News in Brief
Alabama: WBAM in Birmingham reported that a guard at the Blount County Jail was taken into custody and fired on January 31, 2023. Joseph Snow, 43, was charged with second-degree assault for injuring a detainee during an incident captured on surveillance video. Sheriff Mike Moon called the footage “sickening,” guessing that the former guard had “snapped.” Snow had been on administrative leave. Moon found no provocation by the detainee for the assault.
Alabama: On November 16, 2022, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) was ordered to reinstate a guard placed on leave when he was charged in a state prisoner’s death. In May 2022, John Eddie Rodgers and fellow guard Latasha Patrice Terrell were arrested and charged with negligent homicide in the death of prisoner Jason Matthew Kirkland at the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility on July 5, 2021. [See: PLN, Jul. 2022, p.62.] But now, WIAT in Birmingham reported, the state Personnel Board ordered DOC to reinstate Rodgers. Kirkland was found dead in his cell at the prison, after sticking his head through a broken tray door and suffocating while Rogers was on a 14-minute smoke break. Rogers had known about the broken slot for a month and asked for a repair, but it had not been done. The Board claimed that was sufficient to prevent his termination and ordered him reinstated with benefits and backpay. Terrell has also appealed her firing. That appeal is still pending.
Bolivia: A prisoner in La Paz tried to escape by disguising himself in a sheepskin and crawling away from the Chonchocoro prison through an open field. The New York Post reported that José Luis Callisaya Diaz, also known as “El Araña,” successfully snuck past guards and got onto open grassland around the prison on February 4, 2023. Diaz, who was serving 15 years for homicide, was eventually noticed missing from his cell. He took advantage of cold weather and a patch of sheep’s wool to provide cover for his escape. He planned to break through the lockup’s external fence but he was apprehended first. An image of the escape attempt captured Diaz wrapped in the animal skin and crawling across the grass.
California: KFMB in San Diego reported that a county jail guard was arrested on suspicion of cocaine possession on February 3, 2023. The guard, San Diego Sheriff’s Department (SDSD) Deputy Allen Wereski, 48, was taken into custody after cocaine was allegedly found in his vehicle on jail property. He was charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance in prison and suspended from SDSD without pay. Another employee, Corey Richey, was arrested in January 2023 on suspicion of stealing prescription drugs from drop boxes maintained by SDSD for the public to discard expired medication. He was charged with three counts of possession of a controlled substance and thirteen counts of burglary.
California: A former state prison guard was sentenced for smuggling contraband onto death row in exchange for bribes on February 24, 2023. The U.S. Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Northern District of California said that Keith Christopher, 38, was working at San Quentin State Prison when he took bribes to smuggle at least 25 cellphones to condemned prisoners from December 2019 to May 2020. He was part of a smuggling conspiracy in which he trafficked phones, chargers, and accessories to a prisoner who then sold the contraband inside the lockup. The scheme also involved Dustin Albini, 37; Tanisa Smith-Symes, 46; and his half-brother, Isaiah Wells, 32. Christopher accepted thousands of dollars in bribes through cash app transfers. He was indicted on September 29, 2021, and later pleaded guilty. [See: PLN, Nov. 2021, p. 62; and Dec. 2022, p. 62]. He received 20 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
Canada: A federal prison guard in Alberta was charged with sexually assaulting a prisoner at the Edmonton Institute for Women, Global News reported. Peter Wolf, 55, was taken into custody on February 28, 2023, when he was accused of sexually assaulting a prisoner in January 2022. Edmonton police received a report about the alleged assault in August 2022. Wolf faces counts of breach of trust by a public officer, unlawful confinement, and sexual assault.
Delaware: WHYY and WTXF in Philadelphia reported that a long-time Delaware prison guard was indicted for animal cruelty. Darrel Wiley, 45, was charged on January 31, 2023, with official misconduct, misdemeanor cruelty to animals and felony first-degree assault. The dead K-9 was his partner Lux, a young Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd mix. They worked together at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center beginning in June 2020, when Wiley allegedly left Lux cooped up in his car alone repeatedly during the summer months, sometimes for up to eight hours. Lux died on September 18, 2022, after being left in the vehicle for four hours while the outside temperature went beyond 80 degrees. Wiley, who was certified by the National Police Canine Association to become a K-9 handler in 2006, was accused of reckless confinement of a canine resulting in the animal’s death. He was placed on administrative leave and later resigned from the state DOC on November 24, 2022.
