Former jail guard gets 2 years

Man took $5,000 to help spring bank robber.

COVINGTON – Jonathan York has traded his jail guard uniform for an inmate’s jumpsuit.

The 24-year-old former Grant County jail guard was sentenced Monday to 24 months in federal prison for taking a $5,000 bribe to help spring a bank robber from Grant County jail. He previously pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to bribery in exchange for prosecutors dropping a charge of instigating an escape.

York’s attorney, Tim Schneider, got the range of the sentence reduced to no more than two years from up to three years and five months in prison. He lost his argument that York should spend only one year and one day behind bars.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Dusing said he pushed for the maximum because the bribery of an government official undermines larger values of society, including transparency, candor and trust.

A federal magistrate judge had refused a previous request to release York so he could get married, and the couple is no longer engaged.

The $5,000 was a down payment on a $25,000 deal for a key to handcuffs used at the jail. Federal officials had previously said they thought the money was for the back-door key to the 300-bed regional jail that has been plagued by troubles.

The jail is the subject of a U.S. Justice Department investigation into civil rights violations. It has paid out millions of dollars to settle civil lawsuits and had many of its inmates removed amid safety concerns.

The inmate planning the escape was Joseph Woods, according to court records. Woods was the bank robber who barely escaped a raid in July at Fort Mitchell’s Drawbridge Inn, where authorities would later find stolen money hidden in the hotel walls.

Woods was arrested at a motel in Dayton, Ohio, and incarcerated at the Grant County jail, which once housed federal prisoners.

Separate charges are pending in U.S. District Court against three other former Grant County jail guards charged with conspiracy, violating civil rights, falsifying records and aiding and abetting.

Defendants Clinton Shawn Sydnor, 29, of Falmouth; Wesley Lanham, 30, of Dry Ridge; and Shawn Freeman, 35, of Irvine; will stand trial Aug. 11 for allegedly allowing an 18-year-old high school student to be raped in the jail five years ago and organizing a cover-up.

The trial was previously set to begin on March 24.


Correctional officer granted bail

A correctional officer, accused of having several parcels of ganja at the Horizon Remand Centre was granted bail when he appeared in the Corporate Area Resident Magistrate Court last Wednesday.Sherman Allen pleaded not guilty to introducing contraband in a penal institution, possession of ganja and dealing in ganja when the matter was mentioned last week.

It is alleged that Allen was caught with a bag of 16 parcels of ganja, each valued at $2,00 each at the Horizon Remand Centre.

When the matter was mentioned, Resident Magistrate Glen Brown granted him $60,000 bail with surety. He was also fingerprinted and another mention date of July 28 was set for the matter.


Newly hired jailer caught in drug stake-out

LORAIN — A newly hired city corrections officer spent the weekend behind bars after he was arrested Friday evening with heroin, police said.

Mario Berdiel, 56, of Lorain, was charged with possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia by officers of the Lorain Narcotics Unit after he was seen leaving a suspected drug house that was under surveillance, Safety Director Phil Dore said.

Berdiel appeared Monday in Lorain Municipal Court on the drug charges as well as two traffic violations that resulted from the arrest. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released after posting a $7,500 cash or surety bond. A preliminary hearing is set for 1 p.m. May 8.

Shortly before 9 p.m. Friday, a narcotics unit was watching a suspected drug house in the 1300 block of Brownell Avenue when officers saw a man walk from the home, get into a vehicle and speed away down Oberlin Avenue.

Officers followed, and when the man ran a stop sign, they pulled him over, Dore said.

Two officers approached the vehicle, one on the driver ‘s side and one on the passenger side. They saw that Berdiel was the only person in the car and that there was a small bundle of heroin in a cup holder, according to a police report. A bundle is the common street term for 10 bags of heroin packaged together, police said.

Police asked Berdiel to step out of the car and they recognized him as a city employee, police said.

Dore said Berdiel, still in his one-year probationary period, was immediately relieved of his duties and was formally terminated on Monday.

