Judge upholds firings of 2 guards who let Dontay Carter escape courthouse

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

A state administrative law judge has upheld the firings of two Baltimore City Detention Center correctional officers who were responsible for guarding convicted murderer Dontay Carter when he escaped from a courthouse bathroom.

"Given the nature of the crimes of which Dontay Carter had been found guilty, Officers [Frank] Beales and [Irvin] Curtis were wantonly careless or negligent in the performance of their duties on Jan. 18, 1993," Administrative Law Judge Joan C. Ross wrote in siding with correctional officials who fired the two men. "The removal of Officers Beales and Curtis from state service does not violate any law or regulation, nor is it otherwise improper."

Mr. Beales said yesterday that the ruling, though subject to appeal, may effectively end his bid to reclaim his job. The 13-year veteran said an appeal would be costly and would likely fall on deaf ears, adding: "I've got to go job hunting now."

In a June 16 order based on five days of testimony last month, Judge Ross recounted the events surrounding Carter's escape from Baltimore's Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse through the window in Judge John N. Prevas' chambers bathroom.

She noted the trial was conducted in "the least secure courtroom in the Circuit Court" and that Judge Prevas is the only judge known to allow inmates to use his bathroom, but she added: "Had the officers been diligently performing their duties the escape would not have occurred regardless of the courtroom used or the unusual procedure of permitting an inmate to use the judge's private bathroom.

"I am convinced that in addition to being very likeable people, [the officers] have been a credit to their agency and to state service through their dedication to their jobs and the manner in which they performed their duties," Judge Ross wrote in the 19-page order.

But good reputations weren't at issue, the judge added; at issue was whether the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services was within the law in moving to fire the officers.

Mr. Beales maintained that he is being made a scapegoat and that he was simply following the instructions of Judge Prevas when the convicted murderer escaped, but he said he expected the ruling to go against him. He was, however, surprised that Mr. Curtis also lost. "Their expert witness said he was in the right place at the right time," Mr. Beales said.

Judge Ross said Mr. Curtis followed procedures except when he failed to "remind" Mr. Beales to shackle Carter outside of the courtroom and search the bathroom. Carter, the East Baltimore teen-ager convicted of a February kidnapping spree and murder, was recaptured a day later in Northeast Baltimore.

Attempts to reach Mr. Curtis for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

The officers have 15 days to appeal portions of Judge Ross' ruling before it goes to the state personnel department for final action.

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