by Paul Wright
On December 27, 2018, Prison Legal News editor Paul Wright interviewed Randall C. Berg, Jr., executive director of the Florida Justice Institute (FJI) in Miami. It is fair to say that no one has done more for Florida prisoners in that state’s history than Randy. He was also instrumental in developing the first Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) system, which is used to fund legal programs and assistance for the poor. Thus far, IOLTA has generated around $5 billion for legal services for people who otherwise could not afford them.
This interview took place on Randy’s last day as FJI’s executive director. He had been diagnosed two years earlier with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and died of respiratory complications on April 10, 2019 at the age of 70.
Randy was one of PLN’s earliest subscribers in the early 1990s and we became friends over the years. He represented PLN in two censorship cases against the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC). I believe this was Randy’s last interview, and am sorry he did not get to see it in print and that Florida prisoners will not be able to see it either, since ...
“I didn’t have a way to communicate. And they basically just flipped me the bird.”
by Jeremy Woody as told to Christie Thompson, The Marshall Project
When I was in state prison in Georgia in 2013, I heard about a class called “Motivation for Change.” I think it had to do with changing your mindset. I’m not actually sure, though, because I was never able to take it. On the first day, the classroom was full, and the teacher was asking everybody’s name. When my turn came, I had to write my name on a piece of paper and give it to a guy to speak it for me. The teacher wrote me a message on a piece of paper: “Are you deaf?”
“Yes, I’m deaf,” I said.
Then she told me to leave the room. I waited outside for a few minutes, and the teacher came out and said, “Sorry, the class is not open to deaf individuals. Go back to the dorm.”
I was infuriated. I asked several other deaf guys in the prison about it, and they said the same thing happened to them. From that point forward, I started filing grievances. They kept denying them, of ...
by Scott Grammer
James Sigman, 48, was elected sheriff of Texas County, Missouri in 2012. He now stands charged with robbery, assault, endangering the welfare of a child, unlawful use of a weapon, misuse of official information by a public servant and harassment. The charges stem from his alleged failure to stop his girlfriend, Jennifer Tomaszewski, 38, from misrepresenting herself as a peace officer, abusing prisoners at the county jail and putting residents at risk.
In December 2016, about the time that the married Sigman began a romance with the also-married Tomaszewski, he hired her as a jailer. Seven months later he made her administrator of the jail. While serving in that position, she allegedly threatened to shoot a prisoner in the head. A grievance was submitted, but wasn’t kept on file. She also allegedly struck a mentally ill prisoner in the face with her elbows after he was already unconscious, and told a guard that she had been “trying to bust his eardrum out.”
Investigators said Tomaszewski wore a uniform, detained suspects and pointed guns at a number of people, including a one-year-old child, even though she wasn’t a peace officer. Sheriff Sigman, her boss, did not correct ...
by Paul Wright
This month’s issue of PLN is dedicated to the memory and work of Randall “Randy” Berg, a long-time advocate for prisoners’ rights and human rights who died on April 10, 2019 at the age of 70 following a struggle with ALS. I was fortunate to be able to interview Randy at length on his final day at work in December 2018, and believe that was the last interview he gave. I attended his memorial service, which was packed with friends and colleagues.
Randy was one of PLN’s earliest subscribers in the early 1990s, when we were still focused mostly on news and events in Washington State. He represented us when the Florida DOC censored PLN between 2003 and 2005, and again in a second round of censorship litigation between 2009 and 2019. I corresponded with Randy while I was in prison and then met him once I was released. I hope my interview does justice to his career and his lifelong commitment to advocating for prisoners and other marginalized populations.
I had originally planned to publish this interview at some later point when Florida prisoners would be able to read it, since the Florida ...
by Douglas Ankney
In November 2018, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $3.9 million to settle claims against the county, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LACSD), Sheriff James McDonnell and Deputy Giancarlo Scotti. The Board’s decision ended a lawsuit brought by two former female prisoners and a potential suit by another.
Jennifer Ann Matthews said Scotti entered her cell at the Century Regional Detention Facility (CRDF), ordered her to expose herself, then forced her to perform oral sex on him. [See: PLN, Nov. 2017, p.1]. After she reported the incident to the LACSD’s Department of Internal Affairs, she was removed from her drug counseling and treatment program, reclassified to a higher security level and removed from her special diet reserved for pregnant prisoners. Additionally, she was threatened in the presence of jail staff by other prisoners who perceived Scotti as being a “cool guard,” and staff did nothing to intervene.
Thea Valerie Lampert accused Scotti of entering her cell at CRDF and ordering her to the showers, where he forced her to engage in oral sex and then raped her. Scotti threatened Lampert not to say anything to anyone. Lampert gave authorities a tissue ...
by Ed Lyon
Under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, presidents nominate judges to sit on federal district and circuit courts, as well as the Supreme Court. Federal judges are appointed for life and serve until they retire, resign, die or are impeached. Politicians (including presidents) have historically been affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican party, and usually endorse their party’s platforms – though the idea behind lifetime judicial appointments was to give independence to judges to rule fairly and equitably in all cases without undue political pressure.
Harvard Law School professors Alma Cohen and Crystal Yang recently completed and released the results of an exhaustive study that examined sentencing records of 1,400 federal judges covering more than 500,000 cases from 1999 through 2015. Their resulting report was published in February 2019 in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy.
For longtime PLN readers, it will come as no surprise to learn that regardless of a judge’s political affiliation, black defendants tend to receive longer sentences than defendants of other races. Interestingly, however, the study found that judges appointed by Republican presidents sentence black defendants to prison terms averaging around 90 days longer than judges appointed by ...
by Steve Horn
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, has filed lawsuits in Texas and Vermont arguing that the GEO Group – one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison companies – is a de facto public agency that should be required to comply with public records requests.
Filed in the 225th Judicial District in Bexar County, the Texas case – Human Rights Defense Center v. The GEO Group, Case No. 2018CI16343 – resulted from a request submitted by HRDC that asked for records pertaining to complaints, claims, verdicts and settlements involving GEO facilities in that state.
However, nearly nine months after the request was filed, and after HRDC submitted a follow-up inquiry regarding the status of its request, GEO Group had not responded. Consequently, HRDC filed suit on August 27, 2018.
In its complaint, HRDC argued that GEO Group is a “[g]overnmental body” under Section 552.003(1)(A)(xii) of the Texas Government Code, and thus should fall under the purview of the Texas Public Information Act. That statute defines a “governmental body” as – among other things – “the part, section, or portion of an organization, corporation, commission, committee, institution, or agency ...
by Matt Clarke
On January 8, 2019, Montgomery County, Ohio agreed to pay $115,000 to resolve a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by a former jail prisoner who was pepper-sprayed while “largely strapped into” a seven-point restraint chair.
Charles Wade was being booked into the Montgomery County Jail on October 17, 2016 when the arresting state troopers informed jail staff that he was intoxicated.
Video surveillance footage of Wade’s intake showed that he struck his head against a blue mat fastened to the wall while being searched. Sgt. John W. Eversole then ordered other guards to place Wade stomach-down on the floor, handcuff him and move him to the restraint chair. While Wade was on the floor, Eversole put his knee on the middle of his back. Wade asked why they were doing this as he was not resisting.
According to his subsequent complaint, Wade was taken to the restraint chair and his legs and abdomen strapped in while he was still handcuffed behind his back and four guards held his head and upper torso.
