The Boston Globe Boston Globe Online / City & Region

Two quit review of sheriff's office

Say ties to Rouse may pose conflict

By Francie Latour and Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 6/7/2001

he two men Suffolk County Sheriff Richard J. Rouse had chosen to lead an inquiry panel into his troubled department abruptly withdrew yesterday, citing concern about the appearance of conflicts of interest.

As the Boston City Council moved toward its own hearings into a department beset by charges of systemic abuse and low standards, officials moved to resuscitate Rouse's probe after its co-leaders suddenly announced they could not serve.

The Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III abandoned plans to help lead the inquiry after the Globe reported that Rivers's nonprofit organization, the Ella J. Baker House, is slated to receive $99,000 over three years in funds obtained by the sheriff's department through a federal grant.

''To avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, even though none exists, and to ensure that there is no lingering hint of impropriety, I am recusing myself from participation,'' Rivers said.

Rivers, pastor of the Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester, called for the George Lewis Ruffin Society, an organization of minority law enforcement officers in the state, to help organize an independent review.

Two weeks ago, after a two-month investigation, a Globe series reported that sexual misconduct and brutality by Suffolk County guards is more widespread than previously acknowledged, and that Rouse was sometimes not working a full day.

''In view of the fact that a disproportionate percentage of the inmates in the Suffolk County House of Correction are black and brown, it is essential that an independent investigation be conducted to ensure that their legitimate interests and basic civil rights are defended,'' Rivers said. He added that he hoped the Ruffin Society would help develop an ''ombudsman structure which will provide some reasonable measure of public oversight of the operations of the jail.''

A representative of the Ruffin Society could not be reached for comment.

Joining Rivers in withdrawing from the investigative panel Rouse announced last week was James A. Gondles Jr., executive director of the American Correctional Association. Gondles said he was dropping plans to serve as the panel's chief administrator because of his association's past and current ties to Rouse's department.

In his place, Gondles said, the association's president, Betty Adams Green of Tennessee, a Nashville juvenile court judge, would select the correctional experts to review Suffolk County.

''I had in my own mind an issue that if the jail were accredited by the ACA, it would at least appear to be a conflict of interest for me as executive director and an employee to be on any kind of review team,'' Gondles said. ''No ACA employee is going to be a part of the team.''

Gondles's organization received $10,000 from Rouse's department for an audit of the Nashua Street Jail, the sheriff department's facility for detainees awaiting trial. In his annual report to staff members, Rouse said the American Correctional Association review was glowing in its praise of the department. Months later, seven officers were indicted in federal court on charges of beating inmates. The department has paid another $10,000 fee to the American Correctional Association for an audit, this time of the House of Correction, where prisoners serve sentences. The audit is scheduled for later this year.

Rouse, through a spokesman, maintained yesterday that he saw no conflict of interest in Gondles's original role.

''We do not believe there was a conflict of interest,'' said the spokesman, Richard M. Lombardi. ''We respect the determination of the ACA to handle their review. Once we made the request of the ACA it was totally in their hands.''

Despite the withdrawal of Rivers and Gondles and the new role for Green, Lombardi insisted that plans for the review had not changed and that it was proceeding on course.

Asked about the ACA's experience with similar reviews of other departments nationwide, the sheriff's department could not cite any cases it had examined before enlisting the agency to organize a search. But Green, who has specialized in juvenile corrections for 15 years, said she is confident that the panelists she has selected will conduct a thorough review in Suffolk County.

''The interest of the ACA is to constantly improve the quality of correctional services and programs, and to ensure a safe environment, both for the offenders we serve as well as the staff,'' Green said yesterday.

She said it was her decision to have the American Correctional Association go forward with Rouse's request for a review. In defending the choice of the organization to review the department, Green said the association routinely offers ''technical assistance'' to some of the 20,000 correctional facilities that are its members.

But when asked if she considered the Suffolk review to be technical assistance, Green said it would be ''far, far different.''

Citing American Correctional Association policy, Jeff Washington, deputy executive director, said yesterday that the organization would not divulge any information about past facilities where they have intervened unless those facilities granted permission to do so.

The group was involved in a controversial review of the Maine Youth Center, a juvenile detention facility for the state that came under heavy criticism in October 1998.

State officials in Maine hired the organization to conduct an independent investigation after the state Department of Education cited poor conditions at the center and Amnesty International documented complaints of abuse.

But Maine legislators rejected the group's 10-page report as inadequate, saying it included few specifics and that its recommendations were too broad. The state quickly ordered a second review of the department by Edward Loughran, former head of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, who issued a scathing report. Following Loughran's review, Governor Angus King unveiled a $25.5 million improvement plan for the state's juvenile corrections system.

Meanwhile, the Boston City Council yesterday moved toward public hearings to investigate Rouse's department.

The council's action came after a more-strongly worded resolution calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor was derailed by councilors who noted that an FBI probe is under way into allegations of abuse by Suffolk County guards.

''The FBI and the US attorney are all over that building right now,'' said City Councilor at Large Stephen J. Murphy. ''Let the US attorney and the FBI do their job, and appoint an independent commission on the management to look into those problems.''

City Council President Charles C. Yancey said he intends to meet with Rouse tomorrow to discuss upcoming City Hall hearings and to stress the need for an outside review of the Suffolk County sheriff's operations.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/7/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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