Court Digest

Former prison officer charged in assault on inmates

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A former Alabama prison officer has been indicted on federal charges of assaulting three inmates and then submitting a false statement about the incident, prosecutors said Friday.

Lorenzo Mills, who worked as a sergeant at Draper prison in Elmore County, was charged in an indictment with violating the civil rights of the men by hitting them with a wooden baton in October 2020, according to court documents and a statement from the Justice Department.

Mills, 55, also was accused of later falsely writing in a statement that he hadn’t used force against the inmates, who prosecutors said weren’t resisting.

Federal court records didn’t include the name of a defense lawyer who could speak on behalf of Mills.

Mills previously was charged with assault in state court over the alleged beatings. Two of the men suffered bruises on their back side and one sustained a fractured arm, court records show.

The inmates were taken to a back gate at the prison by a corrections officer, state court documents showed. Mills allegedly confronted the men, told them to turn around and began hitting them.


3 sentenced in big insurance fraud scheme to stage crashes

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Three Louisiana women have been ordered to repay a total of $5.5 million to companies defrauded in a scheme to stage wrecks.

Keishira Richardson, 27, Chandrika Brown, 31, and Aisha Thompson, 44, are among 36 people convicted so far in what authorities have called “Operation Sideswipe,” news releases said.

Each was sentenced Wednesday on one count each of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

Richardson was sentenced to five years on probation and ordered to pay $4.7 million in restitution. That’s the total paid to settle claims made by her and others for one crash staged on Oct 13, 2015.

Richardson’s father, Anthony Robinson, and his wife, Audrey Harris, were each sentenced in June to four years in prison on the same charge for that crash. They both underwent extensive medical treatment, neck and back surgeries, because they “understood that agreeing to more medical treatment would increase the value of their lawsuit,” according to a news release about their sentence.

U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle, who also sentenced Keishira Robinson, told her father and Harris that they and their codefendants would be responsible for paying $5 million including the companies’ attorneys fees.

U.S. District Judge Sarah S. Vance sentenced Thompson to 18 months in prison and restitution of $677,500 — the total paid in claims to several people involved in a crash with a tour bus on Oct. 15, 2015.

Vance ordered Brown to put in 100 hours community service and pay $121,000 restitution. Although Brown wasn’t in a RAV4 that hit a tractor-trailer on Sept. 6, 2017, she hired a lawyer, put in a claim for injuries and received medical treatment, a news release said.


Prosecutor accidentally shoots himself in courthouse office

SPRINGFIELD, Ga. (AP) — An assistant prosecutor accidentally shot himself with his own handgun while trying to show it to a co-worker at their courthouse office in southeast Georgia, according to sheriff’s reports.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Breedon was wounded in the right leg April 4 when the gun fired as he drew it from its holster, according to an incident report filed by the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office.

Breedon reached for his gun to show it to a co-worker interested in buying the same model, the report said. The shooting happened inside their office at the Effingham County courthouse, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Savannah.

The investigator assigned to the case requested that it be declared inactive with no charges filed, WJCL-TV reported, citing sherriff’s documents obtained through an open records request.

Breedon and his boss, Ogeechee Circuit District Attorney Daphne Totten, did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment Friday.

Breedon’s handgun was returned to him, according to the sheriff’s reports.

Georgia law allows district attorneys and their assistant prosecutors to carry guns inside courthouses in the state.


Judge sentences man to life for ‘evil’ sex abuse of kids

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Fresno man who was part a California child exploitation ring in which members filmed themselves sexually abusing more than 20 children and then distributed the footage on the dark web was sentenced to life in prison Friday, prosecutors said.

What John Richard Brinson Jr. did to those children was “evil,” Judge André Birotte Jr. said in Los Angeles federal court.

“I don’t know how else to say it,” Birotte said.

Brinson, 28, pleaded guilty in July to one count of engaging in a child exploitation enterprise and four counts of production of child pornography, each representing a different victim.

“The life sentence imposed in this case is warranted by the defendant’s callous and violent abuse of children, some of whom were filmed while screaming in pain,” U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said in a statement. “The child exploitation enterprise impacted more than 20 victims — children who were sexually assaulted, sometimes repeatedly, solely for the pleasure of this defendant and his cohorts.”