“At that point [guard Joshua] Lighter, under the semblance of removing [Wade’s] handcuffs manipulated [Wade’s] hand and wrist causing severe pain, injury and ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
In January 2019, the city of Gainesville, Florida followed the lead of Alachua County by deciding to terminate its contract with the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) to provide prisoner work crews for such duties as ground maintenance, filling potholes and trash detail. Activists from the Incarcerated Workers Organization Committee (IWOC) convinced Gainesville officials that the continued use of such work crews constituted “slave labor” and did nothing to promote rehabilitation.
Gainesville entered into a three-year contract (plus a potential three-year extension) with the FDOC in June 2016. The city agreed to pay $180,000 in exchange for services provided by a five-prisoner work crew; the services could be scheduled for any governmental agency or nonprofit organization, but not for private businesses. The contract stated the city would supply the work crew’s vehicle and any necessary equipment, as well as the supervising guard’s $54,000 annual salary and $750 for the prisoners’ protective equipment, first aid and safety gear.
Opponents to the use of prisoner slave labor addressed the city commission prior to a January 24 vote on the FDOC contract extension, which led to a decision against extending it. Mayor Lauren Poe thanked those involved for shining ...
by Matt Clarke
On February 5, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a prisoner cannot waive challenges to portions of his prison discipline to circumvent the requirements of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) and Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997). Rather, an underlying prison disciplinary case must be terminated in the prisoner’s favor before a civil rights action with claims related to the disciplinary case can be brought.
Illinois state prisoner Jeryme Morgan received a disciplinary infraction due to an attack on other prisoners at the Menard Correctional Center. In the space on the disciplinary form for requesting witnesses at the hearing, he wrote “James Lewis” and “where abouts.” Prison rules required that the potential witness be identified and a description of the witness’ testimony be provided. Prison officials were unable to locate a “James Lewis” at the facility, thus he was not called as a witness. Morgan was punished with loss of three months good-time credits, an additional year in segregation, one year on lowered status and multiple other restrictions.
He unsuccessfully grieved the failure to call his witness, then filed a § 1983 civil rights complaint in federal ...
by Derek Gilna
James Jordanoff, a former pre-trial detainee at the Cleveland County Detention Center in Oklahoma, won a $35,001 judgment following a jury trial based on a First Amendment retaliation claim against ex-guard Josh Coffey.
The May 9, 2018 judgment included $1 in nominal damages plus $35,000 in punitive damages, and also provided for attorney’s fees for Jordanoff’s counsel, J. Wes Billingsley.
Jordanoff filed his original complaint pro se, and Billingsley took his case after Coffey’s motion for summary judgment was denied. Following the successful conclusion of the lawsuit, Billingsley moved for $157,811.75 in fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 but the district court reduced the fee award based on the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d), as well as § 1988(b)’s “reasonableness” requirement.
“The Court herein rejects Counsel’s challenges to the PLRA’s applicability and constitutionality before calculating the lodestar from Counsel’s billing records,” the district court wrote.
As noted by the court, the PLRA “imposes four potential limits on Counsel’s attorney’s fees award: (1) a reasonableness and tailoring requirement ensuring that fees are for work directly tied to the prisoner’s relief, id.; (2) ‘a portion of the judgment (not to exceed 25 ...
The miniseries depicting a New York prison escape fails to show what happened to the men left behind.
by Katie Rose Quandt, The Appeal, a nonprofit criminal justice news site
The true story of a 2015 prison break from a New York maximum-security facility has electrified viewers of Showtime’s acclaimed miniseries “Escape at Dannemora,” which wrapped up on December 30, 2018. The tale focuses on two men serving life sentences, David Sweat and Richard Matt, and their relationship with prison employee Tillie Mitchell, who aids their escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York.
The series, which has earned praise for its evenhandedness and authenticity, takes viewers through a dramatic retelling of the two men’s elaborate plot, the escape, and the ensuing manhunt. But it ignores one of the most serious consequences of the break: the widespread retaliation carried out against the people left behind in Clinton and other New York prisons.
In August 2015, two months after the escape, a New York Times investigation outlined horrific abuse at Clinton, where men who had lived near Sweat and Matt on the “honor block” (a cellblock for those who have earned additional privileges) were tortured for information. ...
by Ed Lyon
Vannara Nhar, 22, was sentenced to a term in federal prison for selling firearms to an undercover cop. He entered the Bureau of Prisons in October 2011 with near-perfect vision and was assigned to FCC Butner in North Carolina. When he left in 2013, his eyesight was irreversibly damaged.
Nhar had glaucoma to begin with. Glaucoma is a group of diseases where high intraocular pressures within the affected person’s eyes damage the optic nerves, eventually resulting in blindness if not treated.
Nhar, of Asian descent, also suffered from what a federal mediator called a “secondary glaucoma” caused by Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome (VKHS), which is more likely to affect Asians, Native Americans and Hispanics. VKHS, an autoimmune disease, appears in melanin tissue encompassing brain and spinal cord membranes, the inner ears, eyes and skin.
At his initial medical screening, Nhar was found to have bilateral 20/30 vision; he was referred to see an ophthalmologist within 30 days due to the severity of his VKHS-accelerated glaucoma. In a harbinger of things to come, that appointment occurred 19 days late. Nhar was referred to the retina clinic, which took 54 days – 24 days longer than it should have. ...
by Douglas Ankney
In March 2019, Placer County, California agreed to create a fund of $1,449,700 to settle potential claims arising from a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners who were beaten by guards at the county’s two jails. Placer County had previously settled six suits and a claim arising from similar allegations for a total of $1.25 million.
The settlement agreement requires notification of potential class members who were in the jails from August 11, 2015 to August 14, 2018. It also calls for the sheriff’s office to track all use-of-force incidents and provide quarterly reports to the prisoners’ attorneys through December 2019.
According to the complaint, Paul Bangert, a homeless and mentally ill man, was held as a civil detainee at the Auburn Main Jail in connection with mental health court proceedings. He was placed under close observation in an isolation cell due to his mental health issues.
In May 2017, three guards, Robert L. Madden, Megan C. Yaws and Doe 1 (identified in news reports as Jeffrey Villanueva), burst into Bangert’s cell and tased him repeatedly. They struck him with their fists at least a half-dozen times on the back of his head, jumped on ...
by Scott Grammer
On August 13, 2018, Great Britain’s HMP Birmingham, operated by G4S (previously Group 4 Securicor), a private security company, had to be taken over on an emergency basis by the Ministry of Justice. An inspection of the prison found that prisoners were drinking, using drugs and committing acts of violence at will, and that the facility was crawling with roaches amid blood and vomit. The government took control from G4S, which had been awarded a 15-year contract to run the prison in 2011.
Britain’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, said the facility had experienced “dramatic deterioration” since the previous year’s inspection, and that the government should launch an investigation into conditions at HMP Birmingham, formerly known as Winson Green, the most violent prison in England.
In December 2016, HMP Birmingham was the site of a 12-hour riot involving as many as 600 of its 1,450 prisoners. Staff at the facility locked themselves into secure areas to avoid being assaulted; during an inspection, there was an arson attack on a staff car park that was supposed to be secure. Clarke said there had been an “abject failure” by the private prison operator.
Rory Stewart, Minister for ...
by Ed Lyon
After Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then killed himself in 2012, an autopsy revealed he suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused by blunt head trauma during football blocking. Problems associated with CTE and other types of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) include anger, aggression, depression, impaired judgment and poor impulse control, and as previously reported in Prison Legal News, people who have experienced TBI are more likely to commit violent crimes. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.22; Nov. 2013, p.18].
A hard blow to the frontal lobe, which processes emotions and behavior, can cause the same sort of degradation in brain performance as dropping a computer, according to Wayne Gordon, a professor of rehabilitation medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
“If something went wrong with the central processing unit, it might be slower – you couldn’t save documents as easily – but it might chug along,” he stated.
