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Articles by Monte McCoin

Florida: Suit Continues Against CoreCivic for Rape of Developmentally Disabled Child

by Monte McCoin

In November 2017, a U.S. District Court judge set a February 2019 trial date in a civil suit to resolve allegations that CoreCivic – formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America – failed to prevent the sexual assault of a teenage boy with developmental disabilities while he was housed at the Citrus County Detention Facility in Lecanto, Florida.

According to the complaint, the child, identified in court documents as C.W., was not properly screened for risk of sexual victimization during intake at the privately-operated jail on May 18, 2016. “Despite having the knowledge that [the boy] was mentally disabled and highly vulnerable to sexual assault, [the boy] was placed in an adult jail facility where other inmates were provided the opportunity to bully [him],” the complaint states.

The child’s mother, Lesley Butzer, who filed the suit on C.W.’s behalf, alleged that her son was raped by at least one male prisoner between October 3 and October 5, 2016, and that CoreCivic officials prohibited contact between the mother and son following the attack.

The suit seeks more than $75,000 in damages. Neither the attorney for the plaintiff nor CoreCivic’s lawyers commented about ...

Military-Style Attack on Brazilian Prison Kills 20 Prisoners, One Guard

by Monte McCoin

On April 10, 2018, a group of gunmen attacked the Santa Izabel Prison Complex near the northern Brazilian city of Belem. The state security service said 21 people were killed in the military-style assault on the facility. One guard was killed; government officials identified prisoners and outside collaborators as comprising the rest of the deaths. In addition to the fatalities, at least four guards were injured in the mass escape attempt, one seriously.

According to a statement from Brazilian officials, “The attempt was supported by an extremely heavily armed group. According to preliminary reports, the prisoners also had weapons inside the prison.” Police investigator Rodrigo Leao said investigators ultimately recovered two assault weapons, three handguns and two other firearms.

The Secretariat of Public Security and Social Defense for the state of Pará said the attack began with “explosions at one of the prison’s walls.” An intense gun battle then ensued, with volleys exchanged from both within and outside the facility.

According to a report from NPR, some prisoners managed to escape but officials did not release the results of a headcount conducted after the chaos ended.

As previously reported in PLN, Brazil has one of ...

Former Jailhouse Lawyer Bobby Battle Dies at Age 80

by Monte McCoin

Former prisoner Bobby Battle, an Oklahoma City native with a sixth-grade education who filed a lawsuit that ultimately led to historic reforms and the desegregation of Oklahoma prisons, died on December 25, 2017 at the age of 80.

“He must have just had native intelligence, one of those people who was educated even though they have poor formal education,” attorney Stephen Jones recalled. “Bobby just taught himself about federal civil rights and prison reform and the cases and went forward.”

In 1970, Battle was housed for two months in the “dungeon,” a subbasement area at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, after he filed a complaint with the warden about a 275-pound guard who beat a much smaller fellow prisoner. His experience led him to research and prepare a 1972 lawsuit that would continue making its way through the courts for nearly 30 years and become the most expensive prison litigation in state history.

That suit launched an FBI probe in 1974 that found understaffing, inadequate medical facilities, inadequate access to legal materials, racial segregation and discrimination, and unconstitutional limits on legal mail. The case was ultimately certified as a class-action after four other prisoners joined ...

States Implementing New Technology to Fight Contraband Smuggling Via Drone

by Monte McCoin

Prison Legal News has reported several times on the trend of prison contraband smuggling via remote-controlled aerial drones, both in the U.S. and other countries. [See, e.g.: PLN, May 2018, p.14; Nov. 2017, p.52; Sept. 2016, p.18].

South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Bryan Stirling announced on May 28, 2018 that the department was implementing a new technique to combat illicit drone activity – it would use its own fleet of drones to conduct 24-hour surveillance of prison yards.

“You are seeing us use technology to survey our prisons from the sky. We are going to show up if people are coming into our prisons up to no good. There’s a great potential that we are going to see them,” Stirling said. He added the DOC was even using drones that had been confiscated in previous smuggling attempts to “fight fire with fire.”

He explained the department had hired two former military drone pilots to randomly rotate among the state’s 21 prisons and man the controls for day and night surveillance of the perimeter and grounds of each facility. The drone cameras have night-vision and heat-sensitive capability; when there ...

Florida: Federal Prison Guard Sentenced for Accepting Bribe

by Monte McCoin

Former FCC Coleman guard Albert Larry Harris, Jr., 27, was sentenced to 24 months in prison on February 15, 2018 after Senior U.S. District Court Judge James D. Whittemore accepted his guilty plea for taking a bribe as a public official.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Ocala, Florida, Harris provided tobacco and drugs to prisoners in exchange for large cash payments. He was arrested after he accepted a $5,000 bribe and 200 strips of Suboxone, a medication prescribed for opiate addiction and withdrawal, as well as for pain.

The investigation, conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General and the FBI, was initiated after three prisoners reported Harris’ misconduct. One of the prisoners set up a “drug deal” between Harris and an undercover agent; another reported that Harris had approached him in an attempt to locate a cocaine dealer. Authorities also traced money orders that Harris received in contraband transactions with other prisoners.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert E. Bodnar, Jr. 



