BGF leader Tavon White taught fellow gang members how to seduce and corrupt female prison guards. Photo courtesy of Richard Valdemar.
There is an unfortunate stereotype among law enforcement that corrections officers are at the low end of the gene pool and couldn't make it as "real cops." Having done my own time in a custody environment and working criminal prison gangs, I was long ago cured of this misconception.
In fact in my gang training sessions I usually recommend that every officer tour a major jail or prison and walk the yard among the inmates. I recommend that they visit the gang unit office and physically handle some of the jail-manufactured weapons recovered by staff. That should give them a new respect for the officers who work in this environment every day.
However, no jurisdiction or individual is immune from the corrupting influences of criminal gangs. In the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) reported that gang members in at least 57 jurisdictions have applied for or gained employment with judicial, police, or correction agencies. The NGIC also reported that in at least 72 jurisdictions, gang members had compromised or corrupted judicial, law enforcement or correctional staff within the previous three years.
The report cited a November 2010 case of a parole worker in New York who was suspended for relaying confidential information to Blood gang members. In a similar incident in Los Angeles, it was reported that Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Bernice Abram was caught on an FBI wiretap giving information to Compton's Original Front Hood Crips.
In July 2010, a Riverside County (Calif.) Sheriff's deputy was convicted of assisting her incarcerated Mexican Mafia boyfriend with the murder of two witnesses in her boyfriend's case.
In 1999, during the Mexican Mafia RICO investigation, I was a witness against Riverside County's Deputy Barbara Flores, who pled guilty in a conspiracy to murder a protected witness who was in custody. Deputy Flores had formed relationships with the incarcerated Eme associates; smuggled drugs to them; and identified the cooperating witness against the Mexican Mafia, who was booked under a false name for his protection. The witness was assaulted but survived.
In April 2010, a former Berwyn (Ill.) Police officer pleaded guilty to racketeering charges for helping an outlaw motorcycle gang's members target and burglarize businesses. Outlaw motorcycle gangs often utilize their biker females to lure cops into compromising positions.
Prison cell phones often provide the conduit for illegal activity. "Cell phone smuggling into correctional facilities pose the greatest threat to institutional safety," according to the threat assessment. Most commonly these illegal cell phones are smuggled into institutions by visitors or correctional staff. In 2010, more than 10,000 illegal cell phones were confiscated from prisoners in California. In March of 2011, the California State Senate approved legislation criminalizing prison cell phones for both inmates and smugglers.
In 2010, a New Jersey inmate used a contraband cell phone to order the murder of his former girlfriend for cooperating with the police investigation regarding his case, according to the threat assessment.
In March of 2010, an off-duty South Carolina Department of Corrections captain was shot in his home by an armed intruder. The captain was lucky to have survived an assault that had been ordered by an inmate using a smuggled cell phone.
Some of this gang-corrupted officer misconduct can be blamed on poor personnel hiring practices and inadequate background investigations. Some misconduct can be blamed on the employee unions and their over-protection of problem employees. Even worse is the negligent retention of these employees by the departments. Other factors include poor supervision and the strong "code of silence" among custody officers.
There are also some unspoken factors to take into account. Anyone who has worked in the jail or prison for any length of time is probably aware of the psychological manipulation practiced by many sophisticated inmates and gangs. They commonly employ tactics designed as corruption ensnarement traps. Being a nice officer and giving an inmate a few cigarettes can become such a snare.
All of these negative factors apparently came together in a perfect storm the first week of May at the Baltimore City Detention Center. Federal prosecutors indicted 13 corrections officers for aiding Tavon "Bulldog" White, a member of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF). The officers allegedly helped the gang to gain control of the Baltimore City Detention Center, and facilitated other criminal gang members operating outside the jail.
They are accused of smuggling food, tobacco, money, cell phones and drugs into the facility. In the past four years, four of the female COs gave birth to five children fathered by White. One officer had his name tattooed on her neck. Another tattooed it on her wrist.
Maryland runs the Baltimore jail system, and more than 60 percent of the guards are women, reports the Washington Post. Across the nation, 37 percent of the correction forces in 2007 were women, according to the American Correctional Association.
Men make up the great majority of the skyrocketing prison and jail populations. But the number of males able to qualify and pass the background investigation is shrinking. So women are filing this gap. According to 2008-'09 Bureau of Justice statistics on 39,121 male prison inmates who were victims of staff sexual misconduct, 69 percent reported sexual activity with female staff. The numbers were even higher in juvenile detention facilities, climbing to 90 percent.
In local jails, corrections officers often come from the same communities as the inmates they supervise. They may have outside social connections. Even before Bulldog White's arrival in 2009, jail corrections officer Antonia Allison was linked to the Bloods gang, reports the Baltimore Sun. In 2006, she was identified as having gang ties by a state investigator but remained on the job.
In 2010, a settlement agreement was reached between Antonia Allison and former inmate Tashma McFadden. Then-inmate McFadden sued Allison for allegedly opening his cell door and holding it open as nine other inmates stabbed and beat McFadden. Allison denied the allegations but settled with McFadden for $5,000.
In the federal indictment from April 23, Allison was accused of smuggling marijuana and prescription medications for Bulldog White and the gang. In a wiretap conversation she was recorded saying, "You know they gonna sell fast." Another intercepted call records inmate White saying, "I hold the highest seat you can get." He told another alleged member of the gang, "So regardless of what anybody say, whatever I say is the law. Like, like I am the law. My word is law."
My good friend Detective Tony Avendorf dealt with Tavon White back in 2008 in Prince George County, Md., during a similar investigation. It involved about five female officers with one being pregnant. This one involved mostly Blood gang members with only a few BGF members. Tony said that unlike the BGF prison gang in California, which prefers to remain covert, the BGF in Maryland operates with a street-gang mentality and controls West Baltimore. This street-gang attitude developed when old-school BGF leadership eventually was paroled and younger members "went off the deep end."
In the 2013 case, some of the corrections officers were motivated by money in the form of prepaid debit cards that flowed freely through the jail. However, some were drawn into the gang's web of control because of personal relationships with BGF members.
I saw the same type of corruption of custody staff through personal relationships and sex at the Sybil Brand Institute for Women in Los Angeles and the California Institution for Women at Frontera. Cunning and manipulative inmates charm unwary officers into relationships. And once the officer compromises herself, she's ensnared in a trap.
In the Baltimore case, investigators found a BGF operating manual teaching the gang's new recruits to target a specific stereotype of corrections officer—specifically women with low self-esteem, insecurities, and certain physical attributes. And once these officers were seduced, the women saw themselves as wives and girlfriends of White and his gang.
Women are no more vulnerable to this type of corruption than their male peers. The males just don't get pregnant. Fellow correctional officers and supervisors looking the other way is the real problem. Other officers knew what was going on; saw the officers breaking the rules; and decided not to report them.
They made this decision knowing that money, dope, and cell phones in the hands of incarcerated BGF gang members compromised jail security and enabled gang members to kill others inside and outside of the prison walls.