Sex probe focuses on county jail Police investigating misconduct allegations involving male officers

Officials withhold details

Report is expected by end of week, says Detention Center chief

July 31, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Howard County police are investigating as many as five male correctional officers at the Howard County Detention Center for alleged sexual misconduct with as many as three female inmates.

County officials would not comment on details of the investigation but confirmed that police launched a probe last week after a complaint was received by jail Director James N. Rollins. It was unclear yesterday whether the complaint came from inmates or officers.

"There are allegations being made, and we are investigating," Raquel Sanudo, the county's administrator, said this week. "They are allegations of a sexual matter. We need to get to the bottom of these allegations."

The complaint comes amid tension between groups of officers at the jail over assignments and promotions.

It also comes as jail officials try to find stability after troubles at the facility in the past eight months, including a suicide and a controversy involving a shift commander.

Although county officials would not provide details of the sexual misconduct investigation, jail officers, who asked not to be identified, say it involves four correctional officers and a sergeant.

Two of the three female inmates allegedly involved are still incarcerated, officers said. A third has been released.

Rollins said he received a complaint about the allegations July 22 and then called the Police Department's Internal Affairs Division to investigate. Rollins said he expects a report from county police by the end of this week.

In the meantime, no action has been taken against the officers accused, Rollins said.

"We're assisting in the investigation," he said. "I haven't taken any personnel action, because I haven't been briefed. It is a personnel matter, so I have no other comment."

According to jail sources, Lt. Herman L. Charity, head of the county Police Department's internal affairs unit, Maj. Mark L. Paterni, the department's second in command, and possibly a third high-ranking police official visited the jail last Thursday to investigate the allegations.

Charity and Sgt. Steven Keller, a spokesman for the Police Department, would not comment on the investigation.

The Howard jail, touted as a state-of-the-art detention center, is a 123,000-square-foot facility off Route 175 in Jessup. The 361-bed jail usually houses about 220 inmates, most of whom stay three to six months while awaiting trial.

Only 10 percent of the inmates are women, usually arrested on such charges as forgery or drug abuse. The women are housed in separate cell blocks from male inmates but are overseen by both male and female officers.

The jail has been under scrutiny since last December's death of inmate Edward Leroy Bennett, a Baltimore man who hanged himself in his cell from a sprinkler head.

Bennett's family has filed a $3 million lawsuit against the jail, jail officers and county officials on behalf of his two minor sons.

In May, Capt. Thomas Vernon Kimball, a controversial shift commander who oversaw almost half of the jail's correctional officers, was removed from his post after inquiries by The Sun revealed that he was not certified by the state to hold his position.

The Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions ordered Kimball to return to the state's training academy for correctional officers, where he "is doing very well," Rollins said during a recent interview. His training is due to be completed early next month.

In a separate case, Kimball and Officer Alex Harold Jacobs have been accused by a former inmate of beating him in detention while he was handcuffed. The county State's Attorney's Office is reviewing that case.

Pub Date: 7/31/96

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