Guards' conduct defended 2 face firing for their roles in Carter escape

May 18, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Lawyers for the two jail officers facing dismissal for their roles in the Dontay Carter escape went to court yesterday to try to spread the blame for the convicted murderer's freedom flight.

An assistant attorney general representing the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services replied that no matter the circumstances, the officers' failure to follow security policies led to the escape and that department policy dictates they be fired.

During a hearing before a state administrative law judge, lawyers for the correctional officers, Frank Beales and Irvin Curtis, said Judge John N. Prevas, who presided over Carter's two trials in Baltimore Circuit Court, fostered a tense, hurry-up atmosphere in which the officers dared not question his decision to allow Carter to use the bathroom in the judge's chambers.

Carter escaped Jan. 18 through a window in that bathroom and was recaptured a day later after one of the largest manhunts in Baltimore history.

Questioned by lawyer Jack B. Rubin, Rachel Marblestone, Judge Prevas' law clerk, denied that her boss frequently loses his composure but agreed that he occasionally indulges in "temper tantrums" and that delays remain a "pet peeve" for him.

Joan L. Bossman, the assistant attorney general handling the case, said she will call Judge Prevas to the witness stand when the hearing, which is expected to continue through Thursday, resumes today.

Mr. Rubin, who represents Officer Beales, and Leslie A. Stein, representing Officer Curtis, also said that actions by Ms. Bossman and the administrative law judge, Joan C. Ross, have deprived the officers of any chance for a fair hearing.

Mr. Rubin and Mr. Stein cited a May 4 memo in which Ms. Bossman advised correctional officers who might be subpoenaed to testify in the case not to talk with the officers involved in the case or their lawyers until they had talked with her and their supervisor. Mr. Rubin called that a blatant attempt to intimidate witnesses.

Mr. Rubin told Judge Ross that an attorney he subpoenaed said he was told that "powerful people" would have access to transcripts of any testimony.

"I know not who the attorney general's office wishes to protect in this case. I know not the motive to intimidate witnesses from testifying in this case. But the genie is out of the bottle," Mr. Rubin said.

The lawyers cited the memo in an unsuccessful bid to persuade the judge to dismiss the action against the guards. They then asked her to recuse herself because, they said, they believed she had had improper out-of-court contacts with the state's lawyers. The judge denied any wrongdoing and refused to step down from the case.

The accused officers said they were being punished for the decision by unidentified "higher-ups" to conduct the Carter trial in a relatively unsecure, street-level courtroom.

Administrative hearings are usually held at the public safety department's offices, but lawyers for the officers urged that this hearing to be conducted at Baltimore Circuit Court. Yesterday, the judge agreed to their request that she tour the courtroom from which Carter escaped.

At one point during yesterday's hearing, Mr. Stein persuaded Sgt. Larry Carroll, an investigator for the state Division of Correction, to reverse his position and say Officer Curtis was not negligent. However, under further questioning from Ms. Bossman, Sergeant Carroll said Officer Curtis failed in his duty to insist that Officer Beales follow procedures.

The officers remain suspended without pay. The judge said that she has 45 days after the hearing to render a decision but that she probably won't wait that long.

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