Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

News in Brief

Australia: Love was in the air at Clarence Correctional Centre on the last day of 2023, when a prisoner left his cell and climbed two fences to reach another cell where his girlfriend was held, and the two welcomed the new year together. Perth Now reported that guards found the unnamed couple naked and “ready to go.” A chemical agent was deployed to separate the pair.

California: On November 28, 2023, a state prison guard at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility near San Diego pleaded guilty to taking a $5,000 bribe in exchange for smuggling a prisoner’s dental mold to his two un-incarcerated brothers—who returned a “grill” of gold teeth that was then smuggled back to prisoner Shawn Brown by the guard, Benito Jamar Hugie, 49, a 12-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Brown, 28, pleaded guilty the same day to separate charges that he filed $1.4 million in fraudulent claims for COVID-19 benefits, netting $695,000 in cash for him, his brothers and three other co-defendants before they were caught.

California: The Sacramento Bee reported that state prisoner Oracio Ramirez, 30, was fatally attacked by two fellow prisoners with homemade weapons at Salinas Valley State Prison on December 14, 2023. Ramirez was serving a 2014 life sentence for murder, robbery and gang activity, plus an additional nine-year term received in May 2023 for attempted murder. One of his two alleged killers, Adrian Lopez, 23, had begun a three-year sentence in 2021 for attempted murder and related convictions. His accused accomplice, David Pacheco, 39, had been serving a life term since 2006 for a Los Angeles murder, plus another 66 months for prison assaults and weapons convictions handed down in 2012, 2014 and 2022, the Mercury News said.

Connecticut: A state prison guard who was fired for posting an anti-Muslim meme to his Facebook account and then reinstated was charged on December 1, 2023, with assaulting a compliant prisoner at Garner Correctional Institution. WNPR reported that Anthony Marlak, 42, was accused along with fellow guards Patrick McGoldrick, 40, and Joshua Johnson, 30, in the September 2023 attack on the unnamed prisoner. Marlak was fired in May 2021 for posting a photo of hanged Muslim men captioned “Islamic Wind Chimes,” but a state labor arbitrator reduced that sanction to a 25-day suspension and ordered Marlak reinstated in April 2023.

Florida: On December 8, 2023, NewsNation aired an interview with disgraced reality TV personality Todd Chrisley, 54, who complained of conditions at the Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola where he is serving a 12-year sentence for bank fraud and tax evasion. The Chrisley Knows Best star claimed that food served in the lookup is “disgustingly filthy” and nutritionally deficient, providing barely 1,000 calories per day. “They are literally starving these men to death here,” Chrisley said. The famously pretentious former realtor also accused the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) of capping his commissary purchases in order to leave him “humbled.”

Florida: A former state prisoner exonerated and released in 2020 after 16 years incarcerated for a robbery he didn’t commit was fatally shot by a Georgia sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop on October 16, 2023. NPR News reported that Leonard Allen Cure, 53, was driving to visit his mother when he was pulled over for speeding by Camden County Sheriff’s Office Staff Sgt. Buck Alridge. After ordering Cure out of his vehicle, Alridge was captured on surveillance video using his Taser on the suspect; the cop told the state Bureau of Investigation that Cure was noncompliant with orders, but video showed Cure merely demanding to know why he had to get out of his car for a speeding ticket. A struggle ensued, during which Alridge pulled his gun and shot Cure dead. WJXT in Jacksonville reported that Alridge was earlier fired from the Kingsland Police Department for using excessive force during a 2012 traffic stop. Cure was convicted of armed robbery in 2004 despite an alibi and a lack of forensic evidence. In June 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a bill that would have paid Cure $817,000 for his wrongful imprisonment.

