The corrections officer who was in charge of recording the daily inmate count at the D.C. Jail has testified that jail Administrator William Long told him to change the official count on Dec. 7 so that the number of inmates in the jail was below the court-ordered ceiling, although the population exceeded the limit by 48 persons.
The officer also testified that he told M. Daniel Strickland, assistant director of the Corrections Department, that the number of prisoners exceeded the court-imposed ceiling and that he had changed the count to show a lower number.
But three days later, when asked by the D.C. government lawyer responsible for the city's compliance with the court order about the apparent violation, Long and Strickland said they did not know anything about it, the lawyer has testified.
The accounts of Capt. John Pendergraph and Assistant Corporation Counsel Metcalfe King are contained in depositions ordered after U.S. District Judge William B. Bryant, at a hearing last month, called some witnesses' accounts of what happened on Dec. 7 "virtually incredible" and said there had been an attempt to "fudge around with the figures."
Bryant has set a second hearing on the matter for tomorrow and attorneys for the inmates are expected to ask that the city government be held in civil contempt of court for violating the inmate population ceiling.
City officials could not be reached for comment last night.
Justice Department sources said yesterday that they also expect to be asked to conduct an investigation to determine if perjury was committed in the Dec. 17 hearing.
Judge Bryant, ruling last August in a longstanding suit brought by D.C. Jail inmates, ordered the city to keep the jail population under 1,695. In the last two weeks, the jail's inmate population has remained near 1,550, but the Justice Department's decision this week to stop taking newly sentenced D.C. prisoners into federal institutions is expected to cause new overcrowding at the jail and three facilities at Lorton Reformatory that are under separate court-ordered inmate population ceilings.
Deputy Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen and U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova are to meet this morning with Mayor Marion Barry, who said at a news conference yesterday that he will ask the Justice Department to continue taking inmates.
The city is "going to insist that the attorney general . . . carry out his duties," Barry said.
But Attorney General Edwin Meese III said at a separate news conference that today's meeting would focus on moving ahead with the construction of a new prison in the District.
A Justice Department source said there are no plans to ease the prisoner cutoff.
Additional overcrowding at the D.C. Jail could also cause the court to cut off new admissions there. Under Bryant's court order imposing the cap, new admissions could be cut off if the inmate population exceeds the cap for more than 48 hours.
At that hearing and in depositions on Jan. 2, Strickland and Long testified they did not know that Pendergraph had altered the Dec. 7 count.
However, Pendergraph's immediate supervisor testified in a deposition on Jan. 2 that the morning of Dec. 7 Pendergraph told him that Long had ordered changes in the official count.
According to the new depositions and testimony at the Dec. 17 hearing, during late November and early December the inmate population at the jail often went above the court-imposed ceiling for short periods. The ceiling was usually exceeded in the evening, after the jail received prisoners processed during the day at D.C. Superior Court.
Since the 4 a.m. inmate count was the one reported to the court, jail officials instituted early morning transfers to other institutions. About mid-morning each day, according to testimony, top Corrections Department officials would meet to determine how many new prisoners they expected to receive during the day. When they were able to make a firm estimate, the officials would then begin searching for places at Lorton, halfway houses and federal facilities in which to put additional prisoners.
To make certain that the official 4 a.m. count came in under the ceiling, inmates destined for other facilities would be transferred out beginning about 2 a.m.
According to Pendergraph's testimony, the problem during the early morning hours of Dec. 7 was that one of the two buses that were to transfer inmates to Lorton Reformatory did not pick up the prisoners by 4 a.m., and that officials did not arrive to take other inmates to halfway houses and the police department.
In his deposition, Pendergraph said he realized that the count would exceed the ceiling and that he called Maj. Ivan Louis Anderson. Anderson instructed Pendergraph to call Maj. Bernard Leo Braxton, which he did.
After explaining the problem to Braxton, Pendergraph said he was told simply to "try to get them the inmates to be transferred out of the institution" by 4 a.m.
Shortly after 4 a.m. jail director Long called Pendergraph and the corrections officer told Long that the count was over the ceiling. Pendergraph testified that Long, too, told him to work as quickly as possible.
Under the corrections department's procedures, the official count is supposed to be called in to the main operator at Lorton at 4 a.m. Pendergraph testified that he did not call the operator that morning until 6:15 a.m. when he reported that the count was 1,742 -- 48 persons over the limit.
But when Pendergraph talked with Braxton shortly after 7 a.m., Braxton told him to call the Lorton operator again and change the count to 1,679 -- the number of prisoners remaining at the jail after the transfers were completed that morning.
In a telephone conversation five minutes later, Pendergraph said jail director Long instructed him to make the official "compliance sheet" indicate there were 1,679 prisoners in the jail for the count.