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Corrections officer and gang member sentenced in jail corruption case

Law EnforcementJustice SystemBlack Guerrilla Family

In one part of her notebook, Taryn Kirkland kept a ledger tracking money sent to Black Guerrilla Family gang boss Steven Loney. But elsewhere she left more intimate scribblings: "I ♥ Stevie" she wrote. And on a later page: "I ♥ Steven."

Their love story unfolded behind bars at the Baltimore City Detention Center, where Kirkland was a corrections officer and Loney was awaiting trial in a shooting case. The relationship quickly developed into one of romance mixed with business, according to court documents.

Kirkland smuggled drugs for Loney and helped launder the proceeds. At the same time, she was considering how his last name would suit her if they got married. She wrote in her notebook: "Mrs. Loney," then "Ms. Loney."

Had Kirkland, 23, not taken a job at the jail upon graduating from high school, her path might never have crossed the 24-year-old Loney's. She was a hard-working student, her great-aunt said. He was perennially in trouble — he spent only 120 days out of jail after turning 19, by his own estimate.

On Tuesday, the pair were sentenced just hours apart, the second and third defendants sent to prison in the wide-ranging gang and corruption case. U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander sentenced Loney to nine years in prison, and Kirkland to 31/2 ; they had pleaded guilty to racketeering charges on the same day last October.

The details about relationships between officers and inmates have been among the most eye-catching in the court cases that laid bare the corruption at the detention center. Black Guerrilla Family gang leader Tavon White fathered children with corrections officers, according to court documents that also described romantic jealousies among his companions.

Sex was an important tool for BGF members seeking to manipulate corrections officers and win their cooperation to further contraband smuggling and other money-making schemes, according to the FBI.

A Department of Justice study published last year found that the Baltimore detention center had an unusually high rate of sex between staff and inmates, and the newly installed state corrections secretary testified last week at a Justice Department hearing that he was working to reduce those numbers.

"This Department does not tolerate sexual contact between its staff and the detainees and inmates in our custody," said Gregg L. Hershberger, the head of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, according to prepared remarks.

The U.S. Justice Department considers all sex between inmates and staff not to be consensual, considering the position of power corrections officers hold.

Loney told the judge that while he accepted responsibility for his actions, his motivation for developing relationships with Kirkland and other officers was natural, given his situation behind bars. According to court documents, Loney had sexual relations with multiple officers.

"The temptation is overriding," Loney said.

But the precise nature of the relationship between Loney and Kirkland became a central issue in her case. Who "initiated liaisons" — as federal prosecutors put it — was a matter of hot debate at her sentencing hearing Tuesday.

Kirkland's attorney, Charles N. Curlett, Jr., argued that his client had been the victim of a savvy gang member who sought her out as a partner in crime. Curlett also said the jail's administration did not care about corruption, and therefore didn't do enough to support his client.

"Ms. Kirkland lamented to Loney that she 'should have just kept on walking' when he began approaching her," Curlett wrote in a court filing, referring to conversations caught on intercepted phone calls. Given that she felt vulnerable at work and living as a single parent of a 4-year-old daughter, "it is hardly surprising Ms. Kirkland would take hold of an olive branch once extended."

The U.S. attorney's office disagreed, arguing that Kirkland had a fundamental duty to reject any advances from inmates under her watch, noting that in some cases female officers had been the ones to instigate sexual adventures in the jail.

"The fact that Kirkland was sexually involved over that period with an inmate, who was the second-ranking leader of the Black Guerrilla Family at the Baltimore City Detention Center ... elevates the misconduct from disgraceful to sensationally disgraceful," prosecutors wrote in one filing.

Curlett argued that in examining Kirkland and Loney's relationship, prosecutors had taken a "moralistic and high-handed" view. Curlett and members of Kirkland's family who testified at the hearing urged the judge to look beyond his client's involvement in drug smuggling and sex with an inmate.

"This should not define who she really, really is," said Catherine Gomes, her great-aunt and high school principal.

A more accurate picture emerges, Curlett wrote in a filing, from looking at the notebook seized from Kirkland's home.

"It provides a glimpse of insight into the life of the lonely, single young mother sitting at home, caring for her young daughter, and trying to please the man she loves," he wrote.

He pointed to pages that came after ones on which she doodled her love notes.

"Her daughter has taken those pages to practice writing her name," Curlett wrote. "And as she struggles, one can see where Ms. Kirkland has assisted, writing the name for her in dotted lines, allowing her to trace over the letters as she learns."

iduncan@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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