Allegheny County Jail cancels training contract after objections over company, leader

PITTSBURGH — After hours of debate on Monday night, at times so heated a break was needed, the Allegheny County Jail Oversight Board voted to cancel its contract with a company that was going to provide what some call “military-style” training.

“Mr. Garcia refused to be here, refused to provide information and he blatantly lied to this board about his employment background among other things,” said Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner.

Joseph Garcia, the man leading Corrections Special Applications Unit, is now barred from training inside the jail and the $450,000 contract was ripped up. Garcia was known for posting what some considered controversial statements on social media and said he spent 27 years in law enforcement.

The board stated it never got a copy of it.

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

“This company and its founder, who has declared ‘break the jaw and walk away’ as his mantra, has left a trail of destruction and death in its wake,” said Allegheny County Councilwoman Bethany Hallam.

Some board members said the jail is in a tough spot since corrections officers can no longer use restraint chairs and pepper spray. Garcia’s training was backed by the warden who said the staff is already working in extraordinary circumstances. He said the lack of resources and tools will only continue to put his employees at risk.

Activists said they want to see a company specializing in de-escalation train officers.

A spokesperson for Garcia said he was already fully vetted, the contract was signed and his legal counsel said he didn’t need to be present at the meeting for questions.

Jail warden responds

Jail warden Orlando Harper said he has no plans to honor Monday night’s vote and he will refuse to end the contract with Garcia and his company.

“The one thing that I am not going to follow is stopping all training. I will continue training but the seesaw has been paused,” Harper said at a news conference Tuesday. “I will not leave my officers without the tools they need.”

“Literally, the board has prohibited this facility from conducting any trainings of officers and employees. They did not limit this to the training that they raised concerns with but instead used irresponsibly broad language that prevents me from training someone to administer medication, learn CPR or even bring new cadets into our facility.”

It’s not yet clear if the warden has the authority to ignore the board’s vote.