“A probationary employee has to prove they are a worthy employee, and being arrested for possession of heroin does not fall under the realm of being a good employee, or corrections officer, for that matter,” Dore said.

Berdiel was hired as a city corrections officer on Jan. 7 in anticipation of the city reopening the jail as a 12-day holding facility. The jail has yet to open. and as a result, Berdiel was never in charge of any prisoners during his short tenure.

Dore, who is also a former city fire chief, said that before his most recent hire with the city, Berdiel worked as a Lorain firefighter from 1976 to 2000 before retiring. For the last 15 months of his employment as a firefighter, he worked under Dore.

“This is an unfortunate thing for him and his family,” Dore said. “I know I had no problems with him when I was fire chief. We were friends. I played softball with him. To my knowledge, he never had this problem before.”

Police believe Berdiel was buying heroin for his own use. Police also found pills in his glove compartment, which have yet to be identified. The pills may lead to additional charges, pending analysis.

Shortly after Berdiel’s arrest, the narcotics unit moved in on the Brownell Avenue home and arrested 24-year-old Jose Gonzales. He is being held on a $100,000 bond and is charged with possession of heroin, possession of cocaine, drug paraphernalia and drug abuse instrument.


Lawyers sue again over prison overcrowding in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA – A year after a federal judge issued a scathing order over conditions at Philadelphia‘s crowded jails, the problem has only worsened, civil rights lawyers charge in a lawsuit filed Monday.

Three people are routinely held in two-bunk cells, leaving the third to sleep in a blue, plastic shell on the floor, inches from the toilet, they said. The overcrowding jeopardizes medical care and other basic needs of the record 9,300 people now in city custody, the lawsuit alleges.

“Our clients are being detained in unconstitutional conditions, and we think the court’s intervention is necessary to get the problems resolved,” lawyer Jonathan Feinberg said Monday.

Feinberg works with University of Pennsylvania law professor David Rudovsky, who filed a similar lawsuit last year as well as a 1971 complaint that led to court oversight of Philadelphia jails through 2001.

The prison census has grown from about 8,800 when U.S. District Judge R. Barclay Surrick issued his order in January 2007.

New Mayor Michael Nutter wants to explore alternatives to prison for some nonviolent offenders and hopes to reduce recidivism through a program that offers tax breaks to firms that hire ex-offenders.

Nutter, who took office in January, also has asked his prison commissioner to outline other ways to reduce the prison population, a spokesman said.

Feinberg acknowledged Nutter’s interest in the problem and said he hopes the two sides can work together.

In a 76-page opinion last year, Surrick ordered the city to immediately provide prisoners with clean cells, toilets, showers, beds and medical attention. He allowed the use of three-person cells only as a temporary solution.

But the judge’s temporary injunction expired in the middle of last year. Today, about 2,000 to 3,000 inmates are housed three-to-a-cell, Feinberg said.

Monday’s lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 inmates housed at four city jails, but seeks class certification on behalf of all city inmates.

The lawsuit seeks, as one remedy, a three-judge panel to review the potential release of some nonviolent offenders.

The city has 60 days to formally respond to the lawsuit.


Steroids swiped from Bergen detention center

Four boxes of human growth hormone have gone missing from Bergen County’s juvenile detention center in Paramus, but county officials are saying little about it.

Employees of the juvenile detention facility reported the steroids — valued at $2,500 — missing last month from a refrigerator inside the lockup.
“We have police investigating the matter,” county spokesman Brian Hague said today. The drugs have not been recovered, Hague said.

County officials have declined to release the county police report of the incident, despite a public-records request. Officials cited an “ongoing criminal investigation” as the reason, as well as health privacy concerns.

Hague also declined to say whether the human growth hormone was kept under lock at the East Ridgewood Avenue jail — and, if so, how many employees have access to the keys.

County police responded to a call of “possible theft” at the juvenile detention facility on the morning of March 28, when employees found the drugs missing, officials said.