Egypt: Al-Jazeera reported that in late January 2023, five social media personalities were arrested by Egyptian police for producing a three-minute comedic video about visiting a jail. The five included popular Tik-Tok creators Mohamed Hossam and Basma Hegazy. Their video, released on January 13, 2023, was titled “The Visit,” and it depicted a woman visiting her fiancé at an Egyptian jail, interacting with a guard and cast of characters being held there. The post was reportedly viewed at least seven million times after it was published online. The group faces charges including “utilizing social media accounts to commit acts of terrorism,” “publishing false news,” “funding terrorism,” and “joining a terrorist group.” All five were ordered held for 15 days while an investigation got underway. A lawyer for two of the five indicated that it was unclear what in the video caused the arrests, but the charges are commonly used to target individuals seen to be “undermining” the nation and its security. They were not the first social media personalities arrested in Egypt for creating content considered undesirable by the government, a trend deplored by Amnesty International.
Florida: The Jackson County Times and WDHN in Dothan, Alabama, reported that a former Florida prison guard was arrested and charged in a smuggling scheme that included hiding contraband in her vagina. Lawana Mekell Sharpe, 38, worked as a guard at Graceville Correctional Facility before her arrest on January 13, 2023. She was charged with two counts each of contraband introduction and sexual misconduct, plus no fewer than 67 counts of unlawful compensation or reward for official behavior. For smuggling contraband into the prison between January and October 2021, she allegedly received more than $12,000 in bribes via electronic banking transfers. She also allegedly had sex with a prisoner. An investigation was launched in September 2021, when guards found messages on a prisoner’s phone from “Candy Williams.” Sharpe, who quit working at the prison on September 30, 2021, was accused by the prisoner of giving him her number and contacting him through Facebook messenger and the prison phone line. She was also accused of performing sexual acts with the prisoner, including oral and vaginal intercourse. In addition, she allegedly admitted to sneaking cigars into the facility numbering in the hundreds by hiding them either in her underwear or her vagina.
Florida: CBS News and the Daily Beast reported that on February 15, 2023, a three-year-old whose father worked in a state prison accidentally shot and killed himself with his dad’s 9mm pistol. The incident occurred while the child’s older sister, 16, was babysitting. The gun had been left in an unlocked nightstand drawer when the toddler found it. The child’s father was working at Tomoka Correctional Institution in Daytona Beach at the time and reportedly did not use the weapon for his job. He and the child’s mother had gone out grocery shopping, leaving their older daughter with him and another brother, who is 8. There was reportedly a defective gun safe in the bedroom. The 9mm pistol was found by the bedside nightstand with the child’s body, and another weapon – a Glock pistol – was found on top of a refrigerator. Police were alerted when the teenage daughter called 911 in a panic, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said.
Florida: On February 22, 2023, a state prisoner was arrested on suspicion of murdering his cellmate at Backwater River Correctional Facility the year before. WEAR in Pensacola reported that the accused prisoner was Angel Velez, 41, who was serving a 35-year sentence for robbing an antique store – twice – while living on the streets and desperate for cash. He was originally arrested in July 2015 for threatening customers at the store, including a child, with a screwdriver or a hypodermic needle. He was convicted of kidnapping, armed robbery and aggravated battery. Velez had also served time for murder in Puerto Rico. His cellmate, Andrew Thompson, 35, was found face-down on his bunk with a torn sheet around his neck on July 27, 2022. Velez reportedly told the guard who found Thompson, “He’s not going to respond to you. I killed him.” Thompson was serving 45 years for bestiality and child pornography convictions, which Velez reportedly cited as his motivation for the murder. He was transferred to Santa Rosa Correctional Institution while an investigation got underway and charged with second-degree murder.
