The Baltimore City Detention Center is seen earlier this year after several… (Michael S. Williamson/The…)
She could have been fired years ago for allegedly letting gang members stage a brutal attack on an inmate in his cell. Instead, corrections officer Antonia Allison was allowed to resign from her job at the Baltimore City Detention Center in 2006 without any mark on her personnel record and then return to the state-run jail nine months later, prison system officials acknowledge.
Last month, Allison, 27, became one of 13 corrections officers indicted in a corruption case so widespread and brazen that it astounded law enforcement officials across the country. The guards are accused of helping a violent prison gang operate a drug-trafficking and money-laundering operation that involved smuggled pills and cellphones, sexual liaisons and thousands of dollars in cash payments. Allison plans to plead not guilty to the charges, said her lawyer, Chris Purpura.
How Allison wound up being rehired — even as she later agreed to pay a settlement to the inmate attacked on her watch in 2006 — is emblematic of a Maryland correctional system that has struggled for years to police its 7,500 guards and nearly 26,000 inmates.
A review of court records and interviews with current and former law enforcement officers, jail administrators, state officials, union representatives and corrections experts paints a picture of a failed disciplinary system, with little if any deterrent for corrections officers who smuggle contraband or even have sex with inmates.
The prison system’s small cadre of full-time permanent investigators — just 19 in a state with 24 corrections facilities — has remained virtually the same since Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) took office more than six years ago.
Their ranks did not grow after a report, issued the month O’Malley was elected to his first term, warned that there were nearly 300 gang members inside the detention center. Nor were more full-fledged investigators added after a 2009 investigation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration found a hive of corruption and flagrant gang activity at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup and the Metropolitan Transition Center in Baltimore. Evidence from that probe suggested the problems were just as serious at the detention center, the state’s largest jail and long one of its most troubled.
“There was a sense that this isn’t going to get fixed until we get a case so big, so shocking that it would reallocate resources or change laws,” said a law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the current investigation. “We figured we needed national attention to force the Maryland legislature to act.”
The problems appear to be deeply rooted.
Allison, who could not be reached for comment, might have faced criminal charges in the assault on inmate Tashma McFadden, who was stabbed 32 times in July 2006, said one former jail supervisor, who agreed to discuss the incident only on the condition that he not be identified by name. But an internal investigation was derailed when a sympathetic supervisor suggested she quit after the attack, he said.
Allison, who denied any role in the assault, later attributed her resignation to injuries suffered in a car accident, according to a court deposition she gave in 2009.
Prison system officials said guards who resign in lieu of dismissal are supposed to be “red-flagged” and barred from being rehired. They said that there was no explanation in Allison’s personnel file for her 2006 departure and that they could not explain why she was able to return. But they confirmed that by July 2007, she was back in uniform at the jail, where prosecutors allege she eventually went to work for Black Guerilla Family operative Tavon White smuggling marijuana and prescription pills.
The jail supervisor said he was astounded when Allison was rehired. “Dishonest officers feel empowered” when they beat the system, he said. “And you see what happened.”
A dysfunctional system
Allison and the 12 other indicted officers operated in an environment where there was “no effective punishment,” federal investigators said in charging documents. The guards allegedly served as drug mules and, in several cases, had sex with inmates, with little fear of serious consequences. Four of the indicted officers became pregnant by White, and two tattooed his name on their bodies. Only one of the guards has entered a plea on the charges, saying she is not guilty; Allison and the others have yet to be arraigned.
O’Malley and Gary D. Maynard, the head of the prison system, have expressed revulsion at the allegations, while defending their record of rooting out corruption.
Statistics show the department’s disciplinary system does work, said Rick Binetti, state corrections spokesman.
Since O’Malley took office, 112 corrections officers have been fired or forced to resign because of alleged wrongdoing, Binetti said. When officers challenge the dismissals, judges uphold the firings three-quarters of the time.