YORK COUNTY

Could the third time be the charm for a C-SAU vote?

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County's Board of Commissioners might be voting on a motion to "resolve" contract negotiations with controversial training partner Corrections Special Applications Unit.

Chief Clerk Greg Monskie said there's a chance the motion recommended by the Prison Board of Inspectors may come to a vote next Wednesday.

"I think that the other [motion] on the contract, that one I believe you'll see on the next commissioner's meeting, and we'll have a more comprehensive statement that'll give some more detail about that," Monskie said after Wednesday's Prison Board meeting, held at the prison itself for the first time since 2020.

Commissioner Doug Hoke, who also serves as president of the Prison Board, said he would speak on the matter at the next Board of Commissioners meeting. Commissioner Ron Smith had no comment.

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President Commissioner Julie Wheeler did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did C-SAU leader Joseph Garcia, the often controversial head of the contractor that provides training and security to prisons.

A motion recommending the Board of Commissioners "resolve" its contract obligations with C-SAU was passed unanimously at the Prison Board's meeting in December following an hourlong executive session. All three members of the Board of Commissioners are voting members of that board as well.

Since then, the county has held two Board of Commissioners meetings without mention of the C-SAU motion. After the Jan. 4 meeting, Hoke said the motion was "not ready," though he did not give details at the time as to why.

At Wednesday's meeting, the Prison Board approved unanimously an update to a policy that governs the prison's response to "critical incidents." That team is now called the Special Operations Response Team, Warden Adam Ogle said.

That's a change from the last time the policy was on the Prison Board's agenda; at the December meeting, the agenda item was listed as the "updated CSAU policy."

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.

Ogle said during the meeting the updated policy was to separate out policy and procedures; the previous policy had contained both, leading to it being long and unwieldy. He refused to go into detail on the policy, procedures or what "critical incidents" were, citing security concerns. He also did not say why the name was changed.

York County approved its second contract with C-SAU in late 2021. The contract was supposed to be for two years and $252,770 and received intense criticism from members of the public and advocacy organizations, including the York branch of the NAACP.

Shortly after the passing of that contract, York County Prison inmates sued the prison, county and C-SAU alleging various abuses at the prison. A U.S. district court issued a default judgment against Garcia and his company for failing to appear in the lawsuit last year. At the time, Garcia claimed he'd never been properly served with legal documents. That lawsuit is ongoing.

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"We, the York NAACP, need the York County Commissioners to understand that we do not approve of a county contract that uses the dollars of tax payers, that include Black and Brown people, to fund a company like C-SAU under the leadership of Joseph Garcia who has shown by his comments and by prior behaviors that he has no empathy for the rights of others or an understanding for proper policing," the NAACP said in a statement read at the meeting where the contract was approved.

Garcia, who spent time in a British prison for conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm in the 1980s, has also made comments on a podcast mocking Black Lives Matter by declaring "Dogs' Lives Matter" and a magazine article where he predicted a "racial war" against corrections officers after the George Floyd murder.

The Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board voted to bar its jail from contracting with C-SAU and Garcia in 2021. In Charleston, South Carolina, an earlier incarnation of C-SAU called the Corrections Special Organizations Group 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.

"The training that (Garcia) provided Charleston County from 2008 to 2019, for the most part, goes absolutely against what we look for in contemporary law enforcement use of force training," former Idaho sheriff Gary Raney, who conducted that investigation, told The York Dispatch in 2021.

The Board of Commissioners will next meet on Jan. 18.

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

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