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Settlement more evidence of jail corruption, Franchot says

ANNAPOLIS — A legal settlement stemming from the allegedly guard-aided 2007 beating of a prison inmate being transferred from Baltimore to Hagerstown shows evidence of longstanding corruption in Maryland’s correctional institutions, Comptroller Peter Franchot said Wednesday.

Comptroller Peter Franchot: "The facts are almost stranger than fiction."

Franchot voted against the $40,000 settlement, approved 2-1 by the Board of Public Works during its biweekly meeting. Gov. Martin O’Malley and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, who sit on the board with Franchot, sided with the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, saying the settlement was in the best interest of state taxpayers.

But the details of the case show serious trouble was present at Maryland’s prisons long before a federal indictment last week ensnared 25 people — including 13 correctional officers — in a sprawling corruption case at the Baltimore City Detention Center, Franchot said.

“The facts are almost stranger than fiction,” he said before articulating details of the 2007 case from court documents.

Michael Smith, awaiting a court appearance on a gun charge at Baltimore’s jail, reached an agreement with Duwuane Crew, a guard there, to smuggle drugs into the facility. When Smith tried to end that agreement, Crew — suspected by prison officials to be a member of the Bloods prison gang — put a hit on Smith, Franchot said.

In June 2007, while Smith rode in a van from the Baltimore City Detention Center to Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, evidence suggested that Crew slipped a key to another inmate, who attacked the still-shackled Smith with a homemade knife.

“Someone in a van provided a key to a thug, the thug unlocked himself, goes back and beats the daylights out a prisoner,” Franchot said. “Later on, this prisoner, who is beaten up, has to go and spend time in a hospital.”

When Smith arrived at the Hagerstown facility, he informed prison staff that he was in danger, court documents say. But he was placed in the general population anyway, a decision Franchot likened to “throwing him to the wolves” that led to further beatings.

Crew, the corrections officer, resigned during the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ investigation into the attack. In a lawsuit, Smith — also known as Michael E. Reed Jr. — alleged Crew’s role in his beating and also said Hagerstown Warden William O. Filbert Jr. initially denied him medical treatment.

Filbert was also in possession of an internal memo that detailed concerns among jail staff — supported by confidential informants — that Crew was connected to gangs, Franchot said, but an investigation was apparently never carried out. The warden, who state lawyers said did offer Smith medical attention (which was turned down) and did not have proof Crew was involved with gang members, has since been promoted to director of corrections for the department’s southern region.

Franchot, tying the 2007 case to last week’s indictments, said Maryland was “making national news for the wrong reasons.”

O’Malley, however, maintained the positive spin that he first used Tuesday, saying that a 2011 decision to create a task force “focused on combating gangs and rooting out corruption” in state-run prisons was made with knowledge that correctional officers would likely be found to be corrupt. DPSCS Secretary Gary D. Maynard, appearing before the Board of Public Works, toed the same line.

“The recent indictments are direct results of efforts made by our department,” Maynard said.

The governor was clear on Wednesday, however, that he expected a detailed investigation into practices in Maryland’s correctional facilities. In a stern statement delivered while staring directly at Maynard, seated among the audience during the board meeting, O’Malley said the corrections secretary had his full backing to do whatever necessary to root out corruption.

“Do not relent and do not let up for any reason whatsoever,” O’Malley said. “Do what needs to be done. Do it as quickly and as thoroughly as you can.”