Court issues default judgment against York County Prison contractor

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Joseph Garcia, the guard training contractor at the heart of a lawsuit filed on behalf of York County Prison inmates, has failed to appear in court.

And that could cost him, as a U.S. district court issued a default judgment against Garcia and his company.

What that means is that the court has ruled against Garcia and his company due to its failure to respond. However, the award of potential damages won't be decided until after other motions the case, namely those filed by York County, are resolved.

"As a matter of law, they're liable," attorney for the plaintiffs Alan Denenberg said Monday.

In an email, Garcia claimed that C-SAU was never properly served, citing a motion filed by York County's attorney, Matthew Clayberger, in April stating the company had not received the lawsuit.

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According to court records, a second motion by the plaintiffs to hold C-SAU and Garcia in default was filed in July; an order by the court against Garcia and C-SAU was filed Nov. 15.

“This frivolous lawsuit is without merit and is solely based on false and malicious rumors," Garcia said, in a written response to questions by The York Dispatch. "C-SAU has cooperated fully with the investigation and cleared C-SAU of all allegations concerning this frivolous lawsuit.“

Joseph Garcia, who leads CSAU, in a promotional video he recorded last year for Tactical Life magazine in which he describes the group's tactics.

It's the latest controversy for Garcia and C-SAU, which has faced allegations of mistreating inmates at the prison during training exercises with staff. Despite those complaints and a lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates, York County approved a second contract — worth $252,770 over two years — with the firm in August.

The county, through Chief Clerk Greg Monskie, declined comment on the default judgment and on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation.

Denenberg, who represents the inmates, said the other motions in the case must first be resolved before any action is taken on the default judgment. The plaintiffs are attempting to get the lawsuit filed as a class-action suit — which would broaden the pool of plaintiffs to any inmate who was jailed at the facility since C-SAU began its work — while the county is attempting to have the case dismissed. Decisions on those motions have been transferred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

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C-SAU has faced controversy elsewhere in the country. In a court case in Weld County, Colorado, a settlement with a former inmate included a stipulation that local officials never hire C-SAU or any group led by Garcia.

In Charleston, South Carolina, an earlier incarnation of C-SAU called the Corrections Special Organizations Group, or C-SOG, was the subject of an external investigation following the death of an inmate, Jamal Sutherland, in January 2021.

While the two officers involved in the death were not charged, they were fired. The jail settled with the victim's family for $10 million.

Allegheny County, meanwhile, barred its jail from contracting with C-SAU.

A background check conducted by a private investigator on Garcia found he had spent time in a British prison for conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm in the 1980s.

— Reach Matt Enright via email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.