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News in Brief

Alabama: A convicted bank robber had 30 months added to his 17-year prison sentence on September 26, 2022, for bribing an Alabama jail guard to smuggle him a cellphone, K2 “spice” paper, and other contraband. According to a federal Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, while Stanley Young, 34, was awaiting trial in the Escambia County Detention Center in Mobile in 2020, he successfully bribed Lakerdra Shanta Snowden with a $4,000 down payment on an Infinity G37 sports car as well as $2,266 in purchases she made on his CashApp account. For that she was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison in January 2022. [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.62.] Investigators discovered Young’s contraband phone, as well as incriminating statements he posted on Facebook while using it. Also on the phone were photos of the prisoner in his jail uniform holding the contraband, as well as text messages he exchanged with others outside the jail about smuggling in more contraband.

Alabama: When Alabama killed Joe Nathan James on July 28, 2022, a reporter for the state’s largest media outlet nearly missed it, the Atlantic reported. After officials with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) told Ivana Hrynkiw Shatara her skirt was “too revealing” and her open-toed heels “inappropriate,” the reporter rushed to borrow rain pants from a photographer, using suspenders to hold them up under her skirt and exchanging her heels for tennis shoes so that she could complete her assignment. Shatara said she’d worn the same skirt to witness prior executions, but never in ten years of covering them had been told of a dress code. Her employer, the Alabama Media Group, said it would make a formal complaint to DOC about the incident. Another female journalist, the Associated Press’ Kim Chandler, was also subjected to a dress code check by prison staff but apparently was not required to modify her attire.

Arizona: The Arizona Republic reported that David Shinn, Director of the state DOC, told the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on July 14, 2022, that the state’s economy would “collapse” without prisoner labor. The claim came in response to questions why the state shouldn’t consolidate prisoners instead of guaranteeing to pay for a higher number of prisoners than it actually holds at Florence West prison, which is operated under contract for DOC by the Florida-based GEO Group. The prison has nearly 300 empty prison beds, each costing $78 to $85 a day. They are some of 5,000 empty beds DOC maintains, Shinn estimated, which he justified by saying that numerous communities across the state rely on services provided by prisons, paying prisoners $0.50 to $1.50 an hour for work such as maintenance. An investigation by the newspaper found the state had approved more private prison contracts as campaign donations from operators to state politicians jumped to $35,000 in 2020, from almost nothing four years earlier. The state has not yet decided whether to renew the GEO Group contract at Florence West prison or select another bidder.

California: On September 10, 2022, a guard at the Modoc County Jail was arrested and accused of having sex with a detainee, KRCR in Redding reported. The arrest warrant for Melanie Alicia Martin, 34, was issued following an investigation by an outside agency brought in for the case. Helpfully, the office of Sheriff William “Tex” Dowdy reminded the public that detainees cannot legally consent to sex with jailers holding them.

Florida: On August 24, 2022, five days after a central Florida jail guard was fatally shot at his home, his ex-girlfriend — a former jail guard herself — was arrested on suspicion of killing him. The Ocala Star-Banner reported that detectives found a spent shell casing by the corpse of Marion County Jail guard Cory Schweitzer, 31, and traced it to a gun owned by his former girlfriend, Jacqueline Jasmin Johnson-Cabrera, 22. Schweitzer had been employed at the jail since March 2019. Johnson-Cabrera was a guard at the same jail until the January 2021 escape of a prisoner she had taken to a hospital to be revived after passing out in his cell. The next month she admitted to the Internal Affairs division of the county Sheriff’s Office that she never tried to look for the prisoner, and she resigned before she could be fired. For Schweitzer’s killing, she was indicted for first-degree murder on September 9, 2022. She remains jailed, after her public defenders withdrew a bail request.

Florida: The federal DOJ reported in a September 8, 2022, press release that a Florida prison guard was sentenced to a 41-month prison term for smuggling contraband into work with him at Charlotte Correctional Institution. The guard, Troy Alexander Cole, 28, pleaded guilty on April 20, 2022, to smuggling methamphetamine and MDMA into the facility three times in June 2021. [See: PLN, June 2022, p.62.]

Georgia: The federal court for the Northern District of Georgia accepted an amended complaint on September 2, 2022, from a former detainee at the Clayton County Jail who claims she was forced to give birth there in December 2019. The Clayton Crescent, WANF, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that during her 13-hour long labor, Tiana Hill made repeated requests for medical help that guards allegedly refused because they believed she had miscarried and the baby would be stillborn. It wasn’t until the child was born alive that she was finally taken to a hospital, where the infant died four days later. After she was arrested and booked into the jail on September 2019, Hill said guards and staff from the jail’s privately contracted health care provider, CorrectHealth, refused to provide her prenatal care, too. See: Hill v. Clayton Cty., USDC (N.D. Ga.), Case No. 1:21-cv-05300.