Georgia: WSB in Atlanta reported that a search of a car parked in a staff spot at the DeKalb County Jail on December 1, 2023, turned up two men with a handgun and a 17-round magazine, plus marijuana, tobacco, lighters, vape pens, a digital scale, earphones, eight cell phones and phone chargers. Marcking Guensley Louis, 26, and Jeremiah Tyson, 18, were arrested on suspicion of attempting to smuggle contraband into the lockup, among other charges.

Georgia: On December 15, 2023, Haralson County Jail employee Jada Lee Pike was arrested, after she was indicted for embezzling “a significant amount of money” from detainee trust accounts, WSB in Atlanta reported. Sheriff Stacey Williams was quick to distance himself from the theft, noting “these funds were stolen before I took office” in 2021. That’s also when he launched the audit that led to Pike’s arrest. She was allowed to turn herself in, but it was unclear if she was granted bail or if she was being held in the lockup where she used to work.

Hawaii: On December 13, 2023, KITV in Honolulu reported that former Oahu Community Correctional Center guard Richard Ascencio, 52, got 42 months in prison and two years of supervised release for taking an unspecified cash bribe to smuggle 11 packets of meth to prisoners—inside his backpack. He worked at the state lockup for 20 years before his February 2020 arrest. As PLN earlier reported, Ascensio pleaded guilty in September 2022 to charges of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute drugs. [See: PLN, June 2023, p.23.]

Illinois: “Justice is blind” proved literally true for former state prisoner Darien Harris, 30. Before his release on December 19, 2023, he served over 12 years of a 76-year sentence for a murder conviction that was based largely on the testimony of an eyewitness who turned out to be legally blind. As CBS News reported, Harris was 18 when he was picked out of a lineup by Dexter Saffold, who identified him as the triggerman in the fatal 2011 shooting of Rondell Moore at a BP gas station in Chicago. But Saffold never revealed that he suffered glaucoma. Even after that fact came to light in 2018, the Conviction Integrity Unit in the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney declined to move for a retrial. Instead that motion was made in February 2022 by Harris’ own attorneys. They convinced county Judge Diana Kenworthy to toss his conviction on December 5, 2023, and prosecutors dropped their bid to re-try Harris, the Chicago Tribune said.

Indiana: The Anderson Herald-Bulletin reported on December 21, 2023, that state prisoner James Phillips, 45, was charged with attempted murder for attacking a guard two months earlier at Pendleton Correctional Facility, where he is serving at least 40 years for a 2009 murder. The guard, Jacobi Jessie, said the prisoner charged him with a homemade knife before the assault was thwarted by fellow guard Adam Williams, who placed Phillips in a chokehold. Williams opined that Phillips was trying to get sent back to segregation—solitary confinement—suggesting the prisoner might have felt threatened in the prison’s general population.

Kansas: A state prisoner was sentenced to an extra 122 months in prison on December 8, 2023, plus two years of supervised release, for assaulting a quintet of guards while he was held at the Douglas County Jail to await release in May 2023. WIBW in Topeka reported that Brandon M. Frye, 30, pleaded no contest in October 2023 to charges that he punched two guards and head-butted a third before spitting on two more guards over the course of a day. At the time he was nearing completion of sentences for making a criminal threat in 2018 and assaulting a law enforcement officer in 2019, according to the state Department of Corrections (DOC).

Kansas: Three BOP prisoners at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth were indicted on December 14, 2023, according to KCTV in Kansas City. Thaddeus D. Daniel, 45, was accused of assaulting an unnamed guard in April 2023, while the other two were charged with escape after allegedly walking away from the prison satellite camp in separate incidents—Jeremiah L. Harris, 44, on June 23, 2023, and James Thompson, 50, on November 9, 2023. The federal Department of Justice (DOJ) said Thompson is an Atlanta millionaire convicted of mail fraud in April 2022; Harris was convicted in August 2009 of cooking meth for a Kansas City drug ring; and Daniel was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm in Tennessee in 2012.

