In a 48-hour stretch during January 2018, three men were booked into the Fresno County Jail. One was beaten into a coma. Two died soon afterward. Their cases kicked off a nightmarish year in a local jail where problems trace back to California’s sweeping 2011 prison downsizing and criminal justice reforms.
by Jason Pohl, The Sacramento Bee, and Ryan Gabrielson, ProPublica
On the night of January 17, 2018, Lorenzo Herrera walked into the Fresno County Jail booking area and sat down for an interview. Yes, he had a gang history, an officer wrote on his intake form. But Herrera, 19, said he did not expect problems with others inside the gang pod he’d soon call home.
His parents had encouraged him to barter for books and newspapers – anything he could to preoccupy himself until his trial on burglary and assault charges. His father, Carlos Herrera, offered advice: “Just be careful, and only trust yourself.”
Herrera survived the violent chaos of the Fresno County Jail for 66 days, including living through a brawl that left another prisoner unconscious. Then, on an afternoon in March, jail officers found him strangled.
Herrera didn’t get a trial or a plea deal. He got a ...
by Douglas Ankney
On March 29, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied in part a motion filed by private prison company The GEO Group, seeking to dismiss a class-action suit filed on behalf of prisoners in the Mental Health Unit (MHU) at the New Castle Correctional Facility (NCCF).
GEO is paid more than $100 million to operate NCCF. In the MHU, over 100 mentally ill prisoners are locked in their cells 20 hours a day and forced to labor by cleaning, completing reports or assisting other prisoners. When not in their cells they are restrained with handcuffs and shackles.
Plaintiff class representatives Damarcus Figgs and David Corbin raised a number of claims, including: 1) Peonage in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA); 2) Forced labor in violation of the TVPA; 3) Harboring for labor in violation of the TVPA; 4) Cruel and unusual punishment; 5) Denial of equal protection; 6) Violations of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act; 7) False imprisonment; 8) Confinement; 9) Unjust enrichment; and 10) Negligence.
The district court dismissed all claims except numbers 2, 3 and 9.
In ruling on GEO ...
by Paul Wright
For the past 29 years, HRDC has been reporting on the myriad problems in California prisons and the class-action lawsuits that have led to wholesale transformations of the criminal justice system in that state. The most significant prison conditions case of the 21st century is Plata v. Brown, where the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an order to lower California’s prison population after the trial court found that overcrowding had made the provision of adequate medical care functionally impossible, resulting in preventable deaths. While the state successfully managed to reduce its prison population, prisoners were not released but rather “realigned” and sent to county jails to serve often lengthy sentences.
California jails were hardly the model of well-run facilities before realignment increased their populations, and all too often were more dangerous and poorly run, and medical care was even more inadequate than in state prisons. This issue’s cover story explores the impact of realignment on county jails. Of course, none of this is new. PLN has been reporting for decades on deadly violence and corruption in jails in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Orange County and elsewhere in California. Realignment merely exacerbated conditions that were already bad and ...
by David M. Reutter
In January 2019, a Missouri federal district court certified a class in a lawsuit alleging the state incarcerates thousands of people without providing due process before depriving them of their liberty interest during “sham” parole violation proceedings. The class could number up to 15,000.
PLN previously reported the bizarre conduct of then-Missouri parole board member Don Ruzicka and staff working with him, who kept score to see if they could get prisoners appearing at parole hearings to say ridiculous words such as “platypus” and “armadillo.” The class-action complaint cited to that conduct as part of the sham proceedings that Missouri parolees face. [See: PLN, June 2018, p.27].
The suit, filed by the MacArthur Justice Center (MJC), alleges the Missouri Department of Corrections (MDOC) and its Division of Probation and Parole have “developed fundamentally unfair and procedurally flawed parole revocation processes” that violate the class members’ rights based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent. It further claims that “parole officers issue and execute their own violation warrants, taking parolees into custody without sufficient cause or independent review, and then re-incarcerate them within the prison system.”
Some of the parole violations are based on technical issues, such as ...
by Ed Lyon
Vermont state prisoner Jeffrey-Michael Brandt won a correspondence claim through a Stipulation and Agreement of Dismissal (SAD) in a lawsuit filed in state court against the Vermont Department of Corrections (VDOC). The SAD allowed Brandt to correspond by mail with prisoners in states other than Vermont.
The VDOC later transferred Brandt to a facility in Pennsylvania under the Interstate Corrections Compact (ICC). The Pennsylvania prison did not have to comply with the SAD, as the ICC “allows Pennsylvania to apply its own inmate-correspondence policy.”
Brandt sought an order from the trial court to make the VDOC send him to a non-ICC prison where he could resume his correspondence under the SAD. The trial court denied relief.
Brandt appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which accepted the case. During the pendency of the Supreme Court’s review, the VDOC had Brandt transferred to a private prison in Mississippi, which is a non-ICC facility.
Once at the Mississippi private prison, operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), Brandt resumed sending letters to his incarcerated out-of-state correspondents. The letters were returned to him. He said he sent numerous written complaints about this to prison officials, who did not respond. ...
by Ed Lyon
San Francisco, California mayor London N. Breed has unique views regarding people who have become caught up in the criminal justice system. Her views extend to the families of prisoners and pretrial detainees, too.
Breed, unlike many U.S. politicians, grew up in public housing. Further, her knowledge of the criminal justice system and the experiences of prisoners’ families is intensely personal: Her brother is currently serving a 44-year sentence after being convicted of armed robbery and involuntary manslaughter.
“It’s something that has never sat well with me, from personal experience of the collect calls, and the amount of money that my grandma had to spend on our phone bill, and at times our phone getting cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill,” Mayor Breed noted.
She is not alone in her zeal to ease the financial burdens on prisoners’ family members, including the costs of phone calls and the ability of prisoners to purchase hygiene and other items from the jail commissary.
San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, as well as Treasurer José Cisneros and his Financial Justice Project’s director, Anne Stuhl, are also firmly on board with Breed’s vision to ease the financial costs imposed on ...
by David M. Reutter
I’m done. I’m beat up. I’m tired,” Iberia Parish, Louisiana Sheriff Louis Ackal, 75, said in November 2018, upon announcing his decision not to seek re-election. However, his words more accurately described the detainees at the Iberia Parish Jail and citizens in his community who were subjected to a culture of abuse during Ackal’s tenure as the parish’s top cop.
Ackal was elected sheriff in 2007 after campaigning on a reform platform. He was a New Iberia native who became a state trooper and served in Louisiana state government before retiring to Colorado, which, according to his supporters, gave him a worldly appeal when he returned home due to problems in Iberia Parish.
His first act as sheriff was to eliminate the internal affairs unit. Then, in 2010, he launched the IMPACT squad, which was an operation that put deputies on patrol in New Iberia’s black communities. While the operation was purportedly intended to reduce crime, it was marked by frequent and violent arrests. It was disbanded in 2016, and according to a December 2018 news report, 18 convictions were later dismissed due to misconduct by the squad’s members, including fabricating police reports.
