Allegheny County Jail board ends contract with C-SAU, warden Harper objects

The contract had come under much scrutiny due to the C-SAU leader’s workplace, media, and criminal history

By: - September 22, 2021 6:30 am

(Holding cells at Rockview State Prison, Pa. Dept of Corrections)

By Jason Phox

On Sept. 20, the Allegheny County Jail oversight board voted to terminate an approximately $450,000 contract with the Corrections-Special Applications Unit or C-SAU in a 4-3 vote. The board cited issues with training tactics and personnel during the three-hour debate. The contract had come under much scrutiny due to the C-SAU leader’s workplace, media, and criminal history.

During the contentious meeting, the three board members who had already expressed criticism of C-SAU —  Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, Allegheny County Councilor Bethany Hallam, and former councilor Terri Klein —  were joined by Common Pleas Judge Beth Lazzara in voting against the contract.

Originally, Lazzara asked to proceed with C-SAU’s contract two during a Sept. 3 meeting while investigating for more information about Garcia’s background, but on Sept. 20, she said the matter needed to be taken more seriously and was concerned that C-SAU senior team leader Joseph Garcia refused to answer any questions or be available at the meeting.

With the contract removed, Allegheny County President Judge Kim Clark expressed her concerns during the meeting about the jail’s capacity to comply by Dec. 6 with a ballot referendum which bans solitary condiment, as well as the use of restraints and chemical weapons. Clark said she trusts ACJ warden Orlando Harper to do the right thing and comply with the referendum by Dec. 6.

However, on Sept. 21, Harper said that he “doesn’t intend to follow” the board’s decision, even while admitting that the C-SAU training at the jail was now paused.

According to WESA, Harper argued that the board’s decision was too broad and it would stop any training to comply with the referendum from happening at the jail, despite the objections from the press and others that the language of the board’s decision wouldn’t limit the jail in training.

In July, C-SAU initially accepted a contract to implement military-style training and less-lethal weapons for correctional officers at the jail. Allegheny County officials said this contract was needed to adapt to new policies starting Dec. 6, banning solitary confinement and the use of chemical agents, restraint chairs and leg shackles. The contracts price the training at $347,770, plus $95,000 for ammunition.

However, C-SAU started to become immediately surrounded by controversy, mostly focused on the lack of transparency surrounding Garcia. Local advocacy group Abolitionist Law Center released a statement in August saying Garcia has a history of training correctional officers to perceive incarcerated people negatively. On Sept. 15, a group of advocates called on the board to reject the C-SAU contract, citing Garcia’s record of comparing Black people to dogs.

In August, it was revealed that Garcia has a criminal record in the United Kingdom and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm in Britain. In 1989, he was sentenced to 2.5 years in a British prison. Last year, Garcia told a magazine in an interview that the death of George Floyd could result in a race war against correctional officers.

Once these reports and other information about Garcia’s background and work history were brought to board members, they planned Sept. 20’s meeting to ask Garcia questions about his background and qualifications, along with an explanation for these reports. Though, the board never received a copy of Garcia’s resume and Garcia declined to attend the meeting.

“Upon advice from legal counsel, Joseph Garcia was told that there was nothing that he could add to the conversation,” public information officer for C-SAU Jerry Baldwin said at the Sept. 20 meeting. “The contract was already awarded; he was already vetted by the agency awarding the contract as well as others. It just wasn’t appropriate for him to be here to answer the same questions that others are here to answer.”

C-SAU already billed the county $182,770 for the training it has provided six of the eight weeks agreed upon in the contract. However, Controller Wagner said she is withholding paying C-SAU, aside from the retention fee also agreed upon in the contract.

Jason Phox is a reporter with the Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared. 

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