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Warden Ousted from Troubled Alabama Prison After DUI Arrest

by Ed Lyon

A state prison warden was arrested on August 30, 2022, on suspicion of driving under the influence in Cullman, Alabama. Jeffrey Baldwin was then placed on mandatory leave from his post at Elmore Correctional Facility (CF) by the state Department of Corrections (DOC). Thwarting any effort to terminate him, Baldwin pulled the plug on his career and filed paperwork to retire effective October 1, 2022.

The cloud over his departure from DOC had a bit of silver lining: On March 17, 2023, Baldwin was dismissed from a suit filed by prisoners beaten by guards while handcuffed in February 2019. The last of four guards convicted of that assault was sentenced in February 2022. [See: PLN, Jan. 2021, p.62; and Apr. 2022, p.1.] DOC was also dismissed as a defendant in the case, which remains open against the four former guards in federal court for the Middle District of Alabama. See: Hampton v. Oliver, USDC (M.D. Ala.), Case No. 2:20-cv-00742.

The prison that Baldwin oversaw, Elmore CF, is a medium-security lockup holding about 1,150 men. While their former warden enjoys full benefits in retirement, they see no relief in sight. On September 14, 2022, just two weeks after Baldwin’s arrest, a prisoner in a full-blown mental health crisis was pulled from the lockup’s chapel roof by a guard – who then punched him five times. [See: PLN, Oct. 2022, p.22.] After that assault, DOC said Jimmy Norman, 44, was back in his cell and “fine.” But guard Ell White was placed on leave and then resigned from DOC.

On October 5, 2022, Corey Griffin, 45, was found unresponsive in a prison shower area and transported to another state prison nearby for treatment. Once cleared, he was loaded in a transport to return to Elmore. But he “became unresponsive again,” according to a DOC spokesperson. Guards then returned Griffin to Staton CF, where he died.

On November 4, 2022, Marquis Hatcher, 31, died after being assaulted by another prisoner at Elmore CF. After the attack, he was also transported to Staton CF, where he also died. He had served nearly 13 years of a 20-year sentence for burglary and theft committed when he was just 17. No charges have been reported in his killing.

Things heated up again at the prison chapel after that – literally. A fire caused extensive damage on January 11, 2023. Prisoner Noah White, 38, was caught near the chapel and admitted setting the blaze. He had served 14 years of a 100-year sentence for seven counts of attempted murder in Chambers County but was up for parole in September 2023. DOC said he would be charged with the chapel fire.

Most recently, prisoner Felix Dominguez Ortega, 39, was found unresponsive in the prison common area on March 7, 2023. He was transported to a hospital, where he later died. Ortega was serving a reckless murder sentence for drunkenly crashing his car into another vehicle in 2009, killing a pair of Huntsville teens inside. DOC did not release a cause of death.

However, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) said it learned Ortega was assaulted by several other prisoners trying to extort money from him. Worse, the nonprofit added, guards allegedly saw Ortega’s body on the floor and ignored it, assuming he was one of the prison’s “homeless” –forced from his assigned bunk by prison gangs and forced to sleep in the floor.

Apparently, at Elmore CF, that is too ordinary to be cause for concern.

Meanwhile, two federal lawsuits are pending against DOC over horrific conditions in its prisons, to which Gov. Kay Ivey (R) has responded with nothing more than a plan to build more and bigger prisons. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.22.]

As of April 2023, DOC listed Rolanda Calloway as Baldwin’s replacement to serve as warden at Elmore CF.

Additional sources: 1819, Alabama Political Reporter, Birmingham News, Montgomery Advertiser, NPR, WAAY, WAFF, WSFA

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