Sheriff Ackal ordered ...
by Kevin Bliss
Former warden Jody Bradley depended on gang leaders at a privately-run Mississippi prison to maintain control of the facility.
That was one finding of a December 2018 internal audit by Management & Training Corporation (MTC) at the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility (WCCF), which the company operates for the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Calling Bradley’s management ineffective, the audit accused him of ceding power and control to prisoners, leading to coercion and corruption of staff members.
Located near the Louisiana border in Woodville, WCCF houses 900 offenders, most of whom are classified maximum security, including former residents of a high-risk housing unit at the State Penitentiary in Parchman that closed in 2010. Some 80 percent of prisoners at the MTC-run facility are gang-affiliated.
A 2016 study of 39 prisons across the country by sociologist David Pyrooz with the University of Colorado at Boulder found that gang-related homicides nationwide averaged just two per year for every 100,000 prisoners. But WCCF averaged two per year with just under 1,000 prisoners – a homicide rate twice as high as Detroit’s.
Since February 2017, WCCF – which prisoners called “the Killing Field” in a 2014 article published by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger – ...
by Caroline Isaacs, Program Director, AFSC
In 1998, I was a budding anti-prison activist, volunteering for the American Friends Service Committee in Arizona (AFSC-AZ). I was fortunate enough to attend the very first Critical Resistance gathering in Oakland and learn that I was actually part of a movement – a vibrant, fierce and committed group of people who, like me, saw the Prison Industrial Complex as one of the most dangerous threats to our communities. It was an energizing experience that solidified my commitment to this work.
Imagine my dismay, then, at receiving an email from Critical Resistance nearly 20 years later characterizing my work to combat private prisons as un-strategic and even as undermining the larger effort to end mass incarceration.
The critique, primarily leveled at prison divestment campaigns, was articulated by Ruthie Gilmore in her 2015 piece, “The Worrying State of the Anti-Prison Movement,” and was more recently espoused by John Pfaff in his book Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform.
The argument goes something like this: Because for-profit prison companies only hold about 8.5 percent of the nation’s state and federal prisoners, this proves that the profit motive ...
by Jayson Hawkins
In April 2019 the U.S. Department of Justice released an analysis of its Annual Survey of Jails, which has tracked jail capacities, populations and demographics since 1982. The most recent year for which data was available, 2017, found the overall jail incarceration rate had dropped 12 percent from its peak in 2007, when 259 people were jailed for every 100,000 U.S. residents.
Despite a decline to 229 people in jail per 100,000 residents over the last decade, the United States still has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
Breaking down the overall rate into demographic categories revealed some notable trends. While men were jailed at a rate 5.7 times higher than women, the rate for women has increased 10 percent since 2005.
Criminal justice reform legislation over the past few years has targeted racial disparities in the justice system. While it may be too soon to judge the impact of those reforms, the rate of blacks held in jail decreased 23 percent from 2005 to 2017. The rate for whites, on the other hand, jumped 12 percent during that same time period. The rate for Hispanics fell even faster than for blacks, dropping from 263 per ...
by Matt Clarke
On April 18, 2019, a federal district court sanctioned the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) for failing to comply with a prior order and judgment requiring prison officials to provide a state prisoner incarcerated in Virginia with envelopes and postage so he could send legal requests and grievances to the NMCD.
Jesse Trujillo is a New Mexico prisoner incarcerated at a facility in Big Stony Gap, Virginia. Previously, Trujillo filed a federal civil rights suit that resulted in the district court ordering the NMCD to create a plan to enable Trujillo to send legal requests and grievances to New Mexico prison officials. The NMCD’s plan was to initially provide Trujillo with three pre-stamped envelopes and then, when an envelope was received from him, replace the envelope that had been used with another pre-stamped envelope.
Five years later, in August 2016, Trujillo filed a pro se motion to reopen the case and find the defendants in contempt because they had failed to comply with the postage plan. On February 12, 2018, the district court declined to reopen the case but granted enforcement of the postage plan, holding the defendants in contempt and ordering them to comply or face ...
by Mark Wilson
An Oregon jail guard’s 22-year career ended in handcuffs in May 2019 when she was booked into jail on a five-count indictment, including witness tampering and official misconduct.
Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) deputy Janet Eagleston was indicted on four counts of first-degree official misconduct – for intentional failure to perform her duties at MCSO – which are Class A misdemeanors, allegedly committed between September and December of 2018.
The 48-year-old also allegedly tried to influence the testimony of a potential witness to her crimes, which is a Class C felony, sometime around December 26, 2018. Eagleston is being held in jail in an adjacent jurisdiction by the Linn County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO).
Eagleston began working for MCSO in 1997, employed as a deputy in the county jail in Salem. MCSO was first alerted to her possible policy violations in November 2018. The sheriff’s office responded on December 4, 2018 by requesting a professional standards investigation and asking the LCSO to look into the allegations. At that time, Eagleston was placed on administrative leave.
Based on the findings of LCSO’s investigation, a Marion County grand jury returned the five-count indictment against Eagleston. She was arrested on May ...
by David M. Reutter
After 25 years of proclaiming their innocence in a rape case, three Louisiana prisoners accepted plea bargains that cleared their way for release. The plea offer came after the victim recanted his testimony in April 2018.
While serving a year-long sentence for burglary, Byron Morgan, who was 17 at the time, claimed on January 12, 1994 that he was sexually assaulted by fellow prisoners Louis Alexander, Jr., 51, Gerald LeBoeuf, 45, and Michael C. Williams, Jr., 46, while at the Orleans Parish Prison. Following a 1995 trial, the three men were convicted of aggravated rape and aggravated crime against nature, and sentenced to life in prison.
Morgan had a change of heart after doctors told him to “get [his] affairs in order” due to a serious illness. Against their advice, he traveled to New Orleans and testified in closed chambers before Judge Byron C. Williams. Morgan, now 43, said he lied about being raped, and picked Alexander, LeBoeuf and Williams at random after an older prisoner counseled him that a claim of rape would get him released. That proved to be incorrect, as it never affected Morgan’s sentence.
As he broke down telling the story, Morgan ...
by Ed Lyon
It is, or should be, fairly common knowledge that most prisoners are disadvantaged, impoverished, often have substance abuse addictions or mental health issues, and have made poor life choices.
It would seem that this population has enough problems and thus should not be exploited. Alas, that has not been the case in Sacramento County, California, where Netflix produced its reality TV series Jailbirds, which was filmed in 2018 and began airing in May 2019. Adam Banner wrote a comprehensive critique of the show for the American Bar Association’s journal.
As with the national prison and jail population, 90 percent of Sacramento County’s main jail is composed of male prisoners. Despite this, the six-episode Netflix series focuses on the jail’s female population. Banner believes the show is trying to chase the success of Orange is the New Black, wooing the same viewers and seeking similar ratings.
