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News in Brief

Alabama: A federal prisoner in Birmingham was gunned down outside a privately-operated reentry facility on July 16, 2022. The Associated Press reported that the prisoner, Larry Taylor, 47, had just been released from the facility, which is operated under contract from the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) by Keeton Corrections. Taylor was in a parking garage when an unknown assailant approached, shot him several times, and escaped in a white van. He died at a hospital later that day. The murder appeared to be a targeted hit, but no motive is known.

Alabama: On June 30, 2022, after the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority (ACIFA) announced it fell short of raising the bond revenue the state needs to construct two massive prisons, Gov. Kay Ivey (R) said she was pushing ahead and relying on state lawmakers to close the nearly-$200 million funding gap. Alabama Today reported that the price tag for the two prisons, each holding 4,000 prisoners, is $1.2 billion. To cover it, the state earlier announced it was tapping $400 million in pandemic relief funds and selling $725 million worth of bonds. However, ACIFA got just $509 million from bond sales, almost 30% short of the goal. Officials blamed market volatility as well as pressure from criminal justice reform activists.

Alabama: On July 28, 2022, the Alabama Department of Corrections (DOC) barred a Birmingham News reporter from a state prisoner’s execution after guards decided her skirt was too short. The New York Post reported that when journalist Ivana Hrynkiw Shatara showed up for the killing of convicted murderer Joe Nathan James, 49, she was told that her skirt was too revealing for the event. Shatara claimed she had worn the skirt numerous times to professional engagements, including other executions, with no problem. Nor was there any alert about a dress code, she said. After borrowing a pair of rain pants from a colleague, she got in. Her employer, the Alabama Media Group, filed a formal complaint about the incident with DOC. Such dress codes, which primarily impact women, have also been implemented other states.

California: A second guard from California State Prison in Sacramento pled guilty on July 25, 2022, in connection with prisoner assaults and a prisoner death. CBS News reported that the guard, Arturo Pacheco, 40, admitted to multiple incidents of abuse before his 2018 firing, including pepper-spraying a 54-year-old prisoner in the eyes and tackling another 65-year-old prisoner, who fell and broke his jaw and knocked out his teeth. He later died in a hospital of a pulmonary embolism. Both incidents occurred in 2016. The first guard to plead guilty, Ashley Marie Aurich, admitted in January 2021 that she falsely reported details of the pepper-spraying incident. [See: PLN, Feb. 2022, p. 34.] Both she and Pacheco are awaiting sentencing. For his conviction of assault and false reporting, Pacheco faces up to 60 years, though given federal sentencing guidelines he will likely receive no more than 14 years.

Colombia: BBC News reported that a fire swept through a Colombian prison on June 28, 2022, killing 49 prisoners and injuring at least 30 more. The nation’s prison director, Gen Tito Castellanos, blamed prisoners who allegedly set fire to mattresses at the lockup in Tuluá. The prison was overcrowded, as is the entire system, which holds 112,000 prisoners in 132 jails that have a combined capacity of just 80,000.

Colorado: At 11:00 a.m. on March 1, 2022, Inside Wire: Colorado Prison Radio went on air. KUSA in Denver reported that the new radio program is produced by and for Colorado prisoners and broadcast on the state DOC’s closed-circuit television network. The brainchild of Ryan Conarro of the University of Denver Prison Arts Initiative, the channel reaches every state prison, and all 14,000 state prisoners can listen at any hour of the day or night. Conarro was inspired during the pandemic, when lockdowns threw many prisoners into conditions approaching solitary confinement, and then sold DOC Executive Director Dean Williams on the idea, saying it would help prisoners build connections and community, skills useful when they are released. The channel is produced at three state facilities: Sterling, Limon and Denver Women’s Correctional Facilities. Programing includes both music and talk shows and can be accessed outside the prison network online at

Florida: Law & Crime reported that a federal prison guard in the Sunshine State was accused of domestic assault after forcibly stopping his girlfriend from reporting his domestic violence. The guard, Casey Lester, 33, is employed by BOP at the Federal Correctional Complex in Coleman. An unnamed woman he lives said he came home drunk on July 30, 2022, leading to a screaming match. As she tried to call police, Lester allegedly grabbed her, leaving marks on her arms. He denied that the argument turned physical, but Sheriff’s deputies did not believe him and booked him into the Polk County Jail. His arraignment was set for August 30, 2022.

