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Is York County cutting ties with C-SAU, its controversial prison contractor?

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County officials advanced a recommendation to "resolve" outstanding contractual obligations with Corrections Special Applications Unit (C-SAU), the controversial prison contractor who is the subject of a lawsuit alleging various inmate abuses.

The language of the motion, unanimously approved Wednesday by the county's prison board, raised a number of questions that county officials refused to answer.

"There are still continuing obligations at this point," said Chief Clerk Greg Monskie, "because there has been nothing that has ended those obligations."

Monskie declined to answer questions about whether that means severing ties with C-SAU or if the county would have to pay out the rest of the $252,770 contract it signed in November 2021 amid mounting protest from community members.

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The ultimate decision of whether to continue the relationship with C-SAU rests with the Board of Commissioners, Monskie said. County Solicitor Don Reihart reiterated Monskie's point, adding that the county would not immediately "break all ties" with the contractor.

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.

All three commissioners also serve on the prison board, which voted Wednesday on the motion to resolve the C-SAU contract. The Board of Commissioners are scheduled to meet next week.

President Commissioner Julie Wheeler and Commissioner Ron Smith declined comment Wednesday. Vice President Commissioner Doug Hoke, who also serves as president of the prison board, directed further comment to Monskie. Warden Adam Ogle also declined comment.

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Joseph Garcia, the head of C-SAU, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Last month, a U.S. district court issued a default judgment against Garcia and his company for failing to appear in the lawsuit filed on behalf of York County Prison inmates. Garcia claimed he'd never been properly served with legal documents. The lawsuit is still pending because the county also is a named defendant.

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township Monday, August, 24, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

C-SAU was accused of various inmate abuses at the county prison. In a March 2021 incident, inmates reported being forced to stand facing a wall for several hours while weapons were pointed at them. Two inmates also reported being forced to walk through the prison in handcuffs with their genitals exposed. Attorneys for the inmates allege C-SAU violated the constitutional rights of inmates and turned the prison into a “militarized environment.”

Garcia has a history of similar allegations and, according to a private investigator hired by Allegheny County, spent time in a British prison for conspiracy to commit serious bodily harm.

The county commissioners were aware of these allegations when, in November 2021, they approved a second contract with C-SAU. Among the terms, the contractor agreed to "confidential training" with 18 officers of the prison. That training included eight weeks of operations and narcotics training.

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.

It's unclear if C-SAU employees ever returned to the prison after the new contract was signed.

County and prison officials repeatedly refused to comment on the matter. On Wednesday, Monskie said he wasn't in a position to answer questions about what C-SAU had done and what it meant for York County to fulfill the contractual obligations.

Wednesday's prison board vote followed an hourlong executive session. The board also tabled a motion that would have updated the prison's C-SAU policy, though further details on the policy and what the update entailed were not provided.

There are competing motions to be decided in the civil lawsuit involving C-SAU and York County. 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 that case were never criminally 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.

The York County Board of Commissioners meets Dec. 21.

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