He noted that the female prisoners in Jailbirds rarely discuss men in the episodes he viewed, with most of the relationships being between women, romantic as well as platonic. The prisoners themselves explain their relationships are one of the few things that help them maintain their sanity while incarcerated.
by Matt Clarke
Although the website of the Congressional Black Caucus states that banning private prisons is part of its agenda during the current congressional session, the legally separate but affiliated Congressional Black Caucus Institute (CBCI) has accepted donations from CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, and the Institute’s 21st Century Council lists lobbyists for private prison firms as “platinum members.”
For-profit prison companies “are among the most committed entities in opposition to transforming our criminal justice system,” said Scott Roberts, senior director of Criminal Justice Campaigns at the racial justice organization Color of Change, which previously pressured then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Congressional Black Caucus’s political action committee to stop taking donations from private prison operators.
“They are the most invested in maintaining the status quo that’s got us to being a country that is leading in the history of the world in incarcerating its own people,” Roberts stated in an August 2019 article, adding, “It’s incredibly disappointing to know that any of the entities affiliated with the Congressional Black Caucus continue to take money from CoreCivic or any other private prison company, so there’s just no excuse for it. It’s unacceptable.”
In a lobbying disclosure report, CoreCivic ...
by David M. Reutter
The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) agreed to pay $157,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging it had discriminated against a female prison guard.
Merrianne Weberg, 58, began working for the MDOC in 1992 and was promoted to sergeant in 1995 while at the Western Wayne Correctional Center. She transferred to the Macon Correctional Facility (MCF) in 1998, and was promoted to lieutenant in 2006. She alleged that in 2008 she was the last female employee at MCF to be promoted to a shift commander position.
She further alleged that since that time she was “passed over for promotion to the rank of [ ] Captain or Inspector approximately twenty times.” When she applied for those positions, they “were filled by younger men with less seniority, less experience, and whom were ... friends of the administrative staff.”
When Lt. Lawrence McKinney was promoted to captain, Warden Randall Haas told Weberg that she was “spent” and that unless she “got in the car” with one of the inspectors or deputy wardens, she would not be promoted.
Deputy Warden Darrell Steward acknowledged to Weberg that “while Lt. McKinney was not the most qualified for the position, which only he ...
by David M. Reutter
A federal district court in North Carolina has ordered expanded hepatitis C (HCV) treatment in a class-action suit brought by three state prisoners. The court’s entry of a preliminary injunction on March 20, 2019 enjoined the NC Department of Public Safety (DPS) from enforcing its existing policy on hepatitis C treatment.
The class consists of DPS prisoners “who have or will have chronic hepatitis C virus and have not been treated with direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs).” The lead plaintiffs alleged they were diagnosed with HCV but had not received treatment. Dr. Andrew Joseph Muir testified on their behalf that they are candidates for DAA medications, which should begin immediately. State prison officials “offered no explanation for [the DPS’] failure to treat” them. The district court said that after evidence was presented at the hearing, that failure “appears to constitute deliberate indifference.” It ordered the three lead plaintiffs to receive DAA treatment.
However, the court added the evidence was insufficient to show there was a likelihood of success that all class members were entitled to DAA treatment regardless of fibrosis level, or for universal opt-out screening. While the class may prevail on those issues later in the ...
According to a February 8, 2019 news report, a lawsuit filed by North Carolina prisoners Tavieolis Hunt, 39, Benjamin White, 35, and Sean Smith, 38, settled for a total of $62,500. The settlement was reached after the trio and two other state prisoners, Orlando Harshaw and Stacey Wynn, sued Lanesboro Correctional Institution Superintendent Lawrence Parsons and other prison officials for allowing and facilitating attacks by gang members in a part of the prison run by Unit Supervisor Jeffrey E. Wall. Guards allegedly opened doors to permit Blood and MS-13 gang members to attack Hunt, White and the other plaintiffs. Harshaw dropped his claims after learning the prison was slated to be converted into a women’s facility.
Wynn, who was reportedly stabbed in the chest and beaten in November 2011, lost his suit after it went to trial in July 2018. The jury found that Superintendent Parsons had not been indifferent to violence at the prison.
Jeffrey Wall was barred from the Lanesboro Correctional Institution and then fired after he tried to use force to enter the facility and remove bloody homemade weapons and videos of the unit where the attacks occurred, which were hidden in the drop ceiling of his ...
by Scott Grammer
Monte Whitehead was incarcerated at the Otero County Prison Facility in New Mexico, operated by for-profit contractor Management & Training Corp. (MTC). He filed suit in state court raising various claims under the federal constitution and New Mexico Tort Claims Act, alleging in part “that certain defendants limited his access to information which prevented him from writing opinion articles, engaging in religious reading, and staying current with developments in the veterinary profession.”
Whitehead said he had requested books on religion and veterinary medicine, but the defendants denied his requests because the books were hardback. The defendants also denied his requests for books from non-approved vendors, newspaper articles sent to him by mail, and Internet access. Additionally, he claimed that he was “transferred for bringing this suit” – a common retaliatory act by prison officials.
The case was removed to federal court, where the district court dismissed the federal claims, declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state claims and remanded those claims back to state court. Whitehead appealed and the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit granted limited relief in an April 2, 2019 unpublished ruling.
Specifically, the appellate court reversed and remanded the district court’s denial ...
by Douglas Ankney
Twenty-six-year-old pretrial detainee and capital murder defendant Latoni Daniel gave birth to a baby boy on May 29, 2019. But she wasn’t pregnant when she was processed into the Coosa County jail in Alabama 17 months earlier, and claimed she didn’t remember having sex while incarcerated.
Daniel’s attorney, Mickey McDermott, said that after her arrest Daniel was prescribed seizure medication which causes her to sleep for prolonged periods, and someone raped her at the jail while she was unconscious.
“She’s reported she’s a rape victim and no one is investigating,” McDermott said. Since giving birth, Daniel reported that she wasn’t receiving proper medical care, had missed doctor’s appointments, suffered from abusive behavior by a nurse and was underweight.
Daniel, an honorably discharged Army National Guard veteran, was charged with capital murder in December 2017. She was in a car when her boyfriend and co-defendant, LaDaniel Tuck, allegedly robbed and killed 87-year-old Thomas Virgil Chandler, a combat veteran. Even though Daniel did not kill him, she was allegedly the getaway driver.
Thus, under Alabama law, she is just as culpable for Chandler’s death as an accomplice. However, Coosa County District Attorney Jeff Willis – who is seeking the ...
by Ed Lyon
On February 10, 2015, Alexander Jeffrey Sutherland was arrested in Manteca, California and charged with public intoxication. The police took him to the San Joaquin County Jail (SJCJ).
After booking, Sutherland, 27, was placed in an isolated sobering cell, which required him to be monitored at 15-minute intervals to ensure his well-being. This was not the SJCJ’s first encounter with Sutherland; in fact, it was his 107th visit to the jail. Ninety-eight of those prior visits had been alcohol-related.