Florida: WFTS in Tampa reported that videos posted to the social media app TikTok in 2021 gained an audience for a then-state prisoner who made them to highlight problems she dealt with at Lowell Correctional Institution (LCI). When the prisoner, Keiko Kopp, arrived at LCI for a three-year sentence for drug trafficking, she was carrying her fifth child. Though LCI is intended for pregnant prisoners, she allegedly received no prenatal care and lost the child, whom she named Raven, shortly after giving birth in September 2021. That’s when she started making the videos, at first discussing the birth and lack of treatment she received, later highlighting other issues in the facility, including the difficulties of prisoners who are mentally ill, impaired or elderly, as well as fights between prisoners and prisoner drug overdoses. Official reactions to the videos were mixed, with some guards taking them lightly, and others higher up in DOC taking a dim view and threatening to cut off her access to prison email if she didn’t stop sending them to her mother to post. She eventually did, when she was transferred to another prison in October 2021—but not before amassing more than 153,000 followers and 8 million views of her videos.

Florida: A Broward County Jail guard testified on July 28, 2022, that he was attacked at the lockup by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooter Nicholas Cruz. Fox News reported that the guard, Stg. Raymond Beltran, said Cruz assaulted him and tried to take his Taser on November 13, 2018, nine months after Cruz murdered 17 people in the school shooting. The incident was caught on jail surveillance video. Cruz was being held in isolation when he charged Beltran and grabbed his weapon, which discharged, missing both of them. Beltran was able to get the Taser back and bash Cruz in the head with it. Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October 2021 to 17 counts of murder and another 17 counts of attempted murder in the mass shooting at his former high school, which claimed the lives of three school staffers and 14 students on February 14, 2018. After the incident with Beltran, Cruz also pleaded guilty to battery on a law enforcement officer. Beltran testified about the assault in a hearing during the sentencing phase of Cruz’s trial for the school shooting, where prosecutors argued the aggravated nature of Cruz’s attack on the guard was evidence he should be executed.

Georgia: A guard at Georgia’s Douglas County Jail was arrested on July 13, 2022, when she was charged with sexual assault of a detainee. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the guard, Leigh Anne Lewis, 31, was questioned by investigators with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and admitted to kissing the unnamed prisoner and performing oral sex on him. Sheriff Tim Pounds said that he still believed in the rest of his deputies and would not allow “one bad apple to spoil the bunch.” Lewis appeared in court on July 14, 2022, when she was put under a $30,000 bond.

Georgia: “Messy vetting” of a new hire by the Savannah Police Department (SPD) was uncovered by The Current, after rookie Officer Ernest Ferguson, 27, fatally shot Saudi Arai Lee, 31, near Lee’s home on June 24, 2022. Ferguson remains on paid leave while the incident is under investigation. Meanwhile the news site discovered that a contract background specialist sent to Ferguson’s former employer, Coastal State Prison, was met by a guard who wrote “none” in answer to the question whether Ferguson had any disciplinary history. In fact, Ferguson had several disciplinary reviews while working as a prison guard. In one, Warden Brooks L. Benton documented concerns about use of force. In another review, Ferguson was faulted for not turning on his body camera. Lee’s shooting was the fifth involving an SPD officer in 2022.

Hawaii: Two suicides were reported at the Maui Community Correctional Center in June 2022, Honolulu Civil Beat reported. On June 8, Jonathan Pico, 29, hanged himself and died. A week later, on June 15, Diamond Simeona-Agoo, 21, also fatally hanged herself. That makes six suicides in five years at the lockup. As reported elsewhere in this issue, the state paid $1.375 million in a lawsuit over the suicide of another state prisoner, Joseph O’Malley, 28, in March 2022. [See: PLN, Sep. 2022, p.52.]