Louisiana: Jefferson Parish Jail guard Christopher Thomas, 30, was fired and arrested on December 10, 2023, after he was allegedly caught trying to smuggle drugs to a detainee. Neither the detainee nor the drugs were identified. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that Thomas was charged with malfeasance in office, drug possession and possession of contraband in a correctional center. He had been employed by the Sheriff’s Office for six years since 2015.

Maine: Former Cumberland County Jail guard Vinal Thompson, 43, was acquitted on December 8, 2023, of assault and reckless conduct charges stemming from a violent July 2020 altercation in which he broke a detainee’s nose and his own hand. A jail nurse recalled that Thompson complained detainee John Katula “made him break his hand, so he ruined his summer.” But the Portland Press Herald said a judge agreed with Thompson that he acted in self-defense when he repeatedly punched Katula in the face. Katula filed suit over the incident and accepted a $41,000 settlement, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, May 2021, p.62.] Thompson spent about a year on administrative leave before he was indicted and fired in July 2021.

Michigan: For allegedly bringing fentanyl into the Gladwin County Jail and sharing it with two unnamed fellow detainees after his initial drug arrest in September 2023, Paul Kotyk, 53, was indicted on additional charges on December 18, 2023. He and the other two detainees fell sick, and all three might have died but for lifesaving efforts by guards, the Midland Daily News reported. Sheriff Mike Shea gave a Lifesaving Award to guards Wade Sturgeon and Josh Vorce, plus an Individual Commendation to guard Cpl. Minda McCartney.

Minnesota: KSTP in St. Paul reported on December 28, 2023, that state prisoner James Ray Evans, 27, was charged with assaulting a guard at Minnesota Correctional Facility (MCF) in Stillwater the previous summer. Evans was serving sentences for attempted murder and burglary when he approached the unnamed guard at breakfast and began punching him, knocking him down and continuing to punch him and stomp on his head, while beating his chest as he yelled. The guard was taken to a hospital with “visible swelling to his face,” according to the indictment. No motive was revealed. Evans was moved to MCF-Oak Park Heights, a maximum-security lockup.

Nevada: High Desert State Prison guard Mario Caballeros had a ready answer when Las Vegas Police detectives showed up at his home on November 21, 2023, to investigate kiddie porn sent from his phone: Someone hacked his account, he said. KLAS in Las Vegas quoted an unnamed arresting officer who “explained that someone from [Caballeros’] IP address sent the emails … and that a hacker would have had to have access to his IP address and know the credentials to his accounts to perpetrate such an act.” The state DOC guard was charged with possession and distribution of child pornography. It was unclear if he was released on bail.

New York: Two apparently clueless jail detainees were sentenced in December 2023. Appearing in court wearing a spit hood and surrounded by five guards, Ulster County Jail detainee William Knox III, 30, was sentenced to 14 years in prison on December 8, 2023, for assaulting a jail guard—despite twice before being found incompetent to stand trial. The Kingston Daily Freeman said that Knox told the judge, “I don’t even know what’s going on.” Knox’s sentence also included a guilty plea he had agreed to make to his original strangulation charge, which stemmed from an April 2023 domestic violence incident. As Knox slumped over the defense table during his sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Nicholas LaStella insisted he was “a violent predicate felon and should be confined for the safety of himself and others.” Three days after that, on December 11, 2023, Saratoga County Jail detainee Godfrey Waldron, 43, was charged with second-degree assault for another alleged attack on another unnamed jail guard, leaving him with facial injuries. WNYT in Albany reported that Waldron had been arrested the previous October for allegedly smashing a computer and an employee’s vehicle windshield at an unnamed local business. He was being held without bail because of prior felony convictions.