Jail records verified that from 9:41 p.m. until 11:10 p.m., jailers checked on Sutherland 11 times. The intervals between two of those checks exceeded 15 minutes by one and eight minutes. Jailer Lynda Mendoza became occupied with other matters and did not perform another check on Sutherland until 12:09 a.m. the next morning, during which time he died.
SJCJ staff attempted unsuccessfully to revive him until 12:40 a.m., when he was officially pronounced dead.
It was not known how ill Sutherland really was until a post-mortem was performed. The county’s forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, discovered that Sutherland had been suffering “from alcohol-related liver and pancreatic disease.” The toxicology screen revealed alcohol and methamphetamines in his system.
by Scott Grammer
Jason Nishimoto, 44, committed suicide on August 27, 2015 by hanging himself with a bedsheet after being placed in solitary confinement at the Vista Detention Facility (VDF) in San Diego, California.
Nishimoto had been diagnosed as a “high-functioning paranoid schizophrenic” at age 18, and, according to a wrongful death suit filed by his family in federal court on June 18, 2018, the medications he took caused him “to suffer from serious side effects such as morbid obesity, restless leg syndrome, and symptoms resembling Parkinson’s disease. Jason would constantly feel like his legs were on fire. He also began developing muscle spasms throughout his body. Towards the end of his life, Jason ‘wanted out’ as he could no longer tolerate his illness and the side effects of the medication he took to control it.” According to the complaint, Nishimoto had attempted suicide three times in the last five months of his life.
On September 24, 2015, Nishimoto reportedly attempted suicide again by swallowing a bottle of Klonopin, a medication used to treat and prevent seizures, panic disorder and akathisia – a movement disorder. His mother tried to take him to a hospital but he resisted. His brother called ...
by Scott Grammer
In early June 2019, Captain Amy Le, 51, former president of the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, was walked off the sheriff’s office property and placed on paid leave. The reasons for her abrupt departure were not immediately forthcoming; neither sheriff’s officials nor Le would comment on the incident, though a source said Le was served with an administrative letter and her badge was confiscated.
An early report stated that Captain Le had been sanctioned for improperly ordering prisoners to build a gazebo and barbecue grill on jail property, projects she paid for with private funds. Further, it added that Le did not have a building permit. The sheriff’s office sent out a department-wide memo stating the report “was not accurate.”
“[The Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act] prohibits us from disclosing specific information about any personnel matter and we respect those protections afforded to our employees,” the memo said. The Act affords privacy protection for members of law enforcement.
John Hirokawa, a retired Undersheriff and Chief of Correction, noted, “It’s very unusual for a captain to be walked off in that manner for a project that wasn’t for personal gain, on jail ...
by Scott Grammer
On October 11, 2018, world-famous author and attorney John Grisham published an editorial in a North Carolina newspaper regarding capital punishment in that state.
“Today, there are 141 people on North Carolina’s death row,” Grisham wrote. “By comparison, in Virginia, a state with similar politics, demographics, and crime rates, there are just three. It is both out of line with other states and out of character for North Carolina to have such an outsized death row – especially one made up mostly of people whose trials and sentences are outdated and grossly unfair. The vast majority of North Carolina’s death row inmates were tried in the 1990s before the state, true to its historically progressive ways, passed a whole slew of new laws to make capital prosecutions fair. However, these reforms do not apply to those who were already convicted.”
Grisham discussed several prisoners on death row in particular: “Men like Nathan Bowie, convicted and sentenced to death in Catawba County in 1993. At trial he was represented by an incompetent lawyer who reeked of alcohol and later died of an alcohol-related illness. Three of his clients went to death row, and one has proven his innocence.” ...
by Matt Clarke
On May 7, 2019, Maricopa County, Arizona agreed to pay a prisoner $175,000 to settle claims related to jail guards reading his legal mail, sharing it with the Attorney General and FBI, and failing to deliver his letters to his attorney.
Thomas Orville Bastian, who represented himself in the settlement negotiations while receiving advice and assistance from attorney Holly Gieszl, had not yet filed a lawsuit. A few weeks later, prosecutors dropped pending terrorism charges against him.
Bastian, 41, was a state prisoner serving a life sentence for murder when he was charged with five felony counts – including terrorism, promoting prison contraband, possessing a prohibited weapon and providing advice to a criminal syndicate – based on allegations that he plotted with his wife to smuggle plans for making an explosive device into ASPC-Lewis in Buckeye. His wife was sentenced to nine years for her role in the scheme.
When Bastian was incarcerated at Maricopa County’s Fourth Avenue Jail awaiting trial on the terrorism-related charges, three guards opened and read his legal mail and one shared the contents with an FBI agent.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Danielle Viola ruled in March 2019 that the guards “opened, ...
by Matt Clarke
New York federal jury awarded a former state prison teacher $9.19 million after she proved that a guard had sexually harassed and stalked her – both at work and at home – and that high-ranking prison officials who were informed of the problem retaliated against her and did nothing to the offending guard.
The defendants filed post-trial motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, a new trial, a reduction in the award and remittitur. On April 14, 2019, the district court granted a reduction in a portion of the award to the statutory maximum, granted a remittitur of $1.05 million, and awarded attorney fees, costs and pre-judgment interest.
Pamela S. Small was a civilian teacher working for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) at the Attica Correctional Facility when she met and befriended guard Carl Cuer, who also worked in the prison’s education department. Based in part on their shared Christian faith, their friendship went well for about four years. Then Cuer began telling Small that God had told him his wife was about to die and she would become his new wife. His behavior became increasingly alarming, and included stalking and implied ...
by Douglas Ankney
In April 2019, the Cook County Board of Commissioners agreed to pay $1.7 million to settle a lawsuit over the death of Devin Lynch, a Marine Corps veteran and active reservist, while he was held at the Cook County Jail.
Lynch, 26, was booked into the facility in February 2016 after being arrested on a domestic-related sexual assault.
During his medical evaluation at intake, jail officials documented Lynch’s depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Most notably, they also documented his two suicide attempts – the most recent being the previous day.
Lynch was assigned to a “psych tier,” where, pursuant to a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010, jail staff are to ensure that all prisoners are closely monitored by guards specially trained to observe signs that a prisoner is about to harm himself. Two guards are to be assigned to a psych tier in order to conduct security checks every 30 minutes; they are supposed to have a special “cut-down tool” in case they find a prisoner hanging.
However, Darrell Maloy was the only guard assigned to the psych tier on March 22, 2016. He had received no specialized training to work ...
by Scott Grammer
Miguel Delgado, incarcerated at the Mount Olive Correctional Complex (MOCC), alleged in a civil rights complaint that MOCC Warden David Ballard had authorized policies and procedures that allowed guards to use force against prisoners in the segregation unit without any requirement that they first “make efforts to temper their use of force against inmates.”
According to a March 9, 2017 ruling denying the defendants’ motions for summary judgment, Delgado claimed that he was sprayed with Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) spray at close range by guards Kevin McCourt and Jess Mattox, after Delgado had words with a nurse who refused to speak with him. Delgado alleged that after being sprayed with OC through the tray slot of his cell, he tried to use water from his sink to reduce the burning on his face and hands; however, Mattox and another prison guard, Hobert Allen, turned off the water so he could not decontaminate himself.
