Corrections officials are investigating whether an inmate at the Baltimore City Detention Center has been using a contraband cellphone to post photos and updates on Facebook and Instagram online accounts.
The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services confirmed Thursday that it is investigating online postings in recent days on accounts under Michael Thomas' name, which a union official said appear to have been taken inside the Baltimore jail. Several men by that name are incarcerated at the jail, online records show.
Jails and prisons have been trying for years to clamp down on inmate use of cellphones, which are banned behind bars. Cellphones enabled gang members at the Baltimore jail to carry out an extensive operation smuggling drugs and cigarettes into the facility, according to a federal indictment unsealed in April.
The case prompted officials to explore expanding the use of cellphone-blocking technology and led to the removal of the security chief at the jail. Corrections Secretary Gary D. Maynard moved his office to the detention center days after the indictment was made public to spearhead reforms, including polygraphs of senior officials.
An Instagram account in the name of Michael Thomas features pictures of a man in a jail cell and of other inmates. The Facebook account, also in his name, includes posts about his girlfriend, apologies for missing friends' birthdays, and updates on Thomas' criminal case. Efforts to reach the account holder were unsuccessful.
"Im n my jail cell fb flexin! … cant hold me bk!" reads a May 11 post on the Facebook account.
The Facebook posts also talk about life in jail.
"How u gonna b locked up for MURDER but walk my section in "sponge bob" boxers?" one post reads. "i would roll ova in my grave if u killed me."
In a comment on the Instagram account another user asks why it has not been updated in a while.
"Im locked up but im back on! The rats got me off the streets but its temporary," reads a post in reply.
Possessing a contraband phone is a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has tried numerous methods to stop inmates from getting phones. It intercepted more than 1,300 in the last fiscal year in facilities statewide, and Baltimore prosecutors said they have brought more than 70 cases against people caught with them since late 2011.
But the phones continue to get into jails and prisons.
According to the FBI, cellphones were a vital tool employed by the Black Guerrilla Family gang, whose members are alleged to have struck an agreement with jail officials to keep violence to a minimum in exchange for flexibility to carry out the smuggling operation.
Seven inmates, five alleged gang members on the outside and 13 corrections officers — four who were impregnated by alleged gang leader Tavon White — were indicted in that case.
Contraband phones have been factors in other cases as well, including one in which they were used to organize the murder of a witness. Patrick Byers was convicted of setting up from his jail cell the 2007 killing of Carl Lackl, who was expected to testify against him in a Baltimore murder trial.
The statecorrections department is now planning to implement blocking technology that would stop inmate cellphones from being able to make calls, send texts or connect to the Internet.
The system is online at the Metropolitan Transition Center, a prison in Baltimore, and the department said it is seeking emergency funds to install it at the city jail.
Cory Trusty, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3737, said he had seen the pictures posted to online accounts under Michael Thomas' name and that they appear to have been taken inside the city jail.
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Many of the men in the pictures are wearing street clothes rather than the yellow jail uniforms inmates wear when they're out of their cells. But Trusty, whose organization represents officers at the jail, said inmates are not required to wear the yellow jumpsuits in their cells.
Posts to the accounts in Thomas' name are often directed to someone described as being in a relationship with him — "I love you baby and can't wait to get home so we can reunite as one," a caption on one Instagram photo reads.
One photo features a group of nine men mugging for the camera.
Another shows another man in what looks like a jail corridor, holding a cellphone.