2 flee detention center more fortification ordered

July 14, 1994|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

State corrections officials ordered extra fortifications to a medium-security portion of the Baltimore City Detention Center yesterday after the escape of two prisoners from a third-story window.

The two men -- identified as John A. Wagner, 21, and Edward G. Cooper, 32 -- remained at large last night after using a 70-foot rope fashioned from bedsheets to escape from the Jail Industries Building early yesterday morning. Both had been housed at the center while awaiting trial on armed-robbery charges.

Detention center officials said the men used two 8-inch hacksaw blades to cut through a metal grille surrounding their 100-bed dormitory wing at 531 E. Madison St. between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. They then walked across a 3-foot-wide catwalk, broke the wooden frame of one of the floor's least secure windows and lowered themselves to Constitution Street, officials said.

Commissioner LaMont W. Flanagan, who oversees the former City Jail for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, ordered 2-foot-high steel plates welded to the security grilles surrounding all dormitories in the building yesterday. He said that would prevent a prisoner from cutting through the grilles without being seen. Mr. Wagner, whose bed was next to the opening used in the escape, apparently was able to saw through a metal grille unnoticed.

Steel window guards also were installed on two third-story windows yesterday, including the one from which the escape was made, Mr. Flanagan said.

Light switches on catwalks around the dormitories were to be altered so the lights could not be turned off.

Mr. Flanagan said he hopes to create a "maximum-security layout" for the medium-security building, and said he is considering installing a razor-wire net around the third- and fourth-floor windows in an effort to keep prisoners from trying to escape.

"Every time you move, it cuts," Mr. Flanagan said of the wire, which already surrounds more secure areas of the detention center. "It is a real deterrent."

But M. Kim Howard, president of the Maryland Correctional Union, which represents about 1,500 correctional workers in the state, said the answer is more officers, not more fortification.

"Inmates don't care about wire," Ms. Howard said. "They'll cut themselves and go across. . . . Inmates already know about mechanical things. The only thing that can keep them in is an officer." Ms. Howard said she had been told by union members that one officer was charged with monitoring two 100- man dormitories at the Jail Industries Building at the time of the escape. She also said understaffing keeps jail personnel from being able to perform more thorough searches of inmates and their sleeping areas.

Mr. Flanagan declined to discuss the staffing level at the time of the escape. He said only that officers at the detention center perform searches more frequently than at almost any other institution with which he is familiar.

The rope used in the escape consisted of dozens of braided strips of bedsheets and other material. Mr. Flanagan said he was certain other inmates hoarded pieces of their sheets to help Mr. Wagner and Mr. Cooper. An internal affairs unit is investigating the incident.

Mr. Flanagan said yesterday that no correctional workers had been disciplined in connection with the escape.

Mr. Wagner, of the first block of S. Monroe St., had been awaiting trial at the detention center for nearly a year on charges relating to the armed robbery of a business. He was being held in lieu of $150,000 bail, officials said.

Mr. Cooper, of the 800 block of North Broadway, had been awaiting trial at the detention center since April on charges of armed robbery and assault, in lieu of $180,000 bail.

The escape was the first at the jail since the state assumed control of it three years ago.

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