Guns still sought in prison Inmates outdoors during hunt for guns used in uprising.

July 18, 1991|By Tom Keyser and Thomas W. Waldron | Tom Keyser and Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

About 260 inmates of the Maryland Penitentiary's rebellious Dorm today were being held in the prison yard under shotgun guard as a search continues for two handguns used to hold two correctional officers hostage.

Pen officials told inmates they will not be allowed back into the dormitory until the guns are found, according to Gregory M. Shipley, a state prison spokesman. "They could be anywhere," he said.

Officials are exploring the idea of putting up tents in the yard while the gun search continues. Meanwhile, inmates from the state's boot camp prison in Jessup came to the Pen today to clean up C Dorm, which inmates trashed during the 23-hour hostage crisis that ended last night, Shipley said.

The surrendering prisoners were searched and then fed. The sat in an exercise yard as prison guards searched C Dorm unsuccessfully for the two handguns the hostages had reported seeing, Shipley said.

Although relieved that the tense Pen ordeal ended non violently, Bishop L. Robinson, state public safety secretary, said future crises are unavoidable as long as the inmate population continues to grow.

The crisis, which ended at 8 o'clock last night with the peaceful release of the final hostage, was actually the result of a botched ++ escape attempt, prison officials said.

But once the inmates of C Dormitory in the ancient Baltimore prison took two guards hostage and held them at gunpoint, the main inmate grievance expressed over and over was intolerable, potentially explosive, overcrowding.

Shipley and others said the investigation of the uprising will focus on how the inmates obtained the guns. Guards do not carry guns on the cellblock; the inmates had the guns before they took the hostages, officials said.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who spoke to reporters outside the prison after the uprising, said his administration has tried for two years to get permission from the legislature to tear the penitentiary down.

"The longer it's delayed, the more crowded it will get," Schaefer said.

Richard A. Lanham, commissioner of corrections, said the inmates' complaints also included poor food and medical service.

Lanham, his face haggard and unshaven, was one of the chief prison negotiators, along with Assistant Commissioner Frank Mazzone and Warden Sewall Smith.

"Some of the grievances we can respond to, and some we can't," Lanham said, referring to the overcrowded conditions.

Two years ago, when Robinson described C Dorm as "unfit," it housed 75 inmates. Tuesday night, when the hostage crisis began, C Dorm housed about 260 inmates, prison officials said.

When it ended last night, the inmates of C Dorm released the last hostage, Larry Hughes, 31, of Baltimore, a prison guard for three years. The inmates had released guard Gary Wooten, 29, of Baltimore, at 11:30 a.m. yesterday.

Neither was injured, prison officials said. And neither was available to describe what had happened inside C Dorm.

Mazzone said inmates had trashed the cellblock, ripping up mattresses, breaking cabinets, knocking over lockers and smashing light bulbs.

The inmates of C Dorm surrendered in groups of five, Shipley said. He said no one dramatic breakthrough ended the revolt. It seemed that the inmates had just had enough, he said.

Prison officials said they did not promise the inmates more than merely to try to resolve some of their complaints.

"The commissioner pledged to work with these people as long as they work with him," Shipley said.

Lanham, who was continually in close contact with inmates, said several prisoners apparently had tried unsuccessfully to escape from C Dorm Tuesday night.

When they realized they could not climb through a trap door that had been welded shut and sealed with a cement slab, they grew frustrated and angry and began taking hostages, officials said.

They initially took five or six guards hostage, officials said, and all but Wooten and Hughes soon escaped or were released.

Early in the crisis, two inmates were injured by other inmates.

James Wardrick, 39, of Silver Spring, was stabbed in the neck. Henry Lester, 32, of Prince George's County, suffered multiple puncture wounds and facial fractures.

Both men were listed in fair and stable condition today at the University of Maryland Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Although only a few inmates were involved at the beginning, officials said, others joined in as an opportunity to complain about conditions inside the prison.

Lanham said he dealt mainly with two masked inmates he could not identify. After prison officials determine as best they can who played what role in the revolt, he said, city State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms will decide whether any inmates should be charged.

The crisis brought scores of heavily armed state troopers to the prison. Many carried shotguns and riot gear. Some came with police dogs.

After inmates agreed about 6:30 last night to release the final hostage, Shipley said, dozens of armed officers took positions in the exercise yard and on the prison walls.

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