Chania Brooks said she didn’t care about that baby. That was their child, not hers.
“We having one, too,” she said. “So what?”
The two 27-year-old corrections officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center were sparring over an inmate who prosecutors said left both women with a permanent reminder of their allegiance to him.
To investigators, Tavon White is a thug who has been in and out of jail since he was 18, most recently on charges that he shot a fellow drug dealer four times. He is allegedly a high-ranking “bushman” in the Black Guerilla Family, a gang with a reputation for not just killing its enemies but also burning down their homes.
But during his three years at the state-run detention center, White, 36, was allegedly a figure who commanded respect, not only from fellow inmates in jumpsuits but also from many of the women in blue collared shirts and pressed slacks guarding him. Thirteen of them allegedly smuggled cellphones and drugs inside their hair, lunches and underwear for the man they called “Bulldog” or “Tay.” One tattooed his name on her neck, another on her wrist. Four have carried his children.
Through court documents, an affidavit from an FBI agent that contains transcripts of wiretapped conversations, and interviews with people familiar with White, the 13 officers indicted in April and the jail, a portrait emerges of a place where sex and drugs were swapped with stunning casualness, where thousands of dollars flowed in and out each week, and where one man’s power was, by all accounts, no match for a badge.
Just weeks before the two pregnant guards talked about the children they were expecting, a third allegedly pondered possible names for her son.
“What if I name the baby King?” Katera Stevenson, 24, asked in a wiretapped call to her sister recounted in the affidavit. “I like the name King. King Tavon White.”
‘A city within a city’
The Baltimore City Detention Center takes up most of a city block in East Baltimore, a little more than a mile from the Inner Harbor. The warren of seven buildings houses 2,000 or more prisoners awaiting trial for everything from writing bad checks to rape and murder.
It is a miserable place, with some parts more than 150 years old and conditions that state and local officials have been trying to fix for the past four decades. Its well-documented shortcomings have included rodent-infested cells, a lack of medical care for inmates and extreme temperatures.
In the winter, everyone shivers, former inmates say. In the summer, the heat can become unbearable in the parts of the facility that lack air conditioning. One former prisoner blogged about running a T-shirt under cold water, putting it on for a bit of relief, then within 15 minutes having to do it again.
In 1991, the state took over the detention center. In 2002, the Justice Department concluded that conditions there violated the constitutional rights of inmates.