New York: WWNY in Watertown reported that the expected release date for state prisoner Devon Madison, 29, was moved back at least two decades, after he got an additional 23-year sentence on December 6, 2023, for cutting an unnamed guard’s face with a homemade knife. The assault occurred during an April 2022 transport from Gouverneur Correctional Facility. Brian Hluska of the state Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association said the guard needed nine stitches to close the wound, plus four other unnamed guards suffered unspecified injuries while subduing Madison. A week before his sentencing, on November 29, 2023, another unnamed guard was left with facial injuries after he was stabbed during a violent altercation between prisoners at the state prison in Attica, WIVB in Buffalo said. The prison was then placed on lockdown for 10 days until December 8, 2023, according to WHAM in Rochester.

New York: A state prison guard supervisor accused of covering up an underling’s assault on a prisoner was acquitted on December 21, 2023, according to the Lower Hudson Valley Journal News. Green Haven Correctional Facility guard Sgt. Rosita Rossy was accused of falsifying records and witness tampering after fellow guard Taj Everly sucker-punched an unnamed prisoner in May 2020; for that, Everly, 32, got a three-month prison sentence in September 2023, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, July 2023, p.63; and Jan. 2024, p.63.] He also testified for Rossy, 50, that she didn’t know he had lied in his report about the assault when she repeated the lie in her own report, leading the jury to find her not guilty. Rossy had been suspended without pay for a year since her arrest and will now seek to reclaim her old job, along with back pay.

North Carolina: It turns out you can’t quit some jobs whenever you want—at least not while driving a prison transport van. Iredell County Sheriff’s deputies pulled over a private transport belonging to an unidentified Orlando company on November 28, 2023, and took driver Joshua James Pinquet into custody, after the 21-year-old had an unnamed co-worker in the van’s passenger seat text his resignation to the firm—but without delivering four prisoners locked in the cargo hold to their scheduled stop in Hickory. WBTV in Charlotte reported that Pinquet was issued no bond, leaving him in the county lockup to await trial on five charges of felony second-degree kidnapping and felony larceny by an employee. It was unclear what happened to his co-worker. The prisoners got a new driver and continued their trip to Florida.

Ohio: On November 27, 2023, Lorain County Sheriff Phil Stammitti fired a county jail guard for allegedly striking an unnamed detainee multiple times the previous August. According to the Lisbon Morning Journal, the now-former guard, Ruben Ortiz, 51, claimed the detainee resisted attempts to prep him for transport to a mental health facility for a court-ordered psychological evaluation. The guard had been placed on administrative leave after the incident. He was also charged by Elyria prosecutors on October 9, 2023, with falsification and assault.

Ohio: Former Lorain Correctional Institution guard Daryl Gus, 36, was sentenced on January 2, 2024, to four years in federal prison and four years of supervised release for repeatedly smuggling tobacco and drugs to prisoners, the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram reported. Gus resigned in January 2023 after he was caught attempting to enter the prison with a backpack containing cigarettes, buprenorphine, naloxone and 31 grams of crystal meth; it was one of five drops for which he admitted taking a almost $10,000 in bribes, as PLN reported. [See: PLN, Mar. 2023, p.63.] A daily meth user himself, the married dad to six kids said his “family was struggling to support itself” and he thought he’d get away with smuggling “one or two times.”

Pennsylvania: On December 5, 2023, a jury convicted state prisoner Dwayne Hill, 53, on two counts of aggravated assault for stabbing a guard with a pencil at the State Correctional Institution in Camp Hill in June 2021. Pennsylvania Media Group reported that the unnamed guard suffered only minor injuries, but Hill faces a mandatory-minimum sentence of 25 years because this is his “third strike” conviction for a violent crime. No motive was reported.

Pennsylvania: After 20 years in prison for a 1998 double murder that his brother committed, Noel Montalvo, 58, was released on December 18, 2023, the York Dispatch reported. Brother Milton Montalvo, who was two years older, died in 2021 in prison, where he had been since his 1999 capital murder convictions for killing Miriam Ascencio and Manuel Santana in Philadelphia. Noel Montalvo was also sentenced to death for the murders in 2003. But that conviction was thrown out in 2019. York County District Attorney Dave Sunday said that testimony used to convict the younger Montalvo “continued to diminish over time and now lacked sufficient reliability to sustain a murder conviction in the absence of forensic evidence.” His murder charges were dismissed after he pleaded guilty to evidence tampering.

