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The Allegheny County Jail Supervisory Board on Monday voted to quash a controversial training contract after a coach’s work history was called into question. The training had already started under the $ 300,000 deal when the supervisory board voted to stop it.
Objections focused on the C-SAU company and its manager, Joseph Garcia. C-SAU trains correctional officers in militaristic methods for cell extraction and less lethal force. ACJ Director Orlando Harper said the training was made necessary after voters in May decided to ban solitary confinement, restraint chairs, leg shackles and chemical weapons.
A use of force expert who testified at the meeting said the bans could indeed cause problems at the prison, but sounded the alarm over the death of an inmate in January in a prison from South Carolina who had previously contracted with C-SAU.
Expert Gary Raney reviewed the South Carolina case as a consultant and told the supervisory board on Monday that officers involved in the inmate’s death were acting in accordance with their C-SAU training.
“It was a blatant violation of what we call generally accepted prison practices as well as the use of force,” Raney said on Monday. “I thought they were going to be indicted criminally.
“The screams, the premature strength… It was all in accordance with what they had been taught.”
Harper has defended Garcia and C-SAU in the South Carolina case, saying there has been no connection since Garcia’s work there ended in 2019.
Harper said the training made his officers “leaders” and that they learned more in the first six weeks of training than they learned in “their entire career with this agency.”
The Tribune-Revue reported last week that court records show that the trainings Garcia led elsewhere involved asking officers to fire concussion grenades and put out the eyes of detainees. When pressed at a previous supervisory board meeting, Garcia claimed to work in four of the Virginia Sheriff’s offices. The Tribune-Review reported that those offices said Garcia had never been an employee. Neither Garcia nor the prison provided his CV to the supervisory board. Garcia was absent on Monday; a representative of C-SAU was present and said Garcia did not attend “advice from his legal counsel”.
How they voted: (Yes, it’s to ban)
YES: Lazzara, Hallam, Wagner, Klein
NO: Kamara, Pilarski, Kraus
– Charlie Wolfson (@chwolfson) September 21, 2021
One of the main complaints from members of the supervisory board was the lack of information provided by the county and the C-SAU. Members lobbied a representative from C-SAU for information on Garcia’s employment history, the lawsuits against Garcia and C-SAU and other backgrounds, and little was offered. Allegheny County Comptroller Chelsa Wagner said she was “offended” and “absolutely furious” that the board had to proceed without further information.
Judge Beth Lazzara’s closing statement reflected the views of several board members, saying new training was needed but C-SAU was not the right source.
“We are all concerned that methods that might have worked have been removed from the prison,” Lazzara said. “I am, however, extremely concerned that the person who is supposed to help us move forward has so completely refused to answer questions and be available.”