Carter's judge denies blame for the escape Prevas says he 'can't lie' to save guards

May 19, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Lawyers for the two correctional officers facing dismissal fo their roles in convicted murderer Dontay Carter's escape through the bathroom window in a judge's chambers challenged the judge yesterday to accept some of the blame.

"If you have compassion [for the officers], why don't you come forward and be a man and take some responsibility for this?" lawyer Leslie A. Stein asked Baltimore Circuit Judge John N. Prevas.

"If I could take the blame for them and save the officers' jobs, I would," the judge answered, testifying under oath during an administrative hearing. "I would do anything for them, but I can't lie for them.

"I wasn't in charge of security, so I really don't see how it involves me other than as the judge in the case," he added when asked if the escape was an "embarrassment" to him.

Judge Prevas' testimony came on the second day of administrative hearings to decide whether the officers, Frank Beales and Irvin Curtis, will be fired. The two guards also took the stand yesterday to make their first public statements about the events surrounding the Jan. 18 escape of Carter who was recaptured a day later.

Both said the judge made it clear that he preferred they take Carter to the chambers restroom, rather than to facilities in holding cells on other levels of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, to save time. And both said that to question the judge was to run the risk of a public dressing down.

Joan L. Bossman, an assistant attorney general representing the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, asked why Carter was not shackled and was allowed into the bathroom alone -- questions apparently designed to support her contention that no matter Judge Prevas' actions, the guards were negligent. Department policy prescribes dismissal for correctional officers whose security lapses lead to an escape.

But Jack B. Rubin and Mr. Stein have, from the start of proceedings against the officers, contended that only the officers face the loss of their jobs for their mistakes. The lawyers said others, including Judge Prevas and court and correctional officials who did not object to the Carter trial being conducted in a relatively unsecure street-level courtroom, are going unpunished.

Both officers' lawyers said they did not relish the idea of cross-examining Judge Prevas -- the three shared a lunch table many days over many years before it became clear to the judge that they would be on opposite sides of this case. Once the hearing commenced, the lawyers pulled no punches, however, portraying Judge Prevas as "dictatorial" and prone to "childish" fits of temper when proceedings in his courtroom were delayed.

Mr. Rubin paced the courtroom and asked whether Judge Prevas would be surprised to hear that many lawyers and correctional officers consider him a "judicial bully." Judge Prevas, maintaining an even voice, said he was aware of a wide range of opinions about his temperament.

Mr. Stein -- noting that Judge Prevas once refused to excuse from jury selection a prosecutor who had learned that his mother was being rushed to the hospital and last winter ordered jurors and lawyers to report on a day when all other city courts were closed because of snow -- said the judge suffered from a "a maniacal, tyrannical obsession with moving the case along."

The judge said he typically becomes irritable at delays only when he is trying to meet a deadline to complete his morning docket and not during extended trials, such as Carter's. Judge Prevas said he has had a "standing invitation" to correctional officers to use his chambers restroom since a 1987 murder trial in a different courtroom. He said that in the Carter case he "never ordered" officers to use the chambers facilities. That testimony was contradicted by Officer Beales.

Judge Prevas said he was aware the chambers restroom could be locked from the inside and said he assumed that the window in the restroom had been nailed shut decades ago.

Asked whether the escape would never have happened had he not allowed the chambers restroom to be used, Judge Prevas said: "If he's not in the bathroom, he doesn't go out the window. Beyond that, I can't speculate."

Both officers testified that they have had to struggle while being suspended without pay pending the outcome of the hearing.

Officer Curtis, 48, said he now has a job with no benefits and can no longer afford to pay health insurance premiums to cover his ailing wife.

Officer Beales, 42, said he has found only odd jobs since he was suspended and has also lost his health insurance.

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