Skip navigation

Articles by Casey Bastian

Four Dead in One Month in San Bernardino County Jails, $3,232,500 in Settlements Paid So Far

by Douglas Ankney and Casey J. Bastian

A spate of jail deaths in California’s San Bernardino County dating back to 2017 has led to at least four legal settlements totaling $3,232,500. Two additional settlements netted another $35,000 for detainees allegedly beaten by guards. Meanwhile one of the most recent jail ...

Two Dead and $4.675 Million Paid After Deputies’ Alleged Misconduct in California’s Sonoma County

by Casey J. Bastian

A coroner’s report on March 14, 2023, confirmed that an undocumented worker was fatally shot by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department (SCSD) deputy after a foot chase the previous summer. Sebastopol attorney Izaak Schwaiger, who is representing the estate of the dead man, David Pelaez-Chavez, 35, cited SCSD’s poor supervision, training and discipline of deputies – arguments he also used to secure nearly $4.7 million in settlements for deputies’ alleged use of excessive force against two other arrestees on their way to the county jail.

One settlement was reached on October 21, 2021, when the county agreed to pay $875,000 to settle claims by a former Marine who said he was Tasered and beaten without provocation by deputies responding to a domestic disturbance at his home.

Fernando Del Valle was home in Boyes Hot Springs on September 24, 2016, when an argument erupted with his intoxicated wife. As it escalated, Del Valle went to a bedroom, locked the door and tried to sleep, unaware that neighbors had already called the police.

When SCSD deputies Scott Thorne, Anthony Diehm and Beau Zastrow arrived, Del Valle’s wife refused them entry. Deputy Thorne then forced open the door, grabbed ...

Bureau of Justice Statistics Releases Latest First Step Act Data

by Casey J. Bastian

The First Step Act of 2018 (FSA) was signed into law in December 2018. Among other hoped-for benefits was that the legislation would help reduce recidivism and decrease the overall prison population. However, data compiled by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) for the calendar year 2021 reflected that the prisoner population of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) actually increased more than three percent year over year.

FSA mandated that BJS collect and collate data from 26 points through its National Prisoner Statistics (NPS) program. The 2021 data was compiled by the Office of Research and Evaluation and provided to the BJS, which supplemented this data from the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates (SPI) and NPS’s Summary of Sentenced Population Movement. The counts in the 2021 BJS report encompass BOP prisoner populations in all 122 federal prisons. However, the number excluded all privately operated federal detention centers.

The data is revealing, and several of the demographic statistics are particularly noteworthy. First there is the increase in BOP’s prisoner population, which swelled by three percent, up from 151,283 in 2020 to 156,542 in 2021. Citizenship statistics reveal that 15% of all federal prisoners are ...

$775,000 Paid for Mentally Ill California Jail Detainee Who Compulsively Drank Water Until He Died

by Casey J. Bastian

On November 2, 2022, California’s Monterey County agreed to pay $775,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the estate of Rafael Ramirez Lara, a mentally ill detainee allegedly ignored in the county jail while he compulsively drank water until he died.

An undisclosed portion of the payout was covered by Wellpath, the privately contracted healthcare provider at the Monterey County Jail (MCJ). Wellpath is one of the nation’s largest private providers of healthcare behind bars, with contracts in 394 county jails and community facilities and more than 140 state and federal prisons in 36 states. The firm has held the contract to provide healthcare at MCJ since it was given to a corporate ancestor, California Forensic Medical Group (CFMG), in 1984.

MCJ and CFMG settled an earlier class-action suit in 2015 with an agreement to address issues of poor medical and mental healthcare, inadequate staffing, accommodations for disabled prisoners and serious safety problems. [See: PLN, Apr. 2016, p.18.]

That agreement also included a $4.8 million payment by Defendants for class attorney fees. But that couldn’t keep the parties from returning to the federal court for the Northern District of California, which ordered Defendants to pay ...

Report Reveals Extent of Federal Pretrial Detention Crisis

by Casey J. Bastian

A report on the first investigation into federal pretrial detention on a national level was released in October 2022 by the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic (FCJC) of the University of Chicago Law School. Combing through data from over 600 detention hearings across four federal districts over a two-year period, the report found that federal courts “have allowed misguided and entrenched practice norms to overshadow the law,” resulting in “skyrocketing” pretrial detention rates.

The report, Freedom Denied, attempted to “identify why the federal system has abandoned the norm of liberty.” Back in 1984, Congress passed the Bail Reform Act to emphasize the “presumption of release,” placing the burden on prosecutors to establish a true need for pretrial detention. In United States v Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court found the law constitutional, noting its provisions “protect pretrial liberty and render pretrial detention” the “carefully limited exception.”

Now it appears those time-honored safeguards have collapsed.In 1983, only 23.8% of those charged were detained while awaiting trial, for an average period of two months. By 2019, 74.8% were detained for an average of nearly nine months.

Pretrial detention places a significant burden on individuals, their ...

Sixth Circuit: “Minimal Findings Necessary” Before Garnishing Funds From Federal Prisoner in Ohio

by Casey J. Bastian

On December 16, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a district court order permitting the government to seize nearly $3,737.89 from the inmate trust fund account of federal prisoner Adam Carson, 40. As the lower court failed to make necessary findings necessary and cited no authority to do so, the Court vacated the decision and remanded the case.

