Notification of jail escape is criticized Police, fire officials say they weren't called at their central offices

Oak Hill facility at issue

Three teen-agers fled from high-security prison by Fort Meade

November 24, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer TaNoah Morgan contributed to this article.

An agreement between the District of Columbia's maximum-security jail for young men near Fort Meade and the surrounding communities to warn area residents when there is an escape apparently has broken down.

When three teen-age inmates of the Oak Hill Detention Center escaped Tuesday afternoon, nearby residents did not hear a warning siren, and area police were not properly notified of the escape.

The teens were still at large yesterday, according to a district official.

Under a 1994 memorandum of understanding between the district and area law-enforcement agencies, jail officials are to notify the U.S. Park Police, Anne Arundel County Police and military police at Fort Meade when an escape occurs. The Anne Arundel County Fire Department also is supposed to be notified, according to department spokesman J. Gary Sheckells.

Jail officials notified local emergency authorities of the escape as outlined in the memorandum, said Madelyn Andrews, spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Department of Human Services.

Park Police received a call about the escape about 2: 20 p.m., and officers searched the area, according to Maj. Robert Hines, a spokesman.

But county police and fire officials, as well as Maryland State Police, who also are listed in the agreement, say they were not notified of the escape at their central offices.

A lieutenant at Anne Arundel's Western District police station said someone at the station was notified of the escape Tuesday, and officers looked for the escapees. But no call came to the department's central dispatcher, according to police spokesman Vaughn Dykes, who said Friday that officers no longer were looking for the escapees.

A man identifying himself as an Oak Hill guard told members of the Maryland City Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad of the escape, according to Ray Smallwood, the fire chief. But the firefighters on duty refused to sound the siren at their building on Route 198 without the proper orders from the county's fire dispatcher.

"They just didn't follow their own procedures," Smallwood said of jail officials. "There has to be a system and the system totally broke down."

A public information hot line run by the Patuxent Institution carried a recorded message about the escape, as required by the memorandum. Callers to the hot line, 799-1163, Friday still heard a tape warning of the escape "today," three days after it occurred.

Two 16-year-olds and a 17-year-old used grounds-maintenance tools to cut through two fences and laid a leather jacket over razor wire, according to Andrews. Teachers in academic classes at the jail did not notice the inmates were missing because other class members called "present" for them, she said.

The younger two had been awaiting trial on charges of unauthorized use of a vehicle. The 17-year-old was awaiting trial on charges of illegal possession of a handgun and possession of cocaine.

The security breach raised the ire of U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, whose 5th District includes the detention center and a District of Columbia boot camp run on the same plot of federal property between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 32.

"The fact that these individuals managed to evade the [facility's] security system is cause for great alarm and warrants a detailed analysis of the procedures and precautions currently in place at Oak Hill," Hoyer said in a statement released last week.

The district closed its nearby medium-security youth detention center, Cedar Knoll, in 1993 after Hoyer cut off federal funding because prisoners kept escaping.

"We have not gotten to that point with Oak Hill, but we certainly reserve that right," said Jerry Irvine, Hoyer's press secretary.

Last week's escape was the first in four years from that center, according to Andrews.

Smallwood said he would like to see Oak Hill go the way of Cedar Knoll.

"The solution is for them to pack up and go back to the district," he said. "They've been nothing but a blight on the community for years."

Oak Hill and nearby communities appeared to be on track to better relations a year ago when district officials agreed to pay the Maryland City fire company $20,000 for the use of the siren in the event of an escape and to pay for advertisements and the delivery of fliers that would tell residents where to call for information on escapes, according to Smallwood.

But the agreement broke down this fall, when Joyce Burrell, district youth services administrator, decided not to renew that contract, Smallwood said.

Burrell did not return calls to her office or to the detention center.

Maryland City firefighters would have sounded the siren, even though the district no longer was paying to use it, if they had gotten the order from the central dispatcher, Smallwood said.

A siren on jail property, which is across the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from Maryland City, is too far from most area residents, he said.

"They can blow that siren until the ducks come home, and nobody on this side of the parkway is going to hear it," Smallwood said.

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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