For prisoners, who experience TBI at rates many times higher than the rest of the population, the implication is clear. According to Peter Klinkhammer, associate director of services at the Brain Injury Association of Minnesota, “If ...
by Matt Clarke
Some readers may recall how a hacker targeted Dallas, Texas-based Securus Technologies, a prison telecom company, resulting in the records of some 70 million phone calls made by over 63,000 prisoners being released on the Internet in November 2015. That incident revealed Securus was recording prisoners’ calls with their attorneys. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.1].
Another hack at Securus in May 2018 resulted in the release of usernames, email addresses, phone numbers, hashed passwords and security questions for 2,800 of the company’s customers – mostly law enforcement officials.
The passwords were hashed using MD5, an algorithm that can be easily defeated by experienced hackers, revealing the real passwords. Further, having the answers to security questions makes it easy for a hacker to establish a new password, effectively locking the legitimate user out while giving the hacker unlimited use of the account.
Equally worrying was the location tracking service that may have been compromised. Securus partners with law enforcement to provide location tracking of cell phones, even if the GPS feature is disabled, without warrants. The company has cellular service providers send signals called “pings” to cell phones and use the phones’ distance from cell towers ...
by Chad Marks and Ed Lyon
For a second time, the City of San Francisco has agreed to settle a prisoner’s lawsuit stemming from a fight club orchestrated by jail deputies and induced by fear.
Former prisoner Quincy Lewis filed a federal civil rights action against several deputy jailers in November 2017. Specifically, the lawsuit alleged that deputies Scott Neu, Clifford Chiba and Eugene Jones created their own Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)-type fight club where Lewis and other prisoners had to battle each other for food and to avoid punishments.
The prisoners were instructed by Neu and other jailers that they could not seek medical attention if they were injured and that strikes to the face were prohibited because they would draw attention to the fights, according to the lawsuit.
Deputies would place wagers on the combatants as they squared off in secluded areas of the jail. All of this was done for the jailers’ amusement.
According to Lewis’ complaint, Neu and other deputies had formed a gang within the jail called the “850 Mob” or “850 Mafia.” This referred to the Hall of Justice, which is located at 850 Bryant Street in San Francisco. It was alleged ...
by Ed Lyon
In March 2014, Mollianne Fischer’s term of probation for misusing a credit card was revoked and she began serving a two-year sentence at Arrendale State Prison. She appeared to be in good health at first, though later began vomiting and had trouble breathing and remaining continent. She requested medical care several times but prison medical staff accused her of faking her symptoms.
On May 25, 2014, Fischer was discovered lying on the floor of her cell. She was not responsive. A video obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed prison guards handcuffing the semiconscious prisoner’s hands behind her back and screaming at her to “stand up.” At one point she begged, “Give me a minute,” to which a guard eloquently responded, “We don’t got a minute.” After the guards pulled Fischer to her feet, she collapsed. They put her face-down on a cart and took her to segregation. [See: PLN, April 2019, p.44].
“If we had gone to trial, we would have played [that video] over and over again,” said attorney Michael Perez.
For two and a half days, Fischer remained on the floor of her segregation cell until the morning of May 27. Only then, after ...
by Ed Lyon
Natasha McKenna, a diagnosed schizophrenic, died at age 37 at a jail in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she was being held awaiting transfer to Alexandria on charges of assaulting a peace officer. Alexandria officials had failed to take custody of McKenna three times during her eight-day stay at the Fairfax County jail.
During preparation for her transfer, McKenna began struggling with deputies after one of them coaxed her into being handcuffed. A crisis team responded, which precipitated a lengthy ordeal with deputies in bio-hazard suits struggling with a nude McKenna in her soiled cell in an attempt to put her in a restraint chair with a spit hood over her face. One prisoner who witnessed the incident said McKenna was making sounds that someone possessed by demons might make. No doubt the four times she was tased by the crisis team contributed to those inhuman noises.
“You promised me you wouldn’t kill me. I didn’t do anything,” McKenna reportedly said while she was being removed from her cell.
McKenna stopped breathing shortly after she was secured in the restraint chair; she was taken to a hospital where she died a few days later, on February ...
by Ed Lyon
It is not uncommon to see police officers on TV shows masquerade as criminals to obtain evidence and even confessions from suspects. Many people may not be aware that this is an example of art imitating life. Such law enforcement practices were vigorously challenged in the latter half of the 20th century, with an eventual ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 1990 that upheld their legality.
The gist of the decision was that a police officer pretending to be a criminal did not constitute compelling a suspect to speak if the cop was passively listening and would not have heard anything that other people within earshot could hear. Subsequent cop-planting schemes became known as Perkins Operations, named after the losing appellant in the Supreme Court case. See: Illinois v. Perkins, 496 U.S. 292 (1990).
On February 3, 2019, three teenagers and a 25-year-old man were shot to death in Palm Springs, California. The teens were in a car that had collided with a parked jeep, and the adult victim was found about half a mile away. Jose Larin-Garcia, 19, was discovered nearby, hiding under a truck and wearing bloody clothes. He was later ...
by Douglas Ankney
Ocean County, New Jersey has agreed to pay $1.975 million to settle a class-action lawsuit, where the class was defined as “All persons who were admitted into the Ocean County Correctional Facility during the period between November 28, 2005 through December 28, 2007, after being arrested only on a non-indictable matter, such as a disorderly persons offense or violation, traffic infractions, civil matters or other non-indictable occurrences, and were subject to a strip search upon their entry into the Ocean County Correctional Facility in the absence of reasonable suspicion.”
“Minor offenders entering a county jail should not be strip searched,” said attorney William Riback who, along with Carl Poplar, represented the class members. He said the suit was filed to stop blanket strip searches of people arrested for traffic offenses, petty disorderly offenses, misdemeanors, child support arrears and contempt of court.
The county denied any wrongdoing but agreed to pay up to $1,200,000 to settle what could be as many as 7,530 claims. An incentive award of $10,000 each was awarded from the settlement fund to class representatives Richard Wright and April Wedding. Another named plaintiff, Edward Bizarro, died before the settlement was reached.
Ocean County further ...
On October 26, 2006, Paul David Storey, then 21, and his accomplice, Mark Devayne Porter, robbed Putt Putt Golf & Games, a miniature golf course in Fort Worth, Texas. During the course of the robbery they shot and killed assistant manager James Cherry. Porter pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence while Storey went to trial, was found guilty and sentenced to death in September 2008.
Prosecutors told the jury: “It should go without saying that all of [James Cherry’s] family and everyone who loved him believe the death penalty was appropriate.”
Except that was not what Cherry’s family believed, and his parents said prosecutors lied. In a letter to the governor, Glenn and Judith Cherry stated, “We do not want to see another family suffer through losing a child and family member. Due to our ethical and spiritual values we are opposed to the death penalty.”
Under current Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson, a Conviction Integrity Unit has been established. In a letter to Wilson, the Cherrys wrote: “Paul Storey’s execution will not bring our son back, will not atone for the loss of our son and will not bring comfort or closure.”
The Texas ...
by Douglas Ankney
The State of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) have been named defendants in three separate lawsuits concerning the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (WHV).
In August 2018, the state agreed to pay almost $750,000 to settle a complaint that was brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of female guards at WHV. The suit was filed in federal court and alleged that, due to the overwhelming number of duty assignments at WHV unnecessarily designated for women only, female guards were forced to work excessive amounts of overtime that jeopardized their health and safety. They often worked in excess of 12 hours per shift, and the state paid $5.2 million in overtime at WHV in 2014-15, not including holiday pay.