India: DNA India and the Nagaland Post reported that after six detainees escaped the Jowai jail in Meghalaya on September 9, 2022, four of them were lynched and killed by a mob. The incident could be viewed on a video that police received, which showed a crowd of people beating the escapees with sticks. Two of the six had been arrested on suspicion of a double murder of taxi drivers. One of those died in the lynching. All reportedly got out of the facility after overpowering a number of guards, who were put under questioning. A local law enforcement official said the search for the two surviving escapees was ongoing.

Kentucky: WAVE in Louisville reported that a guard who had tendered his resignation from the Louisville jail made a phony recruiting video that took a racist and gratuitous swipe at Breonna Taylor, a woman fatally shot in 2019 by Louisville cops with the wrong address who broke into her apartment looking for someone else. The former guard, Turhan Knight, was still on the payroll of Louisville Metro Corrections when he filmed the video at a stand at the Kentucky State Fair maintained by city police, where he pretended to be a Louisville cop telling viewers the department needs “back up” and that they shouldn’t mind “what happened to Breonna Taylor” because “we killed that bit**.” He also then joked that cops were able to get away with murder. On August 23, 2022, five days after the video was shot, Knight was called in to be suspended, receiving a termination letter two days later — which was also his next-to-last day of work before leaving for another job. Even the Fraternal Order of Police, dedicated to protecting law enforcement officers, supported Knight’s dismissal.

Kentucky: On August 29, 2022, a former state prison guard at Eastern Kentucky Correctional Center pleaded guilty to assaulting a restrained prisoner four years earlier. A federal DOJ press release reported that the former guard, Jeffery T. Havens, 27, admitted holding the prisoner down in a shower area and punching him on July 24, 2018, while another guard also punched and kicked the man in the head. Former fellow guard Derek Mays pleaded guilty on July 12, 2022, to four counts of obstruction of justice for attempting to cover up the assault. Havens’ sentencing was scheduled for March 13, 2023, when he faces a fine up to $250,000, plus ten years in prison and three years of supervised release.

Louisiana: The last of the “Angola Three” to be released from decades-long solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary died from COVID-19 complications on August 4, 2022. CBS News reported that Albert Woodfox, 75, a one-time member of the Black Panthers, was placed in solitary confinement in 1972 after guards said his political activism would “rile up” other prisoners. He remained there for the next 42 years, perhaps the longest stint ever spent in isolation by an American prisoner. Originally imprisoned for assault and armed robbery, he was thrown in the “hole” after the 1972 killing of guard Brent Miller. Woodfox never admitted that killing, but he was twice convicted of it. Both convictions were tossed, in part for racial bias in their prosecutions. A judge then barred a third trial and ordered Woodfox, who later pleaded no contest to aggravated burglary and manslaughter, to be released. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.46.]

Louisiana: A jail guard in Ascension Parish was fired on September 2, 2022, after sharing a video he made of himself attempting to break up a jail fight. The Advocate reported that the former guard, Mathew Hall, used his personal cell phone to take a video of himself breaking up a fight between detainees. In the video, Hall could be seen attempting to physically restrain a detainee, trying to keep him from getting through a door, while another detainee ran up behind them to attack the first. There were reportedly no injuries. Hall showed the video to a personal acquaintance, in violation of Sheriff’s department policy. It was later uploaded to social media by an undetermined user. An investigation into the footage’s release was opened.

Louisiana: On August 14, 2022, a tactical team from the Louisiana Department of Public Safety ended a two-day standoff between detainees and guards at the Orleans Justice Center, according to WWL in New Orleans, the Times-Picayune, and The Lens. Detainees took over a cell block after newly installed Sheriff Susan Hutson refused their demand for more out-of-cell time, pointing to staff shortages that left just 173 of 324 positions filled at the jail. For that Hutson blamed low pay and poor working conditions. But she agreed to detainees’ other demands, including more books and TV, as well as family photos. She also reported no major injuries were sustained in putting down the rebellion. However, five prisoners were hospitalized in the aftermath, and the Sheriff became the subject of excessive use-of-force complaints.