Pennsylvania: Escaped Philadelphia prisoner Gino Hagenkotter was found dead of a drug overdose in a city warehouse on December 11, 2023. Less than two weeks earlier, the 34-year-old told a guard he was going to use the restroom and slipped away from an orchard where he was working behind Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Complex on November 30, 2023. That was the same day, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, that he was scheduled for transfer to a drug treatment program, before an outstanding shoplifting charge surfaced and the transfer was postponed. Hagenkotter, who was being held at Riverside Correctional Facility on theft and drug convictions, was the city DOC’s fourth escapee in 2023, though the only one not recaptured.

Pennsylvania: Two Keystone State jail guards face road-rage charges, and a third was arrested for smuggling drugs. WNEP in Moosic reported that Pike County Correctional Facility guard Michael Spensieri, 39, was arrested on December 15, 2023, after state police tracked him to a drug “drop,” and a search of his car turned up cash and drugs. That same day, Bucks County Correctional Facility guard Aaron Mayers, 25, was indicted for second-degree murder and gang assault after a wild road-rage incident in New York that left a Brooklyn resident dead. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Mayers and an accomplice, New York City resident Zahir Williams, 24, allegedly sucker-punched Francisco Ortega, 50, and ran over him with his own BMW. Two days later, on December 17, 2023, a fellow guard at the lockup, Aliyou Kiadee, 35, was arrested after brandishing a handgun at a fellow motorist during another road-rage incident in Warrington Township, the Philadelphia Inquirer also said.

South Carolina: The State reported that the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice fired youth detention facility guard Alexander Howell, 33, on December 13, 2023, for allegedly taking unspecified bribes to smuggle unidentified contraband to unnamed youth detainees. It was also not clear when nor at which lockup the crime allegedly occurred. Howell was charged with misconduct in office and booked into Richland County’s Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center. If convicted, he faces up to a year in prison and a fine up to $1,000.

Tennessee: According to a report by The Hill on December 2, 2023, Demetrius Haley—one of five Memphis cops fired and charged with fatally beating Fed Ex worker Tyre Nichols, 29, during a January 2023 traffic stop—was earlier accused of using excessive force by a detainee at the Shelby County Jail, where Haley worked as a guard from 2015 to 2020. An investigation into the complaint by the detainee, Cordarius Sledge, found no policy violations, and a federal suit Sledge filed over the incident was dismissed. But Haley was disciplined for other policy violations. He also propped up Nichols’ dying body and snapped a cellphone photo that he texted to five acquaintances. Haley and the other four defendant former cops in Nichols’ killing are Black, as was Nichols himself. One of the four, Desmond Mills, Jr., 33, struck a deal and pleaded guilty to federal excessive force charges on November 3, 2023. DOJ has also opened an investigation into alleged civil rights violations by the Memphis Police Department.

Tennessee: On December 6, 2023, Dyer County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested an employee at the county jail on suspicion of smuggling contraband to detainees. WMC in Memphis reported that Sheriff Jeff Box also fired Misty Scott, 43, after she was found with cell phones, THC, vape pens and marijuana, as well as other narcotics. She posted $5,000 bond and was released.

Tennessee: The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported that Shelby County jailers Reginald Wilkins, 39, and Odell Underwood, 54, were indicted on November 14, 2023, for allegedly assaulting detainee Damien Florez-Ramirez the previous May. Sheriff Floyd Bonner said that Florez-Ramirez had attacked another jailer earlier the same day but was subdued before Wilkins and Underwood took him to an area away from surveillance cameras and beat him. They had been with the county Sheriff’s Office for 16 and 25 years, respectively, when Bonner placed them on unpaid leave after the indictment was handed down. Attorneys with Apperson Crump PLC who are representing Florez-Ramirez said they planned to file a lawsuit over the incident.

