Sex probe at Detention Center grows Correctional officer becomes second placed on leave

Seven-week inquiry

Male officers, female inmate focus of allegations

September 10, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

A second correctional officer at the Howard County Detention Center has been placed on administrative leave as a result of a seven-week investigation of sexual misconduct between male officers and female inmates at the jail.

County officials have not released the names of the two officers on administrative leave, saying the investigation is a personnel matter. One of the officers has been on administrative leave with pay for about a month, and the other was removed from his post late last week.

The probe is focusing on two officers and a female inmate, jail sources have said, but more officers and inmates may be under investigation.

When the inquiry began in late July, James N. Rollins, the jail director, said it would take a few days. But since then, officials have been moving slowly and have released few details. "They've been very, very closed-mouth about it, unusually so. I don't know why," said George Gisin, a staff member for Council 67 of the Maryland Public Employees Union, which represents jail officers. The lengthy investigation "says one of two things to me: Either nothing exists or they think it is larger than it initially was."

The Howard County Police Department's Internal Affairs Division completed a report of its investigation two weeks ago and gave it to Rollins and County Executive Charles I. Ecker. Despite promises of a public statement about the report, details have not been released.

Late last week, Ecker said that when the police report was completed, he and other county officials had follow-up questions about the investigation. He said he wanted more interviews conducted before any action was taken. Ecker said he might make a statement about the case this week.

"We're trying to make sure whatever action we take is on good grounds," Ecker said. "I think the length of time the investigation has taken is just that we're doing a good job. It has not expanded."

Rollins said, "It's a personnel matter, so we're trying to make sure we handle it appropriately because of the seriousness of the allegations. That's why we're taking our time with this."

At issue are allegations that an officer engaged in sexual activity with an inmate on several occasions at the jail. The inmate told The Sun in August that she also was the subject of several sexual advances by a jail sergeant.

In one case, the inmate said, the sergeant confronted her in an intake area of the jail where she was changing her clothes for a work-release job and demanded that she perform a sex act. The inmate said she refused.

Rollins, who first was told about the allegations by a correctional officer July 22, has said that the police investigation is focusing on accusations against only the two officers put on leave.

But some jail officers allege that other female inmates and other male officers have engaged in sexual activity in the jail. They say other officers also have been questioned by investigators as part of the probe.

Some jail officers and inmates allege that sexual activity in the jail has been a problem for years but that only the recent allegations have been made public.

In this respect, among the allegations that have come up in the current investigation is that a former female inmate became pregnant by a jail guard several years ago, Rollins acknowledged yesterday.

But Rollins said that pregnancy allegation was unsubstantiated, as was the notion that the Howard jail has had a history of improper sexual conduct.

"We've not been known as an institution that has a problem of that nature," he said. "We haven't had a problem until the recent incident."

However, the former female inmate -- who recently was released from the jail after serving another sentence -- has told The Sun that she was impregnated by the officer outside the jail but during the time period she was a weekend inmate. She said that she later had an abortion. The officer no longer works at the jail.

"It's common," the former inmate said of sexual activity at the Detention Center. "It's an interesting place. It's called the Howard County Hilton because it's so laid back."

The 361-bed jail is off Route 175 in Jessup. It usually houses about 250 inmates. Ten percent are women.

The jail has been hailed by state correctional officials as one of the best-run lockups in the state, but it has been the subject of intense scrutiny since last December, when an inmate hanged himself in his cell.

Two of the jail's officers -- they are not involved in the sexual misconduct investigation -- are under investigation for allegedly beating a handcuffed inmate.

The county state's attorney's office is reviewing that case to decide whether to press charges. A decision is expected this week, said State's Attorney Marna McLendon.

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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