By Kevin Rector and Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun
9:30 PM EDT, August 26, 2013
The security chief at a maximum-security prison in Western Maryland was removed from the job after senior-level staff failed to notify a guard of threats against him before he was stabbed by an inmate.
The move followed Friday's announcement that a top prison official will retire amid calls that he step down in light of a string of inmate-on-officer attacks this summer at North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland.
More than a dozen officers have been injured in altercations with inmates at North Branch since late June, including the guard who was stabbed in the head and neck several times by an inmate and seriously injured this month. Days before that incident, another inmate wrote a letter to prison officials warning that the officer would be attacked.
State corrections officials declined to name the chief of security at North Branch, citing state personnel privacy laws, but online records list Keith Arnold in that job. Officials with the union that represents corrections officers confirmed the security chief was Arnold, who was reassigned within the department. Reached by phone at home, Arnold declined to comment.
The investigation is continuing, and state officials expect to announce additional disciplinary action, saying they have uncovered "several deficiencies" in how the notification policy was followed. They also said in a statement that the failure to notify the officer was inadvertent and not the result of "intentional misconduct."
"As a former correctional officer, I know that nothing is more important to this Department than the safety and security of our staff," Deputy Secretary for Operations J. Michael Stouffer said in the statement. "Discipline must be swift and severe for those employees who do not adhere to policy when doing so results in injuries to staff."
Patrick Moran, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Maryland, called Arnold's reassignment "a step in the right direction" but said more officials should be disciplined. AFSCME represents corrections officers at North Branch.
"This is someone that our officers felt was not up to the task, and they were pretty adamant about the security chief's removal, but that's pretty low down on the food chain," Moran said.
Moran said Arnold had been transferred late last week to a position at Western Correctional Institution, another maximum-security state prison adjacent to North Branch. State officials declined to comment further on the reassignment.
Gary D. Maynard, the state's corrections secretary, told the Cumberland Times-News that some policy changes would be made to ensure sure such threats don't "fall through the cracks."
Moran and other union leaders met with Maynard in Cumberland Monday night, and Moran said the meeting was "promising."
Union leaders this month released a handwritten letter from an unnamed inmate who warned North Branch officials to immediately remove two officers from the prison's housing unit or they would be attacked. Prison officials told one of those officers about the threats in the letter, while the second guard, who was later stabbed, was not notified.
"I will not let you know when your time has run out," wrote the inmate.
Maynard told the Cumberland Times-News that the inmate who stabbed the corrections officer might not have been associated with the inmate who wrote the letter.
The letter writer claimed to have control over a group of inmates. He is being investigated separately, Maynard said.
"Inmates typically expand the truth a little," Maynard said.
Also in recent days, Jon Galley announced his retirement after serving more than four decades in corrections, mostly in the state system and most recently as executive director of the state prison system's northern region, which oversees North Branch.
Earlier this month, AFSCME Maryland had called for Galley to resign, saying he and other officials failed to maintain safety at the facility.
The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services did not give a specific reason for Galley's departure, but credited him in part with reducing violence against officers in the system in recent years.
Maynard said in a statement that Galley has "brought significant and positive change" to the state's prison system. "He is an asset to our Department, but I wish him the best in retirement," Maynard said.
"I still like doing what I do," Galley, 69, said in a statement. "But now it's time to step back."
Galley, whose retirement is official Nov. 1, could not be reached to comment further.
Union officials called the retirement a "resignation" and a step in the right direction for a department that has been beset by scandal in recent months. In April, federal prosecutors announced indictments outlining a drug-smuggling and racketeering enterprise allegedly operated by inmates and corrections officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center.
"Many front line officers felt strongly that managers like Jon Galley tied the hands of wardens, not allowing them to run facilities like NBCI like the maximum security prisons they are," Moran said in a statement. "This is a good first step to begin to restore the confidence of officers in management's ability and willingness to proactively protect their safety in the wake of an unprecedented spike of assaults against officers."
Besides Arnold and Galley, the union has also called for the resignations of Stouffer, the deputy secretary of operations; and Rodrick R. Sowers, director of corrections in the northern region. Neither has responded to requests for comment on the union's demands.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.
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