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Suit Against Pennsylvania Jail and Controversial Trainer Down to Just Two Plaintiffs

With an order denying class certification on March 24, 2023, the federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania left just two plaintiffs to proceed with claims against York County Prison and a controversial training contractor it hired, Corrections Special Applications Unit (C-SAU). As previously reported by PLN, the two prisoners filed suit in December 2021 on behalf of themselves and 47 others accusing the jail and C-SAU – along with firm founder Joseph Garcia – of creating “excessive and unjustified terror and violence.” [See: PLN, Mar. 2022, p.58.]

York County hired C-SAU for $122,850 in November 2020 to “provide confidential training” for jail guards. A two-year extension was approved in October 2021 for $252,700, and the county recommended C-SAU to nearby Allegheny County. But a $350,000 no-bid contract inked there in July 2021 was canceled two months later, when county commissioners barred their jail from contracting with C-SAU over concerns that Garcia was not transparent regarding his background. Private investigator Noelle Hanrahan, who was hired by Allegheny County to check him out, called Garcia “the Bernie Madoff of correctional consultants.” A suit C-SAU filed over the termination was settled in 2023, reportedly for the contract’s full amount.

In the York County suit, Christopher Lee Schwenk and Keith Druck said that guards removed them from their cells, handcuffed them and made them face the wall for hours. Then, a C-SAU employee allegedly instructed the guards to ready and aim their weapons in a mock-execution drill. The lawsuit claimed that the company’s training focuses on “combat techniques including eye gouges, strikes to the head, attacks from K9s, and other excessive and unjustified uses of force.”

York County extended its contract with C-SAU for two years at a cost of $252,770 in October 2021, before the suit was filed. Afterward, the contract was terminated early in January 2023, with the county paying the firm an additional $43,500 for equipment. C-SAU also said it lost surveillance and training videos made inside the jail when a computer crashed. It had previously kept videos made during its initial 2020 contract and used them for company promotion, prompting a cease-and-desist demand from prison warden Adam Ogle.

In January 2023, Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson recommended denial of class certification in the lawsuit against the county and C-SAU, but he also recommended letting most of its claims survive. See: Schwenk v. Garcia, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11753 (M.D. Pa.); and 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11752 (M.D. Pa.).  U.S. District Judge Jennifer Wilson then adopted the latter recommendation on February 1, 2023, also denying class certification on March 24, 2023. An attorney for Schwenk and Druck, Alan Denenberg, then filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the remaining 47 individuals named in the complaint in June 2023. See: Schwenk v. Garcia, USDC (M.D. Pa.), Case No. 1:21-cv-02079.

The York Daily Record uncovered a pattern of questionable behavior by Garcia. The C-SAU “senior team leader” claimed his 27 years in law enforcement were spent in the sheriff’s offices of Virginia Beach, Arlington County and the city of Richmond in Virginia, as well as Spartanburg County, South Carolina. But Spartanburg County said that Garcia was a long-ago contracted trainer and never an employee. Virginia Beach said he was never employed there, either. Arlington County said his only position there was as an unpaid volunteer. Richmond acknowledged that Garcia tried to land a contract but failed.

He did, however, serve two and a half years in a British prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm. In 2021, C-SAU was implicated in the death of a jail detainee in Charleston, South Carolina, after staff used questionable cell-extraction techniques taught by Garcia’s company. Charleston settled that suit with the dead man’s family for $10 million.   

Additional sources: Pittsburgh Independent, York Daily Record  

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