Julia Agos is a reporter and the host of All Things Considered for WITF. Previously, she was a political reporter for WFUV News in New York, where she covered New York City and state politics and hosted the Prickly Politics Podcast. Julia grew up in Sacramento, California and graduated from Fordham University.
(York) — In November 2020, York County Commissioners approved a $122,000 contract with an outside consultant to help with security at the York County Prison.
Last year, the facility reported five instances when prisoners assaulted staff.
The South Carolina-based C-SAU LLC provides confidential training for corrections officers along with pump-action shotguns and other equipment, according to reporting from the York Daily Record.
Promotional videos posted to Facebook earlier this year by C-SAU show controversial tactics including detainees being forced to stand handcuffed, facing a wall, as guards aim weapons in their direction.
WITF’s Julia Agos spoke to the journalist who broke the story, Dylan Segelbaum, courthouse reporter at the York Daily Record.
Below are highlights of the interview, edited for length and clarity.
In your story, you detail some videos posted on Facebook by this consultant group in which they engage in some questionable behavior with the prisoners. Can you describe what’s happening in the videos and why they were shared with the public?
So, the videos appear to be promoting C-SAU and its senior team leader, Joseph Garcia. They include footage of him running into a helicopter, firing a tactical weapon, and releasing giant schnauzers inside of what appears to be a correction setting.
But there were two clips in particular that caught my eye. And that’s because you can see there are a group of prisoners who were handcuffed and facing the wall inside of a gym, there is a dog in the center of the screen, and you can also see some glimpses of tactical weapons. There’s also a timestamp on this video and that corresponds to an incident that some prisoners at York County Prison had described to me happening on that same date and time.
And why did the county hire C-SAU to help with security?
At this point I’m not really sure. That’s one of the questions that I’ve tried asking the county but I haven’t received a direct response. Interim warden Adam Ogle told me that he discussed my questions with the York County Prison Board of Inspectors, but he said their position is that they do not comment on any matters related to security inside of the facility.
You spoke to some people who are being held in the York County Prison. How did they describe the conditions in the facility?
So, I spoke to two prisoners who are also cousins — Christopher Schwenk and James Thompson — and both of them had described an incident to me that took place back on March 31. They said corrections officers took prisoners out of their cells, handcuffed them, and made them face the wall for several hours. And they said there was a man they believed was a private contractor who is leading this team. Toward the end of this incident, what the cousins told me is that this individual instructed the team to ready and aim their weapons. Schwenk has told me he no longer feels safe and that he’s on edge all the time since this happened.
You write that the Pennsylvania Prison Society has expressed concern about this incident, the March 31 incident that you referenced. What are they and other criminal justice organizations saying about this situation?
The Pennsylvania Prison Society did write a letter several weeks after this incident. The society noted that it had received several phone calls. The society notes that there are some discrepancies in accounts about exactly what transpired, but the group described this episode as seriously misguided and dangerous. And it asked the jail will take several steps — those include addressing the harm that incident has caused to people who are incarcerated.
The Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project also described the events as “shocking” in a post on Facebook as well.
This is a county jail, so you have people who are serving short sentences or are awaiting trial and hasn’t been convicted of any crime at all. And they’re presumed innocent until proven guilty under the law.
How has the county defended these incidents?
York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler has stated that the most serious allegations are not true, but she’s declined to really specify what exactly are the most serious allegations. Other than that, the County has been quiet so far.
This is something that I certainly want to continue to look in into further to understand why C-SAU was hired especially considering some questions that have come up about the organization in the past. And I think the county, I would hope, would provide those answers. Particularly when we’re talking about taxpayer money involved in hiring this group.
That’s Dylan Segelbaum, courthouse reporter at the York Daily Record. You can read his full report at www.ydr.com