Sep 28 2011

Former corrections officer sentenced in heroin smuggling case

Dr. Q

Ronald P. McGinn, a former corrections officer at the MCI-Norfolk jail, was sentenced yesterday after pleading guilty in a federal court to possession of heroin with intent to distribute.

The FBI began investigating the case after an officer from the Massachusetts Department of Corrections tipped them off that someone was smuggling items into the jail. According to the FBI’s press release, the prosecutor for the case said during an earlier court hearing that McGinn

… was involved in a scheme to smuggle heroin into MCI-Norfolk with the intent to sell it to inmates. In a consensually recorded meeting with an undercover agent, as well as in several text messages between the two, McGinn outlined the amounts he would smuggle into the prison as well as the fee he would charge to do so. During the meeting, McGinn also discussed his prior success in smuggling items into the prison.

McGinn was arrested last April while in possession of about 29 grams of heroin.

McGinn was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison followed by two years of supervised release.


Sep 20 2011

Framingham police confiscate man’s bail money then continue to jail him

Dr. Q

When relatives of accused drug dealer Vicente Pizarro-Soler brought $5000 to the Framingham police station last Friday to post bail, police took the money. However, they did not release Pizarro-Soler from jail until Monday, according to The MetroWest Daily News.

That’s because, according to prosecutor Jonathan Sahrbeck, the police had one of their dogs smell the money that Pizarro-Soler’s relatives brought in and the dog signaled that the money smelled like drugs.

So-called “detection” dogs are nothing but a farce that police use as an excuse to get their paws on other peoples’ property. When a dog “signals” its handler, it might be smelling drugs, bombs, or whatever else the police happen to be searching for, but it also might simply be reacting to cues provided — consciously or unconsciously — by its handler. It might also “signal” its handler because it smells something other than drugs, bombs, etc. such as food. A handler might also misinterpret a dog’s innocuous behavior as a “signal” that drugs, bombs, etc. are present. There’s no way of knowing why a dog “signals” its handler. Given this fact, and given the fact that “detection” dogs have incredibly low rates of success, there’s no reason for any rational person to treat a dog’s “signal” as proof of anything.

Since “detection” dogs are nothing but hocus pocus, we can only conclude that the police who confiscated the bail money are thieves who had the intention of violating Pizarro-Soler’s right to be free from arbitrary detention.

According to the prosecutor, police said they witnessed Pizarro-Soler engaging in drug transactions in the parking lot of the Shoppers World shopping center in Framingham. They stopped a man who spoke with Pizarro-Soler and he indicated that he bought heroin from him. The police later pulled over Pizarro-Soler, spotted a bag on heroin in his car, and arrested him.

The prosecutor also claimed that Pizarro-Soler was charged with first-degree murder in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2008, but said he is not sure how that case turned out.

Pizarro-Soler was released after his arraignment yesterday. His next court hearing is pretrial conference schedule for October 19.

It may be that Pizarro-Soler is a drug dealer (although I don’t think buying, selling, and using drugs should be a crime). It may even be that he’s a murderer. But, in any case, police should not be able to use unscientific nonsense as an excuse to confiscate peoples’ property and hold them in jail.


Sep 19 2011

Jail sued for allowing men to video-record women being strip searched

Dr. Q

A recently filed class action lawsuit alleges that male corrections officers routinely video-record female inmates at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center while they are strip searched. According to the lawsuit (.pdf format):

Women at the WCC who cannot remain in the general prison population for mental health or disciplinary reasons are taken to the Segregation Unit. With four or more officers present, the inmate must take off all her clothes and perform a series of actions: she must lean forward, lift her arms, lift her breasts and, if large, her stomach, turn around, bend over, spread her buttocks with her hands and cough, and stand up and face the wall. An officer with a video camera stands a few feet away and records the entire strip search. This officer is almost always male, in violation of the federal Constitution, Massachusetts law, national correctional standards, and the basic human dignity that these authorities are supposed to protect.

The suit names Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe and Assistant Superintendent Patricia Murphy as the defendants. It notes that the two “have created and maintained written strip search policies that permit male guards to record naked women. They know of and condone the fact that in practice, the guard recording the women is almost always male.”

The suit was filed by Boston-based civil rights attorneys Howard Friedman and David Milton on behalf of two former inmates who were strip searched at the jail, but suggests that “hundreds of women have been subjected to this humiliating and unconstitutional practice.”

Debra Baggett, one victim named in the suit, said that she sometimes asked to be taken into protective custody when a fight caused her to be too scared to comfortably stay with the jail’s general population. When she was taken into protective custody, she was strip searched while being video-recorded by a man.

April Marlborough, the second victim named in the suit, was taken to the jail’s Segregation Unit for “disciplinary reasons.” Like Baggett, she was strip searched and video-recorded by male jail staff. Marlborough, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, felt “violated and dehumanized by this experience,” according to the suit.

Edward J. McDonough Jr., the lawyer representing the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed that the department allows male employees to video-record strip searches of women, but claimed that it is only done during emergencies. Video-recording is “the best documentation as to the conduct of the inmate and the conduct of the officers. You have to strike a fair balance between the need for safety and security and the need to protect inmate privacy and dignity,” he told The Boston Globe. “When there is an emergency or exigent circumstance, you can’t always guarantee you’ll have a 100 percent female staff… You may have to have a male officer hold the camera.”

McDonough is correct about video cameras being a useful way to prevent abuse, but his claim that there are any circumstances whatsoever under which it would be necessary for a man to operate the camera is ludicrous. The sheriff’s department could easily buy a few tripods for their hand-held cameras. A quick search on Amazon.com brought up a massive number of tripods many of which are priced under $10. The department could also install wall-mounted surveillance cameras in rooms where strip searches are conducted.

There’s no excuse for the sheriff’s department allowing men to video-record these strip searches. Hopefully this lawsuit will force the department to change its policies.

If anyone you know was strip searched under this policy at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center, let them know about this lawsuit. Since it’s a class action lawsuit, they may be able to collect damages from the sheriff’s department if the lawsuit is successful.


Aug 20 2011

Essex County Sheriff’s Dept. employee accused of having sex with inmate

Dr. Q

Patricia Papa
(Source: Eagle-Tribune)

According to The Eagle-Tribune, former Essex County Sheriff’s Department employee Patricia Papa was indicted earlier this month after being accused of having a sexual relationship with an unnamed male inmate at the Correctional Alternative Center in Lawrence between March 1 and March 28.

Papa, who worked for the Sheriff’s Department for 14 years, served as a “reintegration coordinator.” She was responsible for helping inmates find housing and jobs after their release as well as ensuring that inmates received drug abuse and mental health treatment.

Papa plead not guilty to the charges during a hearing at the Salem Superior Court on August 18. She was released after her sister posted $500 for bail.

Prosecutors conducted their investigation into Papa’s alleged sexual misconduct after receiving a report of the results of an internal investigation by the Essex County Sheriff’s Department. Prosecutors say their evidence against Papa includes recordings of telephone calls made at the jail, text messages, as well as a photograph and letters found in the inmate’s cell.

Papa’s case will be prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Melissa Woodard.

If convicted, Papa faces five years in prison. Her next court hearing, a pre-trial conference, is scheduled for October 3.

I’ll post an update to this story when more details become available.