York County could cut ties with controversial prison contractor Wednesday

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

The York County Commissioners on Wednesday could cut ties with a controversial prison contractor they hired last year despite concerns from the community and advocates for inmates..

The commissioners are scheduled to vote at their weekly meeting to "resolve any contractual obligations" with Corrections Special Applications Unit.

That comes a month after the York County Prison Board of Inspectors unanimously recommended the resolution. All three commissioners, including Vice President Doug Hoke, who serves as president of the prison board, voted in favor of that recommendation.

Reached Tuesday, Hoke said he would comment at the meeting itself.

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President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, Commissioner Ron Smith and C-SAU leader Joseph Garcia did not return requests for comment. York County Prison Warden Adam Ogle declined to comment.

Still unknown is whether "resolving contractual obligations" with C-SAU means York County is severing ties with the contractor and if the county will have to pay out the rest of the remainder of the $252,770 contract it signed in November 2021 amid mounting protest from community members.

The two-year contract was for "confidential training" at York County Prison for 18 officers, including eight weeks on "operations," six quarterly training sessions, narcotics detection and a CSO K9.

York County officials have been close-mouthed about how much of this training was actually conducted.

The November 2021 approval was the second time that contract was given the OK; York County had approved it in August of that year but paused to investigate allegations of abuse by prisoners.

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.

Prison officials denied any abuse took place. Ogle, however, had to email Garcia and ask him to take down a Facebook post that showed the prison, which Garcia had done to promote the contractor's services.

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.

Allegheny County barred its prison from contracting with C-SAU following a no-bid contract and several lengthy meetings on the matter in 2021. At the time, Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper said he'd gotten references from York County Prison about C-SAU.

A private investigator hired by Allegheny County called Garcia "the Bernie Madoff of correctional consultants" in an interview with The York Dispatch in 2021.

"You couldn't have done an inquiry without running into problems," Noelle Hanrahan said at the time.

"There is no educational attainment, no list of clients, no resume, no curriculum vitae," she added. "There were red flags on every single category that one would check in a background check." 

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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 was quoted in a magazine article predicting a "racial war" against corrections officers after the George Floyd murder.

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.

When asked at an Allegheny County meeting if he would hire C-SAU for prison operations, Raney said no.

Part of a settlement agreement in a lawsuit brought against Weld County, Colorado, by a former inmate included a stipulation that local officials never hire C-SAU or any group led by Garcia.

The York County Board of Commissioners will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the York County Administrative Center, 28 E. Market St., in the second-floor commissioners meeting room.

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