YORK COUNTY

York County cuts ties with C-SAU, its controversial prison contractor

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

York County is no longer in business with the Corrections Special Applications Unit, the training contractor whose work at York County Prison resulted in litigation over alleged civil rights violations.

County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to enter an agreement with the controversial prison contractor to — in the county's own words — "resolve" its C-SAU contract obligations.

According to the county, C-SAU had done their job, and done that job well.

"It essentially means that we are finished with our contract with C-SAU," Chief Clerk Greg Monskie said. "They were going to go through this training and build this capacity up for us. It was never intended that we were going to have a contract with them indefinitely."

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"I don't know that I can point to any one thing or any one incident that prompted this," Monskie said, when asked why the county ended its C-SAU contract 10 months early. "We've decided to move on with our own program."

When asked if the county would contract again with C-SAU, Monskie said probably not.

Last year, a judge issued a default judgment against C-SAU leader Joseph Garcia for not showing up to a lawsuit filed against his company — and the county — by inmates at York County Prison. Garcia did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit, which the county was still contesting, is ongoing.

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.

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.

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Monskie said the county has paid C-SAU the entirety of its most recent $252,770 contract. It does not have any further financial obligations, he said.

Warden Adam Ogle pointed to a statement released by the county when asked for comment. He did not respond to questions about how many times C-SAU had worked at York County Prison in the last year.

"The purpose was to provide a safer environment for inmates and staff by implementing de-escalation techniques and methods that minimize the use of hands-on physical force," Ogle's statement read. "Working with Mr. Garcia, the County accomplished these goals, which includes a significant reduction in worker’s compensation claims and no significant injuries to inmates."

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

County officials approved its second C-SAU contract in November 2021. Under the two-year agreement, C-SAU was to provide "confidential" training for 18 officers, including eight weeks on "operations," six quarterly training sessions, narcotics detection and a K-9.

"We were going to take over and provide our own training moving forward," Commissioner Ron Smith said. "We have deemed that it's time and appropriate to do that."

Smith did not provide the exact number of correctional officers who had gone through the C-SAU training, citing security concerns.

"This was not an endorsement of an individual, this is an endorsement of the program," Smith said, when asked about the allegations surrounding Garcia. "This program has proven that it'll work, or we wouldn't be moving forward in this direction with our own people."

Monskie said the prison does not plan to use a K-9 at the prison.

Vice President Commissioner Doug Hoke said he attended one training where a dog was demonstrated but that a dog was not being used at the prison.

When asked if he would recommend the program to other county prisons, Hoke said he would not comment on Garcia. But he added that he believed the program worked well.

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President Commissioner Julie Wheeler declined comment when asked if she'd recommend C-SAU to other counties.

"This will allow us to have a sustainable operation internally and not have to depend on a third party," she said, of the decision to end the C-SAU contract. "It's the right thing for the county taxpayers and it's the right thing for the people at the prison."

According to Allegheny County Jail Warden Orlando Harper, York was one of two Pennsylvania counties that recommended C-SAU in 2021. However, Allegheny County subsequently barred its prison from contracting with C-SAU over various concerns about the program and Garcia.

Noelle Hanrahan, a private investigator hired by Allegheny County, called Garcia "the Bernie Madoff of correctional consultants" in an interview with The York Dispatch in 2021. The report included information about time Garcia spent in a British prison in the 1980s.

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

She added: "There were red flags on every single category that one would check in a background check." 

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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 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.

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