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News in Brief

News in Brief

Alabama: On January 9, 2023, the Montgomery Police Department (MPD) arrested a guard at the city jail for an alleged off-duty assault, the Birmingham News reported. It’s unclear who filed the misdemeanor complaint against Reba Foulks, 36; MPD didn’t begin its investigation until receiving notice of the charges from municipal court. An MPD employee since 2010, she was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of her case.

Alabama: WKRG in Mobile reported on January 23, 2023, that a guard at the Monroe County Jail was arrested and accused of supplying contraband prescription drugs to detainees. Reginald Thames was charged with unlawful possession of Adderall and conspiring to promote prison contraband. Sheriff Tom Boatwright said the accusations were part of a larger investigation still ongoing. Thames is being held at the jail where he was working on a $57,000 bond.

Arizona: On January 11, 2023, a jail guard was arrested and charged with smuggling drugs into the Lower Buckeye Jail in Maricopa County. The Arizona Republic reported that Andres Salazar, 26, faces counts of promoting prison contraband, transport for sale and possession of a narcotic. He is accused of working with an unnamed detainee to smuggle both methamphetamines and fentanyl into the jail. Salazar was intercepted by fellow guards in the jail parking lot after allegedly agreeing to accept a bribe of $1,000. He was also accused of submitting falsified overtime slips for shifts he didn’t work. He was placed on administrative leave before his arrest, and the investigation into the matter is ongoing. Jared Keenan, Legal Director for the Arizona American Civil Liberties Union, called it “a perfect example that most of the drugs that come into jails are brought in by detention officers and other staff.”

Australia: A prison guard in Cessnock was “stood down” from her job on January 10, 2023, after she was charged with “engaging with an inmate and causing a security risk.” The Daily Mail reported that Stephanie Roberts, 22, allegedly used an intercom device at the Shortland Corrections Centre to engage in a “flirtatious” relationship with a prisoner, Thomas Cremona. Roberts has a boyfriend, and her relationship with Cremona was reportedly not sexual. The prisoner was awaiting sentencing for domestic violence convictions. The relationship was uncovered after “love letters” from the guard were found in Cremona’s cell. An investigation began in November 2022, after which Roberts was confronted and charged.

California: KERO in Bakersfield reported that on January 13, 2023, a guard at Wasco State Prison barricaded himself with a weapon inside a prisoner supervision building. Shawn Wilder started the standoff around 9:00 p.m. Other guards were evacuated from the area. Crisis response teams brought in by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation were able to communicate with Wilder and deescalate the incident. The guard eventually surrendered himself and his weapon at 6:37 a.m. the next morning. He was arrested, taken to the Kern County Jail and charged with a felony count of bringing drugs or alcohol into the facility, a misdemeanor count of exhibiting a firearm, and felonious assault with a firearm.

Colorado: Denver Sheriff’s Department (DSD) Deputy Daniel Rodriguez began a three-day suspension on February 2, 2023, for using nunchucks on an intoxicated jail detainee. The unnamed victim suffered a broken wrist in the April 2021 incident, according to the Denver Post. In October 2021, DSD banned deputies from carrying and using nunchucks, also known as Orcutt Police Nunchaku (OPN). Coincidentally, it was a former Denver law enforcement officer who invented OPN devices in the 1980s. Resembling traditional nunchucks, the device is not intended to strike anyone, but rather to subdue subjects by applying pressure to a joint in the arm or leg. In the excessive force investigation, Carl McEncroe, a civilian review administrator with the Denver Department of Public Safety, wrote that “Rodriguez was justified in using force to control the man but should have used less forceful tactics.”

Florida: WFLA in Tampa reported that an off-duty prison guard from the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Coleman was arrested on January 2, 2023, after getting drunk at a party and injuring another guest. Eric Medina, 33, was reportedly drunk and arguing with others when he was asked to leave the soiree. He then allegedly grabbed the arm of a woman who was trying to calm him, leaving her with scratches. Medina was charged with misdemeanor battery.

