HOWARD COUNTY administrators got it wrong when drawing the line between public information and confidentiality in their investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by detention center guards. County Executive Charles Ecker and James Rollins, director of the county's detention center, say they completed their inquiry into the misconduct claims, took appropriate action and the public needs to know nothing more.
They may be right in saying that the state's public information law prevents them from disclosing the identities of officers involved in the investigation. But they're wrong to hide behind a legal wall in refusing to give the public a better sense of what happened at the county jail and to say what action is being taken to prevent the misconduct from happening again.
A female inmate told The Sun last month that a male sergeant made several unwanted sexual advances to her at the jail and that she performed oral sex with an officer in the facility's medical unit.
We were encouraged by the response of Mr. Rollins in taking these charges seriously and conducting an immediate investigation. That is why we are especially disappointed that the county failed to disclose the extent of misconduct by guards.
Mr. Ecker offered a useless response: "A thorough internal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct at the detention center has been completed. As a result, the county has taken what it feels is appropriate action. There will be no further comment since this involves matters of a personnel nature."
While state law prohibits the county from disclosing records of personnel action against specific employees, Mr. Ecker's statement fails to bring an end to this embarrassing episode. Far from it. The public is left wondering about the magnitude of the improprieties at the jail -- some might speculate that these problems were worse than reported.
Female inmates are held at the jail while awaiting trial or serving short sentences. Guards ensure their confinement in the facility, but their authority does not give them the right to take sexual advantage of prisoners. The public deserves more assurance than the flimsy statements it received that proper steps have been taken to prevent a reoccurrence.
Pub Date: 9/24/96