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Inside Job

Evidence of corruption in Maryland prisons has been mounting. Can current reform measures clean things up?

Alex Fine

By Van Smith | Posted 5/12/2010

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Whether DPSCS' ongoing efforts to combat corruption will have any significant effect will become evident as time passes. In the meantime, integrity cases keep popping up.

In February, two COs were arrested, one in Western Maryland and another in Baltimore City. In the Western Maryland case, Correctional Dietary Officer Justin Wayne Smith was caught trying to bring a balloon filled with heroin and a syringe to an inmate at the maximum-security Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland. In Baltimore, CO Shanika Johnson's bag was searched as she entered the Baltimore City Detention Center and was found to contain an ounce of marijuana and two cell phones. She told investigators that an inmate, who she refused to name, was going to pay her $1,000 for delivering the contraband.

A serious case was brought against CO Lynae Chapman in October 2009. The father of her unborn child, BGF member and murder suspect Ray Donald Lee, was detained pending trial at the Baltimore City Detention Center when his prison cell was searched in late September, turning up marijuana, tobacco, and a cell phone that investigators quickly determined had been procured by Chapman. When confronted about the phone, Chapman promptly confessed to delivering it to Lee. At the time, discovery in Lee's murder case had reached the point when he would learn whether or not his codefendant, Quinard Henson, had given a statement to police. Recovering the phone Chapman had provided Lee may have forestalled the potential for Lee to use it to arrange for retaliating against Henson. Chapman is scheduled for a June trial, after having been re-indicted in March for misconduct, contraband delivery, and--with Lee as her codefendant--drug dealing.

Also last fall, a federal civil-rights case brought against CO Antonia Allison by inmate Tashma McFadden brought to light DPSCS internal documents, supported by depositions, showing that a prison investigator, Santiago Morales, had developed evidence in 2006 and 2007 of 16 COs at the BCDC who had gang ties. Morales had named the 16 COs in written reports to BCDC's warden at the time, William Filbert, who promptly ordered him to stop writing the reports.

McFadden's case alleges that Allison is a Bloods gang member, and that, after a verbal argument with McFadden, she unlocked his cell to allow fellow Bloods members who were inmates to attack him, resulting in 32 stab wounds. Allison, who is represented by the Maryland Attorney General's Office, denies the allegations. Recent activity in the case includes a motion by the defense to keep jurors from hearing testimony about Allison's alleged gang ties, as well as Morales' suspicions of gang-tied COs.

Meanwhile, McFadden's attorney, Aaron Casagrande, on Apr. 27 filed a motion to re-open discovery in the case. The reason, the motion explains, is that McFadden was recently put in administrative segregation at the Eastern Correctional Institution to protect him because other inmates there, who are Bloods members, have ordered him murdered for bringing the case against Allison. Attached to the motion is an inmate's letter that alleges McFadden's murder has been ordered and describes Allison as "doing right by us . . . all she asked from her brothers was to keep her safe . . . that's what we did."

Nothing beats last year's BGF case in federal court for suggesting that dirty COs are a major and ongoing problem for the DPSCS. Habeebullah, Robe, Burrus, and Smith may have been indicted and convicted, but the evidence in the case includes troubling references to other COs in on the gang-related action.

One of the DEA's sources for building the BGF case provided details of a BGF extortion scheme that relies on the assistance of corrupt COs. The scheme--similar to a case from 2007 involving a former CO, Fonda White, who also pleaded guilty--was described in a lengthy affidavit.

"Several guards with the Department of Corrections are assisting BGF members with an extortion scheme under which BGF offers 'protection' while in jail to newly arrested persons who are not BGF members," the affidavit states. It continues:

In exchange for this "protection," an arrested person is required to pay money to BGF. Specifically, BGF supplies the person to be protected with a credit card number of a prepaid credit card (sometimes referred to as a "Green Dot" card), and the person to be protected is required to have family members or friends place money onto the card when periodically directed to do so by BGF. The credit card is often held by one of the corrections officers who are assisting BGF or by BGF members on the street. The credit card is then used to pay for items for BGF members. If the newly arrested inmate does not agree to pay for the "protection," then he or she is targeted for violent crimes while in prison.

The affidavit also describes CO corruption at the Supermax, as described in intercepted cell phone conversations among inmates. Eric Brown, on the same day he spoke with Habeebullah about COs smuggling at the Pen, talked on a cell phone with a Supermax inmate, Melvin Gilbert, who was awaiting a federal trial on charges of drug-dealing and murdering a witness. They discussed the difficulties they were facing in getting contraband cell phones due to a crackdown by prison authorities. Though Brown had been able to get three phones recently, there were still "holes"--meaning dirty COs--to be discussed.

"If we don't open a hole up by the end of this month, it probably don't be no more than about 20 phones left in this motherfucker. I'm telling you. They're tearing our ass up, Melvin," Brown said.

"Yeah, they heavy over here, too," Gilbert responded.

Later in the conversation, Gilbert asked Brown if he knew a CO named "Simmons," and Brown said he did. "Man," Gilbert said, "holler at that bitch for us. She over here [at the Supermax] and she working, but she's staying away from me." Gilbert complained that "Simmons" was instead doing favors for other inmates, whom Gilbert called "low budget." Then Gilbert talked about another CO he thought was smuggling contraband into the Supermax, and another who was carrying his child. This last CO, Gilbert said, was suspected of snitching on inmates and had been threatened for it recently, but Gilbert said he told her: "Don't you ever call me and tell me, like, you're worried about another motherfucker. Them niggers be bluffing. I'm not a bluffer. I'm the one that you gotta worry about."

Later last year, Gilbert was convicted on drug-dealing, witness murder, and other murder charges, and was sentenced to life in prison. He is currently housed at the high-security United State Penitentiary--Canaan, in Northeast Pennsylvania.

What Gilbert and Brown were discussing--and what facts in other corrupt-CO cases describe--suggest a prison culture where COs smuggling for inmates, having sex with them, and having other inappropriate contact with them are a given. However, as Gilbert and Brown noted, a crackdown on cell-phone smuggling was working--and still is, according to Binetti, who points out that "we may have a reached a tipping point" since fewer cell phones are being found in prisons this year than in prior years. If a bill currently before the U.S. Congress passes, allowing prison systems to employ cell-phone jamming technology, any phones that remain may become useless.

But perhaps the best indicator that DPSCS' attempts to thwart corruption are taking hold is the most recent federal indictment of alleged BGF drug dealers: No COs were among the defendants in the case, indicted in mid-April, which was built on a continuing investigation from last year's indictments. That's not to say the new BGF case doesn't reference CO corruption, though.

In a Feb. 18 conversation that DEA investigators intercepted between one of the defendants, Duconze Chambers, and a drug dealer known as "Chips," reveals that Chambers knows a CO at Brockbridge Correctional Facility that could smuggle something in for Chips' cousin, Bug, who's an inmate there. Other than that, the only evidence in the case so far is that one of DEA's sources gave up a cell phone number for a "female correctional officer" said to be "an active BGF member."

If that's all the DEA-SIG investigators turned up this time around, well, that's improvement over last year. One has to wonder, though, if such a problem can be eradicated so quickly.

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