About ten minutes later, McCourt, Allen and Mattox, along with other guards, reportedly returned to Delgado’s cell to take him to the rec yard to be decontaminated. Allen turned on water in a sink, and told Delgado he was to be decontaminated. When Delgado pointed ...
by David M. Reutter
A Michigan federal district court has awarded $18,325.28 in attorney fees and costs in a prisoner’s civil rights action, which followed a jury verdict on First Amendment retaliation and conspiracy claims that totaled $11,500.
Prisoner Arthur L. Campbell was housed at the Mound Road Correctional Facility when, on April 4, 2007, he received a minor misconduct ticket for leaving his wet coat on the back of a chair in his cell. Prior to that, Campbell had been in verbal conflicts with guards Angela Dye and Mark Bragg over the handling of his legal mail, and had filed grievances against Bragg and guard Cynthia Gause.
Campbell asserted at a disciplinary hearing that he had been told by Gause at previous resident unit meetings that “it was permissible to hang a wet coat on a chair.” Nonetheless, he was found guilty and told, “you’re a legal beagle, appeal it.”
His appeal was denied. Then, on April 24, 2007, Campbell was abruptly transferred to another facility. He was told by Dye that they were “going to fix his legal beagle ass.” As he was leaving the prison, Dye, Bragg and another guard, Joslyn Conyers, were in his cell unpacking ...
by Scott Grammer
On April 18, 2016, Rikki Martinez, 39, was a pretrial detainee at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Santa Clara, California. According to a complaint filed in federal court, on that day deputies alleged that Martinez had kicked another deputy in the face. As a result, he was to be moved out of Elmwood and housed in the main jail.
Sergeant Elmer Wheeler, who was working at the main jail in intake/booking, was reportedly informed about the kicking incident and Martinez’s impending move. Wheeler was accused of conspiring with guards Salvadore Jacquez, Jon Quiro, Jason Satariano, Eamonn Dee and Adam Torrez to “give [Martinez] a beating as punishment.” He allegedly went so far as to explain to the other guards how they would proceed, what parts they would play and how to make the beating “seem spontaneous and legitimate” on video.
Martinez, who had been diagnosed with PTSD by a jail doctor in 2015, and was medicated accordingly, claimed he was punched “in the face three to five times with a closed right fist” by Jacquez while being held down by Satariano. Martinez “could be heard straining to exclaim, ‘I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!’ as at least ...
by David M. Reutter
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a grant of summary judgment to guards who tased a prisoner three times during a 70-second period. In its May 10, 2019 ruling, the appellate court also found error in the district court’s dismissal of a defendant for failure to perform timely service and denial of a discovery request for the prison’s use-of-force policy.
Before the Fourth Circuit was the appeal of South Carolina prisoner Altony Brooks. His pro se complaint alleged excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. At issue was an incident that occurred on September 18, 2013 at the Hill-Finklea Detention Center, where Brooks had arrived the day before to attend a court hearing.
Brooks claimed he was “sovereign” and refused to comply with a policy that required his picture to be taken. Guards allowed the refusal to pass the day he arrived, but insisted on the photo as he was preparing to leave to return to his assigned prison. Five guards took the handcuffed Brooks to the photo room, and they reasoned with him for about seven minutes to allow the picture to be taken. He responded with what the appellate court termed “aggressive” ...
by Chad Marks
n May 2013, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of prisoners housed at the Monterey County Jail in California. A settlement agreement was reached on May 1, 2015, in which the City of Monterey agreed to develop plans to improve medical care, services, programs and activities at the jail. [See: PLN, April 2018, p.58].
Attorneys representing the prisoners were tasked with monitoring the city’s compliance with the agreements. In July 2017, the class members filed a motion to enforce the settlement. They alleged the City of Monterey had not complied with its staffing obligations at the jail, that its proposed telepsychiatry policy did not comply with standards required by the court’s prior order and that the city was denying access to prisoners’ treatment records at the Natividad Medical Center. Those records were instrumental in determining whether the defendants were in compliance with the settlement agreement.
On May 1, 2019, the federal district court agreed that the city was not in full compliance, and found the plaintiffs had established they were entitled to recover fees and expenses in the amount of $150,000.
Once again, the taxpayers in Monterey were left footing the bill due to the city ...
by Matt Clarke
Cutting the U.S. prisoner population by half is the goal of the #cut50 and End Mass Incarceration movements, and of the criminal justice reform group JustLeadershipUSA, but that will not be possible for at least 75 years unless the issue of long sentences for violent offenses is addressed. That was the conclusion of “The Next Step: Ending Excessive Punishment for Violent Crimes,” an April 2019 report by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.
While the violent crime rate has plummeted by half since hitting its peak in the early 1990s, the number of people imprisoned for violent crimes has grown, the report notes, peaking at 740,000 in 2009 – nearly half of the 1.6 million people then held in state and federal prisons. It has declined by just three percent since then.
The reason? Overly harsh sentencing, the report concludes, despite evidence that excessive penalties are counterproductive because they keep older prisoners behind bars who pose little physical threat; they divert funding from better public safety investments; and they have almost no deterrent effect as the best proven deterrent to crime is likelihood of arrest, not the possibility of serving a lengthy sentence if ...
by Ed Lyon
Christina C. Riley was a model prisoner at the Maui Community Correctional Center in Hawaii, and thus was allowed to participate in a work-release program. Parking her car at the jail, she left for work in the mornings and returned afterward to the lock-up. MCCC guard James Siugpiyemal targeted Riley and sexually assaulted her after threatening to have her removed from the work-release program if she told anyone.
In one incident of oral rape, Riley kept the clothing that Siugpiyemal ejaculated on to use as evidence. Another time when the guard raped her, she had secreted a camera in her car and recorded the entire incident. Riley collected this evidence because she believed her accusations as a convicted felon needed corroboration in order to be credible.
When word leaked that Riley had reported the sexual abuse to the police, Siugpiyemal convinced another guard to falsely report a positive drug test for Riley, even though she had passed another test just minutes before. The supposed positive drug test results could not be found. Prior to his arrest, Siugpiyemal absconded to Yap, Micronesia. He was found several years later, extradited to Hawaii, prosecuted and sentenced to prison for raping ...
by Matt Clarke
At a September 2019 hearing, a U.S. District Court judge threatened to throw officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) into the same excessively hot prison cells that the agency had failed to air condition.
Despite agreeing in 2018 to install cooling at the Wallace Pack Unit northwest of Houston, the TDCJ failed to comply with the year-old order, part of a settlement in a 2014 class-action lawsuit that argued excessive heat was endangering prisoners’ health and lives in violation of both the Eighth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act. [See: PLN, July 2018, p.1].
“This is not a mere compliance issue – this is a life and death issue,” argued Jeff Edwards, the prisoners’ lead attorney. “Someone is going to die because of one of two things: utter incompetence ... or utter indifference.”
