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Articles by Derek Gilna

Arkansas: $21,000 Settlement in Jail Release Debit Card Class-Action Suit

by Derek Gilna

A federal class-action complaint filed against the Benton County, Arkansas Sheriff’s Office and Keefe Commissary company, over the practice of issuing fee-laden debit cards to prisoners containing their release funds, has settled for just over $21,000 plus attorney fees and incentive awards.

Arrestees processed into the ...

Class-action Settlement in Mississippi “Debtors’ Prison” Case

by Derek Gilna

In April 2018, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) announced a settlement in a federal class-action suit filed against the city of Corinth, Mississippi that accused the municipality and its chief Municipal Court judge, John C. Ross, of running a “modern day debtor’s prison” that discriminated against poor defendants. The comprehensive settlement effectively ends the practice of forcing indigent defendants to sit in jail due to their inability to pay fines or cash bail for minor, non-violent offenses.

According to the lawsuit, under the challenged Municipal Court practices, “A person arrested for a misdemeanor or municipal charge will not be released from jail unless they pay a monetary amount predetermined by a bail schedule and without any consideration of ability to pay. The City does not bring an arrestee before a judicial officer for an initial appearance until the next scheduled court date, which is only held once per week.”

“Thus,” the complaint continued, “[w]hen court does occur and persons are adjudicated and given a fine, they are required to pay the entire fine or make a down-payment, and if they cannot do so they again are jailed, sitting out their fine at ...

Colorado Accused of Failing to Comply with Settlement in Mental Health Care Suit

by Derek Gilna

On June 13, 2018, attorneys representing mentally ill defendants held in Colorado jails moved to reopen a 2012 class-action settlement in which the state agreed to cease “warehousing” mentally ill prisoners and provide them with timely evaluations. According to plaintiffs’ counsel, “Under the terms of [that] settlement agreement, the Department [of Human Services] is required to admit a pretrial detainee to the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (“CMHIP”) within 28 days of ... admission date for an evaluation or restorative treatment and to maintain a monthly average of no more than 24 days for all pretrial detainees to be admitted to CMHIP for evaluation or treatment.”

However, over the next three years not only did the state of Colorado fail to comply with the terms of the settlement, it apparently also tried to conceal its non-compliance. “[T]he State provided Disability Law Colorado with incorrect data making it appear the State was in full compliance with the deadlines, but Disability Law Colorado uncovered that almost 80 individuals were waiting three times as long – once again in a crisis situation.”

In an attempt to remedy this failure by the state, the parties agreed in ...

Two Former Oklahoma Death Row Prisoners Obtain $3.15 Million Settlement

by Derek Gilna

Last year, Yancy L. Douglas, 43, and Paris Lapriest Powell, 44, former death row prisoners in Oklahoma, accepted a total $3.15 million settlement in their federal civil rights lawsuits brought against their prosecutor and the State of Oklahoma. Douglas and Powell were exonerated, and their wrongful ...

Arizona: Lawsuit Spurs Significant Reforms for Death Row Prisoners

by Derek Gilna

A federal lawsuit that settled in March 2017 resulted in the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) drastically improving conditions of confinement for death row prisoners. Pursuant to the settlement, most of the state’s 120 condemned prisoners were moved from solitary confinement in the Browning Unit at the ...

With Help from ACLU, Parolee Wins $10,000 Settlement Plus $100,000 in Attorney Fees

by Derek Gilna

After serving a 16-year sentence for forcible sodomy and forcible oral copulation, California state prisoner Sherman D. Manning was released on parole in February 2016 under the custody of the state’s Division of Adult Parole Operations. Following months of harassment and retaliation by that agency, Manning, with ...

Canadian Woman Wins Settlement for Death of Son Born in Jail

by Derek Gilna

Julie Bilotta obtained a settlement from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre in the Canadian province of Ontario after staff took nine hours to call emergency personnel when she went into early labor. Her son, Gionni, suffered a traumatic birth in September 2012, and succumbed to chronic breathing problems around a year later. [See: PLN, Oct. 2016, p.63].