Georgia: According to the USAO for the Southern District of Georgia, a former guard at a privately operated federal prison was sentenced for her role in a contraband-smuggling scheme on February 22, 2023. Tiffany Fletcher, 36, formerly worked at McRea Correctional Facility, which is operated for the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) by private prison giant CoreCive. She previously pleaded guilty to accepting more than $4,000 in bribes to “turn a blind eye” to contraband smugglers at the prison between June 2019 and December 2019. The case was investigated by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General. Fletcher was fined $1,500 and sentenced to 12 months in prison, plus three years of supervised release.
Hawaii: On February 21, 2023, the Hawaii Labor Relations Board (HLRB) ordered the state to reinstate a former prison guard in Hilo, even though he was convicted in the beating of a prisoner. Honolulu Civil Beat reported that the former guard, Jonathan Taum, 50, was fired in 2016 after a fellow guard at Hawaii Community Correctional Center accused him of allowing the beating of prisoner Chawn Kaili on June 15, 2015, and then lying about it to investigators. [See: PLN, Jan. 2023, p. 62.] But HLRB claimed that the second guard, J. Marte Martinez, also falsified her credentials. She was later charged with perjury and lying under oath. Though the charges against Taum resulted in his conviction and a 12-year prison sentence, HLRB ruled that he was improperly fired because the reporting guard’s false credentials left the state without proper grounds for his termination. The state was ordered to reinstate Taum and give him six years of back pay with “interest, costs, and attorneys’ fees.” He made around $60,000 a year.
India: World Is One News reported that a pretrial detainee escaped Baran District Jail within a week of being moved there on February 25, 2023. The detainee, identified only as Janved by the media outlet, reportedly scaled a 20-foot electrified fence around the lockup using a length of television cable. He was being held on suspicion of murdering his wife before he was noticed missing during the lockup’s nightly headcount. He was not the first detainee in the state of Rajasthan to make a recent jail escape jail. Three detainees got out of Banswara District Jail in June 2022 by making a hole in their cell wall and then scaling a 12-foot fence with a rope of tied-together blankets.
Indiana: WBIW in Bloomington reported that Monroe County Jail guard James Mitchell was fired on January 31, 2023, for using excessive force on a detainee. The incident occurred after detainee Marcus Ford complained of health issues and the onsite nurse recommended sending him to the medical observation cell. When guards, including Mitchell, asked him repeatedly to go with them to the cell, Ford allegedly threatened them with violence. In the struggle that ensured, Ford reportedly “busted Mitchell’s lip,” and Mitchell then punched the detainee repeatedly in the head, leaving him with a fractured orbital bone and nose. After an internal investigation, Mitchell was fired for failing to properly deescalate the situation. No criminal charges were filed, however.
Kentucky: A former jail guard and two others in Glasgow were arrested on February 24, 2023, on suspicion of carrying out a drug smuggling scheme at the Barran County Jail. WCLU in Glasgow reported that the three were accused of smuggling illicit substances into the jail, after an investigation launched on December 28, 2022. The guard, Edith Piercy, 24, was charged with first-degree promoting contraband and engaging in organized crime. The other two suspects included in the indictment with her were detainees: Amber D. Huff, 23, and Shasta Vaughn, 35. They face the same counts as Piercy. The investigation into the matter is ongoing.
Louisiana: WAFB in Baton Rouge reported on February 17, 2023, that a state prison guard at the Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility was arrested on suspicion of smuggling drugs into the prison. Nyeisha Davis, 23, was allegedly caught in the act, attempting to smuggle illicit substances into the prison “inside her body,” which guards discovered when carrying out a routine scan. Davis was fired rather than placed on leave, since she had worked at the prison only since September 2022 and was still on probationary employment. She was charged with malfeasance in office, introduction of contraband into a correctional facility and possession with intent to distribute heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana.
