The former security chief at the Baltimore City Detention Center is fighting her dismissal, her lawyer said Tuesday, arguing that she was used as a scapegoat in the wake of a federal corruption indictment that targeted corrections officers and inmates.
Shavella Miles was treated as a "token to appease the public," said attorney Russell A. Neverdon Sr. He said Miles had been prevented from taking action against suspected gang members because of the ongoing federal investigation. No court case has been filed over her removal, but Neverdon said he has taken a first step of bringing a challenge before department administrators.
Miles was the third-most-senior leader at the facility, overseeing corrections officers until she was forced from her post this month. She was ousted amid a sweeping internal review after federal investigators accused 13 corrections officers of working with the Black Guerrilla Family gang to smuggle contraband into the jail. No replacement for Miles has been named.
The department's inquiry is still in progress, but no other employees have been dismissed, said Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. He declined to comment on Neverdon's allegation.
Miles was not charged in the indictment.
Neverdon said Miles was forced out improperly and had been prevented from acting in the best interests of corrections officers and inmates.
Miles, who had worked at the corrections department since 1999 and became security chief in December 2011, described problems at the jail before the federal investigation became public, court records show.
She named Tavon White as the leader of the Black Guerrilla Family at the jail in an affidavit in a federal civil lawsuit filed a month before the federal criminal charges were unsealed. In the lawsuit, an inmate alleged that Miles and other corrections officers allowed him to be beaten in jail.
In court papers filed with a motion for dismissal, Miles described White's alleged role in the jail. The lawsuit was later withdrawn.
"Inmate White was suspected of being involved in and/or there was evidence indicating that he was engaged in many illegal practices within BCDC that threatened the security and safety of the institution, including but not limited to smuggling contraband," she wrote.
White was later named in the federal indictment as the top-ranking Black Guerrilla Family member at the jail. According to the federal indictment, he worked with corrections officers in a scheme to get drugs and cellphones into the facility, and impregnated four of the officers.
White had been transferred to another state facility by the time Miles signed her affidavit in March. But Neverdon said Tuesday that Miles had been frustrated in her efforts to deal with gang activity at the jail because federal investigators wanted to keep their suspects in sight.
FBI agents wrote in court filings that White's activities at the jail dated to 2009, when he was detained to await trial on a charge of attempted murder. Neverdon said Miles could not be responsible for all of the problems since then.
"If you look at how many chiefs of security have been in place since 2009, look at the amount of time she's actually been in place, there's clearly a pattern that there have been problems," he said. "No one really made it more than a year or two at most. She's the last person on the totem pole."
In the federal civil lawsuit, inmate Calvin Hemphill alleged that Miles turned a blind eye to White's activities. He said Miles "was aware of Tavon White's illicit activities but looked the other way as long as he kept the detention center's violence to a minimum, and it appeared that she was the one in control."
FBI agents wrote in a court filing that gang leaders had informal bargains with some corrections supervisors to clamp down on violence in exchange for latitude to carry on their illicit trade. The indictment does not name any supervisors.
White and several others named in the indictment have pleaded not guilty.
Bruce Godfrey, a Reisterstown attorney who practices employment law, said Miles could face a tough road in fighting her dismissal.
He said people fired in Maryland can argue that their removal undermines the "public policy" of the state, but senior managers are usually held to a "a fairly unforgiving standard."
"I don't see how firing somebody over [the federal allegations] doesn't happen," he said.
Miles was an early and high-profile casualty in the state's steps to crack down on corruption after the federal indictment. This week, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced the creation of a corruption task force made up of state police and corrections department investigators and a Baltimore prosecutor.
Soon after the indictment was unsealed, the state corrections secretary, Gary D. Maynard, moved his office to the jail. Top employees there were required to take polygraphs. The department has not said whether Miles was among them; Neverdon said he didn't know.
O'Malley also promised to review legal protections that the FBI said helped corrupt employees keep their jobs, and to secure funding to expand a promising program that disables the contraband phones said to be vital in the operations of gangs behind bars.
But some state delegates have questioned whether the department has moved fast enough in its response to the scandal. Maynard is scheduled to take their questions at a General Assembly hearing next week.