Widow of Carter's victim criticizes firing of guards

January 23, 1993|By Eric Siegel and Jay Apperson | Eric Siegel and Jay Apperson,Staff Writers

The widow of the Catonsville engineer murdered by Dontay Carter criticized state corrections officials yesterday for firing the two jail officers who were guarding Carter when he escaped from the city's main courthouse on Monday.

"I feel so bad for the guards. [Corrections officials] needed a scapegoat or a fall guy. Something's wrong with the system," Aldona T. Pilius said.

She also said that in her opinion the guards were "negligent," but "it seems almost unfair the two guards who were there got fired so quickly without a hearing."

Mrs. Pilius criticized the firings at a news conference at the Baltimore offices of the Hewlett-Packard Co., the employer of her late husband, Vitalis. The news conference was called to announce that company employees had contributed $41,679.42 to an educational fund for the four Pilius children.

Mrs. Pilius and her attorney, Richard Woods, suggested that part of the blame for Carter's escape should be borne by Judge John N. Prevas, who allowed Carter to use the private restroom in his chambers from which the 19-year-old convicted killer escaped.

"If it's true that the judge initially gave the order to allow Carter to use his bathroom -- and I have it on hearsay that he did -- then I think the judge should share some of the burden of responsibility," Mr. Woods said after the news conference.

The reaction of Mrs. Pilius and Mr. Woods was echoed yesterday by Archer Blackwell, a staff representative for the union representing correctional officers at the Baltimore City Detention Center, and by several lawyers and courthouse workers.

Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, administrative judge for city Circuit Court, agreed yesterday that "Enough complaints can be made all around the place -- the judge, the guards, the whole thing just wasn't handled properly."

But he said there is no courthouse policy preventing judges from allowing prisoners from using their private restrooms. If Carter had been properly restrained with leg irons it wouldn't have mattered which restroom he used, Judge Kaplan said.

Judge Prevas could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

Earlier this week, Judge Prevas conceded that Carter was not the only defendant he has allowed to use his private restroom. The courthouse has two secure restrooms for use by prisoners. But Judge Prevas said he has allowed guards to take prisoners to his restroom to save time and to avoid trips through crowded court corridors.

The judge also said he was unable to recall whether he or the officers broached the idea of taking Carter to the restroom in his chambers.

The guards -- Frank Beales and Irvin Curtis -- have appealed their dismissals and a hearing has been scheduled for Friday at the state Office of Administrative Hearings.

"I want to have their jobs reinstated, their good names reinstated, their respect reinstated. I feel they have been unjustly maligned," said Jack Rubin, an attorney for Mr. Beales.

Mr. Beales, 42, has been a correctional officer at the city detention center for 13 years. Mr. Curtis, 48, has worked there three years.

"It seems like Dontay Carter's got more rights than these officers," said Mr. Blackwell, the union representative. He added the union had been told that Judge Prevas ordered during a bench conference that Carter use his restroom and not be shackled in his courtroom.

In the city courthouse, lawyers, sheriff's deputies and city detention center officers also grumbled that the two fired officers are being made scapegoats. Most said the guards were not without fault in the escape, but they insisted the blame should be shared by Judge Prevas.

"Everybody feels that way, the lawyers, everybody," said one prosecutor, speaking, like others interviewed, on the condition of anonymity. Others made similar comments.

Most of those interviewed said Judge Prevas tends to be perpetually in a hurry and complained he intimidates and embarrasses those he feels are moving too slowly in meeting his demands.

"If they fire [the guards] they should fire Prevas," said one angry deputy.

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