Florida: Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced on January 5, 2023, that a county jail guard was arrested on suspicion of smuggling marijuana-laced brownies into the Falkenburg Road Jail and selling them to detainees. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Terry Bradford, Jr., 25, allegedly had more than a pound of pot brownies when he was arrested on January 4, 2023. He was placed on administrative leave without pay and charged with possession of a controlled substance and introducing contraband. An investigation into the matter was launched after a tip on January 2, 2023, finding that Bradford received over $1,000 in Cash App payments for the contraband. He is suspected of making multiple deliveries before being caught.

Georgia: WJCL in Savannah reported on January 12, 2023, that a guard at the Chatham County Jail was arrested on suspicion of smuggling contraband, including drugs, into the lockup. Georgette Ruthielee Bennett, 26, allegedly used a Styrofoam cup with ice and cellophane to conceal fentanyl as she entered the facility. She is also suspected of bringing other contraband into the jail. The arrest followed an investigation launched on December 21, 2022, based on tips provided by fellow employees of the county Sheriff’s Office. The county counted 16 fentanyl overdoses in January 2023, seven of them fatal. Bennett was charged with drug trafficking, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, violating her oath of office, smuggling drugs and contraband and giving prohibited items to detainees. Her alleged supplier, Montez Wade, 29, who was not associated with the jail, was also arrested on drug trafficking charges.

Illinois: In early January 2023, five unnamed prisoners escaped from the U.S. Penitentiary in Thomson, Illinois, according to the union representing the prison’s guards. Local 4070 of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) said all five were recaptured by January 13, 2023. But Local President Jon Zumkehr blamed Warden Thomas Bergami for allegedly leaving critical posts vacant and demanded his removal by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). AFGE has been calling for Bergami’s head for some time over alleged sexual assaults guards have suffered, when the lockup’s maximum-security prisoners expose themselves or masturbate in front of them. In the three years ending in 2022, there were 1,827 such incidents, the union said. It did not address allegations that guards set up prisoners for altercations, feeding an over-use of punitive solitary confinement. Zumkehr said the incidents dropped off in 2021, after the union implemented protective measures. But he said those measures were phased out when Bergami took over in March 2022. By November 2022, Zumkehr said the non-contact sexual assaults had tripled. He also blamed Bergami’s lack of leadership when a guard said her hands and feet went numb that month after handling prisoner mail that allegedly contained synthetic drugs. So far in 2023, Zumkehr said some 50 contraband cellphones had been confiscated from prisoners, pointing to a smuggling problem – though not one that appeared connected to the union’s other demand: installing scanners in BOP mailrooms.

Indiana: A guard at the Howard County Jail was arrested in January 2023 for assaulting a detainee. WTHR in Indianapolis reported that Colin Byrd, 22, had earlier been disciplined for other excessive-force allegations before he was charged with battery resulting in moderate bodily injury of a female detainee, who was being held on suspicion of drunk driving. A complaint she filed against Byrd triggered an investigation on January 3, 2023. The detainee was allegedly shouting expletives and behaving “tumultuously” when guards attempted to restrain and move her to another cell, as she engaged in “property destroying” behavior. She was then handcuffed, but while they were en route, Byrd allegedly swept his leg under her, knocking her to the floor. For his part, Byrd alleged that the woman knocked into him, though he admitted that he could have handled the situation better. The detainee was treated for a laceration above her eye.

Japan: Vice reported that a prisoner on death row in a Hiroshima prison choked to death on food in her cell on January 14, 2023. Ironically, Miyuki Ueta, 49, was awaiting execution by hanging, which is Japan’s only way of carrying out death sentences. Even more ironically, she was sentenced to death for asphyxiating two men in 2009, both of whom she owed money and both of whom she was romantically involved with. Ueta was reportedly eating in the afternoon when she began to choke, and guards attempted to clear the food from her throat. But before they could, she lost consciousness. It wasn’t the first time she had choked, either. Just four days earlier, she had made a roundtrip to the hospital after another choking incident.

