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

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Apr. 24, 2013

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.

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