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From Edgewood to Florida and back again to help fix state's prisons

From Edgewood to Florida and back again to help fix state's prisons
(MATT BUTTON AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Steve Moyer can't stand the cold, or winter, so when he moved to Florida in 2013 to become a deputy police chief, he was never coming back.

He and his wife got rid of all their winter clothes and furniture and headed for Sarasota, "a beautiful community on the Gulf of Mexico," where the average yearly temperature is 81 degrees.

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"I never intended to come back here," the 1978 Edgewood High School graduate said.

A few weeks after Republican Larry Hogan was elected Maryland's governor in November, the new chief executive called the Edgewood native and asked him to be his secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

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He had avoided two winters, which were particularly harsh for Maryland, but Moyer was on his way home.

There were some things he thought needed to be fixed in Maryland's prison system - primarily corruption. The department was just beginning to recover from an investigation into the Black Guerrilla Family gang and its operation at the Baltimore City Detention Center, where 44 inmates and corrections officers were indicted.

"Gov. Hogan said to me, 'I know this is a great organization. We need some leadership and I want you to tackle the corruption issue,'" Moyer, who spent 24 years with the Maryland State Police, following in the footsteps of his late father, former Harford County Sheriff Ted Moyer, said. "The thing for me was, it gave me an opportunity to go back to the organization where my mentor and legend Bishop Robinson was a role model and it felt like they needed leadership and help to fix some corruption issues."

But it was Moyer's father who has guided him most, professionally and personally. A career law enforcement officer who served six years as Harford County Sheriff after a long tenure with the Maryland State Police, Mr. Moyer died in September 2012.

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"His life had an emotional and profound impact on me," Moyer said.

We 'had nothing'

The 54-year-old grew up on Willoughby Beach Road and in the Crestwood Acres community with his brothers, Michael and Dave, and "had nothing," he said.

"We lived in a little house, I shared a room with my brothers. An overnight stay in Ocean City, in a borrowed trailer, was vacation," Moyer said. "But I had a dad who kept us involved in football, baseball; he believed in keeping kids out of trouble."

Moyer's father had come from poverty, he said, and always wanted something better for his kids.

"He pushed all of us in sports as well as education," Moyer said. "Dad believed in keeping teens active in sports and that will keep them off the streets."

Moyer was outside just about every day growing up, he said, playing baseball, football or basketball.

"That's what we did, we played sports," he said.

In high school, Moyer played trumpet in the band. He still plays occasionally, including an Edgewood High alumni concert when the old building was torn down.

Moyer's first job was at McDonald's when he was 16, where he met Greg Pessagno, who is still his best friend.

"I tell you, we just hit it off the first day he showed up," Pessagno, who lives in Bel Air and sells advertising space for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, said.

The two spent time on a recent weekend cleaning out Moyer's grandfather's shop on Willoughby Beach Road. For the last several years, they have been taking care of general maintenance for Moyer's mom.

Moyer's grandfather is where Moyer gets many of his traits.

"He's a hard worker, as I guess I am. Even when Steve was young, he was motivated. He's just not a person who sits around. It's not in his being, he's always doing something," Pessagno said. "His fabulous work ethic may have been drilled into him by his grandfather."

Moyer often worked for his grandfather, before his days at McDonald's. His family owned the property that used to be home to C-Mart on Rock Spring, and Pessagno said Moyer would use a gigantic lawnmower to cut the grass.

Moyer has a great sense of humor, Pessagno said, but he can't tell a joke.

"If he ever tries to tell a joke, he'll tell you the punch line and then try to tell you the joke," he said.

And while he's great trumpet player, who can pick up the horn after not touching it for months, years and still sound great, singing is another story.

"Ask him to sing you something, that would be worth the phone call," he said.

In all seriousness, though, Pessagno raved about his friend, who lived with them for a few months when Moyer moved back from Florida.