Kentucky: On January 25, 2023, a former jail guard in Louisville was sentenced for assaulting a detainee, WDRB reported. Darrell Taylor was convicted in October 2022 of a single count of deprivation of rights under color of law for dragging a detainee from his bed in December 2020 and beating him unconscious, slamming his body to the concrete floor and breaking the man’s jaw and cheekbone. His defense attorney said the detainee hit Taylor in the chest, spit at him, screamed threats and used a racial slur. Taylor admitted to another guard after the incident that he was angered over the racial epithet. The prosecution also argued that Taylor lied afterward about being attacked first. For the assault he faced a 10-year maximum prison term. Prosecutors requested six years.  He got just three, plus two years of supervised release.

Maine: On January 6, 2023, a state judge lowered bail for a guard accused of sexually assaulting detainees at the Knox County Jail. The Rockland Courier-Gazette reported that Andre Elbreisus, 41, was arrested and placed on administrative leave on the last day of November 2022, the same month he was accused of sexually assaulting two jail detainees. Elbreisus was initially charged with Class B gross sexual assault before additional charges were added: unlawful sexual touching, unlawful sexual contact and witness tampering. The last count stemmed from an accusation that Elbreisus attempted to bribe one of his accusers into refusing to testify. His defense attorney argued that it would be impossible for him to ever meet the original bail amount, claiming also that he did not know that having sex with the detainees was illegal. Despite the additional charges, the judge lowered the bail amount by 75%.

Maryland: On January 19, 2023, a former guard at a maximum-security prison run for BOP in Baltimore was convicted by a federal jury of taking part in a bribery and contraband smuggling scheme. The federal Department of Justice reported that Andre Davis, 37, was found guilty of smuggling including tobacco, Suboxone and cellphones into Chesapeake Detention Facility. Starting in 2016, Davis met up with outside suppliers who also paid him bribes, on behalf of prisoners Andre Webb, Bernard Bay, and Donte Thomas. Two others outside the prison pleaded guilty earlier to their roles in the scheme, as did four prisoners and two other guards: Darren Parker and Talaia Youngblood. Parker got a 37-month prison term plus three years of supervised release on January 18, 2022. Youngblood got 33 months and three years of supervised release on May 25, 2022. For his role, Davis faces a maximum of 20 years in prison when sentenced. See: USA v. Parker, USDC (D. Md.), Case No. 1:20-cr-00350.

Massachusetts: On January 13, 2023, a jail guard in Middlesex County was arraigned on contraband smuggling charges, the Springfield Republican reported. Francisco Morales-Urizandi, 32, was accused of sneaking marijuana, cigarettes, K-2 and Suboxone into the Middlesex Jail and House of Correction from April to August 2020. He was allegedly in cahoots with several individuals outside the jail, as well as two detainees. The conspiracy was discovered by the Internal Investigations Unit of the county Sheriff’s Office. Morales-Urizandi was placed on administrative leave and fitted with a GPS monitoring device after his arraignment.

Mexico: On January 1, 2023, a prison break in Juárez left 19 guards and prisoners dead and 30 prisoners on the lam. KTSM in El Paso, Texas, reported that seven more people were killed in a shootout during the manhunt that followed. The mass escape was the result of an armed assault on the CERESO prison. The attack, timed in conjunction with several other shootings in Juárez, led to a riot, during which the prisoners were able to flee the facility and escape by carjacking vehicles. Five suspects were arrested. An earlier riot in August 2022 left 11 dead. That incident spilled into the city as well. The January riot lasted for seven hours before the Mexican army and Juarez police could put it down. Afterward, the prison’s director, Alejandro Alvarado Téllez, was fired. It was one of the deadliest incidents of its kind in recent Mexican history.

Mississippi: WALA in Mobile, Alabama, reported on January 27, 2023, that a Mississippi state prison guard and her daughter were arrested on suspicion of smuggling contraband and possessing marijuana. Delma Gandy and her daughter, Crystal Williamson, were taken into custody after members of the Sheriff’s Office in Alabama’s Washington County searched their homes there and allegedly found a huge stash of contraband – enough to cover a large table at the press conference they held. Deputies, they explained, were acting on a tip from the Mississippi DOC, which reportedly learned of the stash from Gandy herself. The hoard of contraband included Amazon Firesticks, cellphones, 10 pounds of marijuana, what was believed to be fentanyl, and even a tattoo kit. The quantity caught investigators off guard.

