York County was told about C-SAU. Now, we all face the consequences

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD

York County commissioners took seven seconds to publicly consider a no-bid, $253,000 contract with the controversial prison contractor Corrections Special Applications Unit before approving it last November.

This week, amid the all-too-predictable consequences of that choice, the same elected officials spent a considerably longer period of time deliberating what to do now.

After an hourlong executive session, the county's prison board advanced a recommendation that the Board of Commissioners — who also serve on the prison board and were part of that executive session — to "resolve" outstanding contractual obligations with C-SAU.

The language of the motion would seem to indicate that Doug Hoke, Ron Smith and Julie Wheeler finally saw the error of their ways. However, none of them would respond to requests for comment to clarify what this meant for its relationship with C-SAU and any taxpayer liability.

At every step of the way, Mr. Hoke, Mr. Smith and Mrs. Wheeler knew what they were getting themselves into.

The York Dispatch editorial board and so many others warned them.

C-SAU and its affiliated groups, which boasted expertise in prison crisis response, faced criticism from its work with other corrections agencies and from its work at York County Prison. In a March 2021 incident documented by the Pennsylvania Prison Society, inmates reported being forced to stand facing a wall with weapons pointed at their backs for several hours. Two inmates also alleged they were forced to walk through the prison in handcuffs with their genitals exposed.

In July 2021, a lengthy report recounted the role a similar group led by C-SAU founder Joseph Garcia played in the death of an inmate in a South Carolina jail.

Two months after that, a report commissioned by Allegheny County raised a number of red flags surrounding Garcia's resume and time reportedly spent in a British prison for conspiracy to commit serious bodily harm.

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.

Additionally, a number of local community members and watchdogs — including the York NAACP — raised concerns about C-SAU's presence at the prison.

Oh, and there's C-SAU's own publicity materials, which emphasized firepower and attack dogs.

The commissioners knew all of this in November 2021 and they nonetheless chose to continue their relationship with Garcia.

York County was subsequently named alongside C-SAU in a lawsuit by York County Prison inmates alleging various abuses. While the county responded to the litigation, Garcia — their chosen partner — apparently did not.

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.

Last month, a U.S. district court issued a default judgment against Garcia and his company for failing to appear. Garcia claimed he'd never been properly served with legal documents. York County, meanwhile, continues to contest the lawsuit — at least as far as we know at the moment.

No one should be surprised here. We addressed the commissioners directly in an Oct. 24, 2021, editorial with the headline, "You've been told."

There are real victims here: Inmates whose basic human rights were ignored through this whole affair and county taxpayers who foot the bill for a protracted legal battle. It remains unclear whether we'll be on the hook for that extra $253,000 contract to C-SAU, as well, because it's not clear that C-SAU ever actually fulfilled the work. As ever, York County officials refused to answer basic questions surrounding C-SAU's work.

York County's elected officials were told. We're all left with the consequences of their poor judgment.