Warden digs in after jail board bans controversial training

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Outside of the Allegheny County Jail building

Allegheny County Jail. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

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Update: Warden views board decision as broad ban on training

The day after the Jail Oversight Board voted to halt training by C-SAU and Joseph Garcia at the county jail, Warden Orlando Harper said "I do not intend to follow" the board's decision, though it appeared he perceived the order to be broader than the board's intent.

At a press conference outside the jail Tuesday, he claimed the board's motion bans "all training" that is "similar" to that of C-SAU. The text of the motion says it bans training from "Allegheny County, C-SAU, Joseph Garcia" as well as "any related entities." When pressed by reporters to clarify his view of the order, Harper said he would confer with the county law department. A spokesperson for the county confirmed that they view the text of the board's motion as overly broad.

Harper said “C-SAU has been paused” but he will continue to seek needed training elsewhere.  He said the board’s decision "further jeopardizes the safety and security of this facility."

"They did not limit this to the training that they raised concerns with, but used irresponsibly broad language that prevents me from training someone to administer medication, learn CPR, or even to bring new cadets into our facility," Harper said Tuesday. 

Brad Korinski, the chief counsel to County Controller Chelsa Wagner, said the "related entities" language was included to make sure that Garcia and his associates couldn't quickly form a new company to sidestep the ban.

“I’m going to refer that to the law department,” Harper said when reporters pressed him on his interpretation of “related entities.” Reached for comment, county spokesperson Amie Downs said, “It is under review.”

Monday: Oversight board votes to ban controversial training from county jail

The Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board voted Monday to cancel a controversial training contract after a trainer’s professional history was called into question. Training had already begun under the $300,000 agreement when the oversight board voted to halt it.

Objections centered around the company, C-SAU, and its leader, Joseph Garcia. C-SAU trains correctional officers with militaristic methods for cell extraction and less-lethal force. ACJ Warden Orlando Harper said the training was made necessary after voters decided in May to ban solitary confinement, restraint chairs, leg shackles and chemical weapons.

A use-of-force expert who testified at the meeting said the bans could indeed cause problems at the jail, but he raised alarm over an inmate death that occurred in January at a South Carolina jail that had previously contracted with C-SAU.

The expert, Gary Raney, reviewed the South Carolina case as a consultant and told the oversight board Monday that the officers involved in the inmate’s death were acting in accordance with their C-SAU training.

“It was a gross violation of what we call generally accepted jail practices as well as the use of force,” Raney said Monday. “I thought they were going to be criminally charged.

“The yelling, the premature force … All of that was consistent with what they were taught.”

Harper defended Garcia and C-SAU in the South Carolina case, saying that there was no connection since Garcia’s work there ended in 2019. 

Harper said the training has made his officers into “leaders” and that they’ve learned more during the first six weeks of training than they learned during “their entire career at this agency.”

The Tribune-Review reported last week that court filings show that trainings led by Garcia elsewhere involved instructing officers to fire concussive grenades and gouge inmates’ eyes. When pressed at a previous oversight board meeting, Garcia claimed to work at four Virginia sheriff's offices. The Tribune-Review reported that those offices said Garcia was never an employee. Neither Garcia nor the jail have provided the oversight board with his CV. Garcia was absent Monday; a C-SAU representative was present and said Garcia did not attend on “advice of his legal counsel.”

A top complaint from oversight board members was a lack of information provided by the county and C-SAU. Members pressed a C-SAU representative for information on Garcia’s work history, lawsuits against Garcia and C-SAU and other background, and little was offered. Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said she was “offended” and “absolutely irate” that the board had to proceed without more information. 

Judge Beth Lazzara’s closing statement reflected the view of several board members, saying that new training is needed but C-SAU is the wrong source.

“We are all concerned that methods that could have worked have been taken away from the jail,” Lazzara said. “I am however incredibly concerned that the person who is supposed to be helping lead us forward has so completely refused to answer any questions and be available.”

Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource's local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at charlie@publicsource.org and on Twitter @chwolfson.

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