A Howard County grand jury has indicted two county correctional officers on assault and battery charges in connection with two alleged attacks on a former inmate at the county detention center, the county state's attorney's office said yesterday.
Capt. Thomas V. Kimball and Officer Donald J. Pryor could receive prison terms of up to 20 years if they are convicted on charges that they assaulted former inmate Michael A. Saukas, 23, of Ellicott City, in two separate incidents at the Howard County Detention Center -- including one in which the inmate alleges he was beaten unconscious while handcuffed.
Kimball -- a jail shift commander who was ordered last June to return to the state's training academy after inquiries by The Sun revealed he was not certified to hold his position -- also was charged with malicious destruction of property, which can carry a penalty of up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine.
The grand jury, which made its decision late Thursday night, dropped charges against two other detention center officers, Cpl. Alex Jacobs and Cpl. James Ford, who also were accused of assaulting Saukas.
Indictments of jail officers for beating inmates are rare, said Martin Geer, a University of Baltimore law professor who specializes in government liability for the treatment of prisoners. "Just in terms of it going to a grand jury is unusual indictment seldom happens," he said. "Generally there's no constituency for prisoners. There's no popular support."
The state's attorney's office took the cases to the grand jury after investigating criminal charges filed by Saukas.
Yesterday, County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he was reviewing possible job-related actions against Pryor and Kimball while they await trial. Ecker said he expects to make a decision by early next week.
But he insists that the officers acted appropriately in handling the Saukas incidents. "I'm disappointed with what the grand jury decided," Ecker said. "Based on our investigation and the police investigation, [the officers] were acting within their duties."
Kimball, 48, and Pryor, 27, both of Baltimore, were given a half-day off yesterday, McLindsey Hawkins, the jail's security supervisor, said. The two officers could not be reached for comment.
"It doesn't make us feel good to know that two of our officers have been indicted," Hawkins said. "But we have a job to do, and we're working hard at that."
Jail director James N. Rollins was out of town and unavailable for comment.
The indictments are the latest in a series of troubles this year at the 361-bed jail in Jessup, including a sex scandal in which two officers are alleged to have engaged in sexual activity with an inmate.
One of the officers in that sexual misconduct case has been placed on administrative leave. The county has filed an unspecified "personnel action" against the other; officials will not comment on his job status.
"Things are really in an uproar," said a jail officer, who is not involved in the beating or sexual misconduct cases and who asked not to be named. "The morale isn't good."
Saukas, who left the Howard County Detention Center June 27 after serving 14 months for violating probation, has acknowledged that he was a troublemaker there. But in a phone interview yesterday, he said he wants justice for his alleged mistreatment. He hailed the grand jury's decision as a step toward that end.
"I'm pretty happy with the way things turned out," Saukas said. "I'm glad to see that it's slowly moving forward. That's great."
The grand jury indictments stem from a complaint filed by Saukas June 14 in District Court, saying that five jail officers assaulted him on three occasions. Only two of the cases involving four officers were sent to the grand jury by the county state's attorney's office last week; the third, involving the fifth officer, was dropped.
The first incident occurred Sept. 15, 1995, when Saukas was being ordered to his cell, he said. "I did go back to the cell," he said yesterday. "I just kind of took my time about doing it."
Saukas alleges that Pryor -- an officer at the county jail since August 1990 -- choked him and slammed the back of his head into a concrete wall, according to District Court records. Saukas alleges that Pryor kept asking him, "Are you stupid, boy?"
He charges that he suffered knots on his head, a black eye and cuts on his right hand.
In the second incident -- on Feb. 24 -- Saukas alleges Kimball used too much force to get him to go to his cell while he was wearing handcuffs.
He alleges that Kimball beat him unconscious and dragged him to his cell by his handcuffs. When Saukas regained consciousness in his cell, his District Court complaint says, his wrists and mouth were bleeding, and he had knots and bumps on his head, numbness in his thumbs and loss of sight in his left eye.
Saukas also alleges that Kimball broke his glasses when he struck him, an allegation that led to the charge of malicious destruction of property.