Md. jail security chief leaves after brief tenure

Brought in to help clean up after gang indictment, Eric C. Brown left this month

By Ian Duncan
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE, Md. — The head of security at the Baltimore City Detention Center has resigned, officials said Tuesday, a move that again leaves an important leadership job at the troubled facility vacant.

Eric C. Brown started at the jail in September to help clean up after a scathing federal indictment last spring. Prosecutors alleged that female corrections officers had been having sex with jailed gang members and helping them smuggle contraband into the detention center. The job had been open for months after his predecessor's ouster.

Brown said he left this month in order to help take care of his daughter.

"You've got to do family first," he said. "It didn't work out the way I wanted, but I had to look at the big picture."

Brown's resignation leaves the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to find a replacement for the second time in a year. It's the latest in a series of high-profile departures at the agency in recent months; Secretary Gary D. Maynard left in December for a job in the private sector.

Del. John W. E. Cluster Jr., a member of a commission that proposed fixes to Maryland's jails and prisons, said he's been troubled by continued turnover at the jail.

"It seems to me that people are bailing out," the Baltimore County Republican said. "I'm not sure if the job is not that desirable or if we're not giving them the tools to clean up that place."

In the federal indictment made public last April, authorities said the Black Guerrilla Family gang had turned the jail into a stronghold, running a sophisticated smuggling network with the help of corrupt guards.

A fresh wave of charges came in November, widening the scope of the allegations.

Despite the investigation and arrests, Brown said, inmates continued to identify with street gangs and he struggled to stop cliques from forming. Still, he said, the jail has been doing a better job of preventing detainees from committing crimes on the inside.

Brown, a former police officer in Howard County and commander of the 115th Military Police Battalion of the Maryland National Guard, said it was difficult working under the "microscope" of media scrutiny that the case attracted.

But he said he told corrections officers that the only way to change the story was to do a good job.

"It's up to the leadership to say, 'If you do your job well, that stuff will fade away,'" Brown said. "You can't control what people are going to say, write or think, but you can control what you accomplish."

Brown's predecessor, Shavella Miles, lost her job after she failed a polygraph test during an internal investigation after the federal charges were unsealed. She has said that she was a scapegoat and planned to fight for her job. Her attorney could not be reached for comment.

Corrections officials and legislators have been working to find ways to improve safety at the jail.

Gov. Martin O'Malley announced recently that his administration had installed a system to block calls from contraband cell phones, taking an important tool out of the hands of would-be inmate gang members.

Brown said he thought it was important to motivate the many honest, hard-working corrections officers who work at the facility and have come under intense scrutiny.

"We're dealing with bad guys, and correctional officers don't get enough credit for the job that they do," he said.

Officials say the combination of all those efforts has started to bear fruit in recent months, driving down smuggling and violence inside the facility. Brown said the staff at the jail has worked hard to move forward from the federal investigation.

"Honestly, everybody's aware of all the issues that they had there, and change obviously takes time," Brown said. "I think they're definitely well on their way to overcoming a lot of things that occurred."

Union officials who represent officers could not be reached for comment.

Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the corrections department, said Brown's departure will be a loss to the jail.

"Mr. Brown was a valued employee, and someone we certainly didn't want to see depart," Vernarelli said. "But we understand his commitment to family … and appreciate why he chose to leave."

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