Massachusetts: WCVB in Boston reported that a state prison guard was assaulted by a prisoner doing his gym workout on August 31, 2022. The guard, Matthew Tidman, 36, remained hospitalized in intensive care a month after the prisoner, Roy Booth, allegedly beat him in the head with gym weights. The state DOC closed weight rooms throughout the prison system while an investigation ensued. The incident also prompted a renewed focus on staffing and funding concerns by DOC officials. A GOP state lawmaker who visited the prison in the aftermath began pushing to ban all free-weight equipment from state lockups. Booth, 40, was charged on October 20, 2022, with armed assault with intent to murder, assault and battery causing serious bodily injury, and mayhem.

Minnesota: KARE in Minneapolis reported on September 7, 2022, that a former state prison guard pleaded guilty to smuggling contraband into the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Stillwater. The former guard, Faith Rose Gratz, 24, admitted bringing methamphetamine into the prison on six occasions, working in concert with a prisoner, Axel Rene Kramer, who was serving a 24-year sentence on a second-degree murder conviction. Gratz also admitted to warning Kramer about cell searches so that he could hide the drugs and phones he had in his cell. Other guards found one of Kramer’s phones on April 8, 2022, which contained a plethora of messages he shared with Gratz discussing the smuggling conspiracy, as well as an apparent romantic relationship between the two that included plans to get married. Upon searching her car, investigators found a half-pound of methamphetamine.

Missouri: On September 12, 2022, the Riverfront Times reported that a former St. Louis City Justice Center prisoner was sentenced to an additional four-year term for a fellow detainee’s beating which was captured on surveillance video that went viral when released. Kevin Moore, 40, was found guilty of assaulting the unnamed detainee in the March 2021 attack, which was allegedly abetted by a third prisoner, Antonio Holt, also 40. Holt still faces assault charges in the incident. Demeria Thomas, 39, a former jail guard who directed the two attackers and opened cell doors for them, received a four-year prison sentence for her role in June 2022. [See: PLN, Jan. 2022, p.20.] At the time of the assault, Moore was awaiting trial for a 2019 armed robbery also caught on video that went viral. For that he was convicted and sentenced to 141 months in prison on July 7, 2022. His two sentences will be served concurrently.

Missouri: On August 19, 2022, a Missouri state prisoner was charged with first-degree assault for allegedly beating a guard at Jefferson City Correctional Center in Columbia the month before. KMIZ in Columbia reported that the guard, Kent Riley, was knocked to the floor and repeatedly punched and kicked by the prisoner, Gavin Syring, 24, after he refused an order to lock down in his cell. Syring has since been moved to Potosi Correctional Center to continue serving an 18-year sentence for armed robbery, assault, armed criminal action, and burglary, to which he pleaded guilty in March 2021. The beaten guard and his wife, Jennifer Riley, filed a civil suit in Cole County Court against Syring alleging his assault left the guard with permanent brain damage.

Montana: A guard at Montana State Prison (MSP) filed a criminal complaint against two supervisors on July 28, 2022, accusing them of constructively kidnapping him when they kept him past the end of his work shift on a “forced holdover.” KTVH in Helena and the Helena Independent Record reported that the guard, Anthony Cotton, said the supervisors kept him locked in a guard cage for a half-hour after his shift ended on July 25, 2022. He has worked as a guard for 17 years. MSP Warden Jim Salmonsen called the guard’s kidnapping complaint “disappointing,” and County Attorney Kathryn McEnery insisted it was a labor dispute, not a criminal matter. Cathy Clark, President of MSP Employees Local 4700, said her members faced PTSD from short-staffing that has left only 158 of them available to watch some 1,600 prisoners. The prison had 296 guards a year earlier. State DOC Spokeswoman Alexandria Klapmeier said the prison went to 12-hour shifts at the end of July 2022, obviating the “holdover” problem.

New Jersey: On September 7, 2022, New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin (D) announced that a state prison guard had been charged with taking bribes to smuggle contraband into Northern State Prison. Werner Gramajo, 45, is accused of accepting money in exchange for sneaking cash, cologne, cold cuts, espresso, and jewelry into the lockup. His charges include tampering with public records, conspiracy, bribery, and official misconduct. The loot allegedly went to prisoner Thomas De Vingo, 64, who is serving time for a robbery conviction. For his role in the scheme, he was charged with misconduct, conspiracy, and bribery. Gramajo allegedly made multiple deliveries and received almost $500 in return every month for nearly a year between 2020 and 2021. If convicted, he faces more than a decade in prison.

