Director defends jail management Facility is top-notch despite series of scandals, Rollins says

November 08, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

A second correctional officer accused of sexual misconduct with a female inmate at the Howard County Detention Center has been dismissed, but even with that and other recent troubles at the jail, its director defended his facility yesterday as one of the best in the state.

"We have our share of problems," James N. "Buck" Rollins said during a news conference at the jail. "But I want to make it clear and I want the public to know that we run an efficient operation, play by the rules and, yes, I am proud of my record."

Rollins, jail director since 1990, called the news conference with little notice yesterday to defend his management of the detention center, which has been troubled by problems for the past year.

"I will put my record at the Howard County Detention Center up against anyone else's facility of this size," Rollins said. "Whatever problems we have, we are working to solve them and I want the community to know that."

Using the dismissal of the two male correctional officers as an example, Rollins said jail administrators take decisive action when problems arise -- which he insists is rare.

Rollins said this has been the first year in his six-year history at the jail that he has had such problems.

The jail has had a reputation in state corrections as a top-notch facility, and Rollins has been praised by state public safety officials for his administration.

But since December, the 361-bed facility in Jessup has been under scrutiny.

Questions about the jail arose after inmate Edward Leroy Bennett, a 31-year-old Baltimore man arrested on charges stemming from a theft of scrap metal in 1991, hanged himself in his cell from a ceiling sprinkler with his bedsheet in December.

Since that incident, a series of troubles have befallen the jail, including allegations of sexual misconduct between officers and inmate and allegations of physical abuse of inmates by officers.

Rollins and his supporters say much of the criticism stems from disgruntled detention center employees.

They say that some staff members have targeted shift commander Thomas V. Kimball, who was hired almost three years ago as a captain at the facility to oversee almost half of the jail's 99 correctional officers.

Rollins alleged that Kimball has been targeted by his underlings because he is a tough supervisor who believes in following the rules.

"Some of my staff had problems with that," Rollins said.

Kimball, a former assistant warden at the Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI) in Somerset County, was forced to resign in 1989 after failing to report drug use by a subordinate, according to news reports at the time.

In May, inquiries by The Sun revealed that Kimball was not certified to hold his position at the Howard County facility.

He has since earned that certification but has become embroiled in other controversies at the jail.

Criminal prosecution

Kimball and Officer Donald Pryor, both of Baltimore, are facing criminal prosecution in connection with two separate allegations of assault on former inmate Michael Alexander Saukas, of Ellicott City.

Saukas, who was in jail for violating his probation, alleges that in an incident on Feb. 24, Kimball beat him unconscious while he was handcuffed.

In October, a county grand jury reviewed the charges against Kimball and Pryor and decided that they should be prosecuted. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

A trial date is pending the selection of a visiting judge from a neighboring county. Howard's judges have withdrawn from the case because of potential conflicts of interest.

"This is all just a move by some officers at the jail to try to get Mr. Rollins and Capt. Kimball fired," said Timothy McCrone, an attorney representing Kimball and Pryor in the case.

The Howard County State's Attorney's Office also is reviewing a police report about two other allegations of assaults on jail inmates by Kimball.

David Lee Abbott of Middletown, Va., and Lamont Donald Adams of Columbia have accused Kimball of assaulting them at the jail in two separate incidents.

Adams was handcuffed at the time of his reported scuffle with Kimball on Feb. 2.

Anonymous report

Rollins said yesterday that the allegations involving these two incidents were reported to police anonymously by someone he believes works at the jail.

He said he believes that the inmates themselves don't want to move forward on those charges.

One of the incidents is not likely to lead to charges because it is more than a year old and is therefore beyond the statute of limitations.

But even if the inmate in the second incident is not interested in pursuing the complaint, State's Attorney Marna McLendon said she will review a police report of the allegations and independently decide whether Kimball should face additional charges. "It's not just whether or not a victim wants to go forward," McLendon said. "Our responsibility is to see if a crime has occurred."

Pub Date: 11/08/96

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