Pen search continues 1 gun found Weapons hunted in wake of incident

July 19, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson

Inmates at the Maryland Penitentiary remained locked in their cells under tight security last night as officials scoured the prison's C Dormitory for the second of two guns used in a botched escape attempt that led to a 23-hour hostage crisis.

Officials found one gun about 12:30 p.m. yesterday: a loaded .32-caliber revolver hidden in a pipe conduit behind two cells.

The weapon is believed to be one of two guns used during an attempted escape Tuesday night. Inmates held two correctional officers hostage before surrendering Wednesday evening.

Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, spokesman for the state Division of Correction, said prison officials would continue to search C Dormitory until the other gun was found and the area cleared of all weapons. Currently the state's maximum-security prison is under lockdown status, meaning inmates are not allowed out of their cells except for meals.

However, the prisoners who lived in C Dormitory, where the escape attempt occurred, are not being kept in their cells. Those inmates spent Wednesday night in a prison yard, under careful watch of correctional officers, some of whom were armed with shotguns. Two fights erupted in the prison yard yesterday but were quickly ended.

About 104 inmates were expected to spend last night in the prison's west wing, while another 140 to 150 inmates were to be housed in six tents on loan from the National Guard. Sergeant Shipley said he did not know how long the temporary housing measures would be needed.

"The commissioner has said he does not want inmates back in there until any type of offensive weapons have been removed," the sergeant said, adding that the conclusion of the weapons search would help determine when prison officials lift the lockdown imposed on the penitentiary.

Also yesterday, 44 inmates from the Division of Correction's boot camp were detailed to clean up the mess left behind in C Dormitory.

"They've thrown some things down stairways and blocked some stairways with mattresses," said Sergeant Shipley. "I think a couple of doors are off their hinges, but it's mostly vandalism-like things."

Another 20 inmates from the boot camp were expected to complete the cleanup today.

Of paramount concern to prison officials is how the inmates were able to smuggle guns into the prison. "There are as many ways as peoplecan come up with," said Sergeant Shipley, who recalled an incident in which officials at the state prison complex in Hagerstown found a gun inside a fruitcake.

Last year, state police found a loaded handgun stashed behind a cinder block in the penitentiary's basement. After a July 1988 riot in which eight correctional officers and a prison psychologist were injured at the prison, state police conducted a shakedown and recovered a loaded handgun from the prison yard.

In July 1984, a prison officer smuggled a gun into the penitentiary by hiding part of it in a loaf of bread. The officer, David W. Smithson, was later convicted of smuggling the gun and of receiving a bribe from inmates, who later tried to escape from the prison.

Herbert Berry Jr., who spent 13 years working in the state prison system and now assists the Maryland Correctional Union, said "inmates are ingenious" in finding ways to smuggle material into prison.

"There's a thousand ways to dothat," he said. "To try to second guess that is astronomical. The only way is to get the inmates to tell you, and they're not going to do that."

Although prison officials negotiated with inmates during the hostage standoff, they have not said whether those inmates were involved in the escape or the taking of hostages.

The escape attempt started around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday when one of four correctional officers on duty in C Dormitory found a bag of hacksaw blades on one of the cell tiers.

Sergeant Shipley said that the officer's search was the "result of stepped-up security procedures at the prison that have been under way for several weeks. The inmates knew that and we feel that is what thwarted this escape plan."

The officer who found the hacksaws secured them in a nearby office, but was then confronted by a gun-wielding inmate who demanded their return. Another officer walked in and a scuffle ensued.

The inmates, two of them armed with revolvers, overpowered the officers, took radios and keys from some of them and created a diversion byusing a radio to broadcast that an officer was in trouble in another part of the prison. Though some officers escaped from C Dormitory, Officers Larry Hughes, 31, and Gary Wooten, 29, who were on the cell block's upper tiers at the time of the attempted escape, were held as hostages until their release Wednesday.

While union officials hailed the negotiation process that ended with the correctional officers' safe release, they also said the incident indicated a need to improve the state's prison system and to hire more officers to patrol the overcrowded prisons.

"The biggest concern for the corrections officers today is the understaffing and the problems that go with the understaffing," said Ricardo Silva, field services director for the Maryland Correctional Union. "I think [Public Safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson] saw first-hand the basic need for more officers."

The state is currently undergoing a massive building program, with 2,000 additional prison beds currently under construction. Nearly 1,000 new prison beds have been added in the past year.

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