Illinois: Officials say the danger to the general population and staff in Chicago’s Cook County jail is low following a case of monkeypox detected on July 21, 2022. Contact tracing is being done, after “swift action” was taken to stop the spread of infection in the lockup.  Only one person was infected and then isolated “out of an abundance of caution,” according to county Sheriff Tom Dart. Dr. Michael Cohen has provided information about the disease and its effect on prisoners elsewhere in this issue. [See: PLN, Sept. 2022, p.34.]

Iowa: A guard resigned from the Tama County Jail after she was arrested in April 2022 and accused of having a months-long sexual relationship with a detainee. The New York Post reported that the jailer, Kayla Mae Bergom, 27, had sex with the unnamed 29-year-old detainee between September 2020 and April 2021 in several locations at the jail, including a utility closet and the recreation yard. The state Division of Criminal Investigation conducted the probe that led to the charges at the invitation of Sheriff Dennis Kucera, after a tip from another jail employee.  Bergom pleaded not guilty in May 2022 to three counts of sexual misconduct.

Israel: According to a report by the Times of Israel on July 29, 2022, an intelligence officer was the latest Israeli Prisons Service employee questioned in a widening rape scandal at Gilboa Prison. Nisim Finish was grilled on July 28, 2022, about an accusation by a female soldier working as a guard at the prison that she was raped by a Palestinian prisoner and that her commander knew and did nothing. At least five other soldiers have also come forward claiming they were raped by prisoners they were guarding, also with the tacit consent of another prison intelligence officer, Rani Basha, who has since been fired. Former Warden Freddy Ben Sheetrit also testified in a November 2021 state investigation that female guards were being pimped to certain prisoners. He was placed on leave in August 2022 for allegedly sloppy record-keeping.

Kansas: A state prisoner at Lansing Correctional Facility is accused of assaulting a guard, according to WDAF in Kansas City, Missouri. The prisoner, Ron Larsen, Jr., 37, was charged with aggravated battery in connection with the attack on an unnamed female prison guard on November 3, 2021, which left her with a head injury, facial fractures and broken bones. Larsen, who was then found in possession of “dangerous contraband,” was also accused of battery, assault and disobeying orders. He was transferred to another prison near Wichita. He has a lengthy disciplinary history since first entering custody of the state DOC in 2004. His most recent incarceration followed convictions for theft, burglary, and kidnapping in 2017.

Kentucky: WDRB in Louisville reported that a contract food services employee at Roederer Correctional Complex in La Grange was charged with third-degree sodomy on July 1, 2022. Kentucky State Police (KSP) say that the jail employee, Duncan Thornton, 21, admitted to having sex with an unnamed prisoner. KSP also alleged that the prisoner admitted to it as well. The charges followed a KSP investigation into claims by an on-duty prison guard who allegedly witnessed sexual contact between Thornton and the prisoner.

Kentucky: On May 24, 2022, a jail guard in Newport was arrested and charged with raping two detainees on the same day, according to WCPO in Cincinnati, Ohio. The jailer, Antonio Myrick, 29, was fired and is being held in isolation from other detainees. Court filings allege that he committed the rapes while on duty on May 22, 2022. After one victim told investigators that she and Myrick had exchanged texts, they went through the guard’s phone and found message threads, including some with sexual language, involving no fewer than eight numbers belonging to detainees. During the investigation, the second detainee came forward to accuse Myrick of raping her just three hours before the first alleged incident.

