From Jeffrey R. Gahler:
Dear Harford County Readers,
On January 26, 2013, the Harford County Detention Center was the scene of yet another death. This was the ninth death of an inmate under Sheriff Bane’s watch and the ninth death while in custody within a protected environment. Any loss of life is tragic and every effort must be made to ensure the safety of those individuals under the supervision of Sheriff Bane while being held at the Detention Center, even if that protection is from themselves. It is Sheriff Bane’s basic responsibility to protect people in his custody from harm and to uphold their constitutional rights. As Sheriff Bane proclaims on his website “The primary purpose of the Detention Center is to provide care, custody and safety of the prisoners and staff.”
Nine in custody deaths in a state-of-the-art facility, not considered structurally deficient in any way, would lead one to look at leadership and official support or absence thereof. It has been publically reported that Sheriff Bane has continually failed to fill the position of warden with a correctional professional with necessary expertise responsible for command and control while creating and filling non-essential and non-operational positions within his office. Troubled facilities like the Harford County Detention Center require qualified leadership to ensure the safety of staff and inmates. Continued inaction will wear down sound correctional order and solidly implant an unsafe environment at the center. Immediate reforms are called for to protect life and maintain control.
Transparency leads to trust. Sheriff Bane’s lack of candor and transparency in his failure to publically provide timely and accurate information to the citizens of Harford County is concerning. Media, on behalf of the public, requested additional incident specific information from the Office of the Sheriff concerning the latest death. Initial reports of an attempted suicide at the Detention Center were not met with additional information until 11 days later when the death was confirmed, not by the Sheriff as has traditionally been the norm, but by the Harford County Department of Law.
In an apparent response to litigation and challenges associated with the Detention Center deaths, Sheriff Bane found it necessary to promulgate new rules and regulations concerning the release of information pertaining to deaths at the Detention Center that further clouds transparency. The Dagger reported the following:
“Beyond the Sheriff’s Office initial release, requests by The Dagger for updates on Miller’s condition went unanswered until four days later. On Jan. 29, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Edward Hopkins said the agency would now follow a new policy regarding all deaths at the Detention Center, under which it would release initial details and then refer further questions to the Harford County Law Department and McCord. The policy was implemented at the direction of Sheriff Jesse Bane over concerns of “possible future litigation” in such cases.”
(Source: DaggerPress, Feb. 6, 2013).
As the above was an odd response to a representative of the public by an Officer elected by the public, I submitted a Public Information Act (PIA) request to Sheriff Bane to obtain additional information on Mr. Miller’s death. The PIA specifically requested a copy of the new policy mentioned by the Sheriff’s release to the Dagger and any internal record keeping that demonstrated the date this policy was instituted and shared with members of the Detention Center Staff. On February 27th, I received a reply from the Office of the Sheriff to my PIA request. The reply indicates there are “no records responsive to my request,” causing me to assume that perhaps this “new policy” does not actually exist. So much for integrity and transparency.
Curiously, on the same date I received the reply to my PIA from the Office of the Sheriff, and after the Sheriff refused requests for information from the Dagger concerning Mr. Miller’s case, the Aegis contained the following headline, “Harford sheriff’s office confirms man died after trying to hang himself in jail.” Contradicting his Public Information Officer’s earlier statement that Sheriff Bane directed implementation of a policy restricting the release of information pertaining to Detention Center deaths, the Office of the Sheriff released the following:
“A Harford Detention Center inmate, who had attempted suicide at the jail, died late last month, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office has confirmed”
(Source: The Aegis, February 27, 2013).
Perhaps the most telling fact of all can also be found in the same Aegis story in the following quote, “Judge Carr was advised on 1/26/13 that while incarcerated Defendant attempted suicide and was still alive but considered ‘clinically dead.’”(Source: The Aegis, February 27, 2013). Sheriff Bane attempted to hide this death and again cloud transparency, as he has been called out doing in the past, and worked hard to find creative workarounds like his “new policy” for more than a month when he knew Mr. Miller was clinically dead at the time of the incident.
In a letter following the eighth death in November 2012, I closed with a challenge to Sheriff Bane that he hire a qualified warden as a vital first step to begin to address the host of issues occurring at the Detention Center. Since that time, he has hired a new public information officer, hired an assistant for his public information officer, expanded his at-will command positions on the law enforcement side, has attempted to establish his own Legal Unit and has kept busy by hiding behind a non-existent “new policy.” Through these actions, it certainly appears Sheriff Bane is more focused on defending himself than preventing future deaths at the jail.
The issue has been and remains clear. Leadership in the form of a qualified warden is needed at the Detention Center. The administration at the center is broken and unresponsive effective staffing has not been addressed and employee morale is all but gone. Instead of addressing the issues, Sheriff Bane choses to try “smoke and mirrors” to mask incompetence. The problem with “smoke and mirrors” is that when someone blows the smoke away or looks behind the mirror they see the truth and that truth is that Sheriff Bane continues to fail the men and women at the Detention Center and the in custody population.
Jeffrey R. Gahler
2014 Republican Candidate for Harford County Sheriff