CUMBERLAND — Hours before a meeting with correctional officers, state corrections officials on Monday meted out discipline against a top official at the North Branch Correctional Institution after a policy violation that left a correctional officer unaware that a threat was made against him.
Corrections officials an-nounced the removal and reassignment of the chief of security at NBCI Monday afternoon. The department did not name the official, but the state corrections website lists Keith A. Arnold as chief of security at NBCI. Further disciplinary actions will follow, officials said.
“Departmental policy spells out an action plan that is to be followed when the threat becomes known, including notifying the threatened employee, contacting the DPSCS Internal Investigative Unit (IIU), and taking action necessary to protect employees and staff,” according to a press release from the DPSCS.
An investigation “uncovered several deficiencies” in how the notification policy was handled. “The former security chief will remain employed with the Department but will be reassigned,” according to the press release.
The chief of Maryland’s prison operations had said in a Monday interview with the Times-News that disciplinary action would be taken in response to the breakdown in communication that left corrections officer Herbert Hilliard blind to a direct threat against him. Gary Maynard, the secretary for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, stopped at the Times-News Monday to answer questions on a spate of attacks on correctional officers at the North Branch Correctional Institution.
“We are looking towards some policy changes,” Maynard said.
He said the changes would be designed to make sure such threats don’t “fall through the cracks,” as did a threat against Hilliard, who was stabbed Aug. 5. He survived the attack that left him with 10 stab wounds.
Maynard said Maryland law prevents him from specifically describing disciplinary actions and the individuals who would be disciplined. He also said some regulations about how movement of prisoners are handled might be changed to help with safety issues for corrections officers.
A rise in violence at Western Maryland maximum-security correctional institutions has resulted in 15 correctional officers being injured in 30 days. The attack on Hilliard was considered a serious assault under the department’s classification system, as are all assaults requiring hospital admission.
“As a former correctional officer, I know that nothing is more important to this department than the safety and security of our staff,” said Deputy Secretary for Operations J. Michael Stouffer. “When policies are not properly followed, officer safety is compromised. Discipline must be swift and severe for those employees who do not adhere to policy when doing so results in injuries to staff.”
The department has been under siege recently, and not only in Western Maryland. A federal investigation uncovered a corrupt staff and inmate-run situation at the Baltimore City Detention Center. Correctional officers and inmates ended up facing numerous federal charges. Maynard said there is no relation between events in the Baltimore City Detention Center and the assaults at NBCI. He said the failure to notify Hilliard was not intentional.
There was no malicious intent there, someone dropped the ball,” Maynard said.
While Maynard is considering changes, he also believes “there’s nothing systemic,” at NBCI. Until the recent attacks, assaults of correctional officers were actually down at NBCI, and assaults are down significantly system-wide, Maynard said.
The assault was not likely connected to an anonymous letter that threatened the officer, Maynard said. Inmate Richard Crawford, 44, was charged with assault in the attack.
“This inmate was a loner ... we don’t know if there’s an association between the person who wrote the letter and the person (who committed the assault),” Maynard said.
The letter writer implied that he was in charge of some sort of inmate-run security system and named two guards the inmates wanted transferred out of that area of the prison. The letter writer is being investigated separately, Maynard said.
“Inmates typically expand the truth a little,” Maynard said.
Maynard was on his way to a 6 p.m. town hall meeting, arranged by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union representing the correctional officers. The union closed the meeting to the press.
Previous coverage in the Times-News has included interviews with union leaders and with the officer recently assaulted at North Branch Correctional Institution. The District 1 legislative delegation decided to attend the meeting to show support for the correctional officers.
Maynard said he was heading to the meeting to listen to the correctional officers and explain how he plans to address the issues at NBCI. He took full responsibility for the situation.
“I am sure there is a degree of frustration. ... I am responsible for their safety. I have been, I will be ... the responsible person. That will be the case tonight. I intend to listen to their thoughts,” Maynard said.
AFSCME, the officers and their families had united behind demands for the termination of Northern Region Executive Director Jon Galley and Director Rod Sowers, Stouffer, NBCI Major Tommy Mellott and Arnold. Galley announced last week that he will retire in November. Maynard said Galley’s retirement is unrelated to recent events at NBCI.
The meeting was expected to focus on issues surrounding the spike in inmate-on-officer violence at NBCI that has occurred in recent months. The meeting was held at Allegany College of Maryland.
Contact Matthew Bieniek at email@example.com.