Louisiana: On July 19, 2022, Gov. John Bell Edwards (D) announced that juvenile prisoners from the troubled Bridge City Center for Youth (BCCY) in New Orleans were being transferred to the maximum-security state penitentiary in Angola. NBC News reported that Edwards’ decision followed a series of fights, injuries and breakouts at BCCY. One breakout involved a carjacking and shooting. Edwards defended the plan to move the 25 juveniles to the notorious prison, saying they would be held in a separate building and have no contact with adult prisoners, and they would continue to receive education and be overseen by staff with the state Office of Juvenile Justice. But activists, experts, and lawyers wondered how the youths could be entirely separated from adult prisoners when they share the same infirmary. Also some adult prisoners work as trustees performing maintenance and delivering food or other supplies to the youths.

Michigan: The Detroit Free Press reported that state officials notified two juvenile state prisons in Detroit on June 23, 2022, that they must stop operating. The order followed allegations of mistreatment of female prisoners by staff, including physical and emotional abuse. The two facilities were part of the Detroit Behavioral Institute (DBI). Guards allegedly ordered some youths to fight one another and encouraged others to kill themselves, in addition to slapping, choking and biting them or mocking their weight. Staffers were also allegedly intoxicated when they took some youthful offenders on a trip to a park. The accusations got the state to suspend the license for the two facilities, forcing the relocation of dozens of young prisoners. The recent accusations are not the first allegations of abuse lodged against DBI staffers, some of whom have been fired. The situation had gotten so bad that state officials were making daily visits. Detroit Police acknowledged opening multiple investigations into the facilities.

Montana: The Billings Gazette reported that a former guard at Montana Women’s Prison (MWP) was sentenced on June 30, 2022, for sexually abusing a prisoner. The former guard, Allan Lee Hagstrom, 41, received his sentence—ten years, five of them suspended—on charges originally filed in September 2019. By that time, he had moved on to CoreCivic’s Crossroads Correctional Facility, after working at MWP less than a year. He had also worked as a guard in other facilities for about 13 years. During their investigation, officials discovered Hagstrom’s email address on a note in the prisoner’s cell. She also admitted having sexual encounters with him. [See: PLN, Jan. 2022, p.1.] U.S. Marshals arrested him in November 2019 in Texas, and he pleaded guilty in February 2022. Hagstrom claimed that the prisoner not only instigated the sexual relationship but “left him powerless” to stop it. “She wanted it and I was just, I f***ed up,” he said. The prosecutor in the case said Hagstrom was posing as a victim and should receive 20 years, with ten suspended. The former guard ended up getting half as long.

Nebraska: On February 22, 2022, a guard was arrested and accused of smuggling drugs into Nebraska State Penitentiary. The Lincoln Journal Star reported that Cpl. Edgar Gomez, 34, was discovered four days earlier attempting to bring a beverage can with a secret compartment stuffed with drugs into the facility. Why did it take four days to arrest him? Because it took guards that long to break into the can. When they did, they found 57.2 grams of methamphetamine and 65.1 grams of marijuana. At that point Gomez had already left, so a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was finally caught during a traffic stop in Omaha on February 22, 2022.

New Jersey: In June 2022, a transgender state prisoner was transferred from the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women (EMCF) to the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility after getting two fellow EMCF prisoners pregnant. The New York Post reported that the prisoner, Demetrius “Demi” Minor, 27, was moved after having “consensual sexual relationships with other incarcerated persons” that resulted in the pregnancies. Minor, who is serving 30 years for manslaughter, posted on a blog after the move that she was beaten and called “a man” numerous times. She also claimed that she did not feel safe from sexual harassment during the transfer. The state DOC did not comment on the accusations other than to say that any abuses by staff would not be tolerated. Policies allowing transgender prisoners to be housed in facilities matching their gender identity were adopted in a 2021 settlement reached in a lawsuit filed by a transgender woman forcibly housed at a men’s prison for 18 months. [See: PLN, Nov. 2021, p.58.] DOC indicated it intends to maintain those polices with small modifications.