Additionally, the lawsuit claimed that female guards were denied transfers to other facilities in order to accommodate the female-only post requirements at WHV. The denial of transfers resulted in fewer job opportunities and promotions. The DOJ argued that the state “cannot lock workers in or out of a job because of their sex.” MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz said the state “will lift a freeze on female officers transferring to other prisons.” See: ...
by Scott Grammer
Tommy G. Thompson, who served as governor of Wisconsin from 1987 to 2001, has recently said he regrets building so many prisons during his tenure.
In April 2018 he wrote an op-ed for the Journal Sentinel, stating he had “come to believe that our corrections system and incarceration practices are both financially unsustainable and provide questionable outcomes.”
“We lock up too many people for too long. It’s about time we change the dynamics. I apologize for that,” Thompson stated.
The former governor mentioned he would like to see Wisconsin prisons converted into vocational schools so prisoners can receive training and help with the state’s worker shortage.
“The way we warehouse prisoners right now is not the right way.... Some people have to be in prison, there is no question about it. But we have too many people locked up that should be rehabilitated, retrained and allowed to get out and take a job. We need the workers,” Thompson declared.
However, another former Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, said he saw no value in visiting state prisons and criticized Democrats for suggesting that the prison population should be reduced. Walker, who served in the state ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
In the wake of a 2017 state audit that revealed Louisiana prisoners were regularly being held for weeks, months and sometimes even years past their scheduled release dates, a 2019 investigation of court records reviewed by the Times-Picayune, a New Orleans paper,found that at least one prisoner was over-detained in a state prison or local jail every week over the previous decade, with one prisoner serving 960 days after his sentence ended.
Where to place blame has been the subject of multiple lawsuits filed against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office (OPSO), which serves the city of New Orleans. When contacted by an attorney from the Orleans Public Defender’s Office, Stanislav Moroz, five days after his client’s sentence expired in 2018, OPSO responded that it was up to the DOC to authorize a prisoner’s release, even from a parish jail. But the DOC said it could take up to 90 days to calculate how much of a sentence must be served; only after that process is complete can it issue an official release date.
Moroz’s client, Johnny Traweek, had pleaded guilty to second-degree battery after spending seven months ...
by Douglas Ankney
Juan Sanchez spent 32 years at the helm of Southwest Key Programs (SKP), a private contractor that operates shelters for the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which has custody of unaccompanied migrant children apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as the children of immigrants detained by ICE while their asylum requests are processed.
As of February 2019, more than 11,000 immigrant minors, ranging in age from a few months to 17 years, were in ORR custody, held in shelters at about 100 different sites. SKP has bedspace to house nearly half of that population – up to 5,000 children – in the 24 shelters it operates for ORR in Texas, Arizona and California. In 2018 the firm received nearly $500 million from ORR, more than any other shelter operator, placing it at the center of a national debate over President Trump’s policy of forcibly removing immigrant children from their parents and detaining them in separate facilities.
At the height of the controversy in 2018, state inspectors found 246 violations at SKP shelters, including employees who were drunk on the job, rotten food and shampoo dispensers filled with hand sanitizer. At Casa Padre ...
The Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) contracts with a private company, Wexford Health Sources, Inc., to provide medical and mental health care in state prisons. In 2012, prisoner Alfonso Franco died from cancer; three years later, Wexford settled a lawsuit filed by Franco’s estate, the terms of which were not disclosed due to a confidentiality agreement.
The Illinois Times and one of the paper’s reporters, Bruce Rushton, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request pursuant to 5 ILCS 140/7(2) with the DOC, seeking a copy of the settlement as part of an investigation into the medical treatment that Franco received. The DOC asked Wexford for a copy of the settlement and received a redacted version.
The Times filed a public records suit against the DOC, seeking an unredacted copy of the settlement, which the DOC did not have. Wexford intervened in the case, arguing the DOC could not comply because the company had the unredacted settlement and did not have to disclose it. Wexford reasoned that as a private contractor, its services did not “directly relate” to a government function within the meaning of section 7(2) of Illinois’ FOIA statute. The circuit court ruled against ...
by Derek Gilna
A federal civil rights complaint brought by the estate of deceased Monroe County, New York pre-trial detainee Pedro Sanchez, Jr. has survived a motion to dismiss filed by the county jail’s medical provider, Correct Care Solutions (now known as Wellpath), and several of the company’s medical staff, according to a December 2018 ruling. The district court’s rejection of the defendants’ motion means that discovery can continue preparatory to a jury trial.
According to the court’s order, Sanchez was admitted to the Monroe County Jail around January 20, 2015, where he remained until he was taken to a hospital in an unresponsive state less than two weeks later.
“On the morning of February 1, 2015, at or about 7:30 AM,” the court wrote, “Mr. Sanchez was assaulted by two inmates at the Monroe County Jail who repeatedly punched him, including in the abdominal region ... [and] he was discharged back to the jail at or around 12:00 PM with his arm in a sling.
“On February 2, 2015, Mr. Sanchez died after bleeding internally from a lacerated spleen,” the court continued. “In the twenty-seven (27) hours preceding his death, and with increasing frequency in the hours leading ...
by David M. Reutter
A class-action lawsuit accuses the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) of confiscating prisoners’ “lawfully purchased property without compensation” so the department and its vendor, JPay, could realize profit through a new contract.
The suit concerns prisoners’ loss of music files accessible only via their MP3 and MP4 players, in order to allow a new tablet program to go into effect.
In 2011, the FDOC entered into a contract with Access Corrections that let prisoners purchase music players and digital songs. The players cost $99.95 for 4MB storage capacity or $119.95 for an 8MB player. The songs cost $1.70 each, and prisoners were required to buy them in lots of five. The contract with Access ended in April 2017, netting the FDOC around $1.4 million in commissions from 6.7 million digital song purchases.
A “widely-distributed advertisement” promised prisoners who bought the MP3 and MP4 players that, “Once music is purchased, you’ll always own it!” They were told they could buy as many songs as they wanted and store them on a “cloud-based library” by deleting or adding songs to their player by connecting to a kiosk.
Then, in April 2017, the FDOC terminated its contract with ...
by Matt Clarke
A lawsuit over the 2015 death of Adams County, Colorado jail detainee Tyler Tabor was secretly settled for $3.9 million in August 2018. The settlement only became public after court documents were filed complaining that Corizon Health had met only $1 million of its $3.7 million settlement obligation, with the company citing a “cash flow problem.”
Tabor, 25, was booked into the Adams County jail on two misdemeanor warrants on May 14, 2015. He told jail officials that he was addicted to opiates, and quickly began to suffer from withdrawal, including frequent vomiting. Corizon employees treated him with Gatorade and various medications, which were ineffective because he could not keep them down.
Over the next three days, Tabor became critically dehydrated, collapsed and died on May 17, 2015. Guards and nurses observed him as he had difficulty standing or walking, and fell and had to be assisted with a wheelchair. He also showed other symptoms of extreme medical distress yet the nurses refused to use a saline IV, which would have saved his life. [See: PLN, Jan. 2018, p.38; Sept. 2017, p.32; Nov. 2016, p.63].
With the assistance of attorney David Lane, the Tabor family ...
by Douglas Ankney
In May 2018, commissioners in Cook County, Illinois agreed to establish a $5,263,000 fund to settle four lawsuits, including one certified as a class-action, alleging a complete denial of dental treatment for prisoners at the Cook County Jail (CCJ). The claims arose because, in a 2007 “cost-cutting measure,” the county eliminated all but one dentist at the jail to provide treatment to more than 6,000 prisoners.
Commissioner Larry J. Suffredin said the county’s explanation was that dental treatment was not considered part of required medical care at the time.