Maine: A former jail guard in Cumberland County was sentenced for manslaughter, WMTW in Portland reported on February 6, 2023. The former guard, Kenneth Morang, crashed his truck into another vehicle carrying a family in July 2019. Morang acknowledged during his trial that he must have fallen asleep at the wheel, admitting also that he regularly worked 80 to 100 hours a week. The family’s daughter, Raelynn Bell, 9, suffered brain damage from blunt force trauma and died. Morang was later charged with manslaughter and convicted at a trial in October 2022. [See: PLN, Dec. 2022, p. 62.] During the sentencing hearing, the former guard offered an apology to the family, though he later said that he could never ask their forgiveness for something he could not forgive himself for. Morang was sentenced to a six-year suspended prison term, $5,000 in fines, 200 hours of community service and four years of probation. He was also ordered to have no contact with the family, and he is barred from driving anymore.
Massachusetts: Corrections1 reported that on February 10, 2023, the Administration and Finance Director in the office of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu (D) was arraigned on money-laundering charges, in connection with a drug-smuggling scheme at a state prison. Freda Brasfield was originally indicted on December 15, 2022. She was then arraigned alongside accused co-conspirators Jayleen Rivera and Jaime Liberty. The three allegedly particpated in a scheme to smuggle drugs into Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Shirley. The three also face counts of conspiracy to launder money. Brasfield allegedly used Cash App to finance the purchase of K2 “Spice” that the others then smuggled into the lockup. Also involved in the scheme were five related civilians and four people in prison, including Brasfield’s nephew. Brasfield was placed on administrative leave the day of her arraignment.
Michigan: A state prison guard was arraigned on February 16, 2023, on charges of smuggling cellphones and drugs into Macomb Correctional Facility. The Detroit News reported that Miguel Priest, 23, was allegedly caught with the contraband in snack containers as he was entering the facility on September 25, 2022. Priest faces felony counts of bringing contraband into a prison and misconduct in office. Both carry maximum sentences of five years in prison.
Minnesota: The USAO for the District of Minnesota announced that a federal prisoner held by BOP at its Federal Correctional Institution in Sandstone had an extra 24 months added to his sentence on February 16, 2023. Nickolas William Mihelic, 39, had previously admitted to attempting to have methamphetamine delivered into the lockup twice: first in February 2022 and then again in March 2022. He acknowledged conspiring with an associate to have pieces of paper saturated in methamphetamine and then mailed to him in prison, where he planned to distribute it. But prison officials seized the papers when they arrived. Mihelic was convicted on two counts of attempting to obtain contraband in prison when he pleaded guilty on September 26, 2022.
Mississippi: Fox News reported that a former federal prison guard in Flora was sentenced on February 17, 2023, for abusing the COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program. Tarshauna Thomas, 34, was found guilty of submitting two fraudulent applications for loans under the program. On the applications she claimed to be the sole owner of a dog-sitting and breeding business when she was, in fact, a guard at the Federal Correctional Complex in Yazoo City. Thomas then accepted $12,586 in loans which she used for personal expenses. Congress passed the federal program to help businesses during the economic struggles of the pandemic era. Thomas was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay $15,086 in restitution for the fraud.
New Hampshire: A state prisoner at Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility died after a fight with a fellow prisoner on February 13, 2023. The New Hampshire Union Leader reported that the dead man, James Dale, 65, had a physical altercation with an unnamed fellow prisoner at 7:00 a.m. the day before he died, after which he was transported to a trauma center, where he eventually succumbed to his injuries. Dale had been serving a 100-year sentence for the aggravated sexual assault and second-degree murder of a 6-year-old girl in 1997. He had always maintained his innocence and requested a new trial, citing ineffective legal counsel. State police and the attorney general’s office are conducting the ongoing investigation into his death.
New Jersey: My Central Jersey reported on February 28, 2023, that a state appellate court ordered the state DOC to reinstate a guard at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, after he was acquitted of sexually assaulting a prisoner. The former guard, Brian Ambroise, was removed from his job when he was accused of engaging in oral sex with a prisoner on October 3, 2016. He was later acquitted of related criminal charges of sexual assault and official misconduct in November 2018. But after acquittal, DOC upheld its decision to file disciplinary charges against him and moved for his termination. Ambroise denied the existence of a sexual relationship, admitting only to a “quick kiss,” initiated by the prisoner, once. Though the claims of the prisoner were found to be “inconsistent” and “unreliable,” he was also found to have relayed messages between prisoners, so DOC decided then to fire Ambroise. [See: PLN, Dec. 7, 2018, p.44; and Nov. 2020, p.34.] He took that decision to court, where an appellate judge ordered Ambroise’s reinstatement as a senior corrections officer with backpay. However, he won’t get paid all the way back to the date he stopped working; the state Civil Service Commission increased the 20-day suspension to six months.
