Fragile jail walls almost let 15 escape

May 10, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Based on information from Baltimore County Detention Center officials, The Sun incorrectly reported in an article Tuesday the charges on which David Simms, 18, of Dundalk was being held before he was charged with a failed escape. Mr. Simms was at the center on burglary and attempted rape charges.

The Sun regrets the error.

Fifteen prisoners nearly escaped from the Baltimore County Detention Center two weeks ago because of a construction defect, the jail administrator said yesterday at a budget hearing.

Two inmates -- including the man convicted of the October shooting of county K-9 Officer James E. Beck -- have been charged with the escape attempt, which was discovered April 28 by a guard.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The escape attempt revealed that not all cinder blocks in the walls of the Detention Center were filled with solid concrete, as they were supposed to be -- a fact now well-known among the prisoners in the overcrowded facility, James Dean, the administrator, said.

Mr. Dean said the two inmates had removed four cinder blocks from their cell wall April 28, under covering noise made by 13 other inmates in that jail pod, and had prepared a rope of knotted bedsheets.

To complete the escape, the inmates needed only to kick out the thin brick-style veneer used for a finishing cover to the cinder block walls, and climb down four stories.

Because of the incident, the inmates considered most dangerous will be moved this summer to the top floor of the new Detention Center annex which, Mr. Dean said, has concrete-filled walls to prevent such an incident.

The $20.5 million, 216-bed addition is due for completion in July or August. Mr. Dean said that Omni Construction Inc., the Washington firm building the new annex, has agreed to drill holes into the walls of the 12-year-old Detention Center and pump slurried concrete into any found to be hollow.

Mr. Dean said the plot was discovered when the correctional officer in charge of the pod made the inmates quiet down and heard digging noises. He called the emergency response team, which went into the pod and discovered a 2-foot-square hole in the wall.

Mr. Dean said the metal used to dig out the cinder blocks came from equipment in the Detention Center's gym.

The two men charged with the escape attempt are Mark Phillip French, 29, and David Simms, 18, who was being held without bail awaiting trial on rape and burglary charges.

French, who once operated a construction firm, was convicted April 13 of trying to kill Officer Beck, who had stopped a vehicle on Pulaski Highway after a robbery. Officer Beck was shot three times and almost died. French and Mr. Simms are being held in solitary confinement, Mr. Dean said. French is to be sentenced May 25.

The administrator told council members he also is worried about the potential for escapes once the new annex opens and 10 months of renovations begin on the current jail building. Construction workers carrying tools will be moving in and out of the building every day, he said.

Renovations include converting the kitchen into a laundry, enlarging medical and visitor facilities and installing cells for disabled prisoners and medical isolation rooms for severely ill or contagious inmates.

The correctional system is under severe pressure from crowding, he said, with an average of 952 prisoners a day during the current fiscal year, compared with 899 a day last fiscal year.

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