Brinson distributed and advertised child exploitation materials in 2016 and 2017 on a website dedicated to sexual abuse of children up to 5 years old, prosecutors said. The site on the dark web allowed him to hide his identity and meet two of his co-defendants, Arlan Harrell, of Hawthorne, and Moises Martinez, of San Jose.

Harrell and Martinez each separately brought children to Brinson’s home that they abused together while shooting child pornography video.

Harrell, who pleaded guilty to engaging in a child exploitation enterprise, obtaining custody of a minor for purposes of producing child pornography, production of child pornography and possession of child pornography, was sentenced to life in prison in February.

Martinez pleaded guilty to engaging in a child exploitation enterprise and production of child pornography and was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Brinson’s roommate, Keith Lawniczak, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of a child. He let Brinson live in the house for free and admitted that he benefited by being able to watch the sexual abuse, according to court documents.


Jury finds man guilty of murder in shooting of police

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A man whose attorney said he fatally shot a Tulsa police sergeant and wounded another because he feared for his life during a traffic stop was convicted of murder Friday.

A Tulsa County jury deliberated about three hours before convicting David Anthony Ware, 34, in the death of Sgt. Craig Johnson and wounding of Officer Aurash Zarkeshan. Ware faces a possible death sentence when that phase of the trial begins Monday.

In closing arguments, Ware’s attorney, Kevin Adams, again showed jurors a still photograph taken from a police video in which Johnson is seen kicking Ware during the traffic stop early on June 29, 2020. Adams argued that Ware feared for his life because the officers beat, kicked, pepper-sprayed and shot him with a stun gun.

With those actions, police “stop being a law enforcement officer and become a lawbreaker,” Adams told jurors.

However, prosecutor Kevin Gray told jurors that Ware brought the violence on himself by refusing to comply with officers’ instructions and resisting.

“He deprived Sgt. Johnson of his unalienable right to life,” Gray told the jury.

Gray had told jurors during opening statements that Zarkeshan pulled Ware over about 3 a.m. after he saw him run a stop sign and take a wide turn into another lane of traffic. Ware then failed to produce a driver’s license or proof of insurance when Zarkeshan asked him to provide those documents, Gray said.

Zarkeshan testified that he had not watched video of the shooting because “I don’t want to see myself or my friend be shot.”

Adams told jurors during closing arguments, “You guys have done something that most members of the Tulsa Police Department haven’t: You watched the video.”

Matthew Hall was convicted of being an accessory to a felony for driving Ware from the scene after the shooting.


Man convicted for shooting girlfriend’s ex gets 40 years

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A man convicted of shooting to death his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend in Tacoma was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Andrew Pointer was sentenced Friday in Pierce County Superior Court for the 2019 death of Lawrence Jeffries, 38, The News Tribune reported.

A jury found Pointer, 39, guilty last month of first-degree murder and unlawfully having a firearm. The murder happened Aug. 4 when court documents say Pointer lured his girlfriend and Jeffries to a home in Tacoma’s Eastside neighborhood to talk.

Pointer and Jeffries previously had fought and prosecutors said Pointer was “beat down.” Shortly after Jeffries and the girlfriend got to the home, Pointer arrived, shot Jeffries in the chest and ran him over.

Pointer said that night he was moving his belongings out of the residence he shared with his girlfriend and had returned for a wallet, arriving at the same time as Jeffries.

During his five-week trial, Pointer argued he shot Jeffries in self-defense and claimed that he wrestled a gun from Jeffries before shooting him. Prosecutors showed that Pointer brought the gun and shot Jeffries from a distance.

Court documents said the murder stemmed from a long-time disagreement over how Pointer should treat his girlfriend, whom Jeffries used to date and with whom he had a daughter.

Pointer said in court he wished it was he who was shot.


Area men go to prison while 2 deaths are investigated

ALPENA, Mich. (AP) — A man has been sentenced to two years in prison while authorities continue to investigate the deaths of two women, including one whose remains were dug up in his backyard in the Alpena area.

Joshua Wirgau was sentenced last week in a separate case involving a gun crime. Another man, Brad Srebnik, received the same term, the Alpena News reported. Both will get credit for more than six months in jail.

Brynn Bills disappeared last August shortly before she would have turned 18. Her body was found in September in Wirgau’s yard in Alpena Township.

The body of Abby Hill, 31, was found in October in a wooded area in the township. She and Bills were friends on Facebook.

Police have said Srebnik also is being investigated in the deaths. Prosecutor Cynthia Muszynski said the investigation is ongoing.