Gov. Martin O’Malley on Tuesday voiced full confidence in the head of Maryland’s prison system and argued that the federal indictments of 25 inmates and guards at a Baltimore jail last week was “a very positive development” in rooting out corruption.
“We’ll be looking back on this as one of the more positive achievements in the fight against gangs,” O’Malley told reporters in his first public remarks on the scandal, which emerged as he was on an eight-day trade mission to Israel and Jordan.
O’Malley (D) said he first learned of the ongoing problems at the Baltimore City Detention Center last spring, at which point he directed Gary D. Maynard, the head of Maryland’s prisons, to fully cooperate with a prison task force led by federal officials.
That investigation led to last week’s sweeping indictment accusing 13 female guards of colluding with the Black Guerilla Family gang, which authorities said had essentially taken over the institution.
According to the indictment, officers smuggled in cellphones and drugs for gang members and even had sex with them. Four officers became pregnant as a result of trysts with one detainee, prosecutors said.
“I share the public’s revulsion at these allegations,” O’Malley said at the outset of a 20-minute give-and-take with reporters in the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
The governor’s generally positive assessment of the situation was quickly ridiculed by some Republicans, who said he was trying to play down the seriousness of the problem. The indictments have generated national attention, some of it highly critical of O’Malley’s management ability.
“This governor is completely out of touch, and his phony positive spin on this disgraceful failure of leadership is completely unacceptable,” said Larry Hogan, chairman of the grass-roots organization Change Maryland.
“Secretary Maynard screwed up. He needs to go,” said Hogan, a possible Republican candidate for governor in 2014.
While there have been only scattered calls among lawmakers for Maynard’s resignation, Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County) suggested that course Tuesday, saying he fears that the gang problem is far more widespread that in one Baltimore jail.
“The horse is already out of the barn, and the problem goes way beyond Baltimore City,” McDonough said.
O’Malley, who is weighing a 2016 presidential bid, largely sidestepped a question about how the scandal might affect his political future.
“We’re all responsible, and we’re all responsible for cleaning it up,” O’Malley said.
The Judiciary Committee in the Democratic-led House of Delegates has scheduled a hearing for next week on the “corruption” at the detention center. And since the indictments, Maryland’s Senate president, a Democrat, has called for a commission looking at a wide range of problems plaguing the state’s prison system.
Speaking to the media, O’Malley called Maynard “one of the best public-safety secretaries in the entire nation” and ticked off a series of accomplishments since Maynard took the job in 2007, including closing the antiquated House of Correction in Jessup.
“Were it not for Secretary Maynard, we would not have made the progress that we made,” O’Malley said.
Last week, Maynard moved his office into the Baltimore jail to directly oversee a top-to-bottom review of staff and inmates that will include lie-detector tests.
O’Malley said there were points during the investigation when the state could have taken additional steps to address the problems but held off so as to not interfere with the “serious traction” of the federal investigation. He noted that the head of the detention center in Baltimore was replaced six months ago.
O’Malley said state officials “didn’t have any sort of stopwatch” on the length of what was a complicated investigation. It was “not like getting a cheeseburger at the McDonald’s drive-through window,” the governor said.