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Articles by Douglas Ankney

Indiana Prisoner’s Suit Alleging Illegal Solitary Confinement Settled for $425,000

by Douglas Ankney

Taxpayers of the state of Indiana will pay $425,000 to prisoner Jay Vermillion as the result of an agreement reached on October 21, 2019, between him and employees of the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC). This agreement settled Vermillion’s § 1983 lawsuit alleging the IDOC employees unlawfully placed Vermillion in solitary confinement for 1,513 days; illegally confiscated, lost or destroyed all of his personal property, and denied his due process rights at three prison disciplinary hearings.

According to Vermillion’s suit, in July 2009, he was incarcerated at the Indiana State Prison (ISP) when investigators from the IDOC Internal Affairs Office informed him they were going to have criminal charges filed against him because they believed he was involved in the escape of three men from ISP that occurred earlier that month. Vermillion then exercised his constitutional right to cease answering the investigators’ questions. Ten minutes later, at the behest of the investigators, Vermillion was placed in ISP’s punitive segregation unit because of his refusal to answer their questions.

Two days later, Vermillion received a conduct report charging him with the offense of “trafficking” with ISP Counselor Don Bates in the Honor Housing Unit (where Vermillion was housed ...

New Jersey Jail Detainee Dies While Reportedly Begging for Water

by Douglas Ankney

Forty-one-year-old Atlantic County jail detainee Mario Terruso, Jr. died after coughing up blood and begging for water, according to a report in in September 2019.

Alan Wright, who knew Terruso for about 15 years, was working as a jail runner delivering food trays and cleaning carts when he saw Terruso in the admissions area.

Wright said Terruso was sweating profusely and “heaving every 30 to 60 seconds” while begging two nurses for water. The nurses were laughing and accusing Terruso of feigning illness in order to be taken to the hospital, the story said. One of the nurses asked Wright if Terruso “acts like that on the street.” According to Wright, Terruso went about an hour without receiving medical attention.

Then Terruso was suddenly placed into an ambulance. After learning that Terruso had died at the AtlanticCare Regional Medical Center around 1 a.m., Wright contacted his wife to post what he’d witnessed on Facebook. Wright also stated he heard jail guards bragging afterward that they had repeatedly punched Terruso in the face.

Wright was later contacted by the Office of the Attorney General. A spokesman from that office confirmed that the death was being investigated but ...

High School Journalists Garner National Attention by Exposing School’s Use of Prisoner Labor

by Douglas Ankney

Amherst-Pelham Regional High School (APRHS) English teacher Sara Barber-Just was rubbing sleep from her eyes at 5:30 a.m. while reading the June 28, 2019, online edition of The New York Times. Then her jaw dropped in amazement when she saw the story about her journalism class’ article exposing the school’s use of prisoner labor. “I think that’s a wonderful recognition for a student newspaper to have The New York Times call you and say they want to talk about your high school journalism,” Barber-Just said.

APRHS student Spencer Cliche had overheard in a conversation that the school was using prisoners from Massachusetts Correctional Institution-Norfolk to reupholster chairs in the auditorium. Cliche approached Barber-Just with the idea of investigating and reporting the story in The Graphic (APRHS’ quarterly paper).

After confirming with APRHS Superintendent Michael Morris that the school was using prisoner labor, Barber-Just encouraged Cliche and the rest of the class to not simply condemn the practice, but to investigate and write a story.

The class contacted Cara Savelli, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Savelli said prisoners perform work for schools, nursing homes, veteran’s agencies, and other public service providers with a dual purpose ...

Kansas County Jails People for Unpaid Medical Bills

by Douglas Ankney

A county in rural Kansas is jailing people over unpaid medical debt, CBS News reported in February 2020. The county is Coffeyville, Kansas, which has a poverty rate twice the national average.

It’s also the place where attorneys such as Michael Hassenplug have built a successful law practice assisting medical providers to collect debt owed by their neighbors.

Coffeyville has a policy that requires people with unpaid medical bills to appear in court every three months. In what is termed a “medical exam,” the debtors must swear they are too poor to pay. The policy was put in place through Hassenplug’s recommendation to the local judge. “I’m just doing my job,” Hassenplug insisted. “They want the money collected, and I’m trying to do my job as best I can by following the law.”