“I think we now understand that dental is essential to healthcare,” he said. Because the Cook County Health and Hospital System now provides medical care at CCJ, the federal district court dissolved a consent decree entered in 2010 and released the CCJ from court oversight.
The § 1983 class-action complaint, filed in 2009, described prisoners repeatedly requesting dental treatment because they were experiencing severe tooth pain, bleeding gums and lost fillings. They were denied care for months, resulting in permanent damage, unnecessary and excessive pain, and inability to sleep. One plaintiff was required to have at least 14 teeth extracted after he was transferred to the Illinois ...
by Scott Grammer
In 2013, Joe DeLoss founded Hot Chicken Takeover in Columbus, Ohio. HCT is a “Nashville Hot Chicken” restaurant that has nearly 50 employees, 70% of whom have had trouble finding work due to criminal records or other issues. DeLoss has also worked to establish other programs to help such people, such as food service training and financial aid programs. Since then, two other HCT locations have opened in Columbus.
The recruiting website for the company says its brand mark is a chicken with an asterisk. “That asterisk represents the mission: to create extraordinary experiences for extraordinary people – our team, customers, community partners and our neighbors. As a Fair Chance Employer, HCT provides supportive jobs to men and women who need a fair chance at work.”
As an example of what Hot Chicken Takeover does, consider Shannon Wilson. She has worked for the company for two years and is now an executive coordinator for the firm. Before that she was in prison. At 31 years old, she was incarcerated for nearly four years and had been addicted to drugs for 15 years. She was released with no clothes, money or food, and was hired by Hot Chicken ...
by Chad Marks
On February 15, 2019, a federal jury ruled that Mark Pajas, Sr. should not have died at a jail in Monterey County, California, prompting an award of $1.6 million to his family in a wrongful death suit.
Pajas, 56, was riding a bicycle the wrong way down a street on January 19, 2015 when King City Police Officer Steve Orozco tried to pull him over, then rammed into him. Pajas was arrested for “recklessly driving,” transporting a controlled substance for sale and resisting arrest. After being taken to a hospital he was booked into the Monterey County jail, where staff did not adequately monitor him as he detoxed from heroin. Less than 24 hours later he was found dead, facedown in his own vomit.
Pajas’ family was told that he died from an overdose. That turned out to be false. He actually died from a cardiac event involving arrhythmia, possibly exacerbated by opiate withdrawal and substance abuse, according to the medical examiner.
The jury reviewed evidence indicating that guards at the jail did not conduct any safety checks for almost half an hour before Pajas was found dead in his detox cell. They were supposed to ...
by Matt Clarke
Newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a press conference in late January 2019, claiming that court-ordered reforms in the county’s jail system had caused an increase in violence among its 18,000 prisoners – and that the previous sheriff had covered it up. But experts and court-appointed monitors said he was using faulty statistics in an attempt to undermine the reforms.
A 2011 FBI investigation found L.A. County jail deputies frequently used excessive force, especially against the mentally ill. Affidavits signed by prisoners, civilian monitors and some clergy members testified to unprovoked attacks by the deputies. There was also evidence that deputies encouraged prisoner-on-prisoner attacks to provide a pretext for their own use of force to crack down on the violence.
That investigation led to the convictions of former long-term Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who had covered up the abuse. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.42; April 2013, p.15; March 2013, p.1]. The county ended up paying millions of dollars to former prisoners who suffered injuries from beatings by jail guards.
In 2012, an independent blue-ribbon panel created by the county’s Board of Supervisors found a “persistent pattern of ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
In December 2018, the U.S. District Court for South Carolina granted class-action status in a lawsuit filed against the Department of Corrections (DOC) by state prisoners claiming they received inadequate medical care due to a lack of testing during intake to check if they had hepatitis C (HCV). The complaint also alleged that prisoners who tested positive for the disease did not receive appropriate treatment.
Untreated HCV attacks the liver and increases the risk of kidney, Parkinson’s and heart diseases, as well as diabetes, B cell lymphoma and other forms of cancer. Other more benign, yet unpleasant symptoms include arthritis, chronic depression and fatigue. In 2013, HCV was a factor in more deaths than 60 other infections combined, including HIV and tuberculosis.
When people with HCV are released from prison they can spread the disease through intravenous drug use or sexual contact. Diagnoses of HCV soared more than 200 percent in 30 states from 2010-2014 according to Yale University researchers, who noted that due to the high incidence of HCV among prisoners, “failure to scale up treatment in prisons dooms any effort to eliminate hepatitis C in America.”
Represented by attorneys Christopher Bryant with Yarborough Applegate ...
by Matt Clarke
On February 15, 2019, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a prisoner’s pro se lawsuit that had been dismissed for failure to comply with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 20. In doing so, it held that such sua sponte dismissals should be reviewed de novo.
Connecticut state prisoner James A. Harnage filed a federal civil rights action alleging that various medical staff at the University of Connecticut Health Center and the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution failed to adequately treat his medical conditions.
The district court ordered him to amend the complaint because his referral to multiple defendants by group names did not give individual defendants adequate notice of the specific actions for which they were being sued. Harnage submitted an amended complaint. The court then dismissed the case with prejudice under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A for failure to comply with F.R.C.P. Rules 8 and 20, and Harnage appealed.
The Second Circuit noted that Rule 8 requires a pleading to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” while Rule 20 permits the joinder of multiple defendants only if the claims against them resulted ...
In an unusual case where prosecutors sided with the defense and the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court crossed sides, convicted Texas murderer Bobby James Moore has again been ruled intellectually disabled and therefore not a candidate for execution.
Moore was convicted of shooting 70-year-old James McArble in the head during a 1980 attempted robbery of the Birdsall Super Market in Houston. One of a group of three robbers who targeted the business due to the store clerk’s advanced age, Moore was captured 10 days later in Louisiana after his accomplice, shooter Willie Albert Koonce, turned himself in and fingered Moore.
Moore was 20 years old at the time, having dropped out of school after failing ninth grade. At 13 he could not demonstrate a basic understanding of the days of the week or months of the year. Even in 2013, long after he was convicted and sentenced to death, he racked up the lowest score on a test of executive-level brain function ever recorded by the expert evaluating him.
Over 20 years after his conviction, lawyers representing Moore presented a state district court judge with evidence that his IQ was about 70 – significantly below the national ...
by Ed Lyon
Denver, Colorado resident Mickey Howard, often homeless and unemployed, was arrested on June 9, 2018 and charged with public intoxication and domestic violence. He had $64 when he was booked into jail.
The next morning at his arraignment, a judge set Howard’s bond at $10 – an amount he could easily afford out of pocket. Except, however, the police would not release him because he did not have enough money to cover the bond fee of $50. He had already been charged $30 for a booking fee to pay for being fingerprinted and having his mug shot taken.
Howard languished in jail under these circumstances for five days before the Colorado Freedom Fund stepped in to pay the required fee to secure his release. By then, however, he had lost his job and housing.
With assistance from the ACLU, Howard filed a federal lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking an end to all such fees plus unspecified monetary damages. The city and county of Denver quickly capitulated, offering a $30,000 settlement that was accepted in December 2018.
Additionally, Denver’s Department of Public Safety announced an end to its pre-trial monitoring program, which ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
In April 2019, an eighth guard at New Jersey’s Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women (EMCF) was arrested and charged with official misconduct and criminal sexual conduct.
Ciera Roddy, 32, faces charges similar to those that resulted in the conviction of Jason Mays, a senior guard at the same facility.