California Attorney Specializes in Representing Prisoners Victimized by Fraud

by Monte McCoin

Peter Borenstein graduated from law school in 2014 with a burning passion for criminal justice reform ignited by his 20-year pen-pal relationship with a federal prisoner who had been a client of his father’s. He began volunteering at Francisco Homes, a halfway house, as a legal consultant to former prisoners who needed help with housing and employment issues, public assistance benefits or expunging their criminal records.

After a few months of working at the facility, Borenstein discovered a common theme among his clients: while they were imprisoned, someone they trusted had defrauded them by taking their money or property.

Following an initial success in the 2016 case of ex-prisoner Rodney Ficklin, who successfully sued his brother, Eddie, for transferring real estate out of Rodney’s name while he was incarcerated, Borenstein quickly carved a niche for himself representing people who were defrauded in a similar manner. He is now considered “the guy prisoners call when they’re betrayed from the outside.”

Borenstein said in a January 28, 2018 collaborative interview with The Marshall Project and, “You still have property rights in prison. You’re paying your debt to society with your liberty.” He added that long-term ...

Australian Woman Gives Birth in Cell After Guards Can’t Unlock the Door

by Monte McCoin

In January 2018, an unnamed prisoner at Western Australia’s Bandyup Women’s Prison was forced to give birth alone and crying for help while guards struggled to unlock the door to her cell.

Professor Neil Morgan, the Independent Inspector of Custodial Services, said, “This was potentially a dangerous situation of course with the birth, something could have happened to the mother or to the child.” He added, “This would have been highly traumatic for the woman herself, but it also would have been traumatic for those staff who wanted to render assistance and were unable to do so in the time they would have liked.”

Prison advocate Dorothy Goulding was angered that the prisoner, who was 36 weeks pregnant at the time of the delivery, went into labor without pain relief. “The dangerous situation of this can’t be too strongly emphasized, it could have had dire consequences,” she said. “The whole notion of someone giving birth alone in a cell is just appalling, it’s such huge risk for mother and child.”

A spokesman for the Western Australian Justice Department said the birth was “unexpected” and “extremely rare.” He stated, “Pregnant women are medically ...

U.S. Marshals Capture Fugitive Former Prison Guard After 10 Years on the Run

by Monte McCoin

William F. Lawrence, a former Utah Department of Corrections guard, apparently thought that hiding out in a tropical paradise would spare him from a prison term after he pleaded guilty to forcible sexual abuse in December 2007. Prior to his sentencing hearing, Lawrence fled Utah and resettled on Kauai, Hawaii, where he assumed the identity of “John Phillips” and lived quietly for over a decade.

After a cold case investigation put the U.S. Marshals on Lawrence’s trail, authorities were able to apprehend him as he lunched at a McDonald’s on the island on November 27, 2017. He was jailed in Hawaii pending extradition to Utah.

Both Lawrence’s initial crime and his subsequent flight from justice were influenced by his law enforcement background; he was arrested for using his badge to intimidate and coerce a woman to perform sexual acts with him. According to Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Derryl Spencer, “As a former law enforcement officer, Lawrence knew the strategies used to track down fugitives. He was able to elude law enforcement for years – until now.”

On April 23, 2018, Lawrence faced a judge in a Utah courtroom and was sentenced to zero to ...

North Carolina Fined $190,000 for Mismanagement of Prescription Medication

by Monte McCoin

On July 11, 2018, Robert Higdon, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, announced that a $190,000 settlement had been reached with the state’s prison system over its failure to properly document the distribution of prescribed controlled substances at the Central Prison and the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women between 2014 and 2016.

In a press release, Higdon said federal investigators didn’t find evidence of criminal activity, but that it was unclear whether prison medical staff deliberately avoided paperwork to divert the drugs for illegal purposes or legitimately dispensed the medication but failed to properly document doing so.

“While no unlawful use of controlled substances was detected, the substandard recordkeeping provided fertile ground for improper diversion,” the release stated. “The handling of prescription controlled substances inside our prisons poses some unique challenges. And yet given the possibility of illegal diversion to inmates and others, scrupulous recordkeeping and tracking of controlled substances is essential.”

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care issued a position statement in April 2015 that recognized the prevalence of opioid abuse in prisons and jails as the third leading cause of death among prisoners, following ...

Florida Board Rules Convicted Prison Guard Can’t Collect Retirement Benefits

by Monte McCoin

PLN’s regular readers will recall our previous coverage of the arrests and convictions of three Ku Klux Klan members who formerly worked as prison guards at Florida’s Reception and Medical Center, who conspired to place a “hit” on a recently-released African American prisoner. David Elliot Moran, Charles Thomas Newcomb and Thomas Jordan Driver were each sentenced in 2017 to serve 12 years in prison in connection with the scheme. [See: PLN, Apr. 2018, p.48; Feb. 2016, p.1].

On July 8, 2018, Florida’s State Board of Administration (SBA) rejected Moran’s attempt to collect state retirement benefits despite his criminal conviction for conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Moran had claimed there was no connection between the murder-for-hire plot and his employment as a prison guard, but an administrative law judge disagreed in May 2018, and the SBA upheld that decision in response to Moran’s appeal.

“It might have been difficult for petitioner and his co-conspirators to carry out a murder or attempted murder of an inmate at the correctional facility at which they worked or had worked. However, just because the conspiracy to commit murder occurred off the employer’s premises, does not mean that forfeiture [of benefits ...


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