If it's 3 a.m. and you're halfway across the country and you call Moyer with a problem, Pessagno said, he'll be on a plane back home.

"Steve is a very, very loyal friend. He has more acquaintances than anyone I know. But Steve Moyer, if he's your friend and he trusts you, would just could not ask for a better friend," he said.

Moyer met his wife, Michelle, at Edgewood High School, and they went to Towson State University together. They've been married 30 years and have two boys, Kyle, 25, who is in the Air Force and stationed in Mountain Home, Idaho, and Drew, 23, a criminal justice major who recently graduated from Towson University.

Moyer is among this year's inductees into the Edgewood High Hall of Fame. He will be joined by recently retired Family and Consumer Science teacher Sharon L. Daughaday and alumni Edward L. Kimmel (1961), Lawrence A. Melfa (1963), and Bruce R. Riley (1981).

"It's really cool, they're a great bunch of people," Moyer said of his induction.

Not only are Moyer and Riley friends, so were their fathers. One of Ted Moyer's original friends when he moved from Hagerstown, Bruce's father was Sheriff Moyer's campaign manager.

Moyer is the first in his family to go to college and the first to get a degree. He earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from Towson State University in 1982.

In 1998, he earned a Master of Science in management through the Police Executive Leadership Program at Johns Hopkins University.

Moyer always wanted to do police work, he said, but his parents wanted him to be a dentist. He was headed in that direction in college, until during his sophomore year he saw a commercial that showed the inside of someone's mouth. That was the end of a dental career and the beginning of a long career with the Maryland State Police, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, the number two position in the agency.

"I went on to Maryland State Police because of the influence my dad had on people's lives growing up," Moyer said. "He wore the uniform during the day, but he took it off at night."

During his 24 years with the state police, Moyer served in numerous positions, including commander of the executive protection unit and of the internal affairs unit, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice and deputy secretary/lieutenant colonel.

It was a job that had him sneaking Art Modell, owner of the then-Cleveland Browns, into Annapolis to discuss bringing the NFL team to Baltimore, a chance to meet the pope when he was in Baltimore, and being in the dugout the night Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak.

Since leaving the State Police in 2007, Moyer has been the security director for the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore and deputy chief of the Sarasota Police Department. He's also been a security consultant for Michelman Partners in Boston.

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A father's influence

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Sheriff Moyer grew up in Hagerstown, where he played football for his high school. He was supposed to go to the University of Maryland to play football, but had to turn the Terps down to take care of his mother, who had a stroke when Moyer was 18.

The elder Moyer worked at Fairchild for a while, and played semi-pro football in Altoona, Pa. Then in 1951 he applied and was selected to the Maryland State Police.

"He had his suitcase, his radio and that was it," Moyer said about his father.

Sheriff Moyer was assigned to the Bel Air Barrack after he graduated.

"He lived there, he worked 12-hour days," he said.

Sheriff Moyer met his wife, Elaine, Moyer's mother, on the job. She worked at International Harvester dealership in downtown Bel Air, and the company would often tow vehicles from accident scenes. The two were married in 1956 and moved to Edgewood.

"It was great. Everybody that I was friends with, their parents and kids themselves knew my father," Moyer said. "He was that cop that everybody knew. He was a people person. He had people skills."

"My dad said, you want people to respect you for the name on your birth certificate and not for your title. They will always respect the title, but when you're no longer there, if they respect you for your first name, it means a whole lot more," Moyer said. "That kind of stuck with me my whole career."

The secretary

Moyer has been on the job since mid-February, trying to get familiar with one of the largest departments in state government. His department, with an annual budget of $1.2 billion, oversees nearly 12,000 employees, who work in 24 facilities that house about 22,000 inmates. The department also supervises more than 58,000 people through 45 parole and probation offices throughout the state.

Moyer spent the first few weeks trying to get out to all the facilities.

When he was with the state police, if there were 1,600 troopers, Moyer said he probably knew about 1,200 of them.

