BALTIMORE (AP) — Gang leaders ruled the Baltimore City Detention Center, using smuggled cellphones to direct crimes on the streets outside, dealing drugs and getting four guards pregnant, a prosecutor said Wednesday at the opening of a major corruption trial involving dozens of officers and inmates.
Prosecutor Robert Harding said corrupt guards allowed the state-run jail to become the undisputed turf of the Black Guerilla Family, a gang led locally by Tayvon "Bulldog" White.
White was indicted last year along with 16 other inmates and 27 correctional officers, but agreed to cooperate and is expected to testify against the others.
The indictment detailed how compliant guards helped BGF members smuggle drugs and cellphones — crucial for conducting outside business — into correctional facilities.
Just who was boss in the Baltimore jail became evident in a call "Bulldog" made to a friend in January 2013 while he was behind bars awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge, court papers show.
"This is my jail. You understand that," White was recorded as saying. "I make every final call in this jail ... everything come to me."
"Whatever I say is law," White said in another call a month later. "I am the law."
The defendants faced charges including conspiracy, drug distribution and money laundering. Nearly all accepted plea deals. This trial involves two inmates, five guards and another state employee.
Harding described a jail plagued with corruption, where criminals operated with impunity. Four of the five officers on trial had sex with gang members, he said.
"There was no raising of the BGF flag on the guard tower, but a gradual assumption of an incredible amount of power by the prison gang," Harding said. "They operated an underground economy in the prison for years. How is this possible?
"People were supposed to be protecting the public interest but instead opted to form an alliance with an exceedingly violent gang," he said.
Defendants include Joseph "Monster" Young, accused of being a floor boss who punished inmates suspected of stealing cellphones from a fellow gang member; and Russell Carrington, or "Rutt," who allegedly tried to recruit guards as smugglers.
Carrington's attorney, Tony Martin, insisted that his client shouldn't be lumped together with the others. Other defense lawyers urged jurors not to believe "Bulldog," saying he's still running the show and trying to implicate their clients in crimes for which he is wholly responsible.
The indictment provoked harsh criticism in Maryland. The prisons chief resigned his post six months later, and several new laws were passed to strengthen security and oversight.
The Public Safety department added staff in its intelligence and investigations unit and is developing a polygraph unit to test guard candidates, spokesman Mark Vernarelli said. The department invested $4 million in technology to block calls on unauthorized cellphones, and the facility is searched at least once a week, he said.
One new law enables the state to remove guards without pay for bringing not just drugs and alcohol, but also a cellphone or charger behind bars. Another raises fines for visitors who smuggle in electronics, and increases jail time for inmates caught with contraband.
Authorities have tried for years to dismantle the BGF. The gang formed in San Francisco in the 1960s and by 2008 had a monopoly over the drug trade inside the Baltimore jail. A federal probe in 2009 also led to indictments of many BGF members and associates, including four prison guards.
The BGF is considered primarily a prison gang, though its operations have branched out onto the streets of major cities across America. It is organized in units or "bubbles," and each unit has a commander and others who perform specific duties. The Black Guerilla Family also has its own manual, "The Black Book," sold to inmates at a discounted price, according to court documents.
But members who fail to follow the code of conduct are subject to disciplinary measures that can include fines, beatings, stabbings or in extreme cases, murders. Within the prison system investigators say BGF members tend to extort other inmates, threatening them with violence if they or their families fail to pay off members of the gang for protection.
Despite the latest upgrades and scrutiny, the gang still maintains its stronghold in the jail, said detective Jonathan Hayden, who testified Tuesday in a separate BGF drug case.
"They still have quite a bit of control, especially within the 'working men,'" Hayden said, referring to inmates assigned janitorial, food service or laundry jobs. "They still have a very good highway of information flowing from the jail onto the street."