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Union threatens lawsuits over MCTC strip searches

August 22, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- With a grievance already filed in connection with strip searches performed earlier this month on nine employees at the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown, union leaders are exploring the possibility of civil lawsuits on behalf of their members.

The Aug. 12 strip searches turned up no contraband either on employees or in their vehicles, prison and union officials said a day after the searches.

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

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.

The employees met later that week with members of the Western Maryland delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to express their outrage at the searches.

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The employees said at that meeting that their immediate supervisors were in the room during the searches, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said in an interview following the meeting.

"We have been very pleased with the support from our legislators," said Larry Kump, regional governor for the Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA) in the four Western Maryland counties.

In an e-mail sent Friday, Kump said the Division of Correction (DOC) "seems to be doing everything they can to drag their feet and stifle legitimate employee concerns."

"I'm hoping that the MCEA members at MCTC come forward to help put the DOC's feet to the fire," Kump said.

Jon Galley, assistant commissioner of the DOC's Western region, said he had no comment Friday about the threat of civil lawsuits in the matter. DOC Commissioner Michael Stouffer, who met with the employees after the strip searches, was unavailable for comment Friday.

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

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 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, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said following the meeting with the employees.

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.

Kump said he made a motion to pursue the lawsuits during a Thursday night union meeting.

Kump asks that MCEA members subjected to the strip searches contact Ron Smith, an MCEA labor relations specialist, to provide information to him for the union's legal counsel.

"Hillary Davis is the MCEA legal counsel, and she wants to know what kind of restitution the employees are looking for," Kump said Friday.

In the interim, Kump said MCEA also continues to work on multiple grievance remedies and is seeking further meetings with appropriate authorities.

"We want to know who authorized this Keystone Kops operation," Kump said.

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