, killing six prisoners shackled inside. The cause of the recent crash is still under investigation.

Tennessee: A former jail guard in Grainger County was fired on April 24, 2021, for allegedly forcing female prisoners to perform sex shows for him while he sat in the jail control booth to watch and masturbated at least 30 times between February and April 2021. The Hill reported that the former guard, Travis Hank Davis, now faces a civil rights lawsuit filed by the two victims in federal court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, which they have asked to be granted class-action status. Also named as defendants in the suit are Davis’ fellow guard Leonard Dalton, Sheriff James Harville, Jail Administrator Chris Harville, and Grainger County itself. The two women who filed the suit on April 12, 2022, claim that Davis abused them and that no one investigated when they complained to other guards, who ignored and gaslit them. They are represented by Knoxville attorneys Lance K. Baker and F. Clinton Little, as well as Matthew B. Evans of Evans & Beier LLP in Morristown. See: McGhee v. Grainger Cty., USDC (E.D.Tenn.), Case No. 2:22-cv-00038.

Tennessee: A former Tennessee prison guard was killed in action in Ukraine on April 25, 2022, CNN reported. The former guard, Willy Joseph Cancel, 22, who was also a former U.S Marine, was killed fighting alongside Ukrainians as part of a private military contracting company. Though he was a mercenary paid by the company to fight, his mother insisted Cancel was dedicated to the fight for personal reasons, believing in what the Ukrainian people were fighting for. Cancel’s brother-in-law explained that he had quit his job at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, a state prison privately operated by CoreCivic, before heading to Ukraine on March 12 or 13, 2022. His body was not able to be retrieved by his comrades. Originally from Orange County, New York, Cancel is survived by his wife and 9-month-old baby.

Texas: A Liberian native managed to defraud the federal government from his Texas prison cell, GNN Liberia reported. Steven Jalloul, 43, a tax preparer in Dallas, was being held at the Federal Correctional Institute in Seagoville for tax fraud when he submitted 170 falsified applications requesting $23 million in loans from the Paycheck Protection Program for his firm’s clients. Eventually 97 of the loans were approved for a total of $12 million, for which the clients paid Jalloul almost $1 million in kickbacks they called “commissions.” Jalloul was charged in September 2020 with using unlawfully got property in monetary transactions, and he pleaded guilty in October 2021. The federal fraud conviction earned him an extra 10 years, handed down on April 21, 2022. He will also be required to repay the federal government what he scammed.

Virginia: In a sprawling indictment on March 10, 2022, a grand jury in Wise County, Virginia, handed down 33 charges to 13 individuals in connection with a drug smuggling and contraband scheme at two different state prisons in the Commonwealth. Times News reported that 10 of those involved were prisoners accused of possessing and distributing contraband atWallensRidge and Red Onion state prisons. Red Onion prisoner Miguel Reyes, 25, was charged along with nineWallensRidge prisoners: Michael Timothy Caballero, 29,GarlonDeshawn Cabler, 42, Rodney Eugene Harris, 32, Cortney Lee Johnson, 32, LorenzaDeshazorJones, 34,ZiyairIzonRedman, 21, William D. Runser, 27, William Smith, 48, and CameronMaseriaVelez, 32. Their alleged accomplices on the outside were Gregory A. Brown, 30, of Washington, D.C., Christian Dior Cruz, 43, of Lynchburg andTakiaLachelle Jordan, 30, of Petersburg. Those three were charged with mailing the contraband into the lockups.

Washington: Police detectives allege that a woman in Sunnyside used a Bible to mail drugs into a county jail and a state prison in Washington. The Yakima Herald-Republic reported that Michele Kristin Aguirre, 53, was arrested on April 14, 2022, for smuggling drugs into the Yakima County Jail and Airway Heights Corrections Center, hiding the contraband inside books concealed in fake Amazon packages. The first alert from the jail that prisoners were receiving contraband came on April 1, 2022, followed by another from the prison on April 6, 2022. The smuggled drugs allegedly included Suboxone. The woman was caught when investigators searched, among other things, jailhouse calls. In an affidavit the woman alleges that she was directed to send the shipments and taught by prisoners how to conceal the drugs. The presiding judge, though acknowledging the severity of her crime, nonetheless ordered her released pretrial. 

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