JULIET LINDERMAN, Associated Press
BALTIMORE (AP) — A case that grabbed headlines and exposed deep-seated corruption in Baltimore’s city jail, where gang commanders impregnated guards, dealt drugs behind bars and used smuggled cellphones to direct crimes on the streets, drew to a close Thursday when a federal jury convicted five people.
Three jail workers and two inmates were found guilty in the scheme, where gang leaders, not guards, ruled the institution. The convictions — and three acquittals — came after a two-month trial for the only eight people who didn’t plead guilty after a sweeping 44-person indictment was handed down in 2013. Of those charged, 27 were corrections officers.
Two former Baltimore City Detention Center guards, Ashley Newton and Travis Paylor; two inmates, Joseph Young and Russell Carrington, and a jail kitchen worker, Michelle McNair, were convicted for their roles in a racketeering conspiracy. Newton, Young and McNair were also convicted of money laundering.
“I think this case has made an impact, serving as a wakeup call about the scope of corruption within our prison system,” U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said. “It’s made an impact to inspire the Department of Public Safety to implement reforms, and even the Maryland state legislature to consider reforms, and we think that’s a worthwhile effort.”
Prosecutors had said Young, known as “Monster,” was a Black Guerilla Family floor boss at the jail and administered punishments to two inmates suspected of stealing phones from another gang member. Young also sold drugs, cellphones and tobacco, and had sex with a corrections officer. Carrington, known as “Rutt,” was accused of trying to recruit correctional officers to help smuggle contraband.
The guards at the state-run jail allowed gang members to administer beatings to other inmates without consequence, prosecutors say. Newton was also accused of opening cell doors so gang members could attack inmates, and would routinely warn gang members about upcoming searches. McNair, who worked in the jail’s kitchen, was accused of having sex with gang members and helping transport drugs through a tunnel connecting two jail buildings.
Three other corrections officers – Riccole Hall, Michelle Ricks and Clarissa Clayton – were acquitted of charges that they had sex with inmates and smuggled contraband. All of the corrections officers have been fired.
The trial focused heavily on wiretapped conversations between inmates, though perhaps the most important testimony was from Tavon “Bulldog” White, whom prosecutors described as a Black Guerilla Family gang commander and the architect of the conspiracy.
White, who impregnated four of the guards while in the jail on an attempted murder charge, said he never forced a guard to participate.
“I didn’t have to,” White testified. “I had my children’s mothers, and plenty of other guards willing to do it for money.”
Ricks’ attorney, Richard Sussman, said the government’s case relied too heavily on White and other witnesses he said had “too much skin in the game.”
Carmen Hernandez, an attorney for McNair, pledged to appeal.
The indictments sparked harsh criticism, leading then-Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard to resign.
Since the indictment, the agency has increased personnel in its intelligence and investigations unit and is developing a polygraph unit to test guard applicants, spokesman Mark Vernarelli said.
Del. John Cluster, a Republican who is a former Baltimore County police officer, said part of the problem is that correctional officers often come from the same neighborhoods as gang members and know them, and the state needs help in determining if new hires have any affiliation with gangs.
On Thursday, newly appointed Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stephen Moyer said he will work to reform the system used to recruit guards, and implement a new process for conducting background checks.
The department invested $4 million in technology that throws a virtual net over the facility to block calls on unauthorized cellphones. And the facility is searched at least once a week, Vernarelli said.
Associated Press writer Brian Witte in Annapolis contributed to this report.
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