Officer disciplined after death of inmate Major will keep his job at central intake facility

April 15, 1997|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

A correctional major investigated in the death of an inmate at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center was disciplined yesterday for his actions, but will not be fired.

Sources close to the investigation of Maj. Wallace C. Laster said that Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, determined that should not lose his job for failing to get hospital treatment for Daniel Griffin.

Griffin, 53, died at the jail Feb. 12, a day after he was arrested on charges of first-degree assault and possession of a handgun. His wife, Angelina, had called police because her husband, an alcoholic who began to drink heavily after losing his job a year ago, had threatened to shoot her.

Two internal investigations of Griffin's death found Laster, 50, had violated jail rules by disregarding the orders of a physician's assistant and a doctor to get the prisoner to a hospital right away.

In his accounts of that day, Laster wrote that he could not spare the staff to transport Griffin, and that medical staff did not appear to take the matter seriously enough for him to feel he needed to call 911.

The nature of Laster's punishment was not clear yesterday. Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for Robinson, would say only that "appropriate personnel action has been taken" in the case. "The investigation is over, but a review of policies and procedures continues," Sipes said.

Laster had been on paid administrative leave since Griffin's death. He declined to comment yesterday.

Vance McDonald, a labor relations representative with the Maryland Classified Employees Association, confirmed that Laster had been disciplined, but would not give details. He said the union is trying to do its investigation of the case and may appeal Laster's punishment.

Sheila Gunkel, Griffin's daughter, said yesterday that it bothered her that Laster was remaining on the job. "I don't think it's right," she said. "I don't know what kind of disciplinary action could take place for letting someone die."

The internal investigations of Griffin's death found that the prisoner began throwing up blood about five hours before he was found dead in a holding cell. A physician's assistant who examined Griffin wrote an order to transfer him to the Maryland Penitentiary hospital. Even though a box labeled "Emergency" was checked, Laster wrote in his reports that sending officers out with Griffin would have put other officers inside the jail at risk because of the many prisoners awaiting booking.

Later that afternoon, according to the investigations, Dr. David Holliday told Laster in a telephone conversation overheard by a witness that the major should get Griffin to a hospital immediately, by calling 911 if necessary. Laster told investigators, however, that Holliday had not indicated that Griffin was an emergency case.

Griffin was found dead at 6: 10 p.m. that evening. An autopsy found that he had died of cirrhosis of the liver and cardiovascular disease.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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