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Articles by Lonnie Burton

Corrections Corporation of America Held in Contempt of Court for Falsifying Records at Idaho Prison

On May 23, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed an Idaho federal district court ruling that found Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) -- a private prison company -- in contempt of court for failing to comply with a settlement agreement when the company was caught falsifying reports related to staffing numbers at its Idaho prison. The Ninth Circuit's decision is now final as CCA has declined to seek review of the ruling by the Supreme Court.

CCA runs the state-owned Idaho Corrections Center (ICC) in Kuna, Idaho. In March 2011, a lawsuit was filed against CCA alleging that ICC was inadequately staffed resulting in a dangerous environment that can and did fail to protect the prisoners from assault and other physical violence. In a settlement agreement signed in September 2011, CCA agreed to a specific number of increased custody staff, including a three-person "Warden's Crew," which would be available to enhance security response time. The agreement was for two years and required CCA to issue staffing reports to prove compliance with the settlement.

Just over a year later, however, Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) officials began to receive reports that ICC had been falsifying ...

Ohio Pays More Than $9.6 Million to Three Men Wrongfully Convicted in 1975 Murder

On February 22, 2016, the State of Ohio and two men imprisoned for decades for a murder they did not commit agreed to a settlement totaling more than $5.9 million. A third defendant convicted in the same case separately settled his claims for $3.65 million.

The case began ...

Chicago Pays $4.95 Million to Family of Prisoner Who Died After Police Beating

In April 2016, the City of Chicago agreed to pay $4.95 million to the estate of a man who was brutally beaten by police officers while in custody in 2012. The settlement came after a federal judge ruled that police had used excessive and “brute force” without cause and ...

Judge Orders Missouri DOC to Disclose Names of Pharmacies that Supply Execution Drugs; Appellate Court Reverses

On March 21, 2016, a circuit court judge in Cole County, Missouri ruled in favor of several news media agencies and ordered the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) to release the identities of the pharmacies that supply lethal drugs used to execute prisoners. The court rejected the DOC’s argument that the pharmacies were part of its “execution team” and thus exempt from disclosure under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, which requires that all DOC records be open to the public “unless otherwise provided by law.”

The case began when a group of media outlets, led by The Guardian, submitted a written request to the DOC’s custodian of records requesting access to several documents, including “the name, chemical composition, concentration, and source of the drugs approved for use in lethal injection executions.” The DOC failed to produce any documents responsive to the request, arguing that the “source” of the drugs was nondisclosable because the providing pharmacies were part of the execution team and thus exempt from disclosure under section 546.720 of the Sunshine Law. That section, enacted in August 2007, states that identities of members of an execution team – which are exempt from disclosure – include personnel “who provide ...

$1.5M Settlement in Oklahoma Jail Beating

Cherokee County, Oklahoma officials agreed to pay $1.5 million to the estate of a man who was brutally beaten by jail guards in 2011. The Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority approved the settlement in an executive session meeting on January 27, 2016.

According to court records, Daniel Bosh was ...

Culture of Abuse and Corruption Plagues Jail in Denver, Colorado

by Lonnie Burton, Matt Clarke, David Reutter, Christopher Zoukis

When Jamal Hunter was arrested in April 2011 on three misdemeanor charges, he had no idea what was in store for him during his stay at the Denver City Jail. Not only was he choked and tasered by guards, he was ...

Wisconsin Court Orders Dismissal of Jail Negligence Suit

On October 16, 2014, District IV of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed a lower court and granted summary judgment in favor of defendants in a case brought by the estate of a prisoner who overdosed while at the Monroe County Jail.

Adrianna Seroy was found dead in her cell during a routine morning cell inspection by guards. It was later determined that Seroy died from an overdose of drugs smuggled into the jail by her cellmate, Alexeandra Leuck, who was in the jail's work release program. (Due to overcrowding, work release prisoners were often housed with a non-work release prisoner.)

In their complaint, Seroy's relatives claimed the jail was negligent in several ways, including (1) failure to properly search Leuck upon her return from work release,

(2) failure to enforce jail rules which prohibited prisoners from sleeping with their heads covered, and (3) failure to conduct proper cell checks during the night that would have discovered Seroy's condition. The suit contended that each of these failures contributed to Seroy's death.

Seroy's relatives sued Leuck and Monroe County. The County moved for summary judgment, which was denied by the circuit court and the County appealed ...

Washington Supreme Court Sanctions Seattle Police for Failure to Comply With Public Records Act

Since 2007, Seattle Police Department's (SPD) entire patrol fleet has been equipped with in-car video and sound recording equipment ("dash-cam"). In 2010, a reporter from KOMO News, Tracy Vedder, made several requests to the SPD under the state Public Records Act (PRA). She asked for dash-cam training manuals, log sheets, and a list of any and all digital in-car recordings that had been tagged for retention by the SPD.

The SPD denied all of Vedder's requests. They contended the training manuals were protected copyright materials and fit the PRA's exception for "material essential to law enforcement." As to Vedder's other two requests, the SPD claimed it had no records responsive to her requests.

After those denials, Vedder made another PRA request, this time seeking actual copies of all dash-cam recordings that had been retained by the SPD. The SPD responded saying the state's privacy laws prevented their release.

Meanwhile, in 2011, Eric Rachner, a private citizen, requested and received from the SPD a list of all dash-cam recordings retained by the SPD -- the same request that was denied to Vedder a year earlier. After Vedder and KOMO learned of the Rachner disclosures, they filed suit ...

Florida Supreme Court: Unauthorized Absence from Work is 'Escape from Custody' for Work Release Prisoner

In a decision handed down on September 3, 2016, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the escape conviction of a man who left his work site without permission while he was on work release. The ruling paved the way for the case to be returned to the lower court for trial.

Claudio J. Poillot was serving a 48-month sentence in the Florida Department of Corrections ()OC) when he was sent to the Kissimmee Community Center, a DOC work release facility. As part of the work release program, Poillot began work at a construction company, where he was required to be at work from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday. However, on July 29, 2014, Poillot left work early without permission. When he timely reported back to the work release center before 5:00 p.n., he was placed unler arrest for escape.

After a hearing, the trial court granted Poillot's motion to dismiss, ruling that the state could not make a prima facie case for escape.

Florida's Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and reinstated the charge, and the case ultimately wound up before the Florida Supreme Court.

The question before the Supreme ...

Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Upholds Conviction for Contacting Victim

On April 27, 2016, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the conviction of a Texas state prisoner for Improper Contact with a Victim.

David Schlittler was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of his five-year-old stepdaughter. He was placed on deferred adjudication community supervision but violated its terms and was subsequently adjudicated and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment. While a prisoner, he had a third party use a social media website to relay messages to and from his son, the half-brother of his victim, who was living with their mother. The mother became aware of the communication and alerted prison officials.

Texas Penal Code Section 38.111 prohibits prisoners convicted of certain sex offenses against minors from contacting the victim or minor members of the victim's family. Schlittler was convicted of violating Section 38.111 and appealed. The court of appeals affirmed and Schlittler sought discretionary review in the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) alleging the statute was unconstitutional in that it interfered in his liberty interest in the care, custody and management of his son in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection rights.

The CCA held that Schlittler had no liberty interest in contacting ...


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