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New Black Guerrilla Family indictment shows inmates in charge of jails, adds to Maryland prison bureaucracy’s embarrassments

April 24, 2013
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When the latest Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang racketeering indictment was announced at an April 23 press conference, detailing that 13 of the 25 defendants are Maryland correctional officers (COs) who allegedly facilitated the gang’s operational takeover of two Baltimore detention facilities, their boss, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) secretary Gary Maynard, noted the obvious: that he had egg on his face.

“It’s totally on me,” Maynard said, according to the Washington Post. “I don’t make any excuses,” he continued, adding that “we will move up the chain of command, and people will be held accountable.”

The last round of federal BGF charges that included COs were handed down in 2009 and 2010, showing how DPSCS personnel had worked to help the gang deal drugs, launder money, engage in extortion, and smuggle contraband into prisons. Despite the overwhelming evidence of corruption among COs that emerged in those cases, and other evidence emerging from civil lawsuits showing that, as far back as 2006, DPSCS had identified numerous COs as being members or affiliates of gangs who helped facilitate gang-related prison violence, yet ordered the lieutenant who’d developed the information to stop writing such reports, in 2010 the Maryland General Assembly passed a law giving greater protections for COs accused of wrongdoing by establishing a Correctional Officer Bill of Rights (COBR).

The current charges, spelled out in a 48-page indictment and detailed in a 67-page search-warrant affidavit, are déjà vu all over again: drug-dealing, extortion, money laundering, smuggling. The main difference seems to be that, this time, the BGF apparently has dropped all pretense of trying to be a positive force for social change, as was its hallmark in the 2009 and 2010 cases. Yet Maryland’s prison bureaucracy under Maynard, who’s been in place since Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) appointed him in 2007, has demonstrated rigid resistance to positive reform, given its repeated history of CO corruption that has emerged in the courts. And, predictably, the COBR has only made matters worse – as the FBI makes clear in documents filed in the most recent case.

Add the 13 COs charged federally in the current BGF indictment to the 15 COs charged in an ongoing FBI civil-rights investigation into retaliatory inmate beatings and subsequent cover-up and obstruction of justice, alleged to be part of a corrupt correctional culture in Maryland, and the total number of COs currently facing federal charges in Maryland comes to 28. That’s not counting another CO facing immigration-fraud charges, or the unknown number of COs – including Michael McCain, charged with smuggling drugs into prison – facing state criminal charges tied to their official duties.

Maynard’s comments at the Apr. 23 press conference suggest other shoes will drop in the BGF case, and how they drop will be intriguing, since documents in the current case suggest the accused COs merely carried out a scheme okayed by their superiors. In the scheme, BGF leader Tavon White – an inmate and the lead defendant in the racketeering indictment – believed he, not DPSCS supervisors, was the ultimate decider of what went down in the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) and the Baltimore City Booking Intake Center (BCBIC).

The search-warrant affidavit in the case was signed by FBI special agent Sarah Lewis, whose boss, FBI special agent in charge Stephen Vogt, said in a statement that “in this case, the inmates literally took over ‘the asylum,’ and the detention centers became safe havens for the BGF.” An “important cause” of this, Lewis writes in her affidavit, “is the power that White and the BGF are granted by staff members at all levels.”

In in intercepted phone call White made to a friend, he claimed: “This is my jail, you understand that. I’m dead serious. I make every final call in this jail, everything come to me.” On another call, White told co-defendant Adrena Rice, a CO: “I am the law. My word is law. So if I told any mother-fucking body they had to do this, hit a police, do this, kill a mother-fucker, anything, it got to get done. Period.”

Information gleaned from inmates and DPSCS staff during the investigation “revealed that some prison officials have informal verbal understandings with White and other BGF leaders” that “BGF leaders reduce the violence inside the prison, and, in exchange, the officials turn a blind eye to contraband smuggling and actively protect White and the BGF by warning them of investigations and interdiction efforts.”

White’s heir-apparent as BGF leader in the detention facilities was co-defendant Joseph Young, according to Lewis’ affidavit, and on Nov. 12, 2012, Young spoke with another co-defendant, CO Kimberly Dennis, about a corrections lieutenant. The call was intercepted on a wiretap, and Lewis summed it up like this: “Recently the lieutenant pulled Young aside and told Young that the lieutenant knew Young would be taking over control of the prison if White was released from jail and agreed to let Young make money by selling contraband inside of BCDC if Young and BGF would keep down the incidence of prison violence.”

Lewis’ affidavit also explains how the 2010 law establishing COBR allowed corruption to proliferate in an environment where bad conduct goes on with relative impunity. It established a disciplinary regime that “has proven to be very difficult” to pursue within established deadlines, “so cases are dropped,” she wrote, and thus “it is well known to COs that it is very unlikely that they will be fired or severely disciplined for smuggling contraband or fraternizing with inmates.” Lewis concludes that “the internal review process set up by COBR is ineffective as a deterrent to COs smuggling contraband or getting sexually involved with BGF gang members at BCDC or BCBIC.”

An illustrative case is one of the co-defendants, Antonia Allison, a 27-year-old CO at BCDC. Allison was 20 when her alleged ties to inmate gangs were first documented by DPSCS, in a Nov. 22. 2006, memo written by Lt. Santiago Morales, then of the Criminal Intelligence Unit of the DPSCS’ Division of Pretrial and Detention Services, to BCDC’s then-warden, William Filbert. Yet she remained employed at the same facility, even though this was long before the COBR was established. Morales, on the other hand, was ordered to stop writing reports about gang-tied COs, and ended up re-assigned shortly thereafter to night shift at a non-investigative post.

Even after the Maryland Attorney General’s Office defended Allison against charges that she’d facilitated a brutal, gang-related attack against an inmate, Tashma McFadden, who, when faced with threats of being killed by inmate gang-members for suing Allison, agreed to settle the case before trial, Allison remained on the job. The threat letter, which surfaced in court filings in 2010, described Allison as “our sister” who is “doing right by us,” and “all she asked of her brothers was to keep her safe.”

Now, nearly seven years after Allison was first suspected by DPSCS as being corrupt, she’s finally facing the real possibility that she will no longer be allowed to carry the department’s badge.

Maynard’s prepared statement regarding the latest BGF indictment involving COs says 99 percent of them “do their jobs with integrity, honesty, and respect,” and spins the embarrassing turn of events by saying that “today’s indictment, along with those in the past, show that our Department will not stand idly by and let a few bad actors affect the security of our institutions.”

Yet his contention that only one percent of DPSCS staff is corrupt is belied by the FBI’s Lewis, whose investigation developed an inmate source that described a very different picture: “the inmate estimated that 60 to 70% of the COs at BCDC are involved in contraband smuggling and/or having sexual relationships with inmates.”

The Washington Post coverage of the indictment says it “comes at a sensitive time for” O’Malley, “who is weighing a 2016 presidential bid” built in part by “his record as a ‘performance-driven’ manager of state government,” and quoted a statement from O’Malley: “We have zero tolerance for corruption among correctional officers, and we will continue striving to make all correctional facilities as secure as they can possibly be.”

Based on the available court record of CO corruption, it appears that Maryland’s “zero tolerance” policy hasn’t been working.