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Articles by Matthew Clarke

$375,000 Settlement for Ohio Woman Pepper Sprayed in Jail's Restraint Chair

by Matt Clarke

In August 2017, a lawsuit brought by a woman who was pepper sprayed-­despite being held immobile in a restraint chair at the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio--was settled for $375,000.

Amber Swink was 24-years old and 5'2" tall when police received a domestic disturbance call to a residence where she and her boyfriend were present. Swink was intoxicated and refused to step out when asked by police. There ensued a scuffle in which Swink was taken to the ground and handcuffed, and a police officer's glasses were broken.

Swink was booked into the Montgomery County jail. She screamed and banged on the glass of the holding cell. Jail Captain Judith L. Sealy told her to stop causing a disturbance or pepper spray would be used on her.

Swink continued being belligerent, so Sealy introduced pepper spray into her cell. She ceased causing a disturbance, but was nonetheless taken to a restraint chair and strapped pursuant to Sealy's orders.

After an hour and a half of forced immobility in the restraint chair, Swink began yelling. Sealy then went to Swink's cell and sprayed her face and body with a can of pepper ...

Fifth Circuit Upholds Sanctions Against GEO Group Attorneys for Discovery Abuse

by Matt Clarke

On December 12, 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas district court’s sanctions of $1,000 each against lawyers representing GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison operator, after finding they had engaged in discovery abuse.

Lisa Velasquez Olivarez filed a civil rights action against GEO Group and its employees alleging that, while she was incarcerated at the GEO-run Maverick County Detention Center in Texas, she was sexually assaulted by then-GEO staff member Luis Armando Valladarez. Valladarez claimed the sex was initiated by Olivarez and “consensual,” despite the fact that prisoners in Texas cannot legally consent to sexual contact with prison staff.

Early in the litigation, GEO Group attorney Shawn K. Fitzpatrick submitted the company’s initial disclosures pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(1)(A). Attorney Timothy Flocos, who was representing Valladarez, did likewise. Neither disclosure included any mention of audio recordings of Olivarez’s phone conversations with her mother and her friend Juan.

Under Rule 26(a)(1)(A), a party is required to disclose all documents, electronically stored information and tangible things it may use to support its claims or defenses, unless the sole use would be for impeachment ...

$15,000 Settlement in New Mexico Jail Rape Case Based on Polygraph Results

by Matt Clarke

When New Mexico state prisoner Rhiannon Montoya was 36, she was incarcerated at the Rio Arriba County Jail. There she met guard Orlando Ulibarri, whom she accused of sexually assaulting her. Montoya complained about Ulibarri, who was subsequently fired for bringing contraband into the jail and possessing ...

Lawsuit Claims CoreCivic Allowed Corruption and Gangs to Flourish at Oklahoma Prison

by Matt Clarke

The family of a prisoner who was maced by guards as he bled to death at an Oklahoma prison operated by CoreCivic--then known as Corrections Corporation of America--has filed a lawsuit alleging prison officials allowed corruption and gangs to flourish at the facility, resulting in conditions that led to four murders. Several prisoners involved in the deadly melee have since been charged with participating in a riot.

At 4:39 p.m. on September 12, 2015, at the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, Oklahoma, a battle erupted in the Charlie North Unit between rival prison gangs identified as the Irish Mob and the United (sometimes reported as Universal) Aryan Brotherhood.

After a two-minute battle--using weapons that included shanks made from the prison’s light fixtures--our prisoners lay dying and three others had wounds that required hospitalization. Due to a CoreCivic policy in effect at the time, prisoners were locked out of their cells and thus could not retreat and lock themselves in for protection when the fight broke out.

In April 2017, seven prisoners – all allegedly members of the Irish Mob – were charged with participating in the riot: Gage Broom, 25; Phillip Wayne Jordan, Jr., 34 ...

“Jenny’s Law” Passed after Texas Prosecutor Jails Rape Victim; District Attorney Voted Out

by Matt Clarke

A Houston television station reported that a prosecutor had a rape victim jailed for almost a month – just to ensure she would testify at trial. Devon Anderson, the district attorney for Harris County, Texas, stood by the prosecutor, who worked for her office. In the aftermath, Anderson lost her reelection bid to challenger Kim Ogg by an almost 10% margin.

However, fallout from the controversy did not end there. The victim has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit and the state legislature passed a bill--named for the victim--to ensure witnesses have the right to an attorney before prosecutors can have them jailed. Governor Greg Abbott signed the legislation into law on May 29, 2017.

The story began when a woman identified in court records as “Jenny” testified in December 2015 against Keith Hendricks, who had choked and raped her and was a suspect in the rape of eleven other women. Jenny, who was 25 at time of her testimony, suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; she had a breakdown on the witness stand and refused to continue testifying. The trial was delayed for 10 days.

