BGF jail corruption alleged months before indictment

Months before a federal indictment detailed allegations of corruption at the Baltimore City Detention Center, the smuggling and sexual improprieties at the core of that case had already been outlined in an inmate's lawsuit.

Calvin Hemphill, in a handwritten civil complaint filed in federal court in July, alleged that fellow inmate Tavon White was a gang leader who held a startling degree of jailhouse power. Cellphones — illegal in the jail — were readily available to White, he held control over the jail's "working man" program, and he was able to come and go from his cell as he pleased, according to the court papers.


Court documents filed by state officials in the civil case, meanwhile, said that White was involved in "many illegal practices" at the facility, including "sexual relations" with female corrections officers.

Such allegations mirror details of the criminal indictment charging 13 corrections officers and 12 inmates and others in a corruption scheme that employed corrections officers to smuggle drugs, cellphones and other contraband into the jail, which is run by the state. White was at the center of the scheme, as the jailhouse leader of the Black Guerrilla Family gang, according to the indictment unsealed in late April. All 25 defendants face racketeering and drug charges; 20 of the accused, including White, also face money-laundering charges.


White has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges. He is also awaiting trial on state charges related to a November 2009 shooting.

Hemphill's civil lawsuit — which was dismissed April 30 — alleged that corrections officers and high-ranking officials had violated his constitutional rights because they were involved or complicit in a beating he endured after attacking a female officer. He said he attacked the officer out of desperation, because she allegedly told White that Hemphill was spreading gang secrets, and he wanted to be transferred from the jail for his own safety.

The civil lawsuit was dismissed after Hemphill, a self-described "former high-ranking" member of the Black Guerrilla Family, said it had become a financial burden on him. There was no judicial finding that any of the defendants had violated his rights.

Hemphill remains incarcerated after receiving a 10-year sentence in August on a second-degree assault charge for attacking the corrections officer. He could not be reached for comment.

Among the defendants in Hemphill's lawsuit was Shavella Miles, the jail's chief of security. She was removed from the job this week, but corrections officials have declined to explain why.

Miles could not be reached for comment.

Rick Binetti, a corrections spokesman, said the ongoing, sweeping review of the detention center by corrections secretary Gary D. Maynard, is in part an effort to determine what employees knew about the alleged corruption, and when. Maynard, who has moved his office into the jail, has ordered polygraph tests for some top jail officials and "integrity reviews" of all staff.

"We're going through that process right now," Binetti said.

Binetti said the Hemphill case was filed after the corrections department had asked state and federal investigators to target the BGF within the detention center. The joint task force for gang investigations was aware of the Hemphill case and did investigate his claims, Binetti said.

A filing by Assistant Attorney General Tamal Banton said that Hemphill's entire complaint was based on his "orchestrating a plan to attack a correctional officer and file lawsuit under the erroneous presumption that any force used to subdue him after his planned attack would constitute 'retaliation' against him in violation of his constitutionally protected rights."

A spokesman with the attorney general's office declined to comment further on Hemphill's lawsuit, citing attorney-client privilege.

Hemphill's complaint — and other documents filed in the case — allege that the BGF had a strong influence within the jail.


An affidavit from corrections supervisor Sgt. Michael Porter said that the gang held control over the "working man" program. Working men are inmates who are given sanitation, laundry and food services jobs in the jail and paid 75 cents per day, which is deposited into their commissary accounts. In these jobs, working men have much more mobility within the jail.

"It is my belief that 90% of the working men are gang members with the BGF," Porter said in the affidavit. "Even though correctional officers pick the 'working men,' if a correctional officer picks a non-BGF man as a working man, the inmate will decline to take the job. Therefore, other inmates know that the BGF members are the working men at BCDC."

In another court filing, Hemphill alleged that Miles "was aware of Tavon White's illicit activities, but looked the other way as long as he kept the detention center's violence to a minimum, and it appeared that she was the one in control."

Miles, a corrections employee since 1999 and the jail security chief since 2011, said in an affidavit filed in March that she was aware of White's "many illegal practices" at the facility.

In challenging Hemphill's complaint, Banton described White as "the recognized leader of the BGF" in the jail who was known to be "engaged in inappropriate behavior with other correctional officers within the institution, including but not limited to sexual relations and the importing of contraband into BCDC."

The federal indictment alleged that White impregnated four corrections officers.

Binetti would not specifically identify Miles as the security chief who was removed. He said, "The position is mainly responsible for the operational security of the institution. There is a top down assessment of all of processes, including security operations, at the Detention Center. Based on the assessment thus far, the security chief was removed."

State officials have said that they were concerned about keeping White at the jail once allegations of smuggling and other misconduct were discovered, but he remained there until February while investigators built their criminal case.

Binetti said there "would have been no reason" that the investigation that resulted in the indictment would have prevented the security chief from doing his or her job.


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