Pen inmates free officers, end takeover Prisoners surrender after they get pledge of no retaliation

July 18, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson David Simon, Ann Lolordo, Michael Ollove and Sandy Banisky of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

A tense, daylong standoff between armed inmates and correction officers ended peacefully yesterday as inmates released the second of two officers they had held hostage at the Maryland Penitentiary.

Officer Larry Hughes, 31, a three-year employee of the Division of Correction, was released unharmed at 8 p.m. Officer Gary Wooten, 29, a one-year employee of the state prison system, had been released, also unharmed, at 11:29 a.m.

Both officers had been taken hostage around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday by armed inmates after a failed escape attempt from the prison's C Dormitory, an L-shaped structure of steel, stone, and concrete.

A flurry of activity preceded Officer Hughes' release. Around 6:30 p.m., several state police cruisers raced up Madison Street and turned in at the prison's Forrest Street entrance. Another 25 troopers, armed with shotguns, followed on foot, while a state police helicopter hovered overhead.

Around the same time, inmates started leaving C Dormitory to surrender in the No. 3 exercise yard. At 8 p.m. when Officer Hughes was released, the remaining 230 prisoners from the dormitory walked into the exercise yard and surrendered to 50 waiting troopers. They had been promised that there would be no reprisals and that state troopers and correction officers would not storm the prison.

The inmates were fed a box lunch and milk after their surrender.

According to Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, spokesman for the Division of Correction, all the inmates would be searched and prison officials would conduct a thorough search of C Dormitory. He said the commissioner of correction, Richard A. Lanham Sr., who was in constant contact with inmates during the negotiations, promised no reprisals against the inmates, who were concerned about crowding at the prison and the food service.

According to Sergeant Shipley, Mr. Lanham "intends to work with these people as long as they work with him."

Sergeant Shipley could not say how many inmates were involved in the hostage-taking. However, he said there will be a criminal investigation of the incident, in which two inmates were stabbed, as well as an internal investigation.

Ricardo R. Silva, director of field services for the Maryland Correctional Union, said the incident stemmed from a botched escape attempt, about which correctional officers had been warned.

During roll call for the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift Tuesday, prison officials told correction officers "to be wary of a possible diversion, a fight that would be used as a diversion for a possible escape," said Mr. Silva, whose union represents about 150 of the 260 correctional officers at the penitentiary.

According to Mr. Silva and other MCU representatives, the escape attempt began around 9:30 p.m. when several inmates, two of them armed with revolvers, overpowered two guards, taking their radios and keys. The inmates created a diversion by using one of the radios to broadcast that an officer was in trouble in B Dormitory, they said.

Herbert Berry Jr., a former correction officer now working with the Maryland Correctional Union, said the inmates had planned to escape through the ceiling of C Dormitory but could not because the hatch had been welded shut. Union officials said the inmates in the escape attempt were new to the prison and did not know the doors had been welded.

Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety, said the incident beganwhen one of four correctional officers on duty noticed contraband in C Dormitory that he suspected would be used in an escape. An inmate saw the officer and told him to leave the contraband alone and get out. Another officer walked in, and a scuffle ensued.

Lt. William Pitts, Sgt. Mark Canfield and Officer Cornell Barnes either fought their way out of the dormitory or were released by the inmates. The two other officers were left behind.

"The demands were no more than a cover-up for the real reason of attempted escape," said Mr. Robinson.

Sergeant Shipley said prison officials had been given a tip that a gun might be in the prison and were planning to lock prisoners in their cells and conduct a cell-by-cell search when the incident occurred. He also said the inmates' guns did not belong to the Division of Correction. The prison maintains a secured armory, but correctional officers are unarmed when posted within the penitentiary.

The last cell-by-cell search for weapons and contraband

occurred about five months ago, Mr. Silva said.

After Tuesday night's takeover, prison officials laid siege to the dormitory, which is split between five levels of prison cells and three levels of dormitory-style housing. Three of the cell levels had two men living in each 6-by-9-foot cell.

"It's because of overcrowding," Sergeant Shipley said. "It's certainly not an ideal situation to have maximum-security inmates in a dormitory setting, but it's something we have to do."

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