Environment of Fear Hampers Jail Investigation

May 3, 2013

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Archer Blackwell, the union representative for corrections officers at BCDC, said that he’s heard it repeatedly from his members: they don’t know who to trust, and they don’t know who to tell what they do know. "God knows who’s got my back now," he said he hears from the officers. "It’s a mess now – it really is.  The department hasn’t done a very good job in terms of what happens to those types of people – the good people."

The union said corrections officers have often reported being followed home when their shifts are over.  And they tell Blackwell they’re hesitant to speak up about a case that involves both sides of the law. They’re scared for their lives.

"Officers don’t want to open up," Blackwell said. "They might be compromising their own safety by saying something. The jail has a grapevine that’s unbelievable – the confidence is betrayed. But given the right setting, they will be willing to open up, because the confidence has to be restored. They have to know if they say something, it won’t be leaked out."

Last week, 13 corrections officers were among 25 Black Guerilla Family gang members indicted on federal charges of smuggling contraband such as prescription pills, cell phones and money into the jail. At the same time, female corrections officers were having sex with the inmates. In an affidavit for the search warrant that led to the indictments, an inmate is said to have told a corrections officer that 60 to 70% of corrections officers are involved in the smuggling of contraband and/or have had sexual relationships with inmates.

United States Attorney Rod Rosenstein said investigators could not corroborate the information, but that Gary Maynard, the state’s secretary of public safety and corrections, is very likely keeping it in mind. "That’s of significant interest to the department of public safety as they try to determine if anyone else knew what was going on or was criminally involved in the enterprise," said Rosenstein.

Maynard has declined interview requests since the scandal broke. He has moved his office from department headquarters in Towson to the detention center.  Polygraph tests started this week for top level employees and very likely for the entire department. Union representative Blackwell said AFSCME Local 67 supports the tests because the union doesn’t want to protect the guilty. But he added that lie detectors are not always accurate and they don’t always get at the truth. "Lie detector test can be deceptive.  You can be telling the truth and it will say you are not," he said.

But as the investigation continues, some of the 650 corrections officers, who are responsible for more than 2,000 inmates, wonder how the truth will come out. Blackwell says that the honest corrections officers   who work the posts every day at the three- tiered jail are struggling to get through this. Meanwhile, Rosenstein says his office has received some tips. "In fact, after the arrests last week, we gotten letters and phone calls from people who claim they have information.   Whether they do or not remains to be seen," he said. Rosenstein added that one of the goals of his office is to prompt people to call them. "I hope that anybody who has information if they feel they don’t know who to turn to they always call the FBI – 410.265.8080 and they’ll be willing to take the info and see if there’s anything that might warrant criminal investigation," he said.

For now, encouraging people to come forward remains the greatest challenge in a case with suspects both sides of the law.