Guards say they're scapegoats in Carter escape City judges may testify for them

January 30, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

The two jail officers facing dismissal for their roles in the Dontay Carter escape began the fight to retain their jobs yesterday by naming city judges who they say are in their corner.

During hearings before a state administrative law judge, lawyers for the officers complained that political pressures have left them as scapegoats for an escape made possible by an overworked judicial system.

"All the damned political posturing in this case, I wish they would just shut up and let this poor man who worked 55 to 60 hours a week for $23,000 a year have some peace and let him know his family is going to be OK," said Leslie A. Stein, lawyer for Officer Irvin Curtis.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer demanded an investigation immediately after Carter, a convicted murderer, escaped unshackled through a bathroom window in Judge John N. Prevas' chambers.

During yesterday's hearings, lawyers for Officer Curtis and Officer Frank Beales said their clients should be reinstated pending the outcome of hearings that will determine whether they will be fired.

Jack B. Rubin, lawyer for Officer Beales, said Baltimore City Circuit Judges John C. Themelis, Andre M. Davis and David B. Mitchell said they would testify for the officers if subpoenaed. Mr. Stein said Judge Martin P. Welch would testify for Officer Curtis.

Joan L. Bossman, an assistant attorney general representing the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the officers should remain suspended without pay because to reinstate them would create a danger to the public and erode the morale of their fellow officers.

Ms. Bossman also said correctional management has lost confidence in the men and to have them on the job could leave the state liable to civil suits.

Mr. Rubin said his client is a respected officer who was swept up in the fast pace of an overburdened court when Carter escaped.

"The tension, the expediency created an atmosphere in that courtroom like none you've ever seen," Mr. Rubin told the judge. "That's one of the hardest-working courtrooms in Baltimore City because Judge Prevas is one of the hardest working judges in Baltimore City."

The events leading to the escape remain in dispute. Ms. Bossman said an investigation showed the officers requested the use of the judge's bathroom for Carter before the escape; Mr. Rubin said the officer asked if it was permissible for Carter to go to the bathroom and "the judge nodded his head yes and pointed to his chambers."

Judge Prevas has said he had for years allowed prisoners to use his bathroom in order to save time and to keep prisoners out of public hallways, but that he could not recall whether he or the officers broached the idea of taking Carter there.

Mr. Stein said it was "ludicrous" to suggest that Mr. Curtis, with only three years on the job, would dictate to Judge Prevas.

Both officers have been advised by their lawyers not to comment, but Mr. Beales told reporters yesterday he has not been financially devastated by the suspension from his $28,000-a-year job.

He said: "I'll find work. I'll find something."

Administrative Law Judge Susan L. Officer promised a written ruling within five days on the officers' job status pending dismissal proceedings.

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