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Prisons Scandal Grows

Another massive indictment, new details in Baltimore’s ongoing correctional corruption debacle

The federal racketeering prosecution of inmates and staff at Baltimore facilities managed by Maryland’s correctional agency now involves 44 defendants, including 27 correctional officers (COs), with the Nov. 21 unsealing of a superseding indictment in a case that, since it was first unveiled in April, has brought heightened scrutiny of the state’s anti-corruption record at jails and prisons.

While the new defendants—14 COs, a jail kitchen worker, two inmates, and two outside suppliers—lengthen the roster of those charged, their alleged conduct fits the same pattern as those previously charged, 16 of whom have already admitted their guilt. Court documents describe a scheme of contraband smuggling, money laundering, and improper sexual and business relationships between inmates and frontline staff tasked with controlling their day-to-day activities that put operational control of two state-run facilities—the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) and the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center (BCBIC)—in the hands of a prison gang called the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF).

The ongoing investigation is a multi-agency effort called the Maryland Prison Task Force, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) taking the lead. A prior federal racketeering crackdown on the BGF and COs who enabled its control over the prison economy was spearheaded by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2009 and 2010, and, despite the probe snaring numerous COs, the Maryland General Assembly in 2010 passed a law making it harder for correctional administrators to discipline COs suspected of corruption. In the aftermath of April’s much-discussed indictment, the legislature formed the 14-member Special Joint Commission on Public Safety and Security in State and Local Correctional Facilities to look into correctional corruption problems. The commission, which has five members representing Baltimore City, is next scheduled to meet on Dec. 11.

The newly expanded federal racketeering indictment names as defendants at least three people—inmate Russell “Rutt’ Carrington and former COs Sean Graves and Clarissa Clayton—who’ve already been charged recently for other crimes in state court.

Carrington is alleged in the racketeering indictment to have introduced BGF leader Tavon White and former CO co-defendant Katera Stevenson “to a source of supply for Percocet pills” and to “have attempted to recruit” a CO “to smuggle contraband into BCDC.” On Nov. 6, Carrington also was named in a 48-member gang indictment filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court, arising from an alleged pattern of criminal activity and violence dating back to 2005. The next day, Baltimore police and agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives fanned out to make arrests and conduct raids in the case, a high-profile tactic that focused in particular on the area around Greenmount Cemetery.

Graves is described in a federal search-warrant affidavit as a CO who “would smuggle contraband to inmates every day,” meeting “with different suppliers and other corrupt officers to pick up contraband to smuggle to inmates.” In February, according to state court documents, Graves arrived at BDCD’s Jail Industries building for work and, after a K-9 named Louie alerted to the presence of drugs on him, he was found to be carrying six tablets of prescription painkillers that investigators determined he’d intended to deliver to inmate Michael Gordon. In July the initial charges were followed by an indictment charging Graves, Gordon, and Garnett Logan with conspiring to smuggle oxycodone and tobacco into BCBIC.

Former CO Clarissa Clayton, 24, meanwhile, was indicted recently in state court after she allegedly ordered three men to assault her uncle, Gary Smith, who was also her landlord. In court papers, Smith described a chilling series of events that started as he was walking southbound on the 2500 block of Druid Hill Avenue on the afternoon of June 29. Clayton drove past him in a car, then stopped to say, “Hello, Uncle Gary,” before asking whether he was “putting me out” of an apartment.

“I thought y’all moved,” Smith responded, “because most of your belongings are gone, plus you haven’t gave me money for rent in two months,” to which Clayton said: “Oh, that’s how the fuck you feel, I got you.” She then drove off—returning five minutes later with three men “and she ordered them to get me.”

One of the men “banged me with his fist in my face,” Smith wrote, and “the other men joined him, jumping on me, stomping me,” and one “was ordering them to kill me,” saying, “kill that nigga.” When the beating stopped, one of the men—Smith named him as “Kraig Tarleton,” an alias for Craig Anthony Parker—said, “You lucky I didn’t shoot your ass.”

“I’m afraid for my life,” Smith concluded, since Parker is “part of the BGF” and Clayton is “a correctional officer.”

Federal court papers allege that “Clayton had a sexual relationship with Parker when he was an inmate under her watch at BCDC.” Also, in 2012, Clayton allegedly opened “the cell of a non-BGF inmate and allowed a BGF member into the cell to stab and rob the non-BGF inmate,” and “acted as a look-out while a CO and a BGF inmate had sex in a cell.”

The latest indictment is based in part on the help of 14 cooperators and evidence gathered from tapping 11 phone lines. The transcribed wiretaps include White telling co-defendant former CO Tiffany Linder that he’d pay Clayton for “sexual contact,” saying “she used to grab on my dick and I used to grab on her ass.” They also reveal that smuggling allegedly went on not only at the jail, but at court, with co-defendant inmate Jamar Anderson telling co-defendant former CO Jasmin Thornton to ask newly indicted CO Michelle McNair “to bring it to the jury pool” in court, referring to marijuana that Anderson needed delivered.

The wiretaps also include co-defendant former CO Jennifer Owens telling a friend how little correctional administrators do when COs are caught smuggling. “They don’t really even be firing motherfuckers,” Owens said, adding “they give people the option to resign.” By way of example, Owens described how former CO Kevin Armstrong—one of the new racketeering defendants—“got caught twice,” yet “they let him resign” rather than be fired or face criminal charges.

While the newly expanded racketeering prosecution can be expected to renew public concern about correctional integrity, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has stressed that the superseding indictment addresses conduct that occurred before the initial indictment in April. Since then, O’Malley’s statement said, “we have redoubled our efforts to crack down on corruption and improve security at our correctional institutions—protecting the integrity of our correctional institutions requires constant vigilance, and we continue to improve those efforts every day.”

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