Arnett Gaston, director of the Prince George's County Detention Center, told a guard Tuesday that the guard could be indicted by a special grand jury investigating jail rapes and sexual assaults because he was quoted in a newspaper article as saying the incidents occur in the jail "all the time," according to the guard.
The guard, Jerry Giovinazzo, said Gaston told him he might avoid indictment by giving Gaston a signed statement saying the newspaper had misquoted him.
"He told me that I wouldn't have to worry about criminal charges if I was misquoted and I could give him a statement that I was misquoted," Giovinazzo said. "He said when the grand jury summonses me to appear, he'd say that I was misquoted and that 'I have no reason to doubt Officer Giovinazzo.' "
Gaston disputed Giovinazzo's account of the conversation.
Giovinazzo, who called the director's comments "scare tactics," said he was not misquoted and that he would not sign such a statement.
Gaston said yesterday that he had talked to Giovinazzo, but refused to comment on Giovinazzo's story, saying, "That is a departmental matter and I'm not going to say anything to you about that." Gaston added, however, that it would be a "fabrication" to say he had told Giovinazzo that he could be indicted by the grand jury.
Gaston's conversation with Giovinazzo follows several reported attempts by jail officials to have guards sign statements saying that there are few sexual assaults and rapes in the jail, according to several guards. The statements would be given to judges and county politicians, according to jail sources. The controversy follows a series in The Washington Post showing that men rape other men in the county jail about a dozen times a week, according to guards and inmates.
The first request came last week, according to guards, when a jail official sent a memorandum to them, asking them to write statements saying that the newspaper articles were exaggerated. Then another official asked guards, secretaries and medical technicians to sign a petition stating that the articles exaggerated the number of rapes and sexual assaults, according to guards. The official told guards that the petition came from a higher official who wanted everyone to sign, said some who signed the petition.
Giovinazzo said that Gaston told him he could be indicted as an accessory to the rapes and sexual assaults because he "didn't do anything" about them and didn't report them on jail forms. In late September, Gaston told a reporter that guards who claimed that rapes and sexual assaults occurred all the time could be charged as accessories to the rapes and sexual assaults because they did not report frequent sexual assaults on jail "incident report" forms. Gaston said that without written reports of the incidents, he had no way of knowing that they had occurred.
The meeting between Gaston and Giovinazzo occurred at 2:50 p.m. in Gaston's office at the jail, according to Giovinazzo. Giovinazzo said he went into Gaston's office to ask him a question about the law on guards carrying firearms while off duty.
After chatting for a few minutes, Giovinazzo said, Gaston told him that he would receive a written reprimand in his file in a few days because he spoke to a reporter, in violation of a departmental memo issued by Gaston several months ago. Giovinazzo said he has never received a written reprimand and has received three commendations during his 2 1/2 years at the jail.
Giovinazzo was one of several guards named in the Post series. He was quoted as saying, "At first it shocks you, but then after a while it's just another rape. Even though you don't like it to happen, you get used to it because it happens all the time."
Giovinazzo was one of 10 guards and about 60 inmates who said that about 12 rapes and sexual assaults occurred each week at the jail, and that many of the assaults are not reported. Gaston says that number is "ridiculous." Gaston has stated in the past that eight rapes occurred in the jail last year; he discounted unreported rapes and rapes in which victims did not press charges.
Last week, he said that about one rape or sexual assault is reported to guards each week.