Missouri: A convicted drug trafficker who broke out of a Kansas City-area jail was back in custody on December 30, 2022 – along with his mother, who was charged with abetting his escape. The Kansas City Star reported that Trevor Scott Sparks, 33, escaped from the Cass County Jail on December 5, 2022, after his conviction the month before for running a meth-trafficking operation connected to two murders. He allegedly called his mother, Dawn Branstietter, 54, telling her to gas up her car because “[y]ou are probably going to pick me up real soon.” Branstietter then stopped answering her phone, so Sparks contacted Steven Lydell Williams, Sr., 64, to arrange a getaway. Williams picked up Sparks after he and another detainee, Sergio Perez-Martinez, 43, escaped from the jail. Perez-Martinez remains at large. Williams was also charged with aiding an escape. On December 9, 2022, cops interviewed Branstietter at her home, and she vowed not to give up her son. On December 30, 2022, Sparks and his mother drove to the home of Nicholas Parris, an ex-boyfriend of Sparks’ sister. There they were met and arrested by Kansas City police officers. Sparks is now in the custody of U.S. Marshals.

Nebraska: On January 24, 2023, a former state prison guard was sentenced for his role in a drug smuggling scheme at Nebraska State Penitentiary. The Lincoln Journal Star reported that Edgar Gomez, 35, pleaded no contest to charges of smuggling marijuana and methamphetamine into the lockup. For that, he also took bribes totaling $2,500 between January 30 and February 18, 2022, when fellow guards caught him with the contraband. [See: PLN; Sep. 2022; p. 64] His defense attorneys argued for probation, citing concern for Gomez’s safety in prison. They also argued that he had agreed to smuggle the drugs only once, when he was struggling for money and not in a good state of mind, and that when asked to do it again, he threw the drugs away. Yet that story was complicated by conflicting claims from Gomez himself about how many attempts he made and whether he threw anything away. He was sentenced to six to 10 years in prison.

New Jersey: Asbury Park Press reported on January 26, 2023, that a jail guard in Freehold Township was charged with providing a cellphone to a detainee. The guard, Latonya C. Johnson, 51, was accused of having a relationship with a detainee and providing him with the phone that he used to communicate with her from May to October 2022. Johnson was issued a summons, rather than arrested. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison.

New York: On November 10, 2022, three guards with the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) at Rikers Island were arrested for federal program fraud. According to the New York Times, one in three guards at the lockup was not reporting for work in late January 2022, creating deadly dysfunction in jail operations. The three arrested – Steven Cange, Monica Coaxum and Eduardo Trinidad – are accused of “fraudulently obtaining their full salaries while taking over a year of sick leave,” according to their indictments. Cange, 49, told DOC he had vertigo and side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine, leaving him too sick to work. He received more than $160,000 in salary between March 2021 and November 2022. Coaxum, 36, allegedly obtained more than $80,000 while on sick leave from March 2021 to May 2022. Trinidad, 42, Coaxum’s fiancée, collected more than $140,000 in salary while allegedly taking sick leave from June 2021 to November 2022. Investigators found all three posted selfies on social media showing them engaging in normal activities and bragging about their easy life on leave.

New York: A detainee at the Rensselaer County Jail was accused of attempting to murder a jail guard, according to a report by WABC on January 11, 2023. The detainee, Matthew Fluty, was accused of a surprise attack on the unnamed guard, taking his radio to beat him and strangling him before leaving him in the jail housing unit. The guard lost consciousness during the assault. Fluty was awaiting trial for other felonies at the time. He is also accused of throwing urine at a guard. He was charged with first-degree strangulation, first-degree robbery, first-degree assault, assault on a peace officer and second-degree attempted murder.

