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Delegates to demand investigation of MCTC strip searches

August 15, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- During an emotional meeting Wednesday night, Maryland Correctional Training Center employees told local state delegates about the strip searches to which they were subjected when they showed up for work Tuesday morning, according to delegates who attended the meeting.

Several of the employees cried as they discussed the situation, the delegates said.

"It's just about as bad as having been raped," said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, who attended Tuesday night's meeting at a Hagerstown restaurant.

The strip search turned up no contraband either on employees or in their vehicles, prison and union officials said Wednesday.

The employees said at the meeting that their immediate supervisors were in the room during the searches, Myers said. One woman said her supervisor made some "very nasty and cruel remarks," including calling her a "troublemaker" during the search, Myers said.

"Now, they have to work with these people who conducted this intimate search," Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said Thursday afternoon.

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The searches came after scans by an IONSCAN counter-narcotic drug detection system indicated traces of drugs.

"Their dignity was robbed and, quite frankly, their civil rights were violated in the way this whole situation was handled," Shank said.

"If you want to limit contraband, limit inmate contact visits ... don't require employees to disrobe in front of their colleagues," Shank said.

Many, though not all, of the searches involved full body cavity searches, Shank said.

"They were humiliated by almost being treated like an inmate," Myers said.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington also attended the meeting.

The three delegates plan to draft a letter to prison officials requesting a full investigation, Myers and Shank said.

Commissioner speaks

Division of Correction Commissioner Michael Stouffer met Thursday with eight of the nine employees at MCTC south of Hagerstown, and spoke over the phone with the other employee who was searched.

The employees expressed concern about the accuracy of the IONSCAN counter-narcotic drug detection system and about the level of respect shown to them during the searches, Stouffer said Thursday afternoon.

Stouffer said he has asked for reports regarding the searches, and will review that information and his conversations with those who were searched.

"I'm the commissioner, I'm responsible for this and I'm accountable for it," he said. "If we did something wrong, we're going to fix it."

Pending further review of the scanning and searching procedures, the DOC will not use the procedure on its employees, Stouffer said.

MCTC Warden D. Kenneth Horning had requested that the DOC Contraband Interdiction Team (CIT) perform the scans and searches because of a recent increase of contraband-related problems, prison officials have said.

Stouffer was aware of multiple overdoses, including one recent fatal overdose, he said.

Contact visits, supply trucks and employees are only a few of many ways that contraband gets inside the prisons, Stouffer said.

"Visits are a problem, but so are other areas," he said.

Stouffer said he was not ready to pass judgment on whether DOC regulations were followed during the searches.

'A lot of wrong ..."

But Myers and Shank said they do not believe the searches were compliant with regulations.

The IONSCAN was used in an area where K-9 training is conducted for the dogs who sniff out drugs, Myers said.

Trainers put drug samples in nearby lockers to test the dogs, Shank said. He called the location of the scanning the "most blatant" violation of regulations.

According to a copy of the DOC regulations obtained by The Herald-Mail, "The IONSCAN system may not be used in an area where confiscated CDS or contraband are collected or stored."

Some of the searches were held in violation of the regulations, the delegates said. Some of the employees who were searched tested far below the levels at which a strip search and K-9 search of an employee's vehicle are required, Shank said.

DOC regulations call for strip searches when the IONSCAN shows a reading of 400. Two of the employees who were searched went through the IONSCAN and showed readings of 116 and 119, Myers said.

Trace amounts of drugs on something like a dollar bill, or on the watch of a correctional officer who routinely pats down inmates, would have been enough to alert the scan, Shank said.

In a conversation with the commissioner, the delegate told him strip searches should not be conducted without a whole lot more evidence, Myers said.

"A lot of wrong needs to be righted," he said.

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