Attorney denied visitation asks court to dismiss contraband charges against inmates
Says he has been denied access to them because of short-staffing at Golden Grove and that they therefore have been deprived of their right to effective counsel
By Joy Blackburn
The Virgin Islands Daily News
ST. CROIX — A defense attorney has asked a judge to dismiss indictments against several of his clients who are facing prison contraband charges, saying he has been denied access to them because of short-staffing at Golden Grove and that they therefore have been deprived of their right to effective counsel.
Federal Public Defender Omodare Jupiter filed motions to dismiss on Monday in at least six of the 29 Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility contraband cases that the U.S. Attorney's Office announced when the indictments were unsealed in late April. The indictments are part of a larger and ongoing federal criminal investigation into allegations about the smuggling of illegal contraband into the prison by V.I. Corrections officers, inmates and others.
In the motions, Jupiter details the issues he has experienced trying to meet with his clients who are detained at the prison.
"On the one hand, the government of the Virgin Islands prosecutes inmates who are known to be serving local sentences in the Golden Grove facility," Jupiter wrote in his motions. "On the other hand, they fail to provide sufficient staff to accommodate attorney visitation."
The Federal Public Defender is representing nine of the 29 defendants who were indicted on prison contraband charges, and seven of them currently are detained at Golden Grove, he wrote.
A number of the trials on the contraband charges are coming up in July, August and September.
Jupiter is seeking either to have the charges dismissed until Corrections has sufficient staff to accommodate attorney visits on evenings and weekends, or court orders to direct the Corrections Bureau "to immediately implement an attorney visitation schedule that will allow for evening and weekend visitation, along with sufficient staff assigned to the visitation area for the new hours," according to the motions.
Corrections Bureau Director Julius Wilson did not return calls to The Daily News on Monday.
Although Golden Grove Acting Warden Donald Redwood indicated that he took issue with some of the allegations in the motions, he declined to comment, saying he would forward the request for comment to the bureau's attorney. The Daily News did not receive a response to that request.
The Daily News was unable to reach Assistant U.S. Attorney Alphonso Andrews, who is prosecuting the cases.
In his motions, Jupiter said that Golden Grove, operated by the V.I. Corrections Bureau, requires that attorney visits be scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
"Prison officials cancelled Friday as a day for visitation due to staff shortages," he wrote. "As recent as this morning, June 30, 2014, counsel called to arrange visits with his clients during these hours, and he was told that he cannot be accommodated."
The motions say that Jupiter has scheduled "numerous attorney/client visits during the acceptable hours for visitation where the staff was unable to accommodate him due to shortage of staff."
He also wrote that on at least three separate occasions, he scheduled visits that were confirmed, only to show up and learn that visitation for that day was cancelled.
Trying to meet with officials
Jupiter's motions indicate he has tried to work with prison officials.
They note that in May, he had a meeting scheduled with Basil Richards, who was Golden Grove warden, but the meeting never happened because Richards resigned that day.
Jupiter also points out that he has talked to other prison officials about remedying the problem, including acting warden Donald Redwood.
According to Jupiter, when he spoke with Redwood a few weeks ago, Redwood "indicated at that time that 'the reality of the situation' is that his staff is short-staffed and that he would not be able to extend attorney visitation hours."
But according to Jupiter, Redwood expressed willingness to work with him to accommodate him with special weekend visits because of his busy trial schedule. He wrote that Redwood initially made special arrangements and provided ways for Jupiter to reach him personally.
"Recently, however, counsel has not been able to reach the Assistant Warden by any means," Jupiter wrote.
Conditions at Golden Grove violate the protection against cruel and unusual punishment contained in the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - a situation that has had the prison operating under various sets of court orders for more than 27 years that are aimed at forcing the territory to bring conditions up to constitutional standards. So far, the territory has failed to do so.
Testimony at a recent court hearing on conditions at the prison suggested that severe staffing shortages are driving many of the problems at the facility.
Arrangements gone awry
In his motions Monday, Jupiter notes that he has been a public defender for more than 20 years and has visited clients in "numerous jails and prisons around the country."
He "has always visited clients after hours and on weekends in all of the jurisdictions that he has practiced," the motions state.
Jupiter wrote that he has tried to work with prison staff.
"At this point, however, it is evident that the present staff at the facility are unable to accommodate the need for after-hours visitation," he wrote. "The 'special arrangements' that assistant Warden Redwood attempted to make with counsel have gone awry."
Noting that he is scheduled to be in court for trials and hearings for many days this month, Jupiter contends that it is unreasonable to expect him to visit clients between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
"At any rate, the facility is not even able, at this time, to accommodate prison visits during the hours that they indicate to be acceptable," he wrote.
Rights of the accused
Jupiter's argument in the motions centers on the constitutional right of the accused to the assistance of counsel.
"Considering the fact that the government of the Virgin Islands is a party to these actions, the only fair remedy available to this court is to dismiss these indictments without prejudice, and allow the government to bring these matters back at a time when they are able to accommodate attorney visitation for inmates who are serving sentences or who will be otherwise detained at the Golden Grove facility," he wrote.
Jupiter has filed motions to dismiss in the contraband cases against Gregoire George, Toma Harrington, Renell Lettsome, Calvin Lloyd, Rusiel Encarnacion and Avery Monsanto.
However, the problems Jupiter is experiencing trying to meet with his clients are not confined to Golden Grove, according to his motions.
The motions also note Jupiter's difficulty in arranging the logistics to see his clients being held at the Federal Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.
The motions state that the Office of Federal Public Defender is representing two other defendants detained at Golden Grove, as well as three defendants who are detained in Guaynabo.
Jupiter told The Daily News that whether he will file similar motions to dismiss in other cases will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
He declined to comment about the specifics of the motions, saying he would let the documents speak for themselves.