New York: On September 15, 2022, a a state prison guard was arrested for dealing drugs out of his apartment in New York City, just two days after a former guard at the Broome County Jail was sentenced for a similar crime. The New York Post reported that Fishkill Correctional Facility guard Alex Toro, 47, allegedly sold cocaine to an undercover cop out of his apartment, where he also had a firearm, on four occasions between August 2 and September 7, 2022. His sister reportedly completed transactions for him when he had to work at the state prison. The other guard was not a drug dealer but a smuggler, and not at a state prison, but at a county jail in Binghamton. WIVT in Binghamton reported that guard Sammy L. Davis, Jr. admitted agreeing to smuggle a package into work with him in September 2021. It was found to contain methamphetamine, Suboxone, Adderall pills, cigarette tobacco, jewelry, matches, and a BIC lighter. After entering his guilty plea and expressing remorse on September 13, 2022, Davis received five years on probation.

New York: On August 29, 2022, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that newly analyzed public records revealed a New York state prison guard fired three years earlier was terminated for his connections to a white nationalist group. Former Shawangunk Correctional Facility guard John Metz, 34, was fired in July 2019 for attempting to smuggle propaganda into the prison from “Identity Evropa,” a white nationalist group with ties to the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017. He was also reportedly identified by an anonymous online collective as an active member of the group from July 2018 to March 2019. The state Department of Corrections and Community Services (DOCCS) terminated Metz for violating its policy banning membership in racist or terrorist organizations.

New York: On September 6, 2022,a former state prison guard in Long Island pleaded guilty to impersonating a cop to pull over women drivers and make sexual advances on them. Staten Island Advance Media reported that DOCCS placed the guard, David Olivari, 38, on leave after his February 2022 arrest in a sting operation. While pretending to be a cop with a flashing dashboard light in his Prius, the guard — who is married — allegedly pulled over two women in January 2022, taking their cellphones and later texting to request nude photos. It was one of those women that Olivari thought he was meeting in the sting. He was later fired by DOCCS. For his conviction on a charge of criminal impersonation he faces up to four years in prison.

North Carolina: A man incarcerated at a state prison in Raleigh was assaulted by other prisoners and died on September 9, 2022. WRAL in Raleigh reported that Ronald S. Rhodes, 35, was being held at Central Prison for safekeeping while awaiting trial in Wake County on charges handed down in 2021 of assault and felony solicitation to commit human trafficking. He was a registered sex offender with numerous previous criminal convictions, including one for kidnapping a 12-year-old in 2004, when Rhodes was 16. He was attacked in the recreation yard around 9:30 a.m. and pronounced dead about an hour later. The facility was placed on lockdown for the subsequent investigation.

Ohio: On August 26, 2022, a guard at the Cuyahoga County Jail was fired and charged with smuggling contraband into the facility. WJW in Cleveland reported that the guard, Lauren E. Ellis-Nelson, 32, was charged with one count of third-degree conveyance of drugs of abuse, weapons, and other prohibited items. She had been on the job since November 2021 and was put under investigation after a tip to the county narcotics unit. The office of Sheriff Steven Hammett initially said her leave would last at least two months, but since she was still on her one-year probationary period, the county human resources office successfully filed for her dismissal.

Philippines: On August 24, 2022, around 100 detainees at a jail in Pototan emerged on the prison roof to protest their poor conditions of confinement. ABC News reported that the detainees — who included alleged communist guerillas — carried signs noting concerns about food. They also called on the warden to be removed. After the protest, they went back to their cells peacefully. Officials announced an investigation into the demonstration, saying some detainees could face disciplinary action. The food issues cited included seizures of family-provided food, as well as rotten fish and glass shards discovered in rice. All of which jail authorities denied. However, a spokesperson promised that the allegations would be investigated. Filipino jails are grossly overcrowded, reportedly at 390% of capacity across the country at the time of the protest.

Pennsylvania: A prisoner was convicted of assaulting a guard at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) in Camp Hill on August 31, 2022, just over two weeks after a detainee at the Cambria County lockup allegedly assaulted a guard there. WHTM in Harrisburg reported that the SCI-Camp Hill prisoner was David Rosario, who was found guilty of assault after he broke from his cell and attacked the unnamed guard on July 9, 2021, punching him in the head 20–30 times. The Tribune-Democrat reported that the other guard assault happened at the Cambria County Prison on August 14, 2022. The unnamed guard in that attack was taken to the hospital. Siddeeq Henry, his alleged assailant, is a detainee from Philadelphia, to whose charges will now be added multiple counts, including aggravated assault.

