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Prisoner Education Guide

Articles by David Reutter

$64,900 Award in Arkansas Excessive Force Claim; Warden Held Not Liable

by David M. Reutter

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a judgment against the warden of Arkansas’ Cummins Unit, finding he did not have sufficient knowledge that the guards under his supervision were inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on prisoners.

The appeal, by Warden M.D. Reed, was ...

Authorities Listen in on Attorney-Client Calls at Jails in FL, CA and TX

by David Reutter & Matt Clarke

In December 2007, it was reported that an investigator at Florida’s Charlotte County Jail was caught listening to telephone conversations between a prisoner and his attorney. As a result, the investigator, Kenneth Hill, was reprimanded and placed on road patrol.

Hill was investigating charges of introduction of contraband and attempt to defraud involving jail prisoner David Price. In all, Hill monitored five phone calls between Price and his lawyer, Michael Powell, in an attempt to learn about a possible drug exchange.

In a deposition taken by Powell, Hill admitted he had listened to the conversations. Later, however, Hill wrote a memo to the State Attorney’s office recanting what he said in his deposition. When internal affairs investigators questioned him, Hill stated he “did not listen to the conversations to gain an upper hand in court, for a loophole in the defense, or with any devious intent.”

When asked whether an attorney-client phone conversation should be monitored, Hill said, “That is a good question! If the attorney wants to speak in private, they should not be on a recorded line. You can’t know all of that.”

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office has since implemented a policy that allows lawyers to put their phone numbers on a do-not-monitor list. Further, jail employees are required to discontinue monitoring if they realize a prisoner is having a conversation with an attorney.

PLN reported a similar incident at a Florida jail in 2006, when Broward County officials recorded two weeks of privileged conversations between prisoners and their attorneys. A resulting lawsuit was settled in February 2008 for “a few thousand dollars,” according to one of the lawyers involved in the case. See: Sawchuck v. Jenne, U.S.D.C. SD Fla., Case No. 0:06-cv-61182-KAM. [PLN, June 2007, p.12].

Attorney-client phone snooping isn’t limited to Florida jails. In June 2008, the Sheriff’s Department in San Diego County, California was found to be using a system that recorded all jail phone calls, including those between prisoners and their counsel. Angry defense lawyers noted that prosecutors had access to the improperly recorded attorney-client calls.
Indeed, Jim McMahon, with the Alternate Public Defender’s office, said phone conversations with his incarcerated client were included on a disc turned over by prosecutors as part of discovery in the case. “I’m not at all comfortable with the DA being supplied with confidential, privileged phone calls with my client,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Department claimed the attorney calls had been recorded due to an “inadvertent glitch” in the phone system, according to the Union Tribune. The system was not supposed to record calls placed to phone numbers in an attorney database, but the database was severely deficient – it did not include all attorneys’ numbers nor their cell phones or direct lines. A California state law expressly prohibits eavesdropping on attorney-client calls.

Further, the practice of Hunt County, Texas prosecutors obtaining recorded phone calls from jail prisoners – including attorney-client calls – has come under fire. Defense attorneys in the capital murder trial of Bradon Dale Woodruff filed pre-trial motions concerning the known use of recorded attorney-client calls by Hunt County prosecutors in prior criminal cases involving defendants Adam Kelly Ward and Abigail Louann Whytus.

Attorney Dennis Davis, who represented Ward and Whytus, was surprised when he received recordings of jail phone calls from the prosecutor in response to discovery requests. The recordings included conversations with attorneys, family members and an expert witness on the issue of Ward’s competency. “They basically assassinated his character with those [phone call] outtakes,” said Davis.

That was just fine according to some Texas prosecutors. “Certainly, there is attorney-client privilege, and you can waive that. Once you’re put on notice that this is being recorded, then you have waived that right,” stated Rockwall County District Attorney Ray Sumrow. “I don’t see a legal or ethical problem, assuming that they have been notified.” However, Sumrow noted he could not recall his office ever requesting jail phone recordings between a prisoner and his attorney.

Hunt County prosecutor Noble Walker defended his office’s actions in court.

“When you pick up the dang phone, it tells you that you are subject to being recorded,” he stated, adding that the issue is whether prisoners have an expectation of privacy in the phone calls.

“All the law that I’m familiar with says it’s unlawful and unethical to record attorney-client communication,” countered Dallas defense lawyer Barry Sorrels.

