Allegations of Sex, Drugs Roil Baltimore Jail

Press of Atlantic City, June 5, 2013

Inmates often complain of idleness, but Tavon White apparently had no trouble keeping busy behind bars.

Investigators say the man nicknamed “Bulldog” impregnated four female corrections officers at the Baltimore jail while running a sophisticated criminal organization that smuggled in drugs and cell phones and employed guards as gang associates. A federal indictment charging White and two-dozen others in a contraband-smuggling conspiracy has offered an embarrassing glimpse into a jail where inmates stand accused of controlling the very officers hired to guard them.

Effects of the scandal have been widely felt, and state lawmakers plan to hold a hearing Thursday to discuss problems at the state-run jail.

The state prisons director has moved his office into the jail to offer closer oversight, the jail’s security director has been dismissed and top administrators there have undergone polygraph tests to determine what they knew about the criminal activity. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a potential Democratic presidential contender in 2016, announced a task force last week to fight corruption at the jail but has also been criticized by Republican lawmakers about the detention center’s conditions.

The indictment alleges widespread dysfunction at the Baltimore City Detention Center, a downtown jail that holds thousands of defendants awaiting trial or serving short sentences.

It accuses female corrections officers of using outside suppliers to sneak in drugs and cellphones, sometimes in their shoes or in food, to incarcerated members of the Black Guerilla Family, a gang formed in California’s San Quentin prison in the 1960s. The inmates in turn distributed the drugs to fellow detainees and used the contraband phones to arrange sexual encounters, spread the word about impending cell searches and conduct gang-related business with members on the streets, prosecutors say. They used reloadable, pre-paid debit cards to pay for their purchases, launder funds and transfer proceeds to gang members on the outside.

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Prosecutors say the man at the center was White, a 36-year-old with a long rap sheet who was being held on an attempted murder charge. He ascended to a gang leadership position _ acquiring the title of “Bushman” soon after arriving several years ago, investigators say. He impregnated four female guards, one twice. Two had his name tattooed on their bodies.

“This is my jail, you understand that,” White told a friend in a January call recorded by investigators, court papers allege. {snip}

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At least some of the jail guards seem to have reveled in their sexual relationships, acquiring money and status as high-level gang associates. Inmates posted graffiti on the wall listing corrections officers they said were willing to trade sex for money. Internal gang documents recovered by investigators reveal that members were instructed to target guards with insecurities and low self-esteem, authorities say.

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“The indictment that came down makes us look like a third-world nation,” said Republican Del. Michael Smigiel, who recently toured the jail and called it a “kennel for humans.”

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