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O’Malley notes need for improvements in jail

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley said Tuesday changes are needed that include a revamped process for hiring corrections officers after 13 female officers were among 25 people indicted in an alleged contraband-smuggling conspiracy at a Baltimore jail.

Gov. O’Malley talks to reporters on Tuesday in Annapolis about the indictment last week of 25 people, including 13 female correctional officers, in a federal case involving jail contraband at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

O’Malley called allegations arising from last week’s federal indictment “ugly” and “shocking” after court papers claimed the ring also involved sex between inmates and guards that led to four of female officers becoming pregnant by a jailhouse gang leader.

“This is an ugly story,” O’Malley said in his first public comments on the case. “These are unpleasant and shocking allegations, but, you know, wishing they would go away doesn’t make them go away. It’s one thing to suppress corruption. It’s quite a harder and more important … to root out corruption, and that’s what we’re about.”

The indictment alleges that a gang called the Black Guerrilla Family ran the contraband- and drug-smuggling scheme from inside the detention center. It charges gang members and corrections officers with conspiracy, drug possession and distribution and money laundering.

The court documents said all four officers became pregnant, one of them twice, by Tavon White, the leader of the gang.

The governor said closer scrutiny of hiring practices for corrections officials will be needed as well as improvements in the way people get into and out of the detention center, parts of which are more than 100 years old.

“There is a lot more work to be done,” O’Malley said. “With this phase of this investigation closed and with these indictments announced, please don’t think for a moment that this is the end of the ongoing coordination.”

The governor, a Democrat who is considering a presidential run in 2016 and was on a trade mission to the Middle East when the indictments were announced by federal officials last week, said he was made aware of the investigation last spring.

He said no timeline was given to wrap up the case, because a thorough investigation was needed to get as deeply as possible into the problems at the jail.

“A federal investigation involving this many partners and going after a network like this is not like, you know, getting a cheeseburger at the McDonald’s drive-thru window,” O’Malley said. “These things do take time and from reading the indictment you can see that every investigative tool was employed in order to make a very solid case.”

Republicans criticized the governor for trying to put a positive spin on what ultimately amounted to poor leadership.

“This governor is completely out of touch and his phony positive spin on this disgraceful failure of leadership is completely unacceptable,” said Larry Hogan, a former cabinet member of former Gov. Robert Ehrlich and a chairman of a conservative group called Change Maryland.

O’Malley said the state is following the letter of the law with regard to the 13 corrections officers who have been indicted, when asked why they have not been fired. O’Malley said they have been suspended without pay.

The governor also stood by Gary Maynard, the head of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

O’Malley described Maynard as “one of the best public safety secretaries in the entire nation” and one of the most capable administrators he has worked with in 13 years of executive service. O’Malley also noted that the director of the detention center was replaced six months ago.

“Once we were notified in the spring that this investigation was getting some very important and serious traction, everything in our focus on these institutions was something that we needed to coordinate with our federal authorities so as not to undermine the … progress of this investigation,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley described the case as a beginning rather than an end to rooting out crime in close cooperation with the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office.

“And there are other actions taking place even as I speak, and if we continue to coordinate and we continue to follow every lead, there will be more correctional officers as well as citizens that come forward now, because they see that we can actually be effective in coordinating together to attack a problem that everybody has talked about for a long time but until now it seemed we were incapable of doing anything about it,” O’Malley said.

The governor, who took office in 2007, noted that the department that oversees the state’s prisons was one of the two most troubled agencies when he arrived in Annapolis. The other is the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services.