New York: The New York Times reported that a string of violent incidents occurred in New York City’s Rikers Island jail on January 14, 2023, helping the jail complex keep its reputation as a “place of exceptional violence.” In the early morning, Michael Bellevue, 23, a robbery suspect, was confronted and attacked with a knife, allegedly by detainees Kamani Romain, 23, Christopher Vazquez, 30, and Hafiz Ahmed, 23. Guards witnessed the attack, but when they investigated could not find any weapons. Bellevue was injured but survived the stabbing. Around noon on the same day, Ozzborn Thomas, 33, a rape suspect, was found unresponsive in the medical complex, allegedly from an overdose. He was revived. Then, in the early afternoon, Paul Grant, 23, who was being held on assault, drug, menacing, and larceny charges, was allegedly cornered and stabbed in the chest by four fellow detainees: Carlos Correa, 33; Luis Rosas, 41; Franklin Santos, 23; and Carlos Quinones, 50. They ignored guards’ orders to stop the attack, which ended only when they were pepper-sprayed. Grant survived his attack, as well. The jail complex saw 19 detainee deaths in 2022. [See: PLN, Feb. 2023, p.28.]
New York: According to the USAO for the Northern District of New York, a former jail guard at Rensselaer County Correctional Facility was arraigned on June 29, 2022, on a charge of “abusive sexual contact of a ward.” Sean Morrissey, 51, was accused of sexually touching a federal prisoner held at the jail between September 7, 2018, and September 21, 2018. He was accused of seeking his own sexual gratification and also to “humiliate,” “abuse,” or “harass” his alleged victim. If convicted, Morrissey could face up to two years in prison, followed by a year of supervised release with a fine up to $250,000.
Ohio: The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that an unnamed guard at the Cuyahoga County Jail was terminated on March 2, 2023, for allegedly vaping on a THC pen while on duty, as well as giving her phone number out to some 18 detainees, and even having sexual conversations with some detainees because she was “bored.” The firing came after fellow employees of the sheriff’s office received a tip about “criminal activity” from a jail guard. At the time of the report on March 5, 2023, the unidentified former guard had yet to be criminally charged. THC is the ingredient in marijuana that provides users their “high.” The former guard was on probation at the time of her termination. She began working at the jail in July 2022.
Pennsylvania: WHTM in Harrisburg reported on January 26, 2023, that a state prisoner being held at the Dauphin County Prison was sentenced for his role in a contraband-smuggling scheme. Danny Cruz, 44, who was being held on charges of attempted murder, was previously found to have bribed a guard, Kyle Bower, buying his assistance to smuggle cellphones into the facility to the tune of hundreds of dollars per device. Cruz paid the bribes through his mother, who also provided the cellphones to the guard between October 2015 and January 2016. The co-conspirators all pleaded guilty. Bower received a sentence of two months in prison and two months in home detention. Cruz’s mother, Aida Rosado, 62, was sentenced to two months of home detention and two years of probation. Cruz had 51 months added to his 9-to-20-year sentence for attempted murder. Two others were also sentenced in the scheme. Lizarah Matthews, 31, received a year of probation for her role. Alice Martinez, 41, received 12 months in prison.
Pennsylvania: The USAO for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced on February 16, 2023, that a former guard at the Dauphin County Prison was sentenced for taking bribes in exchange for smuggling cellphones into the facility. Addie Reid, 27, had been caught in a sting operation on September 13, 2019, agreeing to smuggle cellphones into the prison that he had received from an undercover agent acting as the family member of a prisoner. For that he took a $2,000 bribe and was immediately arrested. [See: PLN, Jan. 2021, p.62; and July 2021, p.1.] He later pleaded guilty to a federal charge of “using a means in interstate communication to commit the crime of robbery,” on April 11, 2022. At sentencing, Reid got 12 months in prison.