The 46-year-old Mays was sentenced in July 2018 to 16 years in prison and lifetime supervised parole, and must register as a sex offender following his convictions for sexual assault, sexual contact and official misconduct involving two prisoners at EMCF.
Roddy had been transferred to the Adult Diagnostic Treatment Center in Woodbridge just before her arrest. Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns III said Roddy was being held at the Somerset County jail awaiting her first court appearance.
A joint investigation by Kearns’ office and the Special Investigations Unit of the state Department of Corrections (DOC) uncovered an inappropriate relationship between Roddy and an EMCF prisoner while the guard was still assigned to the facility. Employed with the DOC since November 2017, Roddy joins Mays and at least six other former employees at the 650-bed prison who have been charged since 2015.
Mays was arrested ...
by Ed Lyon
In a February 2019 decision that impacts access to public records, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) refused to review a unanimous ruling by Colorado’s Supreme Court issued eight months earlier which denied The Colorado Independent access to court documents in a capital murder case. That ruling leaves Colorado as the only state without a presumptive right to public access to criminal case court records.
By October 2018, The Independent had received friend-of-the-court (amici) filings for its SCOTUS appeal from 56 state and national media outlets, including the Denver Post, New York Times and Washington Post, as well as the Associated Press, National Public Radio, BuzzFeed and Sinclair Broadcast Group. They were joined by21 First Amendment scholars.
Two of those scholars, Alan Chen and Justin Marceau with the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, argued that the state’s highest court had denied public access to court records “without requiring the demonstration of any valid reason, much less a compelling one, for shielding them from public scrutiny.”
The case arose following the conviction of Sir Mario Owens for the 2004 murder of Gregory Vann in Aurora, as well as a separate conviction the following year for ...
by Ed Lyon
Regular readers of Prison Legal News are well aware of the abysmal reputations that private, for-profit prisons have earned. Apparently word travels and people on the outside eventually listen and pay attention to such matters, as the citizens of Lancaster, Pennsylvania demonstrated when they decided to say no to GEO Group.
For over a decade, post-release reentry programs in Lancaster County have been provided by a group of nonprofit organizations. Recidivism rates were low, and parolees received job and housing assistance through the Community Action Partnership and Reentry Management Organization. The YWCA offered support groups and counseling for prisoners who were sexually assaulted while incarcerated. Compass Mark worked with the children left behind whenever a parent was arrested, until he or she was released.
All of these services were funded via a month-to-month allocation by the county with a total annual expenditure of around $100,000.
In 2018, county commissioners Josh Parsons and Dennis Stuckey decided to put an end to the ad hoc manner of contracting for and funding the successful work by nonprofits in these areas. The county wanted to cap parolee housing costs at $1,000 for the 90-day program period and begin helping ...
by Mark Wilson
In a case of first-impression, a federal district court held that Oregon prisoners have a protected liberty interest in transitional leave that may not be revoked without procedural protections required by Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972).
Oregon created an Alternative Incarceration Program (AIP) that allows some prisoners to participate in programs that reduce their sentences. The Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) also created a Short Term Transitional Leave (STTL) program that allows release to the community up to 90 days before a prisoner’s established release date.
John Thomas Bristol was sentenced to 35 months in prison with a 36-month post-prison supervision (PPS) term on a 2014 drug conviction. ODOC officials approved him for AIP, and moved him to the AIP Substance Abuse Treatment Program on October 28, 2015.
After completing the first component of the program, the ODOC approved Bristol for STTL to begin on June 29, 2016 and continue until September 27, 2016, when his PPS term would start. In accordance with STTL guidelines, Bristol was released under the supervision of Multnomah County Community Corrections, and moved into a private transitional home.
In addition to STTL’s “General ...
by Ed Lyon
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), the parent organization of Prison Legal News, has prevailed in a lawsuit filed in New Mexico state court after Otero County violated provisions of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).
On June 19, 2018, HRDC requested records from Otero County Manager Pamela Heltner, consisting of documents from January 1, 2010 to the date of the request relating to or concerning any and all claims or lawsuits resulting in payouts of $1,000 or more against the county’s sheriff or sheriff’s employees.
Around two weeks later, Otero County Attorney Michael Eshleman responded that outside counsel was employed to defend the sheriff’s office against any such claims or legal actions, thus the requested records were the property of those attorneys and not public under the IPRA. Also, any cataloging of those records by the county would be creating new records, which is not a provision of the IPRA.
A second records request by HRDC, identical to the first, was submitted to the public records officer of the Otero County Detention Center on August 3, 2018. A nearly identical response was returned by Eshleman four days later.
by Scott Grammer
A study published by the Public Library of Science on October 18, 2018 found that prisoners with HIV tend not to retain their level of care after being released, and that those who are re-incarcerated fare even worse. The study reported that during a three-year post-release evaluation period, retention in care “diminished significantly over time, but was associated with HIV care during incarceration, health insurance, case management services, and early linkage to care post-release.”
The report “merged statewide databases from the Connecticut Department of Correction and Connecticut Department of Public Health on all people living with HIV who were released from prisons or jails in Connecticut ... between 2007 and 2011.” Each individual in this group was followed for three years after release to track retention in care and viral suppression (an indicator that the HIV infection has been so weakened through treatment that it cannot be detected in the blood).
Most participants in the study were unmarried men who were either black or Hispanic, who had acquired HIV though intravenous drug use. The report found that those who retained care following their release from prison or jail did well, but only 67.2% maintained their level ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
In March 2019, Judge James Donato of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction that prohibited Alameda County’s jail system from depriving prisoners of their constitutional right to sleep. Judge Donato ordered jail officials to revise their practice of 3 a.m. medication calls and 4 a.m. breakfast, and directed the parties to work out the rest of the details to resolve the prisoners’ claims.
Attorneys Yolanda Huang and Dennis Cunningham represented two classes of plaintiffs who were allowed to combine their complaints addressing excessive sleep deprivation, which they argued violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The lead plaintiffs in one of the cases, Tikisha Upshaw and Tyreka Stewart, filed a complaint against the Santa Rita Jail challenging its practices of keeping cell lights on 24 hours a day, hourly security checks requiring guards to wake prisoners to ensure they are alive and uninjured, night drills for new employees practicing forced relocation of prisoners to other areas of the jail, and early medication and meal calls.
All of those factors limited the prisoners – who were pre-trial detainees not yet convicted of a crime ...
by David M. Reutter
On December 31, 2018, in an unpublished ruling, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a summary judgment order in a lawsuit that alleged employment discrimination. The appellate court found that officials at Pennsylvania’s Franklin County Jail (FCJ) had properly terminated the plaintiff, a female guard, after a prisoner accused her of inappropriate conduct.
Lisa Hatch worked at FCJ from 2008 until she was fired in 2014. While there was “an extensive factual background with respect to Hatch’s employment history at FCJ, particularly in regard to alleged instances of improper conduct,” the Third Circuit focused only on the disciplinary incident that led to her termination.
Jail prisoner Karl Rogers reported on February 17, 2014 that Hatch made personal and sexual comments to him, that she was on “psycho meds for her nerves,” and that she complained about her job and other staff members. His complaints led to an investigation by FCJ’s Prison Rape Elimination Act Investigation Team. Pursuant to that investigation, Hatch was asked to prepare an incident report describing her interactions with Rogers. In interviews, she substantiated some of his claims. As she was writing the report, Hatch requested and was granted leave ...
by Matt Clarke
On February 8, 2019, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that a district court erred when it reframed a former Illinois jail prisoner’s lawsuit over denial of a legal publication as a broad First Amendment challenge to the facility’s policy of prohibiting prisoners from receiving newspapers.
