Tear gas fumes waft into neighborhood Prison guards' drill spills over walls

October 18, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Tom Pountnay is used to prison guards near his home in Jessup. But he isn't used to tear gas.

Last week, Mr. Pountnay, who lives on state Route 175 near the Maryland House of Correction, said the guards and gas combined in a harmful, dangerous mix.

Tear gas fumes from a training drill 300 feet from his back door wafted inside his house, affecting his pregnant wife and causing a man with asthma who was working on his home to become ill, he complained Friday. Worse, said Mr. Pountnay, 28, his complaints to the officers in charge of the exercise were greeted with laughter and condescending remarks.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Division of Correction said Friday that the incident was under investigation and added that the training site has been moved away from Mr. Pountnay's home.

Mr. Pountnay owns two houses and a small apartment building on 10 acres. He lives in one house and rents the other. On !B Thursday morning, he said, a tenant who works at night complained about the noise.

"There were 100 people yelling and screaming and simulating combat 300 feet from my house," he said.

He said he called the assistant warden, Ronald Hutchinson, who said he would ask the trainees to keep the noise at a minimum.

But 30 minutes later, Mr. Pountnay said he walked outside and "my eyes were burning." He said two Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland workers were doubled over, his dog was lying on the ground yelping and several people repairing one of his houses were sick. Mr. Pountnay said all the officers involved in the training exercise were wearing gas masks and a lieutenant told him, "It's not our fault you're down wind."

"As I was walking away, I heard the guys laughing and yelling, 'Sissy,' and making crying sounds," Mr. Pountnay said, adding that he later found three tear gas canisters in the woods behind his home.

"Thirty minutes after I complained about the noise, they shoot tear gas in my yard," he said. "I find that unbecoming of state employees."

Mr. Hutchinson, the assistant warden, would not comment.

The prison spokeswoman, Maxine Eldridge, said she doubts tear gas canisters were shot onto his back yard. "There was some technical training going on there," she said. "It was routine. The wind shifted somewhat toward the home. The commissioner is taking steps to ensure that this does not happen again."

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