Jail Officer Cleared In Assault Case

Charges Dropped

Pryor Was Accused Of Beating Inmate

Trial Was Due To Start

Second Officer Is To Be Tried On Similar Charges

April 24, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Howard County prosecutors yesterday dropped charges against a jail officer accused of beating an inmate in a high-profile case that raised serious questions about the inner workings of the local jail.

Though prosecutors would offer no explanation for their decision to drop assault and battery charges against Officer Donald J. Pryor, others involved said prosecutors believed the case was weak and unlikely to result in conviction.

The dismissal comes just weeks before another officer, Capt. Thomas V. Kimball, is set to stand trial in two alleged assaults on two inmates.

The clearing of all charges against Pryor on the day he was set to stand trial casts a shadow over his and Kimball's controversial prosecutions.

But prosecutors asserted yesterday that the dismissal of Pryor's case would not hurt their case against Kimball, which some involved in the two cases say is stronger.

James N. "Buck" Rollins, the jail director, called the dismissal of the charges vindication for the beleaguered 361-bed facility in Jessup.

In the last year, the jail has had other problems, including sexual misconduct between inmates and other officers and a grand jury report that called for an independent oversight panel to review its management.

"Somehow, somebody overlooked clear evidence in this case that [Pryor] performed his duties and should not have been charged," Rollins said after court yesterday. "I am extremely happy for the facility, [which] has taken a lot of undue criticism. I have just been proved right, I believe."

Of Kimball's pending cases, Rollins said: "Hopefully, there will be the same result."

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker -- who has supported Rollins throughout the jail's troubles -- said the dismissal of the charges "doesn't surprise me."

"There wasn't any case to begin with," he said. "This whole thing has been blown out of proportion."

Ecker said the cases against the guards never should gone forward, citing an internal investigation by jail officials that found no excessive force was used in Pryor's or in Kimball's cases.

State's Attorney Marna McLendon declined to comment.

Assistant State's Attorney Christine Gage, who handled the case yesterday, would not say why she decided not to go forward with the case.

"I really don't feel at liberty to discuss my reasoning," Gage said.

But she added that she did not think Pryor's clearing would affect the case against Kimball.

"At this point, I don't see how it could" affect Kimball's case, Gage said.

The two cases against Kimball -- which are set for trial next month and in June -- involved alleged assaults on two handcuffed inmates. One of the inmates, Michael A. Saukas of Columbia's Oakland Mills village, also brought the charges against Pryor.

Saukas filed charges against both men last June. Saukas said Pryor beat his head against a wall 15 times in September 1995 during a dispute. Jail officials do not deny that force was used against Saukas but they say it was not excessive.

Saukas, 23, then accused Kimball of beating him while he was handcuffed in February 1996 after Saukas refused to return to his cell.

Kimball maintains that Saukas kicked him and he did nothing any other jail officer would not do.

Kimball is also accused of beating another handcuffed inmate -- Lamont Adams, also of Oakland Mills -- in February 1996.

Yesterday's decision to drop the charges against Pryor may have been a strategic move to strengthen the prosecution's case against Kimball.

In an interview yesterday after Pryor's case was dismissed, Saukas, the state's principal witness, said Gage told him that the defense attorney -- Timothy J. McCrone -- would likely try to undermine his testimony on the witness stand.

"She didn't want me [to testify in the Pryor case] because [McCrone] would try to discredit me and use it against me in the Kimball trial," Saukas said.

In a telephone interview, Gage would not confirm or deny any statements made to Saukas, citing the confidentiality of meetings with her witnesses.

Saukas said Gage told him she did not think the case against Pryor was strong and the Kimball case had more weight.

She told me, "The only thing that actually looks good is the Kimball" case, Saukas said. "I'm disappointed. I was a victim and there was no justice."

Saukas' girlfriend, Joanne Wuwer, who accompanied him to meetings with Gage, said the prosecutor told them the Pryor case would hinge on the testimony of another inmate who witnessed the alleged attack and that evidence would not be sufficient .

Ecker said that if the state's attorney's office was going to drop the charges, it should have done so promptly. Pryor has been placed on administrative duties since the charges were brought against him six months ago. Today, Pryor will return to full duties, Rollins said.

Yesterday morning, Rollins left court with an exasperated look on his face.

"It was frustrating going through this process," Rollins said after the case was dropped. "It cost a lot of people a lot of