New York: A state prisoner at Green Haven Correctional Facility was killed in a fight with another prisoner on June 30, 2022. The Poughkeepsie Journal identified the dead man as Jarrett Frost, 30. The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision did not immediately identify the other prisoner involved. According to a 2017 report by the Westchester Journal News, Frost was arrested on burglary charges that year and made a failed escape attempt from the Westchester County Jail. He had earlier been arrested by New York City Police in 2011 on charges that were later dropped, but not before he allegedly sustained injuries from two guards at the Riker’s Island jail complex. A civil suit filed over that incident went all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in November 2020, when his claim was sustained. [See: PLN, May 2021, p.28.] The City appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Shortly before Frost’s death; that petition was denied on April 18, 2022. See: City of N.Y. v. Frost, 142 S. Ct. 1666 (2022).

New York: A teenager playing with a water gun was shot and killed by a state prison guard in the Bronx on July 21, 2022. The Daily News reported that the off-duty guard, Dion Middleton, 45, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, manslaughter, and murder after he killed Raymond Chaluisant, 18. The victim’s sister, Jiraida Esquilin, 29, expressed shock at the death, explaining many in the neighborhood were playing with water guns in 90-degree heat. The family had already been grieving over the recent death of Chaluisant’s father when Middleton shot him multiple times at close range, at least once in the chin, as the teen rode in a car driven by a 22-year-old acquaintance, who abandoned the vehicle a half mile away with Chaluisant still in it. Middleton allegedly went to work after the killing. New York City Police tracked him to their shooting range in Rodman’s Neck and arrested him there.

New York: A Riker’s Island detainee notorious for smearing his feces on a subway rider had scalding water poured on his face by a fellow detainee in late July 2022. The New York Post reported that the “poop perp,” Frank Abrokwa, 37, likely suffered permanent facial scarring in the incident with the other detainee, known as “Burns.” Abrokwa was being held at the jail for allegedly using a dumbbell to break a window at a Harlem storage facility, after his release on assault charges for putting his defecation on a 43-year-old woman on February 21, 2022. After that incident, he told police, “Shit happens.” “Burns” had been detained on felony assault charges and will likely face new charges after assaulting and disfiguring Abrokwa.

Oklahoma: A guard at a CoreCivic prison 80 miles east of Oklahoma City was murdered by a state prisoner on July 31, 2022, KOCO reported. The guard, Alan Jay Hershberger, died soon after he was allegedly attacked from behind with a homemade weapon by the prisoner, Gregory S. Thompson, 49, at Davis Correctional Facility. Other guards failed in their attempt to save Hershberger. Thompson is serving life without parole for the 2003 murder of Jerry McQuin in Oklahoma City, plus an additional five-year term for first-degree manslaughter in the killing of fellow Oklahoma State Penitentiary prisoner Daniel Clayton in 2009. The state DOC’s Office of the Inspector General is investigating.

Oregon: The Oregonian reported that as many as 80 prisoners began a hunger strike at the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan on June 23, 2022, when BOP confirmed that some prisoners “did not accept their food.” Defense lawyers said their clients promised to continue drinking water but to abstain from all food in protest of allegedly poor conditions, including inadequate health care, overly restrictive access to communication with family and legal counsel, and inadequate food. Warden DeWayne Hendrix issued a memo the following day, barring the prisoners from showers during their hunger strike. On June 27, 2022, BOP reported that all prisoners “accepted their food trays for the evening meal and showered by 8 p.m. that evening.” In a February 2022 status report to a federal court hearing a challenge to prison officials over conditions there during the COVID-19 pandemic, federal Public Defender Lisa Hay said prisoners were left to suffer “on-going distress and harm.” [See: PLN, June 2022, p.56.]

Pennsylvania: An Elizabethtown woman was sentenced on June 29, 2022, to two-to-twelve months in prison for flashing her naked breasts outside the Lancaster County Prison. Patriot News reported that the woman, Elisabell Berrios, 36, was found guilty of open lewdness after exposing her breasts while lying on the hood of her car outside the prison in September 2021. She was at the prison, which sits across the street from residential neighborhoods, to visit a prisoner, and her children, ages 8 and 12, were nearby. Prosecutors said that after the incident she was belligerent and bragged about the flashing. Berrios’ lawyers argued unsuccessfully that she shouldn’t go to jail because she had to care for her children.

