Guard fired after reports he had sex with prisoner Incident heightens concerns about jail

April 16, 1993|By Mike Farabaugh and Bruce Reid | Mike Farabaugh and Bruce Reid,Staff Writer

Amid mounting concern about the leadership of the Harford County Detention Center, a male jail guard has been fired for allegedly having sex with a female inmate, and the jail's chief is reportedly being forced out.

Sheriff Robert E. Comes confirmed yesterday that the correctional officer was fired April 5 for allegedly having sex with a female inmate inside the jail last month.

County government officials, who asked that their names not be published, said in interviews yesterday that Major E. Dale Zepp was under pressure to retire because of recent controversies at the detention center, including the jail's handling of the suspicious death of an inmate found strangled with a pillowcase in his cell March 1, 1992.

But the sheriff denied that Major Zepp, who heads the 308-bed jail, is retiring.

Speaking of the alleged sexual encounter, Sheriff Comes said, "That's against our policy, and the guard was dismissed."

The sheriff and other officials, however, refused to identify the guard, who was classified as a "probationary employee," saying his firing is a personnel matter. Sheriff Comes said the inmate's ,, desire to keep the incident from becoming public means criminal charges probably will not be filed.

Sheriff Comes said that since he took office in December 1990, he has dismissed four or five correctional officers for misconduct of a "similar type." He declined to elaborate, except to say one incident involved a guard "fraternizing" with a former inmate on parole.

Sources said the announcement of Major Zepp's retirement could come as early as today.

The county administration briefed the County Council on the jail this week, the sources said. Word of Major Zepp's reported ouster came during that briefing, led by Earnest Crowfoot, the attorney for Harford County, sources said.

News of the shake-up at the jail comes a week after County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly co-signed a letter urging Gov. William Donald Schaefer to order that the State Attorney General's Office investigate the jail's operation.

Mrs. Rehrmann and Mr. Cassilly based their request on the 1992 inmate death.

Already, the sheriff's office, which oversees the jail, the Harford state's attorney's office and the FBI have investigated the death of William Martin Ford, a 28-year-old Delaware man who was serving 30 days for drunken driving. No one has been charged.

The letter to the governor also claimed "sexual activity has occurred this year between inmates and staff, which may or may not have been consensual," but provided no specifics.

Mrs. Rehrmann did not return phone calls yesterday.

Jeffrey D. Wilson, president of the County Council, said yesterday that he has been concerned about "deplorable" management of the detention center.

On allegations of sexual activity between inmates and guards, Mr. Wilson said: "I'm profoundly concerned. I have heard enough about the allegations in that area. The old saying goes, 'Where there's smoke, there's fire.' "

Mr. Wilson, a Republican, said his concerns range from inmates not being fed properly to the jail management's refusal to segregate nonviolent and violent inmates.

Mr. Crowfoot, whose office is charged with defending the sheriff's office and county employees, said he did not set policy for the sheriff's office and therefore would not comment on the specific case.

"In general, probationary employees can be fired at any time without cause," he said, adding that probationary employees do not receive the same sort of protection as those who have passed their probation period.

Sheriff Comes had said he would welcome any investigation.

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