TDCJ officials did not appear at the hearing, which was hastily called a day after Edwards filed a motion asking the court to hold the agency in contempt for continuing to expose prisoners to excessive heat and then attempting to cover up the violations. But speaking to the court via phone, Assistant Attorney General Leah O’Leary promised that the ...
by Ed Lyon
On April 15, 2019, a New York Court of Claims awarded prisoner Dain Morawski a total of $30,000 for pain and suffering caused by an overdose of incorrectly filled prescription medication. The judgment followed a four-day bench trial in which the defendants and medical experts presented testimony.
Morawski was born with cystic fibrosis (CF). One of the many problems associated with CF is difficulty absorbing nutrients in the digestive tract. To aide his digestive system in functioning properly, Morawski was required to eat two daily snacks to supplement a three-meal dietary regimen, and to take the medication Creon in dosages of six pills per meal and three with each snack, amounting to 24 pills daily.
Morawski lived with his mother until he entered the prison system at age 21. He arrived at the Franklin Correctional Facility on November 19, 2013, and his medical records from his prior prison unit indicated he was taking the medication Colace to relieve constipation – another CF-related condition – as well as Creon.
When he received his medication on November 21, the pill pack labeled Creon did not match the appearance of the drug he was used to seeing. He spoke with ...
by Matt Clarke
In May 2019, a federal district court issued an amended judgment awarding $300,000 to a former employee of the Idaho Department of Correction (DOC) in a lawsuit over sexual harassment and a hostile work environment for women.
Cynthia Fuller worked for the DOC for eight years. Hired as a guard in 2004, she was first promoted to sergeant then later employed at the Caldwell III Probation and Parole Office. There she met senior parole/probation officer Herbt Cruz, who initiated an off-duty romantic relationship with her in 2011.
After dating briefly, Fuller attempted to end the relationship with Cruz because she felt he was “becoming overly-controlling and physically aggressive toward her.” She was initially unsuccessful at breaking off the relationship and began seeing a therapist due to the stress it caused her. Eventually, she disclosed the relationship to her DOC supervisors. Soon thereafter, Cruz allegedly kidnapped, beat, raped and sodomized Fuller because she was trying to end their relationship. She did not immediately report this to the police.
Unbeknownst to her, weeks earlier Cruz had been placed on administrative leave due to a pending criminal investigation against him for allegedly raping another woman. Although DOC supervisors knew about ...
by Matt Clarke
An investigation by the Dallas Morning News into the Christmas Eve 2016 death of prisoner Andy Debusk at the Parker County jail revealed that not only did the guards at the privately-operated facility contribute to Debusk’s death, but several were untrained and employed under temporary licenses. The jail is one of 14 in Texas run by LaSalle Corrections, a family-owned private prison firm based in Louisiana. [See: PLN, Feb. 2013, p.1]. DeBusk’s death was one of an average 93 jail deaths a year, tallied since 2005 by the Texas Justice Initiative.
DeBusk died just 28 hours after he was booked into the jail, located about 60 miles west of Dallas. Struggling with methamphetamine addiction, the 38-year-old’s legal troubles had begun earlier in the year when he hallucinated someone was after him and sought to enter and hide in a neighbor’s house. The neighbor called police to report DeBusk was “shaking the door” to enter the house. Due to that report, he was arrested and charged with attempted burglary. He posted bond but returned to jail twice – once for forgetting to recharge his ankle monitor, then again when he tested positive for drugs. His Christmas Eve arrest ...
by David M. Reutter
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held on August 8, 2019 that the provision of showers “is a part of the programs, activities, or services” referred to by the Rehabilitation Act (RA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The appellate court concluded that prison officials had denied a prisoner showers due to his disability, and were deliberately indifferent for failing to provide a handicapped-accessible shower for more than three months.
The ruling came in an appeal by Pennsylvania prisoner Robert Furgess, who suffers from a neuromuscular disease that inhibits his ability to see, walk, speak and lift things.
Upon his arrival at State Correctional Institution-Albion in 2014, prison officials provided accommodations for his disability. His conditions of confinement, however, drastically changed when he was found guilty of a disciplinary infraction and placed in a Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU) on December 14, 2015. The RHU was not equipped with handicapped-accessible showers.
Furgess’ repeated requests to be provided with an accessible shower went unheeded.
A March 7, 2016 grievance resulted in his move to a handicapped-accessible cell, but he still was not provided access to a shower. It was not until March 16 that Furgess was finally ...
by David M. Reutter
Wally Lamb was an English teacher when he published his first novel, She’s Come Undone, in 1992. It became a huge hit after Oprah Winfrey selected it for her book club. In 1999, Lamb began a writing workshop at a Connecticut women’s prison, the York Correctional Institution.
The prisoners’ writings were edited by Lamb, and in 2003 he published an anthology of autobiographical essays titled Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Testimonies from Our Imprisoned Sisters. It was published by HarperCollins and became a huge hit after being featured on 60 Minutes.
As reported in PLN, that success resulted in state officials suing to recoup the costs of the women’s incarceration, but the state later settled the case and allowed the prisoners to keep proceeds from the book because they were not profiting from their crimes and the money was not a windfall. [See: PLN, Feb. 2005, p.34].
A second book from the prison writing program, I’ll Fly Away: Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison, followed in 2009. Then Lamb put together another anthology, You Don’t Know Me: The Incarcerated Women of York Prison Voice Their Truths, which was ...
by Kevin Bliss
Diana Sanchez gave birth to her son on July 31, 2019 at the Denver County Jail (DCJ), with no assistance from the medical staff. Guards and medical personnel watched from a remote location through a live video feed as Sanchez went through five hours of labor, ultimately delivering her child in her cell. [See: PLN, Oct. 2018, p.51].
Represented by attorney Mari Newman, Sanchez filed suit against the City and County of Denver, the Denver Health and Hospital Authority, two nurses and four sheriff’s deputies in August 2019. The suit claims that she suffered unnecessary pain and humiliation, and that neither she nor her baby received even the most basic medical care.
Sanchez was booked into the DCJ for writing a check on her sister’s bank account. She was eight months pregnant at the time, was on prescribed methadone for opiate withdrawal and had other high-risk pregnancy issues that could result in premature birth. An examination on July 30 ended with a nurse telling Sanchez that she was to immediately call for assistance if she felt any contractions or vaginal leakage.
Sanchez went into labor about 5 a.m. the next day. Screaming in pain, she told ...
by Matt Clarke
In August 2019, thanks to the efforts of newly elected Denver, Colorado councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, the city council declined to renew contracts worth a total of $10.6 million with GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) to operate six halfway houses. With a total of 517 beds, the halfway houses represented over 70 percent of the 748 total beds available in Denver.
CdeBaca was sworn in to office in July 2019 and soon noticed a $3.89 million contract with Community Education Centers, Inc. docketed on the city council’s consent agenda. When she learned that company was a subsidiary of the GEO Group, she recognized it was the same firm operating a controversial Aurora, Colorado facility housing detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She requested that the contract be pulled off the consent agenda and heard for public comment.
