Allegheny County Jail Warden Defends Militarist Training Contracts
Allegheny County Jail Superintendent Orlando Harper on Wednesday defended his decision to issue no-tender contracts for militarist training and weapons to thwart this spring’s referendum banning restraint chairs, chemical agents and leg shackles in the prison.
His six-page press release came on the eve of the monthly Prisons Oversight Board meeting, where a motion to ban any of these contractors from carrying out training is expected to be voted on.
The jail and county administration have come under fire over the past month as inmate advocates have criticized the need for militaristic and weapons training at the facility, which primarily holds inmates awaiting trial. .
Harper said he recommended the no-tender contracts, which total more than $400,000 and were approved on July 27, in response to the referendum.
“It is my professional opinion that the ban on the use of chemical agents will lead to more injuries, more confrontations, more safety issues and that these incidents will only continue to get worse,” Harper said in the statement. “Our correctional staff are already working in extraordinary circumstances, but a lack of tools and resources will put their safety and well-being at risk.
The contract that has generated the most anger is with a company called C-SAU, or Corrections Special Applications Unit. It asks the company to provide equipment to 16 “operators,” including weapon and optics accessory kits, as well as “special operations and disaster mitigation programs and services.” high-risk corrections”.
The mitigation program, according to the contract, is for violent inmates with mental health issues.
The company, headed by Joseph Garcia, bills itself as “the nation’s only high-risk corrections special operations mitigation unit.” He is known to respond to prison riots.
In the weeks after the contracts were revealed, prison attorneys found information regarding Garcia and C-SAU.
According to the Abolitionist Law Center, among their findings, C-SAU uses incarcerated people as targets during training. He espouses violence, they say, as noted in a Tactical Life article last year where he is seen dressed in military gear, using weapons, running from helicopters and working with giant schnauzer dogs that he uses in his company.
Last week, the Abolitionist Law Center sent a letter to the county attorney advising that he would file a federal lawsuit if the contracts were not rescinded.
Bethany Hallam, county general counsel and member of the Prisons Oversight Council, said Wednesday that a motion would be introduced on Thursday to bar C-SAU from conducting training at the prison.
“It’s disgusting and scary, and people are going to get hurt,” she said.
In his press release, Harper defended the contract with Garcia, writing that it had been vetted by the National Crime Information Center. His company has been licensed to provide training at 66 other facilities, including 52 law enforcement agencies and 14 correctional departments in 35 states and seven other countries.
Harper said her statement was in response to “criticism and misinformation from the board and the public.”
“As warden of this prison, it is my responsibility to administer policies, programs and staff operations, but the job is much more complex than that. Ultimately, the safety and health of inmates and staff is my responsibility,” he said. “One of my biggest frustrations is how poorly understood the workings of this facility are, and how well-meaning efforts have far-reaching and sometimes negative consequences.”
Harper said the methods used by C-SAU that have been highlighted by prison advocates in recent weeks are not those that will be used at the Allegheny County Jail.
“The facility does not use pepper spray, bean bag projectiles or dogs, to name a few,” Harper said in the statement. “The training provided is very specific to the needs of the Allegheny County Jail.
“Contrary to reports of training at the facility, the drills are neither threatening nor intimidating.”
C-SAU members wear gray uniforms and do not wear helmets, although they have protective gear when walking through the prison, he said. They also carry handcuffs, tasers and lifesaving items, including a first aid kit.
Harper said the eight-week program provides staff with “the most advanced training” and the skills and tools to “defuse and recognize people suffering from mental health crisis, drug and alcohol crisis and behavior management.
In the statement, Harper said the vast majority of those incarcerated at the prison are compliant.
“It’s a last resort and a discouraged but sometimes necessary option,” he said.
Entering into a contract with C-SAU, he said, will help prison staff deal with these incidents.
Conflicting statistics on the use of force
Harper said force will only be used to move an inmate if all other de-escalation options have failed.
He said there were only nine cell extractions in 2018 and 2019, five in 2020 and none so far this year.
However, his publication does not address statistics provided by the state Department of Corrections that showed the Allegheny County Jail had the highest incidence of use of force of any facility in the state. State in 2019, with 720.
Jaclyn Kurin, an attorney at the Abolitionist Law Center, strongly criticized Harper’s press release.
“Director Harper’s publicly self-serving statement contains numerous provable lies, misrepresentations, and gross distortions about Joseph Garcia, his militaristic training, and the CNA’s history and practice of using force in prison,” said she declared. “The truth is that correctional experts and multiple lawsuits have demonstrated that Garcia does not teach de-escalation and that his militaristic trainings have led to violations of correctional standards and federal laws, and caused serious bodily harm.”
Kurin’s group is currently investigating claims against the county for conspiracy to violate the civil rights of those incarcerated at the jail, who Garcia says are the officers’ enemies.
“All Harper and Garcia have as evidence for their claims is, ‘Trust me at my word. You should believe me because I say so,” she said. “But there’s no reason to believe them. Garcia has repeatedly lied about his work history, and credible reports show he also has a violent criminal record.
Hallam also said Harper was unable to dismiss any of the claims circulating about Garcia.
“I trust the evidence and the facts and not Director Harper’s baseless assertions,” Hallam said.