Two internal prison investigators who had been involved in separate high-profile inquiries, including the beating death of an inmate in Baltimore last month, were reassigned to correctional officer jobs by state officials this week, with no explanation, according to a union representing the officers.
One of the investigators helped lead the inquiry into the homicide of Raymond K. Smoot, who died after correctional officers punched, kicked and stomped on him at Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center.
The other investigator, who was based on the Eastern Shore, was involved in the politically charged investigation last year of state elections chief Linda H. Lamone. Lamone succeeded in keeping her position, despite efforts from others on the elections board to oust her by tasking a prisons investigator to dig up information on her.
"We feel [their reassignment] is strictly political," said Herbert Berry Jr., a labor representative for the Maryland Correctional Law Enforcement Union. "They have exceptional evaluations, no disciplinary history."
Both investigators declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of their positions, Berry said.
State corrections officials confirmed the reassignment of the two investigators but refused to disclose the reason behind the transfers, referring to employee confidentiality rules.
"At this point, it is a personnel issue," said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. "I have no idea why they were transferred, and I couldn't discuss it if I did know."
The state's transfer of the two investigators comes during a period of persistent complaints against the state prison system from correctional officer labor unions, their rank and file members, and current and former prison officials. Many have recently criticized the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services for staffing reductions and crowding at several facilities that, they say, endanger inmates and staff.
Berry said he thinks the transfers might stem, in part, from the investigators' complaints of heavy caseloads and inadequate staffing in the Internal Investigative Unit of the Department of Public Safety. The unit is made up of roughly 20 officers who investigate inmate deaths and other serious incidents in Maryland's prisons and Baltimore's jail facilities - a system that holds 27,000 inmates at any time.
The department's secretary, Mary Ann Saar, said in a statement yesterday that her agency is committed to ensuring the safety of officers and inmates, after she was criticized this week by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92. On Wednesday, the labor union, which represents correctional officers, blamed the state for compromising the safety of staff and inmates because of understaffed facilities.
Saar said the state recently spent $1.2 million on new safety equipment for officers and will continue to focus on "control and custody, as well as treatment and rehabilitation."
Saar authorized the transfer of the two investigators, Berry said. The investigators, who have received extensive law enforcement training at taxpayer expense, are similar to internal affairs detectives found in many police departments. IIU officers have the authority to investigate and charge inmates and prison staff for administrative and criminal offenses.
An IIU investigation laid the groundwork for state corrections officials last week to fire eight officers connected with the Smoot incident. Vernarelli said the investigation will not be affected by the departure of the investigator because there were another dozen investigators involved, and the case was handed to the city state's attorney's office this week.
The prosecutors' office, which declined to comment on the investigation or the IIU officer's transfer, will determine whether criminal charges will be filed against any correctional officers implicated in Smoot's death.
Berry said the investigator who helped lead the inquiry into Smoot's death has worked for the unit for four years. On Monday, soon after giving the department's findings to prosecutors, the investigator was handed a letter by his boss, Maj. Douglas Cloman, that announced his reassignment.
Neither Cloman nor the letter, which was signed by Saar, offered a reason for the reassignment, Berry said.
Cloman did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.
Legislators familiar with the unit said yesterday that they are disturbed by the officers' transfers and want to learn more about the reasons behind the state's moves.
"I don't have any idea what's going on here," said state Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee. "The [investigators' reassignments] are very unusual and very significant."
State Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat who criticized Saar for diverting scarce resources for the Lamone inquiry, said he is concerned about the transfers.
"It concerns you when you have spent money on special training for this type of work, and then to reassign them back into areas where they've done investigations on [inmates and prison staff]?" DeGrange said. "How are these [officers] going to be received?"
Berry said the investigators fear that their transfers back into correctional institutions, where they have conducted investigations of inmates and staff, will jeopardize their safety.