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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by Christopher Zoukis

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 ...

New York Man Falsely Arrested and Maliciously Prosecuted Settles Suit with Nassau County Officials

by Christopher Zoukis

A New York man—whose partner reported to police that he made threats on her life and who was subsequently arrested and jailed before the charge was dismissed— agreed to a settlement with Nassau County, officers, and officials.

     On March 27, 2010, Richard Hunt and Rachel Giannetti had an argument. Giannetti called the police and reported that Hunt pushed her against a wall, grabbed her throat and threatened that he would smash her head in and watch it bleed. She then went back to the police twice to retract her statement, but was told the matter was out of her hands. On March 31, Hunt was arrested, charged with menacing in the third degree, and held in jail overnight. Hunt appeared in court in April and May, and the charge was dismissed on July 26.

     On January 13, 2011, Hunt filed a complaint in federal court against Nassau County, Nassau County police Officer Hudson, Sergeant Gary J. Ruggiero, Detective Bruce F. Coffey, five unnamed officers and five unnamed Nassau County assistant district attorneys.

    Hunt argued that his false arrest and malicious prosecution violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as New York ...

Massachusetts Settles Claim by U.S. over Gender-Biased Prison Guard Exam

by Christopher Zoukis

The state of Massachusetts agreed to stop using the Caritas physical abilities test in the selection process of its prison guards upon a judicial finding that it negatively discriminated against women — and it agreed to work with the federal government to develop a new and fairer test.

     In 2009, the United States filed a complaint against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Department of Corrections over the state’s use of the Caritas physical abilities test, which, it argued, violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Evidence showed that in 2007, 97.2 percent of men passed the test compared to 55.1 percent of women. In 2008, 96 percent of men passed versus 65.2 percent of women. In 2009, 99 percent of men passed versus 84.2 percent of women. Upon review of this evidence in May 2011, Judge William G. Young found that the Commonwealth unintentionally imposed a disparate impact on women.

     On February 10, 2012, prior to a trial to determine the second part of the United States’ claim, the parties agreed on a settlement. Massachusetts would stop using the Caritas test and would work with the federal government to develop ...

$30,000 Settlement Reached for New Jersey Prisoner Assaulted by Guards

     Lester Seeley, who was allegedly assaulted by several guards while being held in the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, New Jersey, agreed to a $30,000 settlement with the county.

     According to Seeley, he suffered an unprovoked attack by several guards on December 15, 2007, resulting in ...

Father of Man Strangled While in Missouri Jail Accepts Settlement

by Christopher Zoukis

George Stevens, whose son was strangled to death by another man while being held in a Missouri jail, agreed to a settlement with the city of St. Louis in response to his wrongful death lawsuit.

     On April 26, 2008, Michael Stevens and Robert Francis were taken to the Justice Center jail. Both allegedly informed Correctional Medical Services Inc. (CMS) staff that they each had mental health issues. CMS is responsible for recommending suitable holding scenarios, and the two men were housed together.

     Allegedly, while Officer Louis Soward was on a lunch break, Francis strangled Stevens. Other detainees tried calling for help but said there was no response for some time. The guards allegedly made no attempt to resuscitate Stevens, who was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

     In May 2010, George Stevens and Helen Nickels, Michael Steven’s father and personal representative, filed a wrongful death complaint in federal court against Soward, Tonya Harry, Patricia Hall, Robert Bond, Carla Harrison, CMS and the city of St. Louis. The plaintiffs argued that CMS should not have placed two mentally ill people in the same cell, that Soward failed to make his required rounds, and that ...


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