Joseph Miller was a federal prisoner being held at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, Illinois in 2012 and 2013. Because there was no law library at the jail and no access to federal case law, Miller’s family purchased a subscription to the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (CDLB) to help him understand and assist with his case.
The jail decided that CDLB was a newspaper, which was prohibited by policy, and confiscated each issue without notifying Miller. Miller filed a pro se federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming the jail’s disposal of CDLB, especially without notice, violated the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.
The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, reframing Miller’s claim as a broad First Amendment challenge to the jail’s prohibition against newspapers, which it justified as necessary to control the amount of paper in cells ...
by Matt Clarke
In 2019, the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence issued a report that called the state jail system “a complete failure.” Created in 1993, the category of crime known as a state jail felony was intended to segregate certain nonviolent, low-level offenders – especially those convicted of property crimes and drug charges – that lawmakers thought less deserving of punishment in a state prison and more entitled to a second chance.
“The idea was that you don’t want to mix them with a population of hardened criminals we’re truly scared of, where the hardened criminals coach up the emerging criminals,” explained state Rep. James White, head of the House Committee on Corrections.
Instead, defendants convicted of state jail felonies – the category now covers over 170 crimes, punishable by six months to two years in jail and/or fines up to $10,000 – would be placed on probation, receiving rehabilitative services and programming to target their “underlying issues,” such as substance abuse and mental illness. To establish the new state jail felony category, lawmakers reclassified a number of Class A misdemeanors; a similar number of third-class felonies also became state jail felony offenses.
Two years ...
by David M. Reutter
In an unpublished opinion, the Washington Court of Appeals held on December 18, 2018 that a prisoner was properly denied visitation with his daughters, who were victims of his crimes.
John M. Pino pleaded guilty in 2009 to three counts of first-degree child molestation. His 150-month-to-life sentence included provisions that barred him from contacting his three minor daughters, who also were covered by three Sexual Assault Protection Orders (SAPOs) that prohibited all contact.
In 2016, the SAPOs were amended to allow visitation while Pino was incarcerated.
The daughters, now adults, sought permission to visit their father. Officials with the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) denied their applications and appeals related to the denials.
Pino filed a personal restraint petition, alleging the denial of visitation with his daughters was a violation of due process, as well as arbitrary and capricious. The appellate court began its review by rejecting the DOC’s contention that 42 U.S.C. § 1983 was an adequate remedy to address Pino’s claims, finding that “a § 1983 action would not address any violation of Pino’s rights under the Washington Constitution.”
Moving to the due process claim, the Court of Appeals held that “Pino does not ...
by Ed Lyon
Apolonio Gamez, 41, worked for the federal Bureau of Prisons as a guard for six years, beginning in 2012. In May 2017, at FCI Victorville in California, Gamez caught a female prisoner stealing food from the kitchen. Rather than writing her a disciplinary report, he decided to “informally resolve” the infraction by taking her into a walk-in refrigerator, where he orally raped her. She would later tell investigators that she “felt frozen and powerless with fear,” yet retained the presence of mind to preserve some of Gamez’s semen on her clothing.
Previously, in 2016, Gamez had had sexual contact with another prisoner on several occasions, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
In early summer 2017, Gamez exposed himself to a female prisoner in the food service’s warehouse. His intended victim fled the area before a sexual assault could occur. She did not hesitate to tell other prisoners what happened, and also spoke with investigators. A central theme emerged from the prisoners who were interviewed: Gamez was a “‘sexual predator’ who posed a risk to all the inmates working in food service at the prison.”
Succumbing to a deep depressive state, Gamez’s victim who was sexually ...
by Ed Lyon
After a troubled and tormented life, capped by a year of being assaulted and bullied in a Durham, North Carolina adult jail, 17-year-old Uniece Fennell hanged herself in her cell.
Uniece was raised in California. Her father, an abusive drug addict, had recently been released from jail when she and her twin brother were born. By 2003, her father had become so uncontrollable that Uniece’s mother had him removed from their home and eventually the family relocated to Durham, hoping for a fresh start. Uniece’s brother had disappeared, so he was left behind.
After a fight at school, Uniece was recommended for mental health care by a school evaluator. Once her brother found and rejoined the family, she settled down but was arrested on a murder charge and, despite being a minor, was housed in the adult detainee section of Durham County’s jail.
Already in a depressed state, Uniece began suffering verbal and physical abuse from the adult prisoners on a daily basis. Many were gang members, awaiting trials on murder and accomplice-to-murder charges. Uniece’s California speech dialect set her apart, making her a target for bullying.
Jail guard Michelle Henderson, herself related to ...
by Ed Lyon
In mid-August 2015, diabetic Nebraska prisoner Aron Lee Boyd-Nicholson was washing clothes in his cell when he began experiencing classic heart attack symptoms – including chest pain, dizziness and weakness – before he collapsed. Nurse Carolyn Moore tested his blood-sugar levels, then instructed him to return to the infirmary the following day if his symptoms continued.
Boyd-Nicholson’s symptoms had worsened by the next morning to include nausea. Other diabetic prisoners and a case manager could see he was in acute pain and distress, so a wheelchair was procured and Boyd-Nicholson was taken to the infirmary by the prisoners when they went for insulin.
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Stephanie Snodgrass and Registered Nurse (RN) April Rollins pointedly ignored Boyd-Nicholson at the infirmary. When the situation was pointed out to the nurses by prisoner Alberto Vasquez, Rollins told Vasquez to mind his own business.
Despite a detailed protocol for medical procedures when patients presented with symptoms like those Boyd-Nicholson was experiencing, he was returned to his cell. He continued to suffer for the next five days, filing two treatment requests and a grievance. All were ignored.
On August 17, 2015, an Emergency Response Team was sent ...
by Scott Grammer
In a case that involved circumstances she called “heartbreaking and shocking,” U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Beach Smith approved a $3 million settlement in a wrongful death suit filed by the family of Jamycheal M. Mitchell, a 24-year-old man who, according to the complaint, suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Judge Smith stated that while awaiting trial at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail, Mitchell died “amid his own feces and bodily fluids on August 19, 2015, from ‘wasting syndrome.’” [See: PLN, Nov. 2018, p.32; July 2018, p.44; Feb. 2017, p.24].
According to the lawsuit, the 6’1” Mitchell went from over 180 pounds to 144 pounds during his 100-day stay at the jail, and was locked alone in a cold, air-conditioned cell with no water, mattress, sheets or blanket. The complaint further stated that he was denied his psychotropic medications and had been “forced to the ground, dragged, sprayed with mace, stood upon, punched and kicked,” as well as mocked and laughed at by jail staff.
His alleged crime? Stealing $5.05 worth of soda and snacks from a 7-Eleven store.
Mitchell had been found incompetent to stand trial by a Virginia state court which, on ...
by Scott Grammer
The National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), a Boston-based nonprofit, released a report in March 2019 titled, “Commercialized (In)justice: Consumer Abuses in the Bail and Corrections Industry.” The 62-page report “discusses the growing problem of ‘commercialized injustice’ – consumer abuses perpetuated by companies profiting from the criminal legal system and mass incarceration.”
The NCLC report addresses industries that “profit from financial extractions from individuals based on their exposure to the criminal legal system.” It states, “The corrections industry operates for the primary purpose of maximizing profits for its owners – creating strong incentives to achieve new forms of monetary extraction in addition to shifting the burden of existing costs.”
The authors point out that many of these for-profit correctional businesses “have adopted a so-called ‘offender-funded’ model, whereby the costs of administering criminal legal functions are shifted from public budgets to individuals who have contact with the legal system. Companies have aggressively marketed their services to states and localities as a way not only to achieve costs savings for existing corrections functions – but also, in many cases, to generate new revenue streams through kickback payments.”
