Our justice system sent another message about being soft on crime via plea deals that would reduce or have reduced charges – to nothing but misdemeanors – against several former corrections officers arrested and charged for their roles in smuggling meth and other contraband into the island's prison. They had faced felony charges following their arrests.
Many on island remember when the prison smuggling ring was busted in 2017. Prior to the raids, the prison was in the middle of a smuggling crisis. In a year's span, dozens of incidents were logged at the prison with drugs, cellphones and cigarettes in the hands of prisoners.
Drugs were thrown over the fence into the prison grounds. A food vendor's van and a Department of Corrections van to transport prisoners and detainees to their court hearings were also allegedly used. Even the transportation of prisoners who needed to get care at Guam Memorial Hospital was exploited in an attempt to smuggle drugs into the prison facility.
All told, six Department of Corrections officers were indicted in September 2017 in connection with a scheme to bring meth, cellphones and other contraband into the Mangilao prison, including for two maximum-security inmates.
The Mandaña Drug Task Force, with the help of other law enforcement agencies, swooped down on the alleged co-actors of the prison smuggling ring. Among those arrested were a former prison lieutenant, Jeffrey Limo, who was at one time the head of Internal Affairs at the island's Corrections Department.
But Limo and the rest of the DOC guards who were charged have struck plea deals with the prosecution.
Unless the judge tosses out the soft plea deals and tells the prosecution and defense to come up with something better for the public, then the efforts to bust the drug smuggling ring in our prison will have gone to waste.
And the justice system will be sending a message to future drug smugglers that they're going to get off with a slap on the wrist.
Superior Court Judge Anita Sukola, who doesn't shy away from sharp comments in her courtroom when she notices something awry, did say something at a hearing Tuesday for two of the prison guards striking plea deals.
She noted, in part, to a defense attorney: "I just want you to know they are all going to get off on official misconduct," Sukola said. "Limo would be pleading guilty to official misconduct and everything will be dismissed. He will have to testify against your client and all the other co-actors. (Former DOC officer Franklin) Rosalin is getting a plea agreement – notwithstanding all the hoopla at DOC – to official misconduct. I believe those are all misdemeanors. From the serious felonies down to misdemeanors."
"Ai, AG," said Sukola at Tuesday's hearing, perhaps voicing dismay over the level of plea deals the local attorney general's office has been agreeing to.
Still, you'd think judges would draw the line somewhere, so that criminals get some punishment other than a misdemeanor. In a misdemeanor, they could still be eligible to be employed in the government of Guam.
The public counts on judges to draw that line – that criminals do need the appropriate punishment for their deeds – even taking into account the information they shared to bring their co-actors down with them.
But then Sukola didn't toss the plea deal back to the prosecution and defense.
In the Rosalin case, she said: "OK. I will give you a change of plea."
No, judge, that was not OK.