It's time for York County to open up about C-SAU, its misbegotten prison contractor

York Dispatch editorial board

York County officials love redactions.

Time and again, they spill black ink across their public records in response to our Right-to-Know Law requests.

Alas, they also love spending taxpayer money on misbegotten schemes, like its partnership with Corrections Special Applications Unit (C-SAU) — thus necessitating these public record requests.

The most recent iteration of this absurd dance of the seven veils — with how many inconvenient truths masked by black bars? — nonetheless revealed some troubling new details in the yearslong saga.

A month ago, when the county finally made good on its threat to sever ties with C-SAU, reporter Matt Enright asked county officials how much it was paying the training contractor. At the time, county officials said the settlement meant paying out the entirety of its most recent $252,770 contract. The county did not have any further financial obligations, Chief Clerk Greg Monskie said.

Of course, the county refused to actually turn over the settlement agreement.

Enright formally requested that document and, after the standard (read: unnecessary) waiting period, he got a little bit more of the truth.

In addition to the contracted amount, the county agreed to pay $43,500 for what county officials described as additional equipment expenses. The document conveniently blacks out several pages of information that could shine a light on what the county was actually getting for that money.

York County's response to a Right-to-Know request concerning its settlement agreement with prison contractor Corrections Special Applications Unit was festooned with black bars redacting key pieces of information.

For context, it's worth pointing out here that the per capita income of York County residents is $35,623, according to U.S. Census data. For the amount of extra money York County paid C-SAU, it could've employed another social worker for its ever-short-staffed child welfare office.

But that isn't all.

The settlement document shows that the county tried — and failed — to get C-SAU leader Joseph Garcia to return an unknown number of video recordings from inside York County Prison.

York County is in the middle of fighting a lawsuit over civil rights abuses Garcia's team allegedly engaged in during its training exercises in 2021. During one March 2021 incident, two inmates said they were forced to walk through the prison in handcuffs with their genitals exposed. Others inmates alleged they were forced to stand against a wall with weapons pointed at their backs.

Several county officials, when asked, said they didn't know what was contained in these video clips. The mind reels with possibility but, at a minimum, it's possible the recordings have some bearing on the lawsuit.

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.

As part of the settlement agreement, the county had Garcia sign an affidavit.

"I do not have possession of any of those tapes because they were on a hard drive in a portable computer that crashed," Garcia's affidavit reads, "and I was unable to retrieve any of the video tapes that were in my possession and on that portable computer."

None of this would be known without Enright's diligent work, requesting documents to fact-check public officials. But it really shouldn't be this difficult. It's time for county officials to make a full and public accounting of the C-SAU affair.

Every York County taxpayer deserves an explanation.