Inmates release one guard, hold another hostage Armed convicts, prison officials in standoff.

July 17, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron and Joe Nawrozki | Thomas W. Waldron and Joe Nawrozki,Evening Sun Staff Richard Irwin and Robert Hilson Jr. contributed to this article.

One Maryland Penitentiary guard was released but another still was being held hostage today during an armed standoff between rebellious convicts and state prison officials backed up by scores of state police and riot-equipped correctional officers.

Gary Wooten, 29, a Pen guard for one year, was escorted from the embattled C Dormitory by three inmate leaders around 11:30 a.m. Officials said Wooten apparently did not suffer any major physical injuries.

The convicts then went to another, undisclosed section of the maximum-security prison in Baltimore to continue the negotiations for the release of the other unidentified correctional officer taken after an escape attempt failed last night. They met with four members of a Division of Correction negotiating team.

Officials said they were encouraged by the fact that the negotiations had progressed from bullhorn to written note, to telephone, to face-to-face.

A prison spokesman said the two handguns being used by the inmates in C Dorm were not service weapons from the prison's secured armory, indicating they were somehow smuggled into the 180-year-old institution.

Since the standoff began about 9:30 last night, prison officials had emphasized they would attempt to peacefully conclude the confrontation.

Outside the downtown prison, scores of state police and prison guards, many armed with shotguns and accompanied by police dogs, waited to enter the prison and end the situation with force if necessary.

The building controlled by the convicts houses about 260 prisoners. Three of those inmates left the C Dormitory this morning because they needed their daily insulin injections, officials said.

The inmates had a set of keys that control every lock in the C Dormitory, one guard said.

Cpl. Lee Carter, 31, a six-year veteran at the penitentiary, said he was on duty last night in the prison's A Block, about 100 yards from the occupied dormitory.

Carter said that inmates in the C Dormitory attacked some other officers and took their radios. The prisoners broadcast a "Signal 13" -- an assist an officer call -- for B Block and diverted the attention of the guards to that section of the Pen.

"They wanted to go to the roof," Carter said. "But when they found themselves in an inescapable situation, they just . . . took the hostages."

Ricardo R. Silva, an official with the Maryland Correctional Union, which represents some officers in the state prison system, said today that officials had for about a week suspected an escape attempt was being planned.

"Yesterday, the guards were told in their morning meeting to watch out for a diversionary fight to allow an escape," Silva said. "There was also evidence of some inmates in C Dorm hoarding food, and that means only one thing."

TC Also, Olinda Moyd, an attorney with the Prisoner's Rights Program in Washington, said today that she regularly meets with Pen inmates in a support group and that they had complained many times about living conditions, the food, and their being moved to the Maryland House of Correction Annex at Jessup.

"They don't know what's going on," Moyd said. "We sent a letter to Bishop Robinson [Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services] outlining these concerns over two weeks ago. There was no response."

In a series of written notes passed along to prison officials during the siege, the inmates complained about the Pen, including overcrowded conditions and poor food, said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a prison spokesman.

While no shots were fired during the night, two prison inmates reportedly were attacked by other prisoners. Ambulances took the wounded men to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

James Wardrick, 39, of Silver Spring, was treated for a stab wound to the throat and was in stable condition, according to a hospital source. He is serving a 65-year sentence for rape and two sex offenses.

Henry Lester, 32, of Prince George's County, was in serious condition and was being treated for multiple puncture wounds and facial fractures. He is serving a life sentence for murder.

About an hour after the incident began, at least one guard who was injured during the hostage-taking was treated at the scene for minor head injuries.

As the incident began, Pen guards grappled with prisoners in an effort to rescue their fellow officers.

The building in which the hostage-taking occurred, C Dormitory, is an early 19th-century building that prison officials have long wanted to demolish. The stone building sits on the Madison Street side of the Pen, next to the prison hospital. The building contains cells on five tiers and open dormitories on three.

A total of 259 inmates were housed there last night, Shipley said. It is not clear how many of the inmates took part in the disturbance.

In response to inmates' concerns about overcrowding, officials sent in a summary of plans to add maximum-security housing in Jessup to replace cramped facilities at the Pen, Shipley said.

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