Pennsylvania: On September 13, 2022, the Bucks County Courier Times reported that a guard at the county lockup was convicted of having sex with a prisoner, just three days after reported that another guard at the jail in Columbia County was charged with the same crime. The Columbia County Prison guard, Joseph Rogustski, 59, is accused of groping and threatening to rape a prisoner inside her cell in August 2022. He reportedly accused his accuser, saying she lured him into her cell and grabbed his hands, forcing him to touch her. But other prisoners confirmed that the guard often made “vulgar” remarks to women held at the jail, and they encouraged her to tell her fiancé. He then reported the allegations to prison officials, leading to Rogustski’s arrest. The Bucks County Prison guard, Joseph Mahaffey, 50, confessed to a misdemeanor charge of official oppression for having sex several times with a woman incarcerated there from January 2021 to January 2022, after her husband found racy text messages she and Mahaffey exchanged. Mahaffey, who had worked at the jail since 2016, was fired in March 2022.

Pennsylvania: The Altoona Mirror reported that a former state prison employee was charged with bringing drugs to SCI Houtzdale on August 11, 2022. Stephen Harris Webster, 39, faces counts of possession of drug paraphernalia and intentional possession of a controlled substance. Police officers were called to investigate accusations that Webster was attempting to smuggle contraband into the prison. When they arrived, Webster refused to consent to a search and resigned. But as he attempted to leave the parking lot, police officers witnessed him reaching under his car seat and stopped him. He then admitted that there was heroin in the car, and police found a white powder in bags in the vehicle.

South Carolina: The State reported that a guard at a women’s prison in Columbia was arrested and fired on August 26, 2022, when he was charged with sexually assaulting two prisoners — on the same day. The guard, Khalim Jovan Battle, 31, allegedly had sex with the prisoners at Camille Graham Correctional Institution on October 21, 2021. He was also charged with misconduct in office. For each charge, he could receive up to ten years in prison if convicted.

South Carolina: A former jail guard at the Kershaw County Detention Center was arrested and accused of assaulting a handcuffed detainee. The State reported that after the incident on March 31, 2022, guard Steven Thomas Payne, 35, was fired the next day. He was arrested on August 25, 2022, when he was accused of grabbing the detainee by the neck while escorting him to the booking area and slamming him into a wall before then tripping him to the floor. All the while the detainee was restrained. Payne had been working at the jail since January 2017. The incident was allegedly witnessed by a number of individuals and also caught on surveillance cameras. The case was investigated by the state Law Enforcement Division, which brought the charges against Payne.

South Carolina: A jail guard at the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center was arrested on September 15, 2022, and charged with aiding an assault on a detainee two days earlier. The State reported that the guard, Shannon Burden, 38, admitted to remotely opening a cell door to allow four detainees — some of whose cells she’d also unlocked — to beat a fifth detainee. She also then did nothing to stop the assault. She allegedly wanted the victim to “behave himself,” after he “upset” her earlier in the day. Also involved in the assault were two detainee “trustees,” who are supposed to be particularly well-behaved given their responsibility and freedom.

Tennessee: On August 13, 2022, a state prisoner at the Turney Center Industrial Complex died of a methamphetamine overdose shortly after exchanging a kiss with his girlfriend during a visit. The woman, Rachel Dollard, 33, was later charged with second-degree murder, CTV News and the Washington Post reported. While visiting the prisoner, Joshua Brown, she kissed him, allegedly passing off a half-ounce of methamphetamine in a balloon. Brown reportedly swallowed the contraband, dying of an overdose at a nearby hospital shortly thereafter. Dollard denied wrongdoing, saying she cared for the dead man. How she allegedly got the contraband into the facility was unclear. Brown was serving 11 years for drug offenses. Dollard was also charged with introducing contraband. If convicted on both charges, she faces up to 60 years in prison.

Texas: KDFW in Fort Worth reported on September 10, 2022, that an employee with a third-party vendor at the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth was arrested the month before and accused of selling drugs to detainees. After an unnamed 20-year-old detainee overdosed at the jail, an investigation was launched and the woman, Aaliyah Lyles, came under suspicion. The detainee who overdosed was taken to a hospital and recovered. But investigators determined that smuggled drugs also caused the fatal overdose of another detainee, Trelynn Wormley, 23, in July 2022. Two other detainees then fingered Lyles and accused her of smuggling Percocet pills, which can be used to make fentanyl. Wormley’s mother said her son was mentally ill. So far Lyles has admitted to investigators that a detainee offered to pay to get her hair done as a bribe. 

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