"When you have 11,126, I try to get out to everyone I can. I need to look people straight in the eye and say thank you for what you do every day," Moyer said. "I say 'how are you, thank you for being here, how long have you worked here and do you feel safe here?' When you talk to people that way, you go into each office and each facility, if two or three people don't feel safe, I know I need to start asking questions about what's going on there."

Sometimes, he said, it could be a staffing issue, a morale issue or a leadership issue.

"You need to have guts and courage, you need to make some changes," Moyer said.

The fixer

Moyer hasn't been afraid to make changes during his career.

"I know how to go after and attack bad things," he said.

Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich called Moyer "the cleanup guy."

"He's such a capable guy, you give him a really difficult job," Ehrlich, who is with King and Spalding law firm in Washington, D.C., said. "He's relentless. He understands the criminal justice system. He is very loyal. He's just a good guy, very reliable and trustworthy, someone you want close to you in politics."

That's why Ehrlich brought him into the Department of Juvenile Justice, to provide leadership and guidance in managing a lawsuit filed against the state by the Department of Justice.

Ehrlich said Moyer did an "excellent" job, and his strong ties in the Maryland General Assembly really helped.

Moyer, a Democrat, thought Ehrlich, a Republican, would fire him when he took office.

"But I knew his great history, we have a lot of mutual friends and he had a sterling reputation, so we kept him," Ehrlich said.

His job as Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services isn't easy, the former governor said. It isn't one where people stand up when you walk in a room.

"Steve loves the state. He had a great situation in Florida, a wonderful home, better weather and lower taxes, way lower taxes," Ehrlich said. "Because he loves Maryland so much, he came back to do another difficult job."

Among his first difficult jobs was from December 1999 to November 2002, when, at the request of Gov. Parris Glendening, Moyer was "on loan" from the state police to help manage and resolve issues in the Department of Juvenile Justice, where personnel at state-operated boot camps in Western Maryland were abusing the residents.

During those nearly three years, Moyer not only provided leadership and oversight for the day-to-day operations, but also he directed the administrative investigations involving DJJ employees and fired 45 people for misconduct and civil rights violations.

"But the greatest thing, I met a legendary man, Bishop Robinson," Moyer said. "He mentored me into how to be a deputy secretary, and ultimately a lot of the ways I do business is much in the same vein Robinson did."

In September 2008, Moyer went to the University of Maryland Medical Center as its security director, and overhauled the security operation to protect 6,000 hospital employees and 18,000 weekly visitors and patients.

"The hospital needed to be safer. The staff was not equipped or trained to deal with the issues that come into that hospital," Moyer said.

Recovering from corruption

In April 2013, the first federal indictments were filed against corrections staff and inmates at the Baltimore City Detention Center, revealing widespread corruption in the facility, where the Black Guerrilla Family gang had essentially taken over.

The leader of the gang had impregnated four corrections officers, phones were smuggled in as were tobacco, marijuana and prescription pills. The enterprise generated thousands of dollars of revenue a week, and the favorite corrections officers were given lavish gifts.

In all, 44 people were indicted, 40 were convicted.

Moyer has the difficult task of cleaning it up.

"We do have corruption issues, and it kind of captures the media's attention; 99 percent of the people here do a great job every day, we just have to get rid of the 1 percent who cause the problem," Moyer said. "We will continue to do investigations. There still are problems. I will go after the bad people doing bad things and I will support state, local and federal investigations and prosecute those cases."

At the same time, Moyer said he plans to overhaul the human resources department in how corrections officers and other staff are selected, recruited and hired.

"We have to look at who are we recruiting, how are we recruiting and we're going to go after the best," he said.

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"I really enjoy the job. There's some great talent within the organization," Moyer said. "I'm not a micro manager, I give people latitude to do their job. I may have done something different than others, but I still give them latitude to do job, but I hold them accountable."

That's his approach to "fixing" the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and he's in it for the long haul, cold winters and all.

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