A Judge’s Crime

It is a clear violation of the Ohio Revised Code and the Code of Ethics for a Judge to represent a criminal defendant in any

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Prison News in Brief: New York through Oklahoma

By Prison Legal News

This installment of Prison News in Brief concerns news from New York through Oklahoma and is brought to us by our friends at Prison Legal News.

  • New York Prison News

The wife of a Rikers Island mental health worker was arrested on May 8, 2013 for making death threats to her husband’s alleged mistress, another Rikers Island employee.  Victoria Beltran, a transsexual actress, suspected an affair after finding unusual credit card charges made by her husband, Brett Bergmann.  Furious, Beltran began to pepper the suspected mistress, Katarzyna Sakowicz, with voicemails and text messages, which Sakowicz reported to authorities.  The two women also argued about whether Bergmann knew that Beltran was born a man.  Beltran, who was charged with aggravated harassment, said her husband was aware of her sex change operation from the beginning of their relationship.  Bergmann is reportedly filing for divorce.

  • New York Prison News

Former Erie County sheriff’s deputy Cutolo Buffalo, 54, was charged with pepper spraying a prisoner who was handcuffed and being escorted by two other deputies.  The August 2012 incident led to an FBI investigation and Cutolo’s termination from the sheriff’s department.  Cutolo pleaded guilty and was sentenced on August 2, 2013 to six months’ home confinement on electronic monitoring plus one year of probation.

  • New York Prison News

Nancy Gonzalez, 29, a former guard at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, was impregnated by a prisoner at the jail.  Gonzalez was arrested in March 2013 and pleaded guilty on July 3, 2013 to having sex with MDC prisoner Ronell Wilson, resulting in the birth of her son, Justus Liam Gonzalez.  Defense attorney Anthony Ricco compared the pair’s relationship to that of Romeo and Juliet — although unlike the Shakespearean play, Wilson was facing the death penalty for killing NYPD undercover officers Rodney Andrews and James Nemorin during a gun purchase sting in 2003.  Gonzalez refused to testify at Wilson’s death penalty hearing and he was sentenced to death on July 24, 2013.  She lost her parental rights to Justus on November 15, 2013 after drinking alcohol during meetings with Wilson’s relatives, which violated a condition of her bail.

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Five Prisoner Deaths In Eighteen Months

By Matt Clarke

The deaths of five prisoners in 18 months might pass without notice in a large jail system, but that many deaths at the 270-bed Portage County jail, located about 30 miles southeast of Cleveland, Ohio, raised red flags.

An investigation by the Cleveland Plain Dealer revealed that Matthew P. DiBease, 29; Amanda Michael, 32; Kenneth R. Mantell, 26; Mark D. Shaver, 32; and Joshua D. McDaniel, 25, all Portage County jail prisoners, died during an 18-month period ending in mid-October 2011. DiBease, Michael and Mantell had all committed suicide by hanging.

Three suicides within 18 months at a 270-bed jail “far exceeds” the average for suicides in a facility that size, according to Lindsay Hayes, executive director of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, which conducts research on suicides in custody. Hayes noted that such a high rate should have “set off alarms with the sheriff and jail administration.”

David W. Doak, Sheriff of Portage County since he was first elected in 2008, said that although his department had increased suicide prevention training for jailers, it is difficult to assess who is a suicide risk because prisoners aren’t always honest with medical staff who perform risk evaluations.

“When someone makes up their mind to hurt themselves, that’s a real difficult thing to deal with,” he stated.

Doak defended his reduction in jail staff against accusations that the staffing cuts created an unsafe environment at the facility, noting that budgetary considerations had forced the reductions. The Ohio Patrolman’s Benevolent Association argued against the cuts in 2010, but an arbitrator upheld the sheriff’s right to determine staffing levels at the jail.

Whatever the case, the fact remains that DiBease, who informed jail medical staff that he took medication for a bipolar disorder, hung himself with a sheet on October 29, 2011, less than a day after being booked into the facility for failing to appear at a court hearing.

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