Challengers lay jail mix-up to Schmoke

August 20, 1991|By Brian Sullam

The Baltimore city jail became a campaign issue yesterday as two political opponents of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke blamed him for management that allowed dozens of inmates to languish without trial dates -- including one homeless man who was lost in the system for more than nine months.

Former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns, who is running against the mayor in the Democratic primary, called the jail mix-up "a major management failure" and said the problem "rests squarely on his [Mr. Schmoke's] shoulders."

And Republican mayoral candidate Joe Scalia charged that former Jail Commissioner Barbara A. Bostick, whom Mr. Schmoke recently hired to be the city's liaison with the Sandtown-Winchester Project, should be fired.

"The mayor tolerates mediocre and subpar performance from his department heads," Mr. Scalia said. "What happened in the jail is a microcosm of what has happened all over the city government."

The state took over management of the city jail July 1. State officials taking an inventory of inmates so far have turned up 93 men whose records did not show that they had been assigned trial dates.

Mr. Schmoke dismissed Mr. Burns' and Mr. Scalia's criticism, saying that his opponents are just trying to make political hay out of a problem that began long before he became mayor.

"It doesn't surprise me that they fail to emphasize the fact that I was able to accomplish something that mayors have been trying to achieve for the past 20 years," said Mr. Schmoke, who takes credit for persuading the state to assume control of the jail.

"They are oversimplifying the situation for their own political ends," the mayor said. "The problems at the jail were not just recordkeeping. It was a failure of our criminal justice system. The implementation of the speedy trial law is not just a jail problem."

Problems at the jail boiled up last week when state officials found that Martin R. Henn, 54, a homeless alcoholic man, had been lost in the jail for more than nine months. As they continued searching records, officials found 92 more inmates without trial dates.

Mr. Henn had been jailed July 16, 1990, on charges of malicious destruction of property and arson. He was released Wednesday to a halfway house for treatment of his alcoholism.

Previous administrations also have had problems with jail recordkeeping. Mr. Burns was mayor in 1987 when Ronald Harley was held in the jail two months beyond his sentence.

Yesterday, in a written statement, Mr. Burns said the problems at the jail are "but one example of the kind of mismanagement from which this city now suffers."

Mr. Scalia, in an interview, charged that by finding another city job for Ms. Bostick after the state took over the jail, Mr. Schmoke indicated that he is willing to tolerate incompetent managers.

Mr. Schmoke denied that problems at the jail were symbolic of mismanagement of other departments in the city. He said that the city has been able to retain its good bond rating and that several business publications and organizations have identified Baltimore as a well-managed city.

While the political candidates were debating the jail's management, another of the inmates who had been held for months without trial had his day in court.

Robert Walter Joseph Seymour, who had been incarcerated since March 11 for violating probation on several traffic violations, was released yesterday after appearing before a District Court judge.

Daryl T. Walters, the assistant public defender who represented Mr. Seymour, said the charges were thrown out because of the failure to follow due process.

Jail officials said their records had a different first and middle name for Mr. Seymour than those used in the court records.

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