Over time, the GEO Group and CoreCivic have bought six of the 10 halfway houses in Denver, where former prisoners live and obtain jobs while they transition into the community or await parole. The remaining halfway houses are operated by locally owned Liberty House and the University of Colorado.
“We’ve watched these large entities gobble up ...
by Matt Clarke
The Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) generated a media storm when, on July 22, 2019, it published a draft of a new department order that excluded elected officials and the news media from a list of people eligible for tours of state prisons.
The draft order was to supersede a previous order that specifically authorized tours for “elected officials and their staff” and “news media staff.” It was to go into effect on August 22, 2019, but was removed from the ADC’s website just a day after being posted.
“In a time when it’s been made clear that the executive branch is not willing to hold the Department of Corrections and Director Charles Ryan responsible, and accountable, it really defaults to the media and the Legislative Branch,” said state Rep. Athena Salman, who called the changes in the policy “outrageous” and noted that she and a group of lawmakers already had a prison tour scheduled for the end of August.
“Now that there is a lot of pressure coming from the media and the Legislature, the idea that the prisons then think that they can restrict access and make it more difficult for elected officials and journalists ...
by Mark Wilson
In a 4-to-3 ruling, departing from its previous recent decisions, the Oregon Supreme Court held on May 23, 2019 that secretly recording a prisoner’s solicitation of another prisoner to kill two witnesses and assault a prosecutor in his pending criminal case did not violate his constitutional right to counsel.
Yevgeniy Pavlovich Savinskiy was jailed and appointed a defense attorney on numerous charges following a shootout with police and high-speed car chase. While in jail awaiting trial, Savinskiy offered another prisoner money and weapons to assault a prosecutor and kill two of the witnesses against him.
The prisoner alerted authorities, who used the information to obtain sealed ex parte court orders to secretly record Savinskiy’s conversations with the informant. Prosecutors then used the body wire evidence to charge Savinskiy with two counts of conspiracy to commit murder of the witnesses and one count of conspiracy to assault the prosecutor. Those charges were included in an amended indictment.
The trial court granted Savinskiy’s motion to suppress statements he made about the original charges, because the secretly recorded statements violated his constitutional right to counsel. However, the court refused to suppress his statements related to the new conspiracy charges.
by Ed Lyon
In what it called “a legal question of first impression” within its jurisdiction, on May 24, 2019 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lack of a discharge plan to obtain medication and treatment for mental health care after a detainee is released from custody “can be considered a claim to in-custody care cognizable under the ‘special relationship exception.’”
Plaintiff-appellants Michelet Charles and Carol Small are lawful U.S. residents. Both were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for immigration hearings and held in jail for several months in Orange County, New York as civil detainees. Charles had a history of mental illness that was managed by drugs, while Small’s mental health condition manifested while she was in custody.
Both were treated with psychotropic medication and monitored by medical staff and psychiatrists during their detention. Once released immediately after their immigration hearings, they were not provided with an interim supply of their prescribed medications, nor did they receive a discharge summary with which they could obtain a continuation of treatment and drugs from a new mental health care provider. While a discharge summary was prepared for each of them, it remained in their records.
by Dale Chappell
Overturning the convictions of five defendants, the Third Appellate District Court of Appeal in Sacramento, California held on June 11, 2019 that Proposition 64’s decriminalization of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana also applied to possession in a state prison.
The five defendants, separately convicted of possessing marijuana in prison, were still serving their sentences when they filed petitions requesting relief under Proposition 64, arguing that the new decriminalization law invalidated their convictions. The superior court denied each petition and the prisoners appealed, which were consolidated into a single appeal.
The question before the appellate court was whether Proposition 64 reached beyond prison walls and decriminalized possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by prisoners. The Court of Appeal held that it did.
The statute of conviction at issue, California Penal Code Sec. 4573.6, criminalized the possession of “any controlled substances” prohibited by Sec. 11000, et seq. within a prison without authorization. It is a felony punishable by two to four years.
In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, which decriminalized possession of up to 28.6 grams of cannabis (or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis) by persons 21 years or older. However, Proposition ...
by Matt Clarke
In March 2019, Kern County, California agreed to pay $2 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the parents and estate of a man who committed suicide at the county’s jail. The suit alleged jail staff ignored obvious signs of his mental instability and self-harm behavior at intake.
Sergio Derkevorkian, 29, called 911 to report his involvement in a single-vehicle accident. He told responding officers “I’m a danger to myself,” but denied drug use. He acted paranoid, saying someone was trying to kill him, and made other bizarre statements and refused transportation to a hospital. The officers concluded he was under the influence of a controlled substance, arrested him and took him to a substation to conduct a Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE). During the DRE, Derkevorkian became increasingly “paranoid and delusional.” He was then taken to a hospital.
At the hospital, Derkevorkian began to cry, scream and falsely accuse the officers of placing drugs in his rectum and a nurse who gave him a cup of water of trying to poison him. He thought everyone around him was laughing at him and trying to drug him. He panicked and curled up on the floor.
Officers took Derkevorkian ...
by Kevin Bliss
Harney County, Oregon expects an $800,000 budget shortfall in the next fiscal year. Nonunion employees and elected officials in the county are already being furloughed 10 hours a month to help make up existing shortfalls, the county jail fails to meet state law standards, and there are insufficient funds to support search and rescue missions or law enforcement services.
Sheriff Dave Ward recently announced that the only alternative is to cut positions, which he started by eliminating himself.
Ward was sheriff in 2016 when Ammon Bundy and his followers conducted an armed occupation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days. Ward’s handling of the situation led one community to erect signs that read, “Dave Ward for President.”
Yet in April 2019, the sheriff announced his plan to resign at the end of the year in a letter sent to the Burns Times-Herald. He said he was concerned the lack of funding was hurting law enforcement and creating legal risks at the jail.
“I am no longer willing to accept the civil liability associated with the failure to appropriately fund/staff our jail, search and rescue, or law-enforcement services to our community. These are not frivolous ...
by David M. Reutter
In a precedential ruling, on June 19, 2019, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that a district court did not abuse its discretion when it declined to appoint successive counsel in a prisoner’s civil rights action after initialcounsel withdrew from the case.
In 2010, Pennsylvania prisoner Darien Houser filed a pro se complaint alleging a prison superintendent, Louis S. Folino, and medical director, Dr. Jin, were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Houser first moved for appointed counsel in 2012, but the district court concluded it was too early to determine whether the suit had sufficient merit and complexity to justify appointing an attorney.
After the court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, it granted Houser’s renewed motion to appoint counsel. Two lawyers declined to take the case in mid-November 2014, but the law firm of Reed Smith LLP stepped up to the plate. Over the next year, the firm expended over 1,000 hours of pro bono representation in conducting discovery and preparing the case for trial.