Carson had already served a two-year sentence for a 2008 robbery of a bank in Youngstown when he was arrested and charged with robbing two more Ohio banks in 2012. It’s unclear how he was then released, but he robbed another bank in Cleveland in 2016, this time sending his girlfriend to a teller with a note claiming she’d been kidnapped and had a bomb strapped to her back.

Sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in 2018, Carson was ordered to “immediately begin paying $5,590 in restitution” to the victim banks. Carson agreed to participate in the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP) of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which began taking 25% of Carson’s gross monthly income to apply towards the restitution amount. Carson remained in full compliance with his IFRP ...

Almost $42,500 Awarded to Illinois Prisoner for Denial of Physical Therapy by Wellpath Nurse

by Casey J. Bastian

On May 31, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois awarded attorney’s fees and costs totaling $17,449.90 to a state prisoner who earlier convinced a jury that a prison nurse’s dilly-dallying deprived him of prescribed physical therapy. For unnecessary pain and suffering that resulted, the jury had awarded Andrew D. Coe a total of $25,000 in damages on March 2, 2022.

Coe was housed at the Danville Correctional Center (DCC) operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) in 2017. On June 27, 2017, Coe was to be provided three months of physical therapy for treatment of a back injury sustained in an automobile accident prior to incarceration.

Dr. Justin Young prescribed the treatment and directed a nurse to provide Coe with a “10-day medical permit card for physical therapy for Monday’s, Wednesday’s, and Friday’s at 4:00 p.m.” Immediately thereafter, nurse Elicia Pearson assumed control of issuing Coe’s medical permit card. Pearson instructed Coe to wait in the healthcare unit waiting area to allow her time to prepare and issue the card.

Approximately 30 minutes later, Pearson stated to Coe that she was too busy right then to process the card, but ...

State Prison Systems Failing to Provide Meaningful Programming

By Casey J. Bastian

There are around 1.25 million prisoners in state prison systems. Prior to incarceration, most were poor, uneducated, disadvantaged or marginalized. But wait-lists for prison education and other programming indicate prisoners desire to better themselves. Yet prison systems are failing to provide the tools needed for post-incarceration success. Instead, prisoner labor is exploited to run the lockups that cage and keep operating costs down.

That is the takeaway from a report released on September 2, 2022, by the Prison Policy Initiative. Using data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, the report reveals how little state prison systems focus on setting prisoners up to succeed upon release. For that, prisoners need education and relevant job skills or vocational training. But prisons fail to offer these in any meaningful way. While prisoners want to be productive in prison, they are not allowed to choose “relevant, stimulating, and/or safe work assignments,” the study concludes.

Prisoners are given a choice: Provide menial labor to keep the prison running or face discipline. Worse, the average pay for prisoner labor is typically pennies per hour – if there is any pay at all. A prison work ...

“All Signals Blinking Red” at Federal Prison in West Virginia After DOJ Releases Report on Killing of Mobster “Whitey” Bulger

by Casey J. Bastian and Benjamin Tschirhart

Citing “bureaucratic incompetence,” as well as “flawed, confusing and insufficient” policies and procedures, a December 2022 report by a federal government watchdog attempted to answer the question: How did a notorious but elderly criminal end up transferred by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to a new prison where he was murdered within 12 hours?

Yet mystery shrouds James “Whitey” Bulger’s death at the U.S. Penitentiary (USP) in Hazelton, West Virginia. The former Irish Mafia mob boss and leader of Boston’s “Winter Hill Gang” gained his nickname for his thick platinum hair and his notoriety for over 16 years spent as a fugitive on the FBI “most wanted” list. After his 2011 capture, Bulger was given two life sentences for crimes that included 11 murders.

In 2014, he was stabbed by another prisoner at USP Tucson. By 2018, he was 89 and confined at USP Coleman in Florida. His health seriously degraded in a series of cardiac events brought on by atrial fibrillation. After multiple hospital trips, he was left in a wheelchair, requiring frequent nursing care and daily medication. BOP classified him as Care Level Three on a four-level scale.

An altercation ...

Federal Prisoner in Pennsylvania Gets Sentence Reduction After Guard Rapes Her

by Casey J. Bastian

On December 15, 2022, the U.S, District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania reduced Rashidah Brice’s sentence by 30 months. Brice had filed a motion for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c) and presented three circumstances that might constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons to grant the request. The Court found that her sexual assault by a guard and cooperating in his prosecution warranted a limited sentence reduction instead.

Brice was sentenced to 185 months in prison on August 20, 2013, after she pleaded guilty to three counts under 18 U.S.C. § 1591 for sex-trafficking three victims, one of whom was a minor. The Court recalled the “heinous” and “horrifying” details of her crime, in which she and her co-defendant, Christian Dior “Gucci Prada” Womack – who is also the father of her two minor children – extorted and coerced two women and a 17-year-old girl to have sex with strangers for money and also with them, filming the encounters and forcing them to take cocaine to stay awake, as well as threatening them with guns.

When Brice returned to the court with a motion for compassionate release, she asserted three grounds: a sexual assault ...