That’s when Harris County prosecutor Nicholas Socias asked District Judge Stacey ...

$500,000 Settles Illinois Jail Suicide Suit

by Matt Clarke

On April 27, 2017, the County Board of Knox County, Illinois agreed to a $500,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit over the suicide of a pretrial detainee.

Joey Corbin, 26, had a history of mental illness and was taking psychotropic medication when he was booked into ...

$150,000 Settles Colorado Jail Prisoner’s Sexual Assault Suit

by Matt Clarke

In January 2017, Otero County, Colorado paid $150,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a jail prisoner who was sexually assaulted by a former guard.

Jennifer Hernandez, a mother of two, was booked into the Otero County Jail as a pretrial detainee.

“It’s a little backwater jail where they have all kinds of issues and problems,” said Denver attorney David A. Lane, who represented Hernandez. “They’ve got virtually no privacy for any inmates. They put all the female inmates into one big cell, and it’s an old-fashioned jail, where they have bars defining the cells. They don’t have steel doors for privacy, so whenever someone uses the bathroom, anyone can see it. You’re constantly having male guards seeing female inmates naked and female guards seeing naked male inmates.”

Other prisoners told Hernandez about Deputy Dominic Torres, a night-shift guard who was “flirty” and tried to “sexualize every encounter.” The night shift was manned by a single guard who was responsible for monitoring the female prisoners; he observed them disrobing and watched them shower.

Soon, Torres approached Hernandez to solicit sexual favors. She repeatedly rebuffed him, but the sexual harassment continued. He took her ...

“Start by Believing” Initiative Creates Controversy

by Matt Clarke

According to a December 15, 2016 news report, Debbie Moak, then-director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family, issued a letter of guidance recommending that criminal justice agencies not adopt policies supported by Start by Believing.

Start by Believing, a nonprofit victim-centered initiative, works to remove obstacles to the reporting of sexual violence. It is an offshoot of End Violence Against Women International, a Washington State-based organization founded by retired San Diego sex-crimes investigator Joanne Archambault. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.60].

“The concern is that the interjection of ‘belief’ into the law enforcement investigation creates the possibility of real or perceived confirmation bias,” Moak wrote in her three-page guidance letter sent to Arizona prosecutors. “While investigations and interviews with victims should always be done in a respectful and trauma-informed manner, law enforcement agencies, and other agencies co-located in advocacy centers, are strongly cautioned against adopting Start by Believing.”

Archambault countered that Start by Believing is intended to keep victims from being “shut down by interrogation,” and does not require police to believe or say they believe a victim’s allegations. The goal is to prevent investigators from assuming that an alleged ...

Department of Justice Releases Reports on Prison and Jail Deaths

by Matt Clarke

In December 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released two reports on deaths in state and federal prisons and local jails, covering more than a decade of mortality data ending in 2014.

As of yearend 2014 there were an estimated 1,433,800 prisoners held in the nation’s state and federal facilities. During that year, 3,483 state prisoners died while 444 died in federal prisons. The total of 3,927 deaths was up slightly from 3,879 in 2013, and represented the most prisoner deaths since the BJS began collecting data in 2001. There were a total of 50,785 deaths in state and federal prisons between 2001 and 2014, combined.

Males accounted for 96% of the deaths. However, in 2014 the number of female prisoners who died (154) increased by 9% over the previous year.

Illnesses accounted for around 87% of all state prisoners’ deaths in 2014, with cancer (30%) and heart disease (26%) accounting for more than half. The mortality rate for male state prisoners who died due to cancer, heart disease and liver disease was double that of female state prisoners.

The HIV-related morality rate was 17 ...

$3.6 Million: California Prisoner Killed by Guards

by Matt Clarke

Santa Clara County, California has agreed to pay $3.6 million to the family of a mentally ill man who was beaten to death by guards in the county’s San Jose jail. The three guards who killed him, who had attacked another prisoner the day before, were charged with murder and assault.

Michael James Pipkin Tyree, 31, was homeless and mentally ill when he was booked into Santa Clara County’s jail system to serve a five-day sentence for petty theft. He was housed in a section of the jail reserved for prisoners in protective custody or having special needs while he awaited transfer to a mental health facility.

On August 26, 2015, a nurse told guard Jereh Lubrin that Tyree had pocketed his medication instead of taking it. When Lubrin confronted him, Tyree screamed that the nurse was “a liar and a rapist” but produced the medicine and took it. A few hours later, after locking the prisoners in for the night, Lubrin and guards Matthew Farris and Rafael Rodriguez made rounds of the cells to search for contraband.

The previous day they had confronted prisoner Juan Villa, 48, over a dispute he had with another prisoner ...


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