Pennsylvania: WTXF in Philadelphia reported on July 3, 2022, that Blair County District Attorney Pete Weeks had posthumously cleared an Altoona police officer who killed a county jail guard in November 2021. The officer, Sgt. George Bistline, died of natural causes earlier in 2022, while the investigation was ongoing into his fatal shooting of the guard, Rhonda Jean Russell, 47, which occurred at the county courthouse after she was disarmed by a detainee she was guarding. The detainee, Christopher Aikens, 55, then used her as a shield when Bistline attempted to shoot him, hitting and killing Russell instead. For that, Weeks said, Bistline would not be charged were he alive. Aikens faces charges including attempted homicide, homicide and kidnapping. [See: PLN, Jan. 2022, p. 62.]

Pennsylvania: On July 28, 2022, a guard at the Lawrence County Jail was arrested and charged with introducing contraband into the facility. The Ellwood City Ledger reported that the guard, Travis D. Marsh, 46, was nabbed while meeting with an informant for a “controlled purchase.” Investigators said the informant came to them on July 27, 2022, claiming that Marsh had been smuggling drugs into the jail since May 2022. The next day they had him in custody on suspicion of introducing tobacco, marijuana, Suboxone, and heroin into the facility in exchange for about $500 worth of heroin for himself. He was jailed, and his bond was set at $100,000.

Texas: KXXV in Waco reported that the former Chief Deputy with the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s Office pleaded guilty on July 6, 2022, to assaulting an unnamed detainee he was guarding at the county jail. The guard, Steven “Craig” Shelton, 61, admitted using his forearm to repeatedly hit the handcuffed and compliant detainee in the face. He blamed the assault on frustration and agreed to a 44-month prison term, followed by five years of supervised release. That sentence is awaiting court approval. After admitting he lied to investigators about the incident, Sheriff Steve Hendrix was indicted in March 2022, along with Chief Deputy Jerry Wood and Sgt. Blake Snell. But the charges were dropped on May 20, 2022, after all three had either resigned or agreed to do so. County Commissioners appointed Sgt. Joe Carter to replace Hendrix on May 9, 2022.

Texas: A private prison guard, Jose Martin Espinoza, Jr., was arrested on July 12, 2022, on charges he accepted a bribe to smuggle contraband to a federal detainee at East Hidalgo Detention Center. The prison, which is operated by the Florida-based GEO Group, holds detainees for the county and the state Department of Criminal Justice, as well as federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It was unclear which was responsible for the detainee, Abel Angel Solis, who was also charged in the scheme, Corrections One reported. Seven other GEO Group employees previously pleaded guilty to smuggling contraband into the lockup or having illicit sex with detainees held there. [See: PLN, Oct. 2021, p.43.]

United Kingdom: A former HMP prison guard was sentenced to 20 years in prison on July 29, 2022, for assaulting and raping a sex worker. After using a fake handgun to force himself on her in November 2021, the former guard, Richard Scaife, 46, asked to be her friend. When he was arrested afterward, police recovered his expired prison ID, duct tape, a bayonet, a fake handgun and a torn condom, Newsweek reported. In a subsequent search of his Dover home, they found knuckle dusters, lock-knives, machetes, pistols, air rifles, nunchucks and a samurai sword.

Wisconsin: A Brown County judge dismissed a plea agreement from a former state prison guard on July 5, 2022, leaving in place potential hate crime enhancements to his battery and disorderly conduct charges for attacking the lesbian sister of a woman who invited him home after they met while he was bar-hopping in July 2021. The Green Bay Press Gazette reported that a judge set trial to begin in February 2023 for Shane Nolan, 30, after rejecting his plea agreement to charges stemming from the attack on Dessiray Koss at her home. After calling her a homophobic slur, he allegedly shoved Koss into the fire pit they had been enjoying and began strangling her. The state DOC fired him from Green Bay Correctional Institution in November 2021. 

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