Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening is seeking to ease Corrections Director Arnett W. Gaston out of his job, apparently because of dissatisfaction with Gaston's response to published reports of rapes and other sexual assaults and other security problems at the county jail, sources said yesterday.
Glendening acknowledged that he met privately with Gaston for an hour yesterday but refused to disclose the substance of their discussion. Various sources said Glendening discussed Gaston's "future" with the county.
The sources said Glendening is seeking a way to allow Gaston to leave the job "gracefully," because he likes him personally, but has become convinced that Gaston must leave.
Glendening faces a dilemma, sources said, because his advisers are divided on whether Gaston should be fired. His professional staffers say yes, arguing that Gaston's ability to manage the job has been irreparably damaged by his handling of the aftermath of disclosures of assaults at the jail. But his political advisers want Glendening to retain Gaston until Glendening appoints another black to a high-ranking county post. Gaston is the highest-ranking black appointee in a county in which 37 percent of the residents are black.
"Parris personally has sympathy for Gaston; he thinks former county executive Lawrence Hogan hasn't done everything he could have for the situation," one source said. "He thinks he Gaston is basically a decent guy, but not a manager, and that is the problem."
Efforts to reach Gaston yesterday were unsuccessful.
Another factor that may have contributed to Glendening's decision is a 256-page audit on the detention center that Glendening plans to release at a news conference Wednesday. Prepared by the National Sheriffs' Association, a federally funded research group, the in-depth study was ordered by Hogan after an escape and attempted escape last summer.
County officials said Glendening has been unhappy with Gaston's reponse to a Washington Post series published last fall that detailed numerous accounts of rapes and sexual assaults among inmates at the jail in Upper Marlboro. Gaston was quoted in the series as saying he did not believe that many of the assaults had occurred and that estimates of the frequency of such attacks had been exaggerated.
A special grand jury has since indicted 12 current or former inmates on charges of sexual assaults, and earlier this month Gaston changed his view on the subject, saying he was shocked to learn that such assaults do occur frequently at the jail.
"I think he Glendening hasn't been satisfied with the response to the media, and ultimately to public pressure," said another source, "It's the defensiveness--initially denying that something's wrong and then the reluctance to do anything about it. No one is satisfied with the way the jail is being run."
After Glendening took office in November, he announced he would give most department heads, including Gaston, an opportunity to prove themselves before deciding whether they would stay in their posts for the duration of his term.
Glendening said privately that he sympathized with Gaston because he believed many of Gaston's problems might be inherent to the operation of an overcrowded jail. But recently, according to sources, Glendening has indicated he believes it is time to "clear the air," and has searched for terms to which both men could agree that would allow Gaston to leave the job.
"There's no way you're going to do this real gracefully," one official said. "They would like to take the least painful option."