25 members of the Baltimore Central Regional Tactical Unit are indicted on 236 separate criminal counts.
More than two dozen Maryland corrections officers and staff were indicted on charges they used excessive force, intimidation, evidence tampering and other criminal measures to ensure their special tactical unit maintained “dominance of its operational territory” within state-run jails, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said Tuesday.
The indictment of 25 members of the Baltimore Central Regional Tactical Unit on 236 criminal counts — including first-degree assault, participation in a criminal gang and misconduct in office — pushes to more than 200 the number of corrections officers, inmates and civilian accomplices who have been criminally charged in prison corruption cases in the state in the past four years.
Those indicted Tuesday include the tactical unit’s supervisor and about half its membership. The group is tasked with responding to incidents and maintaining order in state facilities.
Mosby said the latest charges stemmed from an investigation state corrections officials launched last year, after “rumors and anecdotes” were relayed regarding abuses by the unit.
“While the investigation revealed a series of seemingly isolated incidents dating back to 2016, further examination divulged multiple examples of excessive force utilized against detainees at different facilities, which ultimately led to the discovery of a criminal enterprise functioning within the tactical unit," Mosby said.
Corrections officials then worked with prosecutors to build a case against the officers, many of whom were placed on administrative leave last year but only arrested Tuesday, officials said.
Those indicted included supervisors, officials said. Some of the officers charged face up to 150 years behind bars. Corrections officials said all would be suspended without pay pending trial.
At least 25 detainees have been identified as victims, with investigators gathering information from surveillance footage and interviews with corrections staff, officials said. The unit worked at the Metropolitan Transition Center, the Baltimore Pretrial Facility, the state Corrections Department’s Jail Industries Building and Baltimore City Booking and Intake Facility, officials said.
Among those charged was acting Capt. Kevin Hickson, 49, the tactical unit’s supervisor. The indictment accused Hickson of being the “organizer, supervisor, promoter and manager” of the criminal enterprise, and outlined 47 incidents in which they alleged he or other members of his team assaulted detainees.
Hickson and those under him used “illegal and excessive force through assaults of inmates, use of threats against inmates, and various retaliatory tactics to assure complete compliance with [the tactical team’s] authority, which bolsters [its] overall reputation within the territory and suppresses any dissension and discord among the overall prison population," prosecutors wrote.
Neither Hickson nor an attorney for him could immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
Robert Green, secretary of the state corrections department, called the allegations “disturbing" and noted the investigation is ongoing. He also credited Republican Gov. Larry Hogan for the priority his administration has placed on confronting corruption in the corrections department.
“This case represents our strong effort to root out people who don’t belong in the field of public safety and rehabilitation,” Green said. “This is a disturbing case, but it does not and should not cast a shadow on the commitment and integrity of the exceptional correctional professionals in this department.”
Hogan, in a statement, also touted the arrests as the result of the state’s “anti-corruption actions.”
“We are again making clear that we have absolutely no tolerance whatsoever for corruption of any kind in our state prison system or anywhere else in state government,” Hogan wrote.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents corrections officers in the state, said in a statement that it had only learned of the indictment Tuesday, and had “no independent knowledge about the facts alleged” in the case.
“The correctional officers charged today should receive the process and rights that they are due under Maryland law and the US Constitution. They are innocent until proven guilty,” the union said. “AFSCME does not condone any unlawful acts or any mistreatment of detainees, inmates, or any individual. ... Safety for officers and inmates is a top priority.”
The union said the “vast majority” of officers it represents “perform their duties admirably and tirelessly each day," and the “actions of any few officers should not be held against, or diminish the work, of those many who serve with honor.”
Mosby made the announcement in an administrative building on the massive Baltimore jail complex downtown. The jail became notorious in 2013 when federal prosecutors indicted 25 people, including corrections officers, in a smuggling scheme. Prosecutors said the Black Guerrilla Family had gained control behind bars and turned the jail into a gang stronghold.
Tuesday’s announcement represents the latest case by authorities trying to crack down on rampant corruption in Maryland’s 24 prisons and detention centers.
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Green on Tuesday denied that the long line of prison corruption cases in the state indicated a failure on the part of state officials to get a handle on the problem with better training and vetting of hopeful officers.