Ohio: WJW in Cleveland reported that around 9:00 a.m. on January 18, 2023, a plane carrying four BOP guards and a federal prisoner crashed at Geauga County Airport. The aircraft experienced engine failure on a trip from FCI-Elkton to Detroit, Michigan, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing. The plane came down and skidded off the runway into a muddy field, tearing up landing gear, but there were no reported injuries. The prisoner aboard, Carl Lee Jasperse, 67, is serving an eight-and-a-half-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2021 to possession of child sexual abuse material. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

Ohio: On January 30, 2023, a former state prison guard was arrested on suspicion of smuggling drugs into Lorain Correctional Institution. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Daryl Gus, 35, was taken into custody and accused of supplying an unnamed prisoner with crystal meth. Gus allegedly took bribes over Cash App for delivering drugs to the prisoner, who is serving time for drug trafficking, aggravated battery and participation in a criminal gang. Acting on a tip, investigators with the DEA and the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DRC) surveilled the guard’s home and combed through his phone records and financial history, also listening to recorded calls from the prisoner, who was heard directing drug deliveries to Gus. At one point, investigators watched the prisoner’s mother drop off a package in Gus’s yard. The former guard was then caught attempting to enter the prison with a backpack containing cigarettes, buprenorphine, naloxone and 31 grams of crystal meth. He admitted receiving $2,000 per shipment for a total near $10,000. He resigned his position on January 27, 2023, just over 14 months after he was hired by DRC on December 20, 2021.

Pennsylvania: Philly Voice reported on January 11, 2023, that a former Philadelphia jail guard pleaded guilty to assaulting a naked detainee at the city’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. Former Sgt. Ronald C. Granville, 42, admitted that while conducting a search with four other guards on October 6, 2020, they took “V.H.” to his cell, ordered him to take off his clothes and beat him. The other four have not yet been charged. “V.H.” sustained injuries to his ribs, face, and genitalia. Granville then attempted to submit a false report about the incident. He resigned his position in 2022. At sentencing, he faces up to $500,000 in fines and 30 years in prison.

Pennsylvania: A former state prison guard in Philadelphia was sentenced on January 18, 2023, for selling guns to convicted felons, in violation of state law. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Amanda Barr, 38, bought seven firearms from January 2018 to February 2019, when she reported to police that two of the guns had been stolen. But she couldn’t explain where the other five went. The guns then started showing up: One was found with a convicted felon suspected of taking part in a December 2020 shooting, while another was confiscated from a second convicted felon during a February 2021traffic stop. [See: PLN; May 2022; p. 62] Barr resigned her position after her arrest and pleaded guilty in September 2022. Investigators found that she had been selling the weapons online for hundreds of dollars, despite claiming that she was selling them through a third party. She was sentenced to prison for seven to 14 years.

Pennsylvania: Penn Live Patriot News reported that a former jail guard in Allegheny County was sentenced for possession of a modified shotgun on January 12, 2023. Lewis Bagnato, 33, pleaded guilty in August 2022 to owning a shotgun with the front end sawed off. But he had already been charged with different state crimes in May 2021, pleading guilty to those in October 2022 and receiving two years of probation. That same month, investigators found, he schemed with a jail detainee to smuggle the synthetic cannabinoid K-2, meeting the detainee’s girlfriend at an Aldi grocery store to pick up a $2,000 bribe. Bagnato’s sentencing brief claimed his health struggles include multiple sclerosis and addiction, but that he is a good worker. It was after his arrest that investigators discovered an unregistered sawed-off shotgun in his possession. For that the former guard was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

Pennsylvania: On January 13, 2023, a former jail guard at the Dauphin County Prison was charged with sexually assaulting a detainee. Penn Live Patriot News reported that Donald Drybola, 47, faces one count of indecent assault by forcible compulsion. He allegedly exchanged phone numbers with her and provided her extra commissary privileges, also sending texts and kissing her on multiple occasions – even touching her breasts. He gave her money, too, including $560 after her release. He resigned in 2022, after the allegations surfaced. But he kept in touch with the victim. She began cooperating with investigators in November 2022.

