Jesse Ballard III, the head of internal investigations at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, will retire in June to take a federal job, the state agency said Friday.
The move comes as the department continues to handle the fallout from a federal gang indictment that alleged widespread corruption at the Baltimore City Detention Center, and critics have questioned whether Ballard and other top leaders could have done more to prevent the scandal.
Since 2010 Ballard has led a squad of 25 detectives who have full police powers to investigate staff and inmates at the corrections department. The agency declined to say whether Ballard was involved in the investigation leading to the corruption case or what role he has taken since it was unsealed last month.
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Federal prosecutors alleged that the Black Guerrilla Family organized a lucrative scheme to smuggle drugs, cellphones and other contraband into the jail under the leadership of an inmate named Tavon White and aided by 13 female corrections officers.
Department officials said Ballard's retirement was based on a March job offer and not connected to the federal case. No replacement has been named.
"Jesse has been the rock of the unit and has managed it extremely well," Secretary Gary D. Maynard said in a statement.
Maynard said that under Ballard's leadership, the internal investigations unit "has been outstanding in its relentless pursuit of integrity." Maynard also called him "an invaluable asset to this organization" whose "leadership and integrity will be sorely missed."
Ballard, whose salary was $85,239 in 2011, is a 26-year veteran of the corrections department and began his career as a corrections officer at a state prison in Baltimore in 1987. He is taking a job with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"The most important thing in my whole career is seeing law enforcement come to the understanding that a well-functioning integrity unit is paramount and should never be viewed as a necessary evil," Ballard said in a statement.
"My detectives and support staff do a fantastic job in often difficult situations trying to find the truth and prosecute those responsible for breaking the law. Nobody likes our process, but everybody likes our results."
The department said 53 corrections officers have been fired or resigned since Ballard took over the leadership of the internal investigations unit.
Del. John W.E. Cluster, Jr., a Baltimore County Republican who toured the state-run city jail this week, called it a "peculiar time" for Ballard to go.
"It's concerning that this is the time he's retiring," he said. "I don't know the inside the story. … It just puts up red flags."
But Cluster added that having a new person in the job might make it easier to implement reforms. "It's probably not a bad idea to bring a fresh face in to look at it," he said.
Gov. Martin O'Malley is pushing plans to clean up Maryland's prisons and jails, expanding the use of technology to block cellphone calls in corrections facilities, reviewing whether enhanced workplace protections for corrections officers helped dishonest workers stay on the job, and administering polygraph tests to jail employees to root out corruption.
But Republicans in Annapolis and a few Democrats have called on him to replace Maynard.
Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., a Republican who represents parts of Caroline, Cecil, Kent, and Queen Anne's counties, also questioned the timing but said that "it's good to have all the change we can have."
"What I would ask is how willing is he now to speak freely and frankly about what was going on, and why it was necessary to bring in the feds," Smigiel said. "Why couldn't he and the secretary do their jobs and protect the citizens of Baltimore, including those awaiting trial, from the Black Guerrilla Family?"
White, the alleged Black Guerrilla Family leader who also impregnated four corrections officers at the Baltimore jail, will await trial in federal custody out of state, his attorney said Friday. A federal judge ordered him moved from state custody after a hearing on the conditions of White's detention.
His lawyer Gary E. Proctor had complained his client was being held without his personal belongings and was unable to receive visitors at a Maryland prison in Cumberland.
In a court order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey cited the "allegations of corruption among the Division of Correction's staff in at least one of its correctional institutions." It is not clear how those allegations factored into her ruling.
The department has subjected the detention center to scrutiny in the weeks since the federal indictment. Its senior leaders were required to take polygraph tests, and its head of security was forced from her job last week. More recently, the department began cycling corrections officers from other facilities to the jail to man its entrance security. Federal authorities blamed lax procedures for much of the alleged smuggling.
Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat, said Ballard's departure raises more questions about how the department is recovering from the allegations.
"I want to be fair, sometimes there are coincidences that occur," he said. "It could very well be that he was thinking about it and this accelerated it."
He added: "I do not think that the department has a good track record with respect to informing the public accurately about what's going on."
Lawmakers will question Maynard when the leadership of the General Assembly holds a hearing on the jail allegations. The panel will meet June 6.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.