Syria: Following a deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake that claimed tens of thousands of lives in Syria and neighboring Turkey on February 6, 2023, prisoners in the northwestern Syrian city of Rajo – mostly members of the Islamic State – “mutinied” and escaped, Voice of America reported. Some 2,000 prisoners were held at the unnamed military police prison, located near the Turkish border. Around 1,300 of them were suspected fighters for the Islamic State. The riot occurred after the earthquake and its aftershocks damaged the prison’s structure, cracking open doors and walls. Prisoners were able to seize control of the facility and about 20 suspected Islamic State fighters escaped.
Tennessee: The Dunlap Tribune reported that a detainee was shot and injured by a Sequatchie County jail guard on February 10, 2023. The guard, Karen Line, allegedly shot detainee Cody Ray Higdon, 33, as he attempted to escape custody. Higdon was being released from Erlanger Bledsoe Hospital in Pikeville, where he had been held for a night, when he attempted to make a run for it through the front door. As he was running from the hospital, Line first Tasered him. When that had no effect, she then fired and hit him with a bullet from her service weapon to stop the escape. Higdon was airlifted for treatment but soon returned to Sequatchie County Justice Center. He is being held on charges, some new from the incident, of disorderly conduct, public intoxication, escape and resisting arrest, as well as assault and aggravated assault on a first responder. An investigation into the shooting was opened.
United Kingdom: A prison guard at HMP Shotts in North Lanarkshire was sentenced for contraband and drug smuggling on behalf of a prisoner, the BBC reported on February 23, 2023. The guard, Heather McKenzie, 31, a mother of two, smuggled drugs and cellphones into the lockup for Zak Malavin, a prisoner serving a life sentence for murdering another man in front of his children. McKenzie was reportedly caught during a corruption investigation at the prison, when Malavin’s cell was searched and investigators found a contraband iPhone, a sleeping pill and cocaine. Investigators traced the phone to McKenzie and discovered she was working with Malavin, who had attempted to loop another prisoner into the conspiracy. When investigators then searched McKenzie’s home, they found £2,500 cash (about $3,078 USD), along with syringes, cocaine, steroids and cellphones. They determined that Mc-Kenzie and Malavin had conspired at least between March 2020 and October 2020. Her defense claimed that she had been taken advantage of during an emotionally volatile period in her life. For her role in the conspiracy, McKenzie was handed a sentence of six years and three months in prison.
United Kingdom: Wales Online reported that a former prison guard and a former nurse at HMP Parc were sentenced to prison for engaging in romantic relationships with a prisoner nicknamed the “Romeo Inmate.” The former nurse, Elyse Hibbs, 25, was sentenced on October 25, 2022, for having an inappropriate relationship with a prisoner named Harri Jay Pullen, 25. The two met when Hibbs was treating Pullen, a convicted drug dealer. He had acquired a cellphone in the facility that he used to contact her, flirting with and manipulating her. Pullen’s cellphone was eventually discovered hidden in his rectum when he was transferred to HMP Manchester for his accused romantic relationships with staff. After months of texting with Pullen, Hibbs resigned from her position in July 2021 and was arrested a week later. She was stripped of her nursing credentials as well. The Daily Star reported that the former guard, Ruth Shmylo, 25, was also accused of engaging in a romantic phone relationship with Pullen. The prisoner received additional time for the contraband found on him. Hibbs was sentenced to six months in prison, while Shmylo is still awaiting her trial, which is set for September 2023.
Wisconsin: A detainee at Racine County Jail was charged with “assault by prisoner” for allegedly tossing a cup of urine at a guard’s face. Corrections1 reported that the detainee, Mohammad T. Alnabulsi, 38, was accused of throwing the urine as guards were distributing medication on February 26, 2023. Alnabulsi, a resident of Connecticut, allegedly yelled “that was my p*ss, good luck!” after throwing the cup. After using eye wash to rinse away the urine, the guard was taken to a hospital where he was cleared and released. Alnabusi was arrested in 2018 for allegedly stalking and harassing an ex-girlfriend.
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