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Defense: Jury in BGF case should be taken on tour of Baltimore jail

Just as Mr. O’Malley might have been taking a victory lap in his final months in office, he was struck by two glaring management failures: the corruption scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center and the costly failure of Maryland’s health insurance exchange. In 2013, federal authorities announced sweeping indictments of correctional officers and others at the city jail, which is run by the state, alleging that members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang had effectively taken control of the facility. They had such free rein that they not only smuggled drugs and cellphones inside with impunity, but the ringleader of the operation, Tavon White, actually impregnated four guards. When the scandal broke, Mr. O’Malley was on a trip to Israel. When he got back, he acted as if this was the plan all along. The indictments were a “very positive development,” he said, given that the state had requested federal help in investigating jail corruption. What he never really addressed was the fact that the corruption had gotten a hold on the jail under his watch in the first place. A few months later, Maryland had one of the worst launches of an Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange of any state in the nation. Mr. O’Malley had been bragging that Maryland’s exchange would be a model for the nation, but when the time came to go live, it crashed almost immediately and never really recovered. Give him credit for this: His team found work-arounds that allowed solid enrollment in health insurance anyway, and their plan to scrap the software and piggyback off of Connecticut’s successful system the next year worked. But there’s no getting around the hundreds of millions of dollars that were wasted.
Just as Mr. O’Malley might have been taking a victory lap in his final months in office, he was struck by two glaring management failures: the corruption scandal at the Baltimore City Detention Center and the costly failure of Maryland’s health insurance exchange. In 2013, federal authorities announced sweeping indictments of correctional officers and others at the city jail, which is run by the state, alleging that members of the Black Guerrilla Family gang had effectively taken control of the facility. They had such free rein that they not only smuggled drugs and cellphones inside with impunity, but the ringleader of the operation, Tavon White, actually impregnated four guards. When the scandal broke, Mr. O’Malley was on a trip to Israel. When he got back, he acted as if this was the plan all along. The indictments were a “very positive development,” he said, given that the state had requested federal help in investigating jail corruption. What he never really addressed was the fact that the corruption had gotten a hold on the jail under his watch in the first place. A few months later, Maryland had one of the worst launches of an Affordable Care Act health insurance exchange of any state in the nation. Mr. O’Malley had been bragging that Maryland’s exchange would be a model for the nation, but when the time came to go live, it crashed almost immediately and never really recovered. Give him credit for this: His team found work-arounds that allowed solid enrollment in health insurance anyway, and their plan to scrap the software and piggyback off of Connecticut’s successful system the next year worked. But there’s no getting around the hundreds of millions of dollars that were wasted. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

A lawyer for a corrections officer accused in the Black Guerrilla Family jail plot wants to take federal jurors on a walking tour of the Baltimore City Detention Center so they can see for themselves the conditions officers worked in.

A trip would allow jurors to see "the degree of danger faced during every minute of a shift worked by a correctional officer," wrote attorney Michael Montemarano.

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But in a response filed Wednesday, prosecutors urged the judge to reject the idea, arguing that a visit might scare jurors and cause the case to fall apart.

"Should areas such as inmate tiers be viewed while there are inmates still housed in those areas, there is no way to guard against an inmate making a comment to a juror which the juror finds threatening or offensive," the two prosecutors on the case wrote.

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Such a comment might be grounds for defense lawyers to seek a mistrial, the prosecutors wrote.

A two-month long trial is scheduled to begin in November in the vast case. Forty-four alleged gang members, corrections officers and drug suppliers were accused of running a lucrative smuggling operation at the downtown jail. Most have pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges, but eight defendants maintain their innocence.

Montemarano wrote that the public has a poor understanding of how jails are run and the wide latitude he says officials gave to gang members.

"A civilian cannot even begin to grasp the environment which exists in these facilities," he wrote.

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But the prosecutors said they anticipate photos and diagrams of the jail will be introduced as evidence, as will testimony from inmates and staff who are familiar with it. In other filings, prosecutors have indicated that Wendell M. France, a senior corrections official, will testify about how detention centers are run.

Besides, they added, organizing a tour for the 30 or more people who would be included in the visit -- judge, jurors, attorneys, and potentially members of the public -- would be impractical.

A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said jail management had not been contacted about the tour idea, but said they had arranged a visit for a jury to see part of the jail in the past.

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