Employees told police that four boxes — about 28 doses — of Humatrope, a brand name injectable human growth hormone, had disappeared. The medication was being used for an inmate’s medical condition.

Human growth hormone is a natural substance that fuels growth during childhood and helps maintain tissues and organs in adulthood. It is also sold as a prescription drug for short children whose.

The use of human growth hormone, or HGH, among athletes was a key finding in former Sen. George Mitchell’s report for Major League Baseball, which was released on Dec. 13.

The report said that players who used it believed it helped them recover from injuries and fatigue. They also believed it made them stronger.


Pregnant prisoner chained up in hospital 24 hours a day

Link to this audio
Alexander McLeish, whose daughter is a pregnant prisoner, is furious she was shackled while in hospital


A prisoner who was admitted to hospital after serious complications during her pregnancy was shackled to a security officer on a metre-long chain while she slept, showered and used the toilet.

Donna McLeish, 21, an inmate at Cornton Vale, the women’s prison in Stirling, was also placed under 24-hour surveillance by three guards from private security firm Reliance during a separate hospital visit despite the fact she was only able to walk using crutches at the time.

McLeish, who is seven months pregnant, was sentenced in January to two years in prison for assault following a glass attack on a woman at a nightclub. She told of being handcuffed to the Reliance officer when she was admitted to hospital in March with a blood clot on the placenta.

Gerard Sweeney, McLeish’s solicitor, yesterday confirmed his client was considering legal action against Reliance and said he feared for her health.

“When I visited Miss McLeish in hospital she was sitting on the bed and there were two Reliance officers, one male and one female. I was quite surprised to see this. Miss McLeish told me she was chained to one of the officers for a 24-hour period, including when she was showering, when the chain would be passed under the shower curtain. It was a big long chain more than a metre, attached to the officer’s wrist.

“When she was toileting she was still chained and when she was sleeping she was chained too. Obviously I thought that was just outrageous. I spoke to the officers and they confirmed it. Most startlingly, the security officers were present during clinical examinations male and female officers.”


Link to this audio
Professor Sheila Kitzinger campaigns to stop the shackling of pregnant prisoners


Reliance, which has been fined in the past for having prisoners escape on its watch, said in a statement yesterday: “We have recently modified our procedures in agreement with the Scottish Prison Service [SPS] to ensure that pregnant female prisoners are not handcuffed at any stage of their transportation to hospital or their stay in hospital.”

“We did have a case in March where a pregnant female prisoner was mistakenly handcuffed when a risk assessment showed that was unnecessary. The cuffs were removed, and an apology was made.”

McLeish is understood to have detailed her experiences in a letter to the SPS. The SPS said yesterday it was unable to say how long she had been kept in chains but conceded it was a mistake.

“Absolutely there was a mistake for which we have apologised,” said a spokesman, Tom Fox. “There are procedures for heavily pregnant females which state that they are not to be under the same sort of restraints as other prisoners.”

Yesterday McLeish’s father Alex told the Guardian he had seen his daughter attached to the chain.

He said: “I don’t want or expect her to have five-star treatment but I just would like her health and safety to be looked after and for her to have a bit of dignity.”


Prison Guard In Jail Accused Of Having Sex With An Inmate

FORSYTH, Ga. — A prison guard is behind bars after being charged with five felonies, including having sex with an inmate and trying to sell marijuana to work.


Officers charged 25-year-old Heather Nicole Hunnicutt on Wednesday with sexual assault against a person in custody, crossing guard lines with contraband, possession of marijuana and possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute.


She is being held in the Monroe County jail on $50,000 bond.


Authorities say they were tipped off by inmates after hearing someone was smuggling drugs into Al Burruss State Prison.


Hunnicutt had been working for the Georgia Department of Corrections for about a year. The prison, located off Interstate 75 just north of Forsyth, houses 300 male medium security inmates, a boot camp and a juvenile facility.