While government agencies may see savings, the savings do ...
by Matt Clarke
In December 2018, Minnesota agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a prisoner who committed suicide while guards ignored orders to keep him under constant observation, then forged documents to cover up their lapses.
William Roy St. John, 47, had a lengthy history of mental illness and suicidal behavior when he committed suicide at the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights. He was serving time for aggravated armed robbery and had started his sentence on April 12, 2012. While at Oak Park Heights he had frequently expressed suicidal ideations and had multiple serious suicide attempts, including one on August 13, 2015 when he was housed in the Administrative Control Unit (ACU) – a super-max segregation part of the 450-bed maximum-security prison.
His last suicide threat was sent to prison staff on November 11, 2015, triggered by his fear that he would soon be transferred back to the ACU. Clinical Program Therapist Lindsey Jennelle received the note threatening suicide on November 13, 2015, but ignored it.
Due to his mental health history, St. John was housed in a mental health unit on continuing observation status with a continuing observation order (COO) ...
by Matt Clarke
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held on March 7, 2019 that prison guards could not be held liable for failing to act on a prisoner’s self-reported symptoms that medical staff had incorrectly diagnosed as the flu.
Barton Roberts was incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud in September 2015 when he began vomiting and experiencing headaches, dizziness and numbness, which started on a Friday night and continued or worsened throughout the weekend. During the weekend he neither ate nor left his cell and complained of severe illness to guards on multiple occasions, but received no medical attention.
On Monday, his symptoms subsided sufficiently that he could stand and leave his cell. He asked another prisoner to tell the guards that he was too ill to work, but failed to sign up for sick call or submit a written request for medical care. He spoke about his condition to three guards that day, two of whom told him that the medical department had been notified.
The next day, Roberts was taken to Washington County for a court appearance. There, he told an examining nurse about his symptoms. She instructed him to drink water and keep ...
by Kevin W. Bliss
Private prison medical care firm Wexford Health Sources, Inc. filed a motion in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, asking for judgment as a matter of law after being found liable for policies that created an atmosphere of deliberate indifference to the medical needs of Stateville Correctional Center prisoner Lamont Hall. Wexford contended that it could not be held responsible when the physician it employed at Stateville, Arthur Funk, was not held liable for the same claims.
Hall suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his penis, which required surgery. The first surgery left a hole in the underside of his penis which needed constant medical attention and treatment. Before Hall was able to receive follow-up surgery, he was incarcerated on unrelated charges. He stated that upon his arrival at Stateville he received inadequate medical care and was denied the second surgery. He was forced to perform self-catheterization four times a day without the aid of a numbing agent, and sometimes went a week without proper medical supplies. Hall said his condition required that he sit while urinating. All of this subjected him to embarrassment and the ridicule of other prisoners.
Represented by attorney ...
by Scott Grammer
“Paul Murphy is indigent and homeless.” So begins a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Virginia M. Kendall, released on March 31, 2019. Murphy, convicted of possession of child pornography in 2012, was sentenced to three years probation. His probation was later revoked due to several violations. Murphy had been approved for release in March 2014, but as of the date of Judge Kendall’s ruling he still had not been freed because he “was unable to find a host site that the [Illinois Department of Corrections] would approve.”
The lawsuit, brought by a class comprised of affected sex offenders like Murphy, challenged the constitutionality of such practices by the IDOC. Judge Kendall wrote, “At the very heart of the liberty secured by the separation of powers is freedom from indefinite imprisonment by executive decree. The Attorney General and [IDOC] Director’s current application of the host site requirement results in the continued deprivation of the plaintiffs’ fundamental rights and therefore contravenes the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.”
As the judge explained, “Illinois, like many states, requires sentencing courts to follow a term of imprisonment with a term of mandatory supervised release. Supervised ...
by Chad Marks
Nisaiah J. Perry was serving time in a California state prison when he was charged with possession of marijuana under Penal Code Section 4573.6. He was eventually sentenced to two years for committing that offense, to run consecutive to his existing sentence.
Perry moved the court to recall or dismiss the sentence after California voters passed Proposition 64, which made it legal for people 21 years or older to possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana.
The Solano County Superior Court denied Perry’s petition, concluding that he failed to state a basis for relief because Prop. 64 did not amend Penal Code Section 4573.6. That statute specifically prohibits possession of marijuana by prisoners.
Not content with that decision, Perry tried his luck again eight months later by filing another petition in the trial court arguing he was entitled to relief under Prop. 64. His second petition met the same fate as his first.
He then appealed to the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District. His argument was that he would not have been guilty of an offense under Penal Code Section 4573.6 had Prop. 64 been in effect at the time of his offense because, ...
by Scott Grammer
On April 1, 2019, President Donald Trump hosted ex-federal prisoners at the White House for the 2019 Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act Celebration. He said he wants to promote efforts that help federal prisoners find jobs after they are released. The President noted that people with criminal records face unemployment rates five times the national average of 3.8 percent.
“When we say ‘hire American,’ we mean all Americans, including former inmates who have paid their debt to society,” he declared.
President Trump said a “Second Step Act” would focus on “successful re-entry and reduced unemployment for Americans with past criminal records,” with a goal of cutting unemployment rates for ex-prisoners to the single digit range within five years. The White House reported that Trump’s budget for the next fiscal year proposes more than half a billion dollars for helping ex-prisoners succeed.
The President also stated during his speech that the First Step Act gives non-violent prisoners “opportunities to participate in vocational training, education, and drug treatment programs. When they get out of prison, they will be ready to get a job instead of turning back to a life of crime.” [See: PLN ...
Alabama: “The public should know that the state, its officers, representatives, or employees would never request any type of payment in the form of a prepaid money card or other similar method,” the director of the Alabama DOC’s Investigation and Intelligence Division, Arnaldo Mercado, said in a November 9, 2018 press release, after six people masqueraded as a law firm to defraud a prisoner’s family. “The suspects led the family to believe the law firm could get charges against their family member dropped, or sentence reduced, if the family agreed to pay for the services,” the press release added. The suspects also filed a fake insurance claim in the victim’s name. Family members paid for the services using prepaid money cards and wire transactions. Alabama prisoner Trederris Cowan, 27, was accused of being the ringleader; he was already serving four years on a 2015 theft conviction. His new felony charges include theft of property, identity theft and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud. Four co-conspirators outside of prison were arrested on first-degree theft charges on November 8, 2018, including Willie Edward Wells, Adrianne Mary Collins, Latoya Howell and Alexia Danielle Collins, while a warrant was issued for Kimeya Pringle.
by Scott Grammer
On April 20, 2018, Susan Ullery, 32, filed a civil rights suit in federal court naming Rick Raemisch, director of the Colorado Department of Corrections; Warden David Johnson, Captain Ramona Avant and Bruce Bradley at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility; and two DOC investigators. Her complaint alleged that she was serving a six-year sentence when she was sexually harassed by Bradley, who was her supervisor in the prison canteen.
Ullery cited a number of incidents of sexual abuse by Bradley; she said she complained to two other male canteen employees, but they replied she should be glad that Bradley “liked her.”
Ullery met with DOC investigators in April 2016, who said every time there was a complaint against Bradley it became a “he said, she said” situation, and hard evidence was needed. The investigators asked Ullery to wear a wire to record his sexual harassment. She reluctantly agreed after being told she would be saving other women from the same abuse, and investigators promised to intervene before any sexual assault could take place.
According to her complaint, Ullery went to work in the canteen, wearing the wire, on April 26, 2016. Bradley immediately paged ...