State corrections secretary Gary D. Maynard ordered polygraph tests Friday of top administrators and "integrity reviews" of every employee at the Baltimore City Detention Center in an effort to root out corruption at the jail.
Maynard has moved his office to the facility from Towson to oversee a review of leadership, staff and operations amid allegations that the Black Guerrilla Family gang developed broad power inside the jail, a spokesman said.
More than two dozen inmates and correctional officers in the city jail are charged in a scheme that officials say involved the smuggling of drugs and other contraband, including cellphones, into the facility.
"Secretary Maynard packed up his stuff and moved on down," said Rick Binetti, the spokesman. "He'll be down there for the foreseeable future, overseeing all of this."
A federal indictment unsealed this week said that correctional officers assisted gang members in running the enterprise and that four of the officers became pregnant after having sex with Tavon White, the gang's leader at the jail. According to the indictment, White claimed in wiretapped phone conversations captured by federal investigators to wield substantial control in the jail.
The indictment raised widespread concern among state legislators and prompted them to call a special committee hearing for next month. Maynard has said the scandal is "totally on me" as head of the department and has promised reforms.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, who is in the Middle East on a trade mission, said Maynard has his "full confidence and support."
O'Malley added, "I want to emphasize that these 13 indicted officers do not represent the majority of the BCDC staff who do their difficult jobs every day with integrity. These types of insidious gang issues cannot and will not be tolerated."
White allegedly had informal agreements with jail officials who asked him to maintain order in exchange for their turning "a blind eye" to some of his activities, an affidavit in the case said. Those officials were not identified in court documents.
Del. Curt Anderson, chairman of Baltimore's House delegation, said he appreciates the steps that Maynard is taking, but he isn't convinced that enough is being done to find corrupt officers.
"Obviously, the attention that the secretary is going to pay to the detention facility is admirable, but there are dozens of facilities around the state," Anderson said.
Some of them, including the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center and the Baltimore City Correctional Center, are adjacent to the detention center, he said.
"You want to figure out if it has leaked out," he said of the corruption. "I don't think you can presume that a problem that exists in one does not exist in another ... especially given the proximity."
Under Maynard's review, jail security protocols — including at all entrances and exits — will be re-evaluated. And the jail's inmate population will be scrutinized to identify inmates who represent specific threats or have been in the facility for an extended period of time.
"If you're there for a year, two, three years, you probably amass some power," Binetti said.
Binetti said the jail's administrator and two deputy administrators have agreed to take polygraph tests conducted by the department's internal affairs unit and Maryland State Police investigators. The tests will begin Sunday.
All employees at the prison could be subject to polygraph tests, though it has not been determined who else would receive one, Binetti said. Members of the jail's security team are on a short list of possible candidates, he said. Maynard will not be subjected to a polygraph test, Binetti said.
In addition, department officials and internal affairs will conduct what Binetti called "integrity reviews" of every employee.
Maynard said he'll consider extending the interviews and polygraphs to other state-run facilities. Not only can the polygraphs identify problem employees, but they can clear the honest workers, too, he said.
"I think we're on to something here," he said. "It's really the right thing to do."
Binetti said that based on the Correctional Officer Bill of Rights passed in Annapolis in 2010, non-management employees can have a union representative present if they are interviewed by officials during the review process but cannot have one present during a polygraph test.
The federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988, which prevents private employers from administering polygraph tests to employees, does not apply to public employees, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Other public safety agencies also use polygraph tests; Baltimore's Police Department uses them to screen applicants.
Any information obtained through polygraphs or other reviews could be used in disciplinary actions, Binetti said.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said if the polygraphs turn up more admissible evidence of wrongdoing, he would consider prosecution. But he said criminal prosecution is a powerful tool, like a hammer, and "you don't want to use a hammer in every case."
Archer Blackwell, a representative of AFSCME Council 67, which serves officers at the detention center, said polygraph tests and integrity reviews are "probably a good idea" for supervisors at the jail.
But he said officials should "walk very softly" when confronting corrections officers and other clerical and support staff not implicated in the federal indictment.
"Some of the other employees who know they weren't involved, you don't want them to get offended and feel like you're just coming after everyone," Blackwell said. "They need to be handled in such a way that it [isn't] being projected that everyone is corrupt."
Many employees at the jail are happy the corruption has been uncovered, Blackwell said, but some feel supervisors had ignored their concerns about colleagues' conduct. The spotlight on the detention center has been hard on them, he said.
"Everybody just feels like they're just being stepped on, and that is something that shouldn't happen," Blackwell said. "They need a morale-builder."
Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, whose office provides legal counsel to the corrections department, said the corruption "clearly should be taken seriously." He said the administrative steps being taken by Maynard to discover how it occurred are appropriate.
"The allegations are almost surreal," he said Friday. "The notion that four different correctional officers can get pregnant from one prisoner? Most people would think that could never happen."
Gansler said he is confident that federal prosecutors will pursue the case successfully, but state leaders must also determine how to prevent something similar from happening again.
"It seems like people are taking it all seriously, and certainly the attorney general's office is," Gansler said.
White was moved out of the detention center just before the indictment was unsealed, Binetti said, but the department would not release his location for security reasons.
Four other inmates with Black Guerrilla Family ties have been moved since. More than two dozen have been transferred out of the jail in the past three months, Binetti said.
Maynard is moving to the jail from his office at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services in Towson.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.
twitter.com/rectorsunCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times