Pennsylvania: The Evening Tribune reported that a jail guard in Allegheny County was charged in New York with possession of child pornography and promotion of child sexual performance. John C. Palmer, 37, was placed on unpaid suspension while an internal jail investigation was opened. Possession of child pornography could land him in prison up to four years, and promotion of child sexual performance another seven years, if convicted. Newly elected Allegheny County Sheriff Scott Cicirello claimed there was no evidence that the crimes took place while Palmer was on duty at the county jail, where he has worked since 2017.

South Carolina: A former jail guard in Richland County was arrested on January 6, 2023, for an allegedly inappropriate relationship with a detainee. The State reported that China Gregg, 26, surrendered herself and was booked into the jail where she was formerly employed on one count of misconduct in office. It was unclear when she stopped working at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, which is dogged by violence, understaffing and allegations of poor conditions. She was then released on a $15,000 personal recognizance bond. An internal investigation uncovered Gregg’s relationship with the unnamed detainee, who is charged with murder.

South Carolina: A former state prison guard in Richland County was arrested on January 6, 2023, and charged with having sex with a prisoner, The State reported. Shanelle Betterson Eichelberger, 35, faces counts of misconduct in office and first-degree sexual misconduct. She had been employed at the minimum-security Manning Reentry/Work Release Center when she was recorded on a cellphone engaging in sex with a prisoner on December 21, 2022. She was later fired. If convicted she faces up to a $1,000 fine and 10 years in prison.

Tennessee: WTVF in Nashville reported on January 15, 2023, that a jail guard in Fentress County was indicted for “inappropriate sexual contact with a minor.” Nicholas Alexander St. John, 23, allegedly met the child at York Institute in Jamestown, engaging in sexual acts in an abandoned house on school grounds. He was charged with aggravated burglary and statutory rape and booked into a cell at his former workplace on a $5,000 bond.

Utah: KSTU in Salt Lake City reported that a jail guard in Moab was charged on January 30, 2023, with distributing a sexual recording of a mentally impaired adult detainee. Ronald Frederick Eugene Dolphin, 26, faces a count of sexual exploitation of a vulnerable adult. He resigned from the Grand County Jail before he could be fired. He allegedly sent a photo or a video to a coworker over Snapchat, which showed a monitor. Displayed on the monitor was footage from a jail cell that showed the detainee, naked and masturbating. By the time Dolphin resigned he had been placed on administrative leave and an investigation was under way.

Virginia: Two men who escaped the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail on January 26, 2023, were found the next day in a barn in Rogersville, Tennessee. WTVR in Richmond reported that Albert Lee Ricketson, 31, and Johnny Shane Brown, 51, slipped away from the jail recreation yard and fled in a stolen Cadillac SUV. That was then found in Bulls Gap, Tennessee, and the two were taken into custody. Ricketson was convicted of a double murder committed during a family argument near Abingdon in August 2020. Brown was one of three escapees from a Tennessee jail in February 2022 and the only one to be recaptured alive, after the others died in a shootout with police in North Carolina. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.62.]

Virginia: The Virginian-Pilot reported that on January 20, 2023, a jail detainee in Chesapeake was sentenced for the murder of his cellmate. William Whittaker II, 35, pleaded guilty in September 2022 to coordinating the killing of Antonio San Antonio, 19. The night after Whittaker was booked into jail in July 2020, he was recorded on a call telling a friend named Seth Morgan that San Antonio “called on me” and that Morgan needed to “take care of your business.” He even suggested that Morgan buy San Antonio food to keep him at the home. On July 31, 2020, Morgan was dropped off by Whittaker’s boyfriend at their home, where Morgan allegedly shot then San Antonio in the head and chest, wrapping his corpse in a blanket. For that, Morgan was charged with first-degree murder. The boyfriend was not at the home during the killing, and he has not yet been charged. At Whittaker’s sentencing, the judge blew past the state guideline of 25½ years in prison, handing down the maximum term: 40 years. 

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