County's deal with controversial prison contractor scheduled for another vote

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

The York County Board of Commissioners might finally approve the $252,770 contract with CSAU that has been discussed since August.

On the agenda for Wednesday's meeting is a motion to "ratify a contract agreement between the County of York, on behalf of the York County Prison, and C-SAU LLC, Greenville, South Carolina, with de minimas changes from the agreement approved on October 20, 2021."

"De minimis" refers to changes to contracts deemed to be minor.

READ MORE: Did York County violate the Sunshine Law with prison contract vote?

Although the Board of Commissioners had approved a second contract with CSAU in October, comments made during that meeting caused the county to pause to make changes to the contract.

A photo of an issue of "Tactical Life," where CSAU "Senior Team Leader" Joseph Garcia expressed concerns of a "racial war" after George Floyd's murder.

Those comments highlighted CSAU "senior team leader" Joseph Garcia, who had mocked Black Lives Matter on a podcast and predicted a "racial war" against corrections officers in the wake of the George Floyd murder.

At the time, the York NAACP asked for more time to give public input on the contract.

“It is outrageous that the Prison Board and the County Commissioners plan to continue doing business with this organization," York NAACP President Jamiel Alexander said in an Oct. 19 news release. "We will not ignore this. Allow public input before you allocate these funds.”

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It was the second pause by county officials, who in March investigated alleged abuses at York County Prison by the organization.

READ MORE: Investigator calls York's prison trainer 'the Bernie Madoff of correctional consultants'

If approved, the contract would be the second with CSAU. During the group's previous no-bid contract approved in November 2020, inmates at York County Prison alleged abuses by the contractor, which prison officials have denied.

Warden Adam Ogle later had to email Garcia asking him to take down photos of the prison that Garcia had posted to his Facebook page to promote CSAU.

Garcia, who spent time in a British prison in the 1980s for conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm, was sharply criticized by a private investigator who had been hired by Allegheny County to conduct a background check on him when their prison warden gave CSAU a no-bid contract.

A photo from the Corrections Special Applications Unit Instagram page. York County Prison wants to contract with CSAU again, even after a controversial March 31 incident.

The Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board eventually voted to prohibit Allegheny County Jail from contracting with CSAU.

More:Allegations of physical threats and sexual abuse dog York County Prison contractor

During that process, the Jail Oversight Board also spoke with use of force expert Gary Raney, who had been hired to conduct a use of force analysis in Charleston County, South Carolina, after the death of inmate Jamal Sutherland in January of this year.

The Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center contracted with a former group of Garcia's, U.S. C-SOG, for over a decade to provide training. Although no charges were brought against the two officers involved in the death of Sutherland, they were fired and the city settled with Sutherland's family for $10 million.

At a Sept. 20 meeting of the Jail Oversight Board, Allegheny County official Bethany Hallam asked Raney, a former sheriff with more than 30 years of experience, if he would hire Garcia and his group to provide training at his correctional facility.

Raney replied bluntly: "No." 

Notably, Wednesday's agenda provides a period of public comment before the vote. At the Oct. 20 meeting, the Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the contract before allowing for public comment, which could constitute a Sunshine Act violation.

"The whole purpose, the underpinning purpose is to hear from the public before you take action," said Paula Knudsen Burke, an attorney for the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, in October. "If you want public participation, you don't take the vote and then ask the public what they think. And that's not what the Sunshine Act says either."

This time, the public will be able to comment on the CSAU contract before the vote.

The meeting begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the York County Administrative Center, 28 E. Market St.

— Matt Enright can be reached via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.