1. Arizona — (Arizona Republic) An independent commission will have oversight of the state’s chronically troubled prison system said Gov. Katie Hobbs in January. The commission will first report its findings to the public in November. The governor’s executive order stated that the commission’s creation reflects “an urgent need to provide transparency and accountability of Arizona’s correctional system.” The announcement came shortly after the appointment of Ryan Thornell as incoming director of the Arizona Department of Corrections. Thornell, whose tenure as director began Jan. 30, was previously deputy commissioner of Maine’s state prison system. “Incoming Director Thornell cares about transparency and it’s one of the main reasons he’s the right person to tackle these types of problems,” said Hobbs.
2. Texas — (Fox News) Texas executed Death Row inmate Wesley Ruiz via lethal injection for the murder of a Dallas police officer in 2007. It was the state’s second execution in 2023 and the fourth in the nation this year. Ruiz shot Senior Corporal Mark Nix following a high-speed chase. Nix’s relatives were present to witness the execution.
3. Missouri — (AP) Fifty-year-old Lamar Johnson walked free Feb. 14 after serving 28 years of a life sentence for a crime a court decided he could not have committed. Circuit Judge David Mason explained that his decision was based on “reliable evidence of actual innocence — evidence so reliable that it actually passes the standard of clear and convincing.” The state’s attorney general’s office fought to keep Johnson imprisoned until the moment of the judge’s decision. The attorney general’s office “never stopped claiming Lamar was guilty and was comfortable to have him languish and die in prison,” said Johnson’s attorneys in a statement. “Yet, when this State’s highest law enforcement office could hide from a courtroom no more, it presented nothing to challenge the overwhelming body of evidence that the circuit attorney and Lamar Johnson amassed.”
4. Missouri — (AP) The City of St. Louis agreed to a class action settlement with 84 people arrested in a 2017 protest spawned by the acquittal of a police officer tried for the 2011 shooting death of Anthony Lamar Smith. The $4.91 million payout amounts to about $58,500 per person. The police formed a “kettle” around the protest area, ordered dispersal and arrested everyone caught in the perimeter, including bystanders. The proposed settlement requires a judge’s approval. The city denied any wrongdoing. Additionally, several people settled individual claims exceeding $5 million against the city in connection to the protests.
5. Louisiana — (Reuters) The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections routinely and deliberately holds incarcerated people beyond their legal release dates in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, said the U.S. Justice Department in a January statement. The Justice Department found that between January and April 2022, more than one-fourth of people remained in detention in the state’s prison system beyond their release dates. Of that group, almost one-fourth served at least 90 days more than their sentences required. “LDOC is deliberately indifferent to the systemic overdetention of people in its custody,” wrote the Justice Department. The state said that it is reviewing the report.
6. Illinois — (USA Today) A youth shot at the age of 12 in a pre-dawn SWAT raid gone awry will receive $12 million as a result of a settlement in the case. The SWAT team was in Amir Worship’s home to arrest his mother’s boyfriend on a drug charge. An officer shot Worship with an AR-15-style rifle, shattering his kneecap and damaging other bones. Four years later, the boy has been through five surgeries, is permanently disabled, and will need multiple knee replacements in his lifetime. The SWAT team knew there were children in the home. They entered the room Worship shared with two brothers shouting commands and pointing rifles at the boys, who offered no resistance. Then the officer’s gun went off. Several investigations concluded that there was no misconduct by the police.
7. Alabama — (AP) A mentally ill man froze to death in a Walker County jail cell two weeks after his arrest. His family said he spent his jail time naked in a concrete cell and their lawsuit against the County suggests that Anthony Don Mitchell, 33, was also held in a “walk-in freezer or similar frigid environment and left there for hours.” His body temperature upon his arrival at an emergency room was 72 degrees. The lawsuit quotes an emergency room doctor who tried to revive Mitchell, “I am not sure what circumstances the patient was held in incarceration but it is difficult to understand a rectal temperature of 72° F … while someone is incarcerated in jail … I do not know if he could have been exposed to a cold environment.”
8. Pennsylvania — (The Patriot – News) Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro will not sign death warrants, a continuation of the practice of his predecessors. At times in his political career Shapiro has staunchly supported the death penalty in certain cases. However, he said that his views on the penalty have “evolved over time.” The state has executed only three people since it re-instated its death penalty in 1976. Some have been on Pennsylvania’s Death Row since the 1980s. Previous governors have called for death penalty reforms; Shapiro is calling for repeal. “We shouldn’t aim to fix this system,” said Shapiro. “The commonweath should not be in the business of putting people to death, period.”
9. Maryland — (AP) A series of court-ordered reforms in 2017 have resulted in a significant decrease in use of force incidents involving the Baltimore Police Department. The changes stem from a federal investigation that revealed “a pattern of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing practices, especially against Black residents,” wrote The AP. Since the investigation, the department remains under a consent decree that provides for the oversight of a federal judge. A report to the court revealed that a critical staffing shortage and inability to hold wayward officers accountable still hamper the Baltimore department. But citizen complaints about officer conduct are down. “The findings in this report move us yet another step closer to rebuilding the trust of the community and strengthening systems of accountability across the department,” said agency spokesperson Lindsey Eldrdge.