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Union-backed 'bill of rights' for guards under fire after sex-and-drugs bust at Baltimore jail

 

A federal investigation into an alleged sex-fueled smuggling scheme between female guards and inmate gang members at the Baltimore City Detention Center has drawn scrutiny to a union-backed "bill of rights" for prison guards that may have contributed to the culture of corruption. 

One FBI agent is now claiming the "rights" helped shield bad apples from discipline. 

According to the 44-page indictment, members of the Black Guerilla Family were able to control female guards and indoctrinate them into their plot by having sex with them. They were able to persuade the women to smuggle in contraband ranging from pot to prescription narcotics to tobacco to cell phones, used to coordinate an elaborate criminal enterprise with outside gang members. Male and female guards smuggled the contraband in exchange for money. 

The investigation started in about 2009 and concluded with a recent FBI raid. The indictment names 25 defendants including 13 female guards, among them four impregnated by gang leader Tavon White. 

One top security official has already been removed in the wake of the probe. But some are now taking a closer look at a 2010 measure -- backed by the unions and Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley -- called the Correctional Officers Bill of Rights, which afforded broad protections to state prison guards. 

The April 22 indictment indicates the illicit activities flourished because of questionable security and oversight procedures, and because "there was no effective punishment for persons suspected of such offenses." 

The indictment did not specifically cite the bill of rights but concluded: "Though the offenses were clearly prohibited, administrative hurdles made the prospect of actual punishment very remote." 

However, an affidavit attached to the indictment and written by an FBI agent clearly states that disciplining guards under the bill of rights "has proven to be very difficult. So cases are dropped." 

Gary Maynard, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, is taking full responsibility for the situation. 

"It's on me," he said after the indictment was made public. 

However, others, including two major newspapers, say the bill of rights is part of the problem. 

"The absurd situation ... took root at least partly because ... this bill of rights grants extraordinary protection to guards, including shielding them from threats of prosecution, transfer, dismissal or even disciplinary action during questioning for suspected wrongdoing," The Washington Post editorial board wrote. 

A Baltimore Sun report called protections under the bill of rights "extensive." 

One indicted officer, Kimberly Dennis, said in a recorded conversation that she was simply transferred to another jail facility "because I'm dirty," according to the indictment. 

The legislation had widespread bipartisan support when passed in the Maryland General Assembly, with the only nay votes coming from two Republican senators. Union officials had lobbied hard for its passage. 

"Relentless lobbying by AFSCME correctional officers, the open support of the O'Malley administration and the hard work of key legislators helped the legislation pass," the union said after the governor signed the legislation in 2010. 

On Tuesday, a union official told FoxNews.com the bill of rights does not prevent the state from investigating and disciplining officers. 

"It's not about protecting dirty correctional officers," said local American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees representative Jeff Pittman. "It's about protecting the due-process rights of officers of integrity who are facing charges." 

Still, the bill gives the guards broad protection. The results of polygraph tests, for example, cannot be used against them. In addition, union representatives are allowed to accompany guards during the new integrity reviews that all prison employees must now take. 

The investigation into the Baltimore case found flaws in the system that go beyond the bill of rights. 

Among the findings was that smuggling was made easy in part because guards were allowed to come in through side entrances, which resulted in minimal or no screening.   

And the guards rotated between watching inmates and entrance screening. 

"This enables a corrupt correctional officer to simply wait until his or her co-conspirators was assigned to the entrance and smuggle contraband," the indictment states. 

State Republican Delegate Michael Smigiel, a lawyer who supported the bill of rights, on Tuesday waved off the criticism. 

"It's a subterfuge," he said. "It's a way for the (O'Malley) administration to blame others for failing to do its job." 

Smigiel plans when the Assembly meets next month on the issue to call upon O'Malley to make sweeping reforms, which includes removing the gang leaders and calling in the National Guard to sweep the jail facility.