Bilotta, who was eight months pregnant and in custody for probation violations on drug charges, began to go into labor about 11 a.m., but the nurse on duty failed to react to her pleas for help. According to Bilotta’s mother, Kim Hurtubise, “She was screaming, she was in a locked-down cell with another inmate ... inmates were saying ‘help her’ and they didn’t come into her cell until 5 p.m. The ambulance showed up an hour later and the baby was hanging by the feet,” she said.

“The baby was bruised from the waist down,” Hurtubise added. “They had to put the baby on a ventilator to breathe. They thought he was having seizures, they had to do a CT scan. My daughter had to have a blood transfusion.” Gionni’s short life was marked by a ...

Two Chicago Prisoners, Released Due to Police Misconduct, Seized by ICE

by Derek Gilna

In December 2017, Gabriel Solache and Arturo Reyes saw their confessions in a 2000 murder trial that resulted in their convictions set aside by Cook County Circuit Court Judge James M. Obbish. But as soon as they were released from prison they were immediately taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Solache, 46, and Reyes, 43, confessed to the 1998 murders of Mariano and Jacinto Soto at the couple’s home in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago. The men had recently arrived from Mexico to work as laborers, living in the same apartment building as Adriana Mejia, who received a life sentence for planning the killings to kidnap the Soto’s infant daughter.

Tried separately, Solache and Reyes were both convicted and sentenced to life in prison (Solache was originally sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life without parole). The pair, who did not speak English at the time of their arrest, claimed their confessions were beaten out of them by Chicago Police Department Detective Reynaldo Guevara, a 30-year veteran.

Accused of abusing suspects and bullying witnesses in several cases, Guevara has been the subject of multiple investigations. In cases where he was questioned about ...

Washington Prisoner Has First Amendment Right to Threaten to File Suit

by Derek Gilna

In June 2012, following a dispute with officials at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), prisoner John Thomas Entler filed written complaints in which he said he would file lawsuits and seek criminal charges if his grievances were not addressed. He was then disciplined for those statements under a Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) regulation that bars prisoners from “intimidating or coercing prison staff.”

After Entler objected to what he considered unjustified deductions from his prison trust account and other issues, including the failure of a staff member to make legal copies, he filed several complaints pursuant to DOC grievance procedures. When he received a work assignment that he argued violated his religious beliefs, he again complained and threatened to file suit.

Shortly thereafter, prison officials “issued Entler a serious infraction for his July 19 letter to the Religious Programs Manager threatening to sue to protect his religious freedom ... [because] Entler’s threat to sue was intimidating and coercive in violation of [DOC] Rule 663.”

Upon being found guilty of infractions by prison staff and disciplined, Entler threatened to contact the governor and the U.S. Department of Justice, and was subjected to additional discipline. He filed ...

California Supreme Court Modifies Settlement to Revise Parole Process

by Derek Gilna

California state prisoner Roy Butler, serving an indeterminate prison term for second-degree murder, sought habeas corpus relief on December 12, 2012, contesting the California Parole Board’s process of calculating the length of his sentence. Butler and the state agreed to a settlement “requiring the [Parole] Board to calculate the ‘base terms’ of an inmate serving an indeterminate sentence for use at the inmate’s initial parole hearing.” [See: PLN, Jan. 2014, p.32].

Prior to 1977, the imposition of a statutory sentence between a minimum and maximum period of imprisonment vested absolute control over the amount of time actually served to the Parole Board, leading to often widely disparate sentences. Although such sentences were largely eliminated after that date, Butler argued that recent statutory changes required a modification of the 2013 settlement. The Court of Appeal rejected his argument and he sought review of that adverse decision.

According to the California Supreme Court, “The [2013] settlement agreement was premised on the idea that ‘base terms’ played some role – defined by statute – in determining release dates for those sentenced to indeterminate terms. Given this premise, the elimination of ‘base term’ calculations from any such role is ...


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