Texas: On December 9, 2023, Jefferson County Correctional Facility guard Alicea Hemphill was arrested and fired for allegedly smuggling K-2 and other drugs to detainees at the lockup. KBMT in Beaumont reported that she had been employed only since June 2023, but Sheriff Zena Stephens said that was long enough for staff to notice “an influx of substances being brought into our facility.” The Sheriff appeared to blame detainees “who have all day to pick up on vulnerabilities of people who work [at the jail].” But she also called out “that element of people that can easily be bought off.” Hemphill posted a $20,000 bond and was released.

Texas: A former employee of the state Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is facing charges she abetted her son’s escape from the Clemens Unit on December 17, 2023. KHOU in Houston reported that Leonor Priestle went that day to visit her son, convicted child rapist Robert Yancey, Jr., 39, giving him her black sweater and beanie, along with the prison ID of a man who once worked with Priestle at TDCJ’s McConnell Unit before she left in 2011. Sharp-eyed guards failed to notice any of this—the sweater and beanie that the prisoner put on, nor his ancient ID card—allowing him to walk out of the lockup and drive away in his mother’s white Nissan. Police pulled her over in the car later that evening, but Yancey was no longer in the vehicle. She was arrested, along with her boyfriend, Russell Williams. Yancy was picked up the following day at a park 40 miles from the prison. All three face felony charges related to the escape. TDCJ said the prisoner will be sent to another lockup to continue serving a life-without-parole sentence for repeatedly raping a seven-year-old that his trial jury took just 23 minutes to hand down in 2022.

Texas: On August 7, 2023, Travis County prosecutors persuaded a judge to drop charges against Rosa Jimenez, 40, a state prisoner who served 18 years of a 99-year sentence for murder before a state appeals court found in January 2021 that she was “likely innocent” and released her. The New York Times reported that Jimenez was convicted in 2005 of murdering a toddler she babysat, based largely on expert testimony that 21-month-old Bryan Gutierrez could not have accidentally choked to death. That testimony was successfully challenged on appeal, though it took most of two decades to overturn Jimenez’s conviction and remand her case for a new trial. Prosecutors then opted not to pursue the matter, and her case was dismissed. Meanwhile Jimenez, who suffers end-stage renal failure, is on the list for a kidney transplant.

West Virginia: WVNS in Ghent reported that federal prisoner Andrew Davis, 39, was found dead at the Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) in Beckley on December 31, 2023, after a “perceived altercation” with another prisoner. That prisoner was not named, but BOP said there were no other injuries. Davis arrived at the prison in March 2022 to serve a 70-month sentence for drug trafficking, though the federal court for the Northern District of Ohio recommended sending him to FCI-Elkton in Ohio or FCI-Fort Dix in New Jersey. It was unclear if he had begun receiving 500 hours of residential drug abuse treatment that the Court also recommended. See: United States v. Gray, USDC (N.D. Ohio), Case No. 1:20-cr-00847.

Wisconsin: Waukesha County Jail guard Lt. Johanna Grace, 33, and nurse Deborah Link, 65, were bound over on December 18, 2023, to stand trial for their role in the January 2023 death of detainee Randy Glenn, Jr., 34. WITI in Milwaukee reported that the married dad with six kids was found with five plastic baggies in his stomach containing almost 10 grams of cocaine. During his intake, another guard had told Link that Glenn was making sounds like he was ingesting something, and she even checked out an empty baggie that fell from his mouth. But she told police he denied swallowing anything and was “fine.” Later that night, Grace found two baggies on the floor after Glenn was strip-searched. Fellow guards who observed him sweating heavily also notified her of his “medical concerns”—but she failed to log any of this when her shift ended. Both she and Link pleaded not guilty to felony abuse of residents of penal facilities.  

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login