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Crime

State officials say ‘offensive’ target came from federal prison. The federal prison system says it didn’t.

This shooting target is allegedly under internal investigation by Maryland State Police following an anonymous complaint the agency said it received earlier this month.

Maryland officials said earlier this month the offensive target found at a state-owned shooting range came from the federal prison system more than 15 years ago.

A spokesman for the federal prison system, however, said that’s not the case.

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The target in question sparked two state investigations after someone reported it anonymously to Maryland State Police in September. It featured a man with curly black hair and reddish-brown skin, which some interpreted as a depiction of a person of Middle Eastern descent or a Black person; at least one person believed it was Moammar Gadhafi, the late Libyan dictator.

Critics of the target raised concerns about its use and called it “disturbing and disconcerting” for the people it was meant to depict.

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The state police previously said its investigation found it wasn’t used, purchased or manufactured by a state police employee. The state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said earlier this month that its separate investigation found it came from the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Cumberland facility, a medium-security correctional institution in western Maryland.

DPSCS said in a statement it was provided in 2005 and used for less-than-lethal force instruction until about 2021.

But Emery Nelson, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said in response to a Baltimore Sun reporter’s inquiry that the federal agency had done an internal review and found no documentation or evidence suggesting the target was purchased by or ever belonged to the Bureau of Prisons.

Rather, the Federal Correctional Institution Cumberland, the prison referenced by state investigators, used and continues to use blue transitional targets, Nelson said. He provided two examples in links that show a blue silhouette with a scoring system.

Maryland’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said it was confident in its investigation’s findings, despite the federal prison system’s denial.

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“DPSCS detectives performed an exhaustive investigation that resulted in clear and substantial corroboration regarding the genesis of the target,” said agency spokesman Mark Vernarelli. “The agency stands by its findings.”

Vernarelli did not directly respond to questions about what evidence led DPSCS investigators to that conclusion or whether the federal prison system was asked about whether it had produced the target. He also didn’t share any documents reflecting what led investigators to that conclusion.

The agency’s earlier statement said it had been provided to the Western Regional Range in Cumberland about three years ago, after it and companion targets were “provided by the Federal Bureau of Prisons - Cumberland in 2005-2006.”

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The investigation, which has not been made public, found “no evidence” it was used or displayed in a “racially-motivated manner,” the statement said. It noted the first and only complaint about the target came in September.

“While there may have been no complaint of the target offending anyone prior to the report of 9/16/22, the target is nevertheless an offensive characterization from a dated era,” the agency statement said. “The firearms training program has evolved and now utilizes the most contemporary designs in target selection.”

The range where the target was found is on state property near the prison complex in Cumberland, and is used for firearms training and qualifications by “multiple” law enforcement agencies, officials said. A Maryland State Police firearms range qualification course was taking place at the time of the anonymous complaint, the statement said.

When the complaint was made, state police and DPSCS took “immediate action” to remove the target and “investigate the motivations behind its display,” the statement said.


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