Maryland’s secretary of corrections moved his office into the Baltimore city jail Friday to directly oversee a top-to-bottom review of staff and inmates that will include lie-detector tests, starting with the warden.
The move comes days after federal prosecutors announced a sweeping indictment accusing 13 female guards of colluding with a dangerous gang — the Black Guerilla Family — that 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.
Gary D. Maynard, secretary of public safety and correctional services, put the review in motion at a time of growing pressure on him to clean up a scandal that implicates one of the nation’s busiest jails. Lawmakers in Annapolis have demanded answers — and have scheduled a hearing for May 8.
“Right now, this is our top priority,” said Maynard’s spokesman, Rick Binetti.
The review, which began Friday, will be unprecedented in scope, and no one will escape scrutiny, Binetti said. The jail’s security chief; its top administrator, Ricky Foxwell; and his two deputies are scheduled to take polygraph tests Sunday with the Maryland State Police, Binetti said.
Inquiries will continue with 450 guards and civilian support staff and will include interviews, reviews of personnel files and possibly lie detector tests as well, he said. The jail’s more than 3,000 detainees also will be scrutinized, and suspected gang members will be moved.
Maynard oversees a sprawling agency with 25 facilities housing more than 22,000 inmates across the state. It is not new to controversy: In 2009, federal prosecutors announced sweeping corruption charges against gang members and officers at another Baltimore prison. This week’s investigation bore an uncanny resemblance to the one four years ago.
Maynard is under pressure to act in part because he arrived in 2007 promising to usher in badly needed reforms, including finding an end to a rash of killings behind bars. Maynard’s challenge is also political; his boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), is considering a run for president in 2016.
Political leaders stopped short Friday of blaming Maynard or O’Malley for the scandal, but their demand for answers grew louder.
Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s) said lawmakers “want to be assured that the state’s prisons are free of corruption and providing a safe and secure environment for the public, the prison guards and the inmates.” Vallario is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the panel that will hold the hearing.
He said it was too soon to say whether Maynard’s job should be on the line.
“We certainly aren’t going to make that determination until we determine what breaches have occurred and who is responsible,” he said.
The union representing corrections officers welcomed Maynard’s investigation.
“I would say that the circumstances are being addressed now,” said Patrick Moran, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Maryland Council 3. “They need to dig deep and look up for people who are turning a blind eye to this in management.”
He added that the “situation is dire” and that he thinks “there is a lot of blame to go around.”
Maynard has been grappling for years with problems at the Baltimore jail.
The predecessor to Foxwell, the jail warden, was removed six months ago because of leadership concerns, according to Binetti, the department spokesman.
Foxwell did not return calls seeking comment.
Binetti said that 54 city jail guards have been fired since 2010 for fraternizing with detainees or smuggling in contraband.
In the past three months, 25 inmates have been taken out of the detention center. Four more with ties to the BGF gang were moved Wednesday, Binetti said. He declined to identify them or say where they were taken. The alleged BGF leader, Tavon White, has been in the jail more than three years through two mistrials on an attempted murder charge. White was moved out of the jail in February.
Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore describe a broad scheme that allegedly unfolded behind the stone walls of the city detention center, a castlelike structure built in the early 1800s on what is now a campus of corrections facilities north of Baltimore’s downtown.
In the 2009 scandal, federal authorities indicted a previous head of the BGF and four guards at a prison next to the city jail. At least three of the guards were convicted and sentenced to up to 18 months behind bars.
Maynard implemented a series of changes after that incident and said in an interview Thursday that a task force set up to root out gang-initiated corruption resulted in an FBI investigation and the current charges.
Authorities allege in the indictment that BGF members used cellphones to run drugs and commit violence on Baltimore’s streets, in essence controlling the gang from inside the jail. They allegedly had sexual liaisons with guards, even posting on a wall officers’ names and prices for sex acts.
Some officers were heard on FBI wiretaps bragging about getting away with misdeeds because union rules made it difficult to fire them. Those arrested in 2009 voiced virtually the same sentiments in recorded conversations.
Moran, the union leader, said guards who request it will have representation during the inquiry. But he also said officers who are clean will be relieved “that they aren’t going to be immersed in a dangerous situation anymore. Professionalism is going to prevail.”
Paul Schwartzman and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.