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Articles by Christopher Zoukis

Top Federal Death Penalty Lawyer Demoted, Reassigned

by Christopher Zoukis

Kevin Carwile, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney in charge of the agency’s death penalty prosecution unit, has been demoted over allegations that he fostered a “sexualized environment” in his workplace.

The New York Times reported on the accusations against Carwile on March 31, 2018 in an article that highlighted multiple accusations of sexism, favoritism and harassment. According to the Times, Carwile has been investigated at least a dozen times since he was tapped to run the death penalty unit in 2010.

Before overseeing the capital punishment division, he was head of the DOJ’s gangs unit. He was bounced from that post in the wake of the “Fast and Furious” scandal involving the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in which federal agents allowed criminal gangs to transport guns to Mexico in the hope of building a better case against them. According to the Times, Carwile incorrectly told investigators that the BATFE learned about the firearms being moved illegally after it had already happened.

During his time as head of the death penalty unit, Carwile reportedly held men-only meetings, sent emails only to male employees and gave the best cases to men. One former ...

Rikers Island Beat Down Suit Settles for $165,000, but Victim Won’t See a Penny

by Christopher Zoukis

On October 30, 2012, several guards at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City used batons to beat handcuffed prisoner Gabino Genao, 31, into unconsciousness. In the wake of that incident, guards Moises Simancas, April Jackson and Tyrone Wint resigned, pleaded guilty to criminal charges ...

$750,000 Settlement Paid by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for Wrongful Death

by Christopher Zoukis
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a wrongful death case brought by the parents of a mentally ill prisoner who died after prison guards sprayed him in the face and in his breathing tube with pepper spray. The deal ...

Trump Calls Prison Reform “Very Important” as First Step Act Passes in the House

by Christopher Zoukis

Does “tough on crime” President Donald J. Trump support prison reform? If his comments at a January 2018 listening session can be believed, the answer is a qualified “yes” – qualified because his focus is mainly on reentry services, not on prison conditions or sentencing reform.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has spearheaded the administration’s prison reform efforts. Kushner has a personal interest in this area; his father, Charles Kushner, spent 14 months in federal prison after being convicted of accepting illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. According to CNN, Jared Kushner has held several listening sessions involving key criminal justice stakeholders.

The January 2018 session included Kushner, Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and several prison reform experts. A roundtable discussion was held with input from everyone, including Trump, who referred to prison reform as “very important” and a “very big topic.”

“The vast majority of incarcerated individuals will be released at some point and often struggle to become self-sufficient once they exit the correctional system,” he said. “We have a great interest in helping them turn their lives around, get a second ...

Federal Judge Dismisses Class-action Suits Over Jail Phone Rates, Commissions

by Christopher Zoukis

On August 10, 2017, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed four related class-action lawsuits in which prisoners challenged the rates and commission kickbacks associated with jail phone service contracts.

A group of attorneys representing California prisoners held in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda counties filed class-action complaints alleging that the cost of phone calls at those facilities violated the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment’s unlawful takings provision, the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause and Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The plaintiffs said county officials contracted with prison and jail telecom firms Global Tel*Link and Securus Technologies, which charged “unreasonable, unjust and exorbitant rates” for phone calls made by prisoners, then kicked back “extortionate and outrageous ‘commissions’” to the county jails.

Under President Obama, the Federal Communications Commission took decisive action to reduce prison and jail phone rates; thus far in President Trump’s administration, however, the FCC has taken a hands-off approach to the prison telecom industry and refused to defend its own order capping intrastate (in-state) rates. [See: PLN, July 2017, p.52].

Phone calls from county jails can be extremely expensive, reaching over $1.00 per minute ...

15 Years to Life for Jailers Who Beat Mentally Ill Prisoner to Death

by Christopher Zoukis

Three former California jail guards were convicted of second-degree murder for fatally beating a mentally ill prisoner who suffered what prosecutors called an “agonizing and painful” death. In January 2018, the three men were each sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison.

The guards, Jereh Lubrin, Matt Farris and Rafael Rodriguez, were prosecuted for beating Michael Tyree to death while he was held at the Santa Clara County Jail. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p.34; Jan. 2017, p.48]. Tyree, who had bipolar disorder, was attacked and killed by Lubrin, Farris and Rodriquez on August 26, 2015 while awaiting an open bed at a psychiatric facility. The guards attempted to explain injuries to Tyree’s spleen, small bowel, face, skull, liver, and front and back sides of his body as resulting from an accidental fall.

The jury thought otherwise.

Shannon Tyree wrote in a statement for the court that her brother’s death was especially painful because his paranoid delusions turned out to be not delusional at all.

“When he would tell me people were after him, including me, I would dismiss it as delusional and paranoia and tell him no one was after him,” she ...

Prisoners Help Train Future (K9) Law Enforcement Officers

by Christopher Zoukis

Post-9/11, the demand for highly-trained explosives investigators has grown significantly; law enforcement agencies nationwide have hurried to recruit officers who have received specialized training in the detection of bombs and accelerants. And in an ironic twist, prisoners play a central role in the training of this new breed of investigator.

That is, bomb-sniffing dogs.

Puppies Behind Bars (PBB), a nonprofit founded in 1997, trains prisoners to raise both service dogs and explosive detection dogs. The future K9 officers enter prison at the age of eight weeks and live with their prisoner-trainer for about two years. According to the PBB’s website, the program “gives inmates the opportunity to contribute to society rather than take from it, and lets law enforcement see that inmates are capable of doing something positive for the community.”

A news article recently profiled PBB graduate and ATF K9 agent Oscar. Oscar, who by all accounts is a good boy, was raised by a federal prisoner in Ohio. He then went on to complete an intensive 12-week training program at the ATF’s National Canine Center in Front Royal, Virginia. Oscar is now an accelerant detection dog, partnered with ATF agent Mills.

“He’s incredible ...

$330,000 Awarded to Brooklyn Woman and Minor Nephew over False Arrest and Two Years of Malicious Prosecution

by Christopher Zoukis

A Brooklyn woman and her 16-year-old nephew, who were charged with harassing a police officer and obstruction, then compelled to attend around 20 court appearances over two years before the charges were finally dropped, were awarded $330,000 in damages by a New York jury.

     On ...

Federal Jury Awards Michigan Woman $1,048,000 over Retaliatory Arrests

A Michigan woman who police arrested twice on charges of filing a false police report of rape was awarded just over $1 million after a federal jury found that the arrests were in retaliation for her criticism of the detective who investigated her rape complaint.

     Linda Sonte Everson, a ...

Federal Jury Awards Texas Man $169,128 in Excessive Force Claim Against Sheriff’s Deputy

by Christopher Zouki

Richard Uekert, who suffered a fractured nose and teeth from a San Patricio County sheriff’s deputy, was awarded $169,128 by a federal jury after it determined that the deputy used excessive force.

     On October 10, 2010, Uekert was arrested for public intoxication and taken to ...


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