Houser, however, was not satisfied with the representation because he disagreed with Reed Smith’s trial strategy, believing it would “dismantle” his case. The law firm moved ...
by David M. Reutter
Organizations that supported Amendment 4 – a 2018 ballot initiative to amend the Florida Constitution to restore voting rights to most people with felony convictions – have sued to block a new law that not only undermines the intent of the initiative but also “creates wealth-based hurdles to voting” – a modern poll tax, they argue, that will have the same racially discriminatory effects as those that persisted during the Jim Crow era of segregation.
With nearly 65 percent of voters supporting Amendment 4 in the November 2018 elections, Florida was poised to enact what the Brennan Center for Justice called “the single largest expansion of voting rights in the United States since the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18 in 1971.”
“Our research shows that the people who have registered to vote under Amendment 4 are disproportionately black and low-income,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program.
The Sentencing Project estimated that 1.4 million Floridians would have their voting rights restored as a result of Amendment 4. The ballot initiative provided for the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons “upon completion of all terms of sentence including ...
by Ed Lyon
For over a decade, the Education Justice Program (EJP), an extension of the University of Illinois, has taught classes at the Danville Correctional Center (DCC), a facility in the east-central part of the state run by the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC). Core classes in subjects like calculus are offered to prisoners, as well as humanities-centered courses like Critical Race Theory in Education.
In 2017, the DOC spent a total of $300 on materials for libraries in over two dozen prisons, an indication that DCC’s general population library does not have the materials needed to support a college-level study program. Thus, EJP is allowed to maintain a separate library at the facility. The student prisoners “are actually student librarians,” said Holly Clingan, who has volunteered with the program to help manage the library for the last five years.
“They catalog,” she said. “They maintain the spaces. They check books in and out. They help with research questions, guide the other students that are in program to the resources.”
The EJP library is subjected to a review process separate from the process that reviews books sent to prisoners through the mail. With some of the books in the ...
by Matt Clarke & David M. Reutter
In July 2019, seven prisoners died in facilities operated by the Mississippi Department of Corrections (DOC). The deaths followed a similar spate in August 2018, when 16 deaths occurred at the DOC’s three state prisons. Media coverage of the most recent deaths was bolstered by the release of photos and videos on social media in the spring of 2019 that showed unsafe conditions, understaffing, violence and the presence of weapons inside two DOC facilities.
The images – reportedly filmed at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP) in Parchman and South Mississippi Correctional Institution (SMCI) in Leakesville – sparked a May 2019 letter of complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division from the nonprofit advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM).
“We’ve heard about Parchman over the years,” said FAMM President Kevin Ring, “but it’s only been in the last few weeks that we started to get more clips, videos, and messages from people inside.”
State health officials are required by law to conduct annual inspections at MSP. The inspections conducted between June 3 and 7, 2019 found hundreds of environmental and sanitation deficiencies at the prison, including more than 400 cells ...
by Matt Clarke
On November 23, 2018, Maricopa County, Arizona agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit over the death of a prisoner at the Maricopa County Jail while self-styled “America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio was still in office.
Anthony Singleton, 27, was arrested on October 21, 2015. He had a history of seizures caused by withdrawal from opiates and alcohol. During his incarceration at the jail, he experienced multiple seizures and asked for medical care, but staff ignored his requests, saying he was “faking.” Singleton became delirious and “started coughing up blood,” yet still received no medical care. On November 2, 2015, he complained of abdominal pain and was taken to the medical unit where he reported a burning sensation in his stomach and “vomiting bloody, foamy material.” A non-urgent X-ray was ordered but never taken.
Two days later, Singleton was found in his cell, kneeling with his head on his bunk and unresponsive. “There was bloody emesis and black tarry stools noted on the floor of his cell and blood was draining from Mr. Singleton’s nose.” He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
With the aid of Phoenix attorneys Joel B. Robbins and ...
by Kevin Bliss
Attorney and retired judge Gary Oxenhandler conducted a study in 2017 on the prisoner population at the Boone County Jail (BCJ) in Columbia, Missouri. He reported that prisoners were complaining about the quality and quantity of meals at the facility – specifically, that they were not receiving any fresh fruits, vegetables or dairy products.
Oxenhandler, along with Rusty Antel, chairman of the Boone Judicial Law Enforcement Task Force, and attorney Sarah Aplin, wrote to the Boone County Commission with concerns that prisoners’ daily nutritional needs were not being met. They requested that the county’s grand jury conduct an independent investigation.
Summit Food Services, LLC contracted with BCJ in 2016 to be the jail’s food service provider. The minutes of a commission meeting at the time showed that Sheriff Dwayne Carey called Summit’s meals healthy and a positive change, and that he was “impressed” with the company.
After an investigation on February 15, 2019, the grand jury issued a report that mirrored Oxenhandler’s concerns. They felt that daily nutritional values were not being met, meals at the jail needed more fruit and vegetables, and the fortified beverages currently being served should be replaced with dairy products.
Summit Foods ...
by Douglas Ankney
On April 18, 2019, the state of Alaska agreed to pay $400,000 to John Green, the father of Kellsie Green, to settle his lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Corrections over his daughter’s death in an Anchorage jail.
Alaska has a unified corrections system where the DOC runs both state prisons and local jail facilities.
In January 2016, the 24-year-old Kellsie was being held at the jail on a probation violation. Six days later she was dead. Her death certificate indicated she died due to malnutrition, dehydration, renal failure and heart dysrhythmia, and weighed just 80 pounds. [See: PLN, Aug. 2017, p.44].
John Green alleged in his wrongful death suit that Kellsie was a heroin addict and her addiction was apparent and obvious. He also claimed that jail officials failed or refused to provide her with medical care during serious and obvious withdrawal symptoms.
“This isn’t a jail in Turkey or somewhere,” Green remarked. “This is America.”
He settled partly because the state released video, audio, depositions and reports that he said detailed how the system had failed his daughter. According to Green, the state took responsibility for decisions that resulted in Kellsie’s death, including a ...
Arizona: On January 31, 2019, dramatic footage was released of a two-hour hostage incident in the library at ASPC-Lewis in Buckeye. The video shows a librarian working alone when prisoner Timothy Monk enters, closes the door, bends over, then grabs the librarian by the neck with one arm while brandishing a homemade shank with the other. The librarian manages to pepper spray Monk several times as he is dragged toward a supply closet. Both men suffer the effects of the spray. Eventually a tactical unit throws in a flash bang before eight guards and a dog storm the room. No one was seriously hurt during the December 26, 2018 incident. Monk wanted a transfer to another prison. On December 31, he was found guilty of possession of a weapon, aggravated assault on staff and hostage taking, and was moved to ASPC-Eyman. Monk has been in prison since he was 16 years old; in 2006, he used a shank to demand a move to Montana during a five-hour hostage-taking at ASPC-Tucson.
Arizona: Luis Moreno turned himself in to the Pima County jail to serve 30 days on an outstanding DUI arrest warrant on December 27, 2018. By 2 p.m. ...