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Suit: Employees made to crouch naked during strip search

Report: Numerous events during ION Scan operation violated directives

Report: Numerous events during ION Scan operation violated directives

July 09, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

o Use of ION Scan equipment on hold

HAGERSTOWN -- Employees at Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown were made to crouch naked and cough during strip searches Aug. 12, 2008, according to a $40 million lawsuit filed Monday in Washington County Circuit Court.

The eight plaintiffs ask for $20 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages.

A Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman said Thursday the department would not comment on active litigation.

According to the lawsuit, one woman was publicly ridiculed by the woman who searched her for not wearing underwear the day of the search. The woman who performed the search also searched another female prison employee and told coworkers what type of underwear the woman had been wearing, the lawsuit alleges.

An MCTC captain made what appear to be racially motivated statements to one of the men who was searched shortly after the search was completed, according to the lawsuit.

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One of the defendants named in the suit made a reference to the size of one of the men's genitalia about a day after the search, the lawsuit alleges.

Nine people were strip searched Aug. 12, 2008, according to internal Division of Correction documents. The searches came after scans by an ION Scan counter-narcotic drug detection system indicated traces of drugs.

According to the lawsuit, an ION Scan only detects the presence of drugs on the surface of clothing or personal items. No contraband was found either on employees or in their vehicles.

Heather Braun, Joseph L. Goodrich, George Keefer, Kristi Morrow, Robert Mumma, Joseph L. Rodriguez, Jeremy Sowers and Amber Ward are listed as plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed by attorneys based in Baltimore and Bethesda, Md. The ninth person who was searched is not a plaintiff in the case, according to Neil Hyman, one of the attorneys who filed the suit.

Three of the plaintiffs are correctional officers, three are civil employees of DPSCS, one was employed by the Department of Education and one was an independent medical contractor.

An internal report shows correctional staff did not have the authority to search either the Department of Education employee or the medical contractor without their consent.

Gary Maynard, DPSCS secretary; Michael Stouffer, commissioner of corrections; James V. Peguese, assistant commissioner of security operations; and MCTC Warden D. Kenneth Horning are named as defendants in the suit.

Also named as defendants are MCTC officers Capt. Frederick Walls, Lt. Kenneth Frick and Lt. Rhonda Ralston. Lt. Tonya Leonard, who worked at DPSCS headquarters, is also a defendant.

"How do you give somebody their dignity back?" Hyman asked.

Hyman said he believes seven of his clients continue to work at MCTC. The eighth transferred to another DOC facility as a result of the strip search, he said.

A report provided to Stouffer found numerous events during the ION Scan operation that were in violation of directives.

Leonard, the defendant who was to "oversee" the ION Scan operation, was asked by investigators why she ordered the strip searches. Leonard said she made the call based on a prior ION Scan operation in Baltimore, where employees were searched if the ION Scan alarm went off at any level, according to the report.

An employee should only be searched if the alarm sounds at a threshold of 400 or above, and most of the people who were strip searched set off the alarm at a threshold much lower than 400, according to the report.

Other explanations were offered for why the alarm might have sounded.

Rodriguez worked in a lab where he conducted urinalysis on the inmate population, and just days before the search field-tested marijuana in the course of his duties, the internal report shows.

One of the women is married to a police officer, and another was engaged to a police officer. Contact with police officers could have contributed to an ION Scan alarm, the report shows.

"What is so infuriating about this situation is this entire lawsuit could have been totally avoided," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who met with the employees the day after they were strip searched.

Those who had been strip searched went through a process of settlement talks with the state, Shank said. Money was not among their list of demands, he said. The employees wanted a sincere apology from Maynard, some counseling and to talk about the process and new regulations regarding the searches, Shank said.

The state "gave them the runaround," Shank said.

Hyman provided a copy of the report made after a DPSCS internal investigation into the "contraband interdiction operation" at MCTC.

Prison officials said Horning requested the operation, which was approved by Peguese, after several recent incidents during which contraband was found in the prison.

In a memo dated Aug. 11, 2008, and addressed to the MCTC Administration, an apparent drug ring is discussed. An inmate found unresponsive in his cell Aug. 8, 2008, and pronounced dead at Washington County Hospital, is mentioned in the memo.

The memo includes several inmate names and discusses who keeps drugs and where. It also identifies an inmate as "the biggest drug dealer at MCTC."

The memo also identifies a female visitor who prison investigators believe was bringing drugs, cell phones and prescription pills to an inmate. The woman left prison property rather than allow a search of her or her vehicle, according to the memo.

"They knew exactly why drugs were coming into the institution, from contact visits, they knew who was bringing them in, had them in their sights, yet took it out on the employees," said Shank, who provided a copy of the memo to The Herald-Mail.

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