But the policy also provides for the arrest of anyone who misses two debtor’s exams. Bail is set at $500, which in most jurisdictions is refunded once the bailee appears in court. But in Coffeyville, it goes to attorneys and to the medical companies.

Tres Biggs’ son has leukemia and his wife suffers from Lyme disease. Working two jobs, he missed two exams. “You ...

Audit: Massachusetts Department of Corrections Failed to Provide Timely Health Care or Reentry Services

“Inmates have a right to timely health services while incarcerated, and we all have a vested interest in their successful reentry into society,” Bump said.

She called it “concerning” that MDOC’s “lax oversight” in these two ways “may have negatively affected inmate treatment and rehabilitation.”

Under MDOC policy, each Sick Call Request Form (SCRF) received from a prisoner must be processed within 24 hours on weekdays or 72 hours on weekends.

But from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018 – the period covered by the audit – MDOC dropped the ball in one out of five cases, with 20% of SCRFs failing to meet that processing time requirement. Of 60 prisoners whose cases were reviewed, there were a total of 297 SCRFs, and 55 of those were processed late from ...

Gallup Poll Shows Growing Opposition to Death Penalty

A Gallup poll revealed that 60% of Americans believe that life in prison without parole is a better approach for a murder conviction than the death penalty. The poll was cited in the Death Penalty Information Center’s 2019 year-end report. “The death penalty has now disappeared from whole regions of the country and continues to erode in others,” the DPIC report said.

Killing an innocent person remains a crucial concern. In 2019, three men condemned to death were exonerated, all after decades behind bars. Meanwhile, Domineque Ray was executed in Alabama despite the fact that his conviction was based solely on the testimony of a witness who was delusional and hallucinating when he accused Ray. No physical evidence linked Ray to the crime.

In Texas, Larry Swearingen was executed based on what his attorney referred to as forensic quackery. Eight post-conviction forensic experts contradicted trial testimony and concluded that the victim died while Swearingen was in police custody. “Our courts and public officials too frequently flat out ignore potentially deadly mistakes, and often take steps to obstruct the truth,” said DPIC Executive Director Robert Dunham. “That is one of the reasons why public support for the death ...

Suit: Mississippi Man Sentenced to Two Days Hangs Himself After Jail Kept Him 52 Days Longer

After he lost work and was unable to pay a fine, Robert Wayne Johnson was sentenced to the Keller Neshoba Regional Correctional Facility (KNRCF) in rural Kemper County, Mississippi, on November 16, 2017. The father of five had struggled with mental health problems, including two suicide attempts. Though his sentence was just two days long, he was still in jail 54 days later, when he hanged himself with his shoelaces and died on January 8, 2018.

On September 30, 2019, his widow, LaToya Johnson, filed suit against Kemper County, the Kemper County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO), and several correctional officers. Her suit alleges that her husband was unlawfully held past his release date, was not provided with mental health care, and was not properly monitored after he became suicidal.

According to his widow, Johnson — a Meridian resident who had worked at the city library, East Mississippi State Hospital and Tower Automotive — had been institutionalized at least twice. The suit alleges that his mental health issues were ignored by KNRCF employees, in spite of his history and repeated warnings from other prisoners that Johnson had been tying shoelaces around his neck in the days prior to his ...

New York City Paid McKinsey & Company Millions for Failed Program to Reduce Jail Violence

A December 10, 2019 report from ProPublica said the city of New York paid management consulting firm Mc­Kinsey & Company $27.5 million to reduce violence at jails on Rikers Island. But an investigation by the publication revealed that McKinsey manipulated reform efforts to give an appearance of ...

$1 Million Paid by Snohomish County Jail to Settle Detainee’s Opioid Withdrawal Death Lawsuit

On October 21, 2019, Snohomish County, Washington, agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit related to the death of Lindsay Kronberger. Kronberger had been a detainee at the Snohomish County Jail (“SCJ”) before she died in January 2014 of causes related to dehydration and opioid ...

Get Celebrity Endorsement and Get Pardoned

by Douglas Ankney

President Trump purchased an ad during the February 2 Super Bowl directed at African American voters that depicted black grandmother Alice Johnson in tears, saying, “I’m free to hug my family. I’m free to start over. This is the greatest day of my life ... I want ...