Other Texas counties, including Dallas, Denton, Collin and Rockwall, have acknowledged recording attorney-client phone calls at their jails. Dallas County officials admitted they sometimes send the recordings to prosecutors, while Denton, Collin and Rockwall County said they randomly monitor the calls.

State District Judge Richard A. Beacom, Jr. denied a defense motion to dismiss the murder charge against Woodruff due to the improper monitoring of his attorney-client conversations; however, he ruled on Sept. 18, 2007 that any evidence obtained from the phone calls could not be used at trial.

“Although the Court does not believe that the Office of the Hunt County District Attorney acted with malice or without some case authority to support their actions, this Court believes that the practice of the State listening to a defendant’s telephone conversations with his attorney is a violation of the 6th Amendment,” Judge Beacom held.

Sources: Sun-Herald, San Diego Union-Tribune, Dallas Morning News

United Kingdom Creates Foreigner Only Prisons

In mid-2007, the United Kingdom (UK) designated two detention facilities to be occupied solely by foreign national prisoners. If the plan is successful, the government intends to expand the practice beyond the Bullwood Hall and Canterbury prisons.

The move comes as the proportion of foreign prisoners to English prisoners continues to increase. There are 11,300 foreigners who face deportation after they complete their sentences among the UK’s prison population of 83,000.

The so-called “specialist prisons” aim to provide better services to incarcerated foreign nationals. Due to language and cultural barriers, prison officials had reported difficulty in providing care to mentally ill foreign prisoners. It was hoped that by having all foreign nationals in one place rather than spread throughout the prison system, services could be improved to meet their needs.

The government itself will also benefit. Officials from the UK’s Border and Immigration Agency hope to identify each prisoner’s immigration issues so as to hasten their deportation. In 2007, approximately 4,000 foreigners were deported after being discharged from prisons in Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales. This year, 2,400 have been deported as of June 2008.

The deportations are deemed necessary because “the ...

Arkansas Law Discloses Legislators’ Business Ties to State

Of concern to taxpayers should be the private business interests of their legislators. An Arkansas law enacted in 2007 requires disclosure of those interests when a lawmaker or his or her spouse owns at least 10 percent of a business that contracts with the state. Under the law, Act 567 (HB 2662), state agencies are required to disclose any current such contracts and those entered into within the past five years.

The law hit its mark. The largest business interest that has been disclosed involves a company controlled by Senator Percy Malone, an Arkadelphia Democrat and legislator since 1995 who is president and majority stock holder of W.P. Malone, Inc., which owns Pharmacy Care of Arkansas. The firm operates as Allcare Pharmacy.

Allcare provides prescription drugs and other medical services to prisoners in the Arkansas Department of Correc-tions through a subcontract with Correctional Medical Services (CMS). Malone declined to put a monetary value on the business that Allcare does with CMS, stating such information was “proprietary.”

Malone’s company engages in a significant amount of direct business with state agencies, too. For providing prescription drugs to 4,400 Medicaid recipients, Allcare was paid $2.89 million in the last ...

Once Again, Former Florida DOC Secretary Faces Liability in Prisoner Beating; Case Settled for $400,000

by David M. Reutter

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the former warden of the Florida State Prison (FSP) was not entitled to qualified immunity in a civil rights suit brought by a prisoner who alleged his beating by guards was not an isolated incident, but that ...

Out-going Kentucky Governor Issues 101 Pardons, Commutations

In December 2007, during his last hours in office, out-going Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher made state history by issuing 101 sentence commutations or pardons. While some of those acts of executive clemency appear to be meritorious, others smack of cronyism.

One of Fletcher’s commutations converted Jeffrey Devan Leonard’s death sentence to life without parole. Leonard was convicted for the 1983 murder of a store clerk. His case sparked controversy because his trial lawyer, Fred Ra-dolovich, was indicted on perjury charges for falsely claiming he had prior experience in four death penalty cases.

Radolovich actually had no experience as the lead attorney in a capital case, and his representation of Leonard was grossly deficient; he admitted he did not even know his client’s name during the trial.
Prosecutors dropped the per-jury charge in exchange for Radolovich’s law license. Leonard’s appeals were fully exhausted and he was awaiting an execution date at the time his sentence was commuted. Fletcher’s general counsel, David Fleenor, said “we’re not go-ing to execute somebody who clearly was denied a basic right.”

Nine Kentucky lawmakers wrote letters supporting the pardon application of Burgess Harrison Yonts, son of state Rep. Brent ...

Grand Jury Report, Four Nebraska Jail Guards Indicted in Prisoner’s Death

by David M. Reutter

Finding there was probable cause that four guards at Nebraska’s Omaha Police Detention Unit (OPDU) failed to render medical care to a prisoner which contributed to his death, a Douglas County grand jury indicted the guards on charges of official misconduct – a Class II misdemeanor. The grand jurors also found the city culpable, calling the situation at the jail “inadequate,” “irresponsible” and “appalling.”

The grand jury was convened to look into the death of Alexander Simoens, who was arrested on September 7, 2007 on suspicion of felony driving during suspension. Simoens, 47, did not exhibit or indicate any medical problems upon arrest and said he was not taking any medications.

After being booked into OPDU, however, Simoens began moaning, begging for help for stomach pain and vomiting blood. Jail employees ignored his pleas and refused to provide medical care. Guard Joachim Dankiw, a 17-year veteran, reportedly told Simoens to “Go ahead, lay down and die.”

It was not until September 9, when Simoens lost consciousness after writhing in pain in his cell, that an ambulance was finally called. By then it was too late. Simoens died two days later. The grand jury found the cause ...

Georgia Sheriff, Judges, Other Officials Face Misconduct, Criminal Charges

In November 2007 a federal grand jury issued an indictment charging Clinch County, Georgia Sheriff Winston C. Peterson, 62, with perjury, using forced prisoner labor and extorting former jail prisoners.

Peterson’s indictment marked the second time in the past year that a Georgia Sheriff was charged while in office. Berrien County Sheriff Gerald W. Brogdon pled guilty last August to a charge of illegal sale of a firearm to a felon. On April 10, 2008 he was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine.

Peterson had been Clinch County Sheriff since 1988. In 2000, he began charging prisoners at his jail $18 a day for room and board. From November 30, 2000 to November 21, 2004, Peterson collected about $30,000 from 475 prisoners. The funds were remitted to the County Commission.

Prisoners who were unable to pay the fees were forced to sign promissory notes before release; those notes stated they could be re-incarcerated for failure to pay. County officials agreed on April 14, 2006 to refund the jail fees plus pay $30,000 in attorney fees to settle a federal lawsuit brought by two former prisoners. See: Williams v. Clinch County ...

Nevada Prisoner Health Care So Atrocious, Prisoners Volunteer for Execution to Avoid Suffering

by David M. Reutter

“It is my opinion that the medical care provided at Ely State Prison amounts to the grossest possible medical malpractice, and the most shocking and callous disregard for human life and human suffering, that I have ever encountered in the medical profession in my thirty-five years of practice.” – Dr. William Noel

The above quote comprises the conclusion of Dr. Noel in a report for the National Prison Project of the ACLU. In preparing that report, Dr. Noel examined 35 prisoner medical files from Nevada’s Ely State Prison (ESP), which is more than 250 miles outside Reno, Las Vegas. ESP houses Nevada’s death row. That fact, critics charge, may be the reason behind the atrocious healthcare at the facility.

Dr. Noel’s report details the death of one prisoner that resulted from a failure to render any meaningful treatment. In several cases, Dr. Noel found it simply astonishing the prisoners were still alive in light of a “system that is so broken and dysfunctional that … every one of the prisoners at [ESP] who has serious medical needs, or may develop serious medical needs, is at enormous risk.”

Anti-death penalty advocates point to the number of ...

Eight Guards, Nurse Acquitted in Florida Child’s Beating Death

by David M. Reutter

An all white Florida jury acquitted eight former boot camp guards and a nurse of manslaughter in the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson.
PLN previously reported upon the beating and dragged death of Martin while the nurse stood idly by watching. See: PLN, July, 2007.

After a three week trial, the jury rendered its verdict in 90 minutes.
The evidence included a videotape of the guards applying punches, pressure grips, and kneeings while they dragged Martin around the boot camp’s exercise yard. When Martin fell out, the guards forced him to inhale ammonia capsules in an attempt, they say, to revive him. All the while, the nurse just stood by watching.

Because the incident was captured on video, the central theme at trial was what caused Martin’s death. The defense argued that Martin died because of an undiagnosed sickle cell trait, which is a usually harmless blood disorder that can hinder blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen during physical stress. The prosecution argued the guards suffocated Martin by covering his mouth and forcing him to inhale ammonia.

Both sides had something to latch onto during trial. The first autopsy conducted by Dr. Charles ...


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