Officers blamed in prison escape "Supermax" guards failed to follow guidelines, corrections chief says.

December 03, 1991|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Evening Sun Staff

Convicted murderer Harold Benjamin Dean, the first inmate to escape from Maryland's security-tight "Supermax" prison, was able to flee in broad daylight because correctional officers failed to follow strict guidelines in removing inmates from their cells, a state official said.

"Evidence to date clearly shows that had stated procedures been followed, the attempt to escape and the ultimate escape would not have occurred," said Corrections Commissioner Richard A. Lanham Sr. at a news conference yesterday, where Dean's recovered orthopedic shoes and escape tools were displayed.

Dean, 40, who remains at large, was serving life plus 105 years for killing a tow truck driver and wounding an armored car driver following a 1981 robbery.

He is considered extremely dangerous.

On Sept. 28, 1985, Dean escaped from the Maryland Penitentiary. When he fell from a rope of knotted sheets, he broke his ankles and was captured a day later.

Since then, the Division of Corrections has provided him with special shoes.

Dean was able to make his escape with the help of John Dempsey, a fellow prisoner who made a tool using Dean's shoe, Lanham said.

"Dempsey had fashioned a screwdriver from a piece of metal in an orthopedic shoe that was worn by Dean," Lanham said.

Dean, who was considered an escape risk, was transferred in August to the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, or "Supermax." Opened in January 1989, it is the state's most secure prison.

Yesterday, in the wake of the escape at the 275-inmate prison, a sergeant and a corporal were fired, pending an administrative hearing. Another corporal was suspended for three days, correctional officials said.

Meanwhile, a shakedown has occurred at the facility and an investigation continues.

According to Lanham, the unnamed workers failed to do their jobs.

But William Bolander, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said one fired officer, a woman, was a "scapegoat" for management's under-staffing.

Bolander's union represents 10,000 state employees, including the woman fired yesterday.

"The correctional officers are naturally the fall guys when something like this happens," Bolander said, adding that if there had been enough officers Dean would have been spotted.

Lanham disagreed.

"Let me make it specifically clear to you, they were not short-staffed," Lanham said. "There were four correctional officers assigned, which is the normal complement."

But one left for lunch and one left to relieve another officer, Lanham said. When Dean escaped, only two officers were present in the control room, he said.

When a Supermax inmate leaves his cell for recreation or to shower, two officers are supposed to go to the cell and handcuff the inmate through cell slots. Another officer remains in the control room to activate the doors.

"They were down to two officers," Lanham said. "No movement is to take place."

But between 12:15 p.m. and 1:40 p.m. on Saturday, an officer called to Dean on the intercom system and asked if he wanted to shower, Lanham said.

"Dean said, 'Yes' and the door of his cell was electronically opened," Lanham said.

The officers remained in the control room and did not touch Dean, he said.

"Dean then refused the shower, but before the door was closed, he crawled from his cell on his stomach, which is out of sight of the officer in the pod."

Dempsey, an inmate in Cell No. 39 next to Dean's, was asked the same question and agreed to a shower. His door was opened.

"At this time, Dean crawled in while Dempsey came out, left his cell, walked down to the end of the tier which is on the second level, went down the steps toward the shower area," Lanham said. "But he [Dempsey] decided he did not want to shower and he returned to his cell."

In the same cell, Dean and Dempsey, 40, who was serving life for rape, began what they had planned as a joint escape.

Dempsey used the screwdriver he had made to remove screws inside the frame of the window. He used saw blades to cut the window bars that hold windows in place, Lanham said.

"How Mr. Dempsey got the saw blades, we do not know at this time," Lanham said.

Dempsey tried to escape through the window frame, using a harness that Dean held so he wouldn't fall. But Dempsey was unable to fit through the space, which is approximately 8 inches by 22 inches, Lanham said.

Dempsey returned and Dean put the harness on. Reaching up, he used rolled newspaper to force razor wire away from the wall.

Dean stood on the window ledge, and with Dempsey's support was able to jump up to the edge of the roof and pull himself up.

Dean climbed down two ladders without being spotted by video cameras. He used a makeshift rope -- made of two sheets, two towels, two laundry bags, underwear elastic and torn jeans -- to gain access to Constitution Street to flee.

Meanwhile, Dempsey, who was cut, cleaned the area in his cell.

"He just sat and waited because he knew [officials] would respond," Lanham said.

At about 1:40 p.m. the shift commander spotted the clothing wrapped around the razor wire, and a search began. Dean had worn extra clothing to protect himself from the razor wire.

At the news conference at DOC headquarters in Reisterstown Road Plaza yesterday, officials displayed nine saw blades, Dean's orthopedic shoes and a blood-stained rope and harness. Officials believe Dean was cut during the escape.

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