Activists call to stop use of specific training and equipment at Allegheny County Jail

PITTSBURGH — Allegheny County is at odds with a group of activists over the hiring of a controversial military-style training company to train corrections officers at the Allegheny County Jail.

On Wednesday, a medley of different organizations got together to speak out against the man the county has hired to conduct the training, and are asking the Jail Oversight Board to cancel the contract.

The man who leads the company, Joseph Garcia, claims to have 27 years of law enforcement experience and is a corrections specialist, but there is some dispute over his qualifications.

County Controller Chelsa Wagner reported that Garcia has never been able to produce a resume or work history, and despite that, taxpayers are paying more than $450,000 for his services.

As part of the no-bid contract, the county is paying $95,000 for “less lethal bullets” and $25,000 in guns after a referendum passed by Allegheny County voters in May ended the jail’s use of chemical weapons and restraint chairs.

Until they get major questions about his qualifications answered, Wagner said she will not write him a check.

“For accountability and looking at how county tax dollars are spent, we are maintaining that accountability, and there will not be another cent going to this company, certainly until questions are answered and info is provided,” Wagner said.

Protestors say the jail had more use-of-force complaints last year than any jail in Pennsylvania, and they are calling on the county to hire a company that specializes in de-escalation techniques.

Local advocacy group The Abolitionist Center has threatened to sue the county if they move forward with the contract that is up for a vote on Monday, in part because of Garcia’s public statements.

“In ‘Tactical Life Magazine’ Joseph Garcia shares the belief that incarcerated people of color are intent on provoking a racial war against corrections officer(s). That’s who our money is going to,” Jonas Caballero, paralegal with the The Abolitionist Center, said.

(WARNING: Could contain graphic language): Garcia also appeared on a controversial podcast interview on Talking Lead from August 2020.

“Garcia is a private paramilitary prison contractor who trains them to view incarcerated people as ‘the enemy’ and to go to battle with them,” Caballero said.

Warden Orlando Harper issued a six-page statement on hiring Garcia, saying in part, “Our correctional staff are already working in extraordinary circumstances, but a lack of tools and resources will put their safety and well being in jeopardy.”

“The Allegheny County Jail sought a contractor that provided training for correctional staff with a goal of having training that would also comply with the referendum prohibiting the use of chemical agents, leg shackles and restraint chairs,” Harper’s statement reads. “It was the training that we looked at and which led us to ultimately contract with C-SAU. Specifics of Mr. Garcia’s resume, employment history, or financial or legal history are questions for him. We do not make decisions for contracting based on statements or comments, including indication of a person’s political affiliation or personal beliefs, made by those with whom we contract. This contractor is providing training on specific tools for our corrections officers. The jail administration will be responsible for ensuring that the correctional officers who are trained continue to meet our stated goals.”

Garcia shares training photos on his Instagram where he says, “Those that keep inmates secure behind these facilities do it outnumbered, under manned, and most of all underpaid.”

South Carolina taxpayers paid a $10 million settlement in July for the death of a 31-year-old man in a county jail after an incident with corrections officers. That jail used Garcia’s company for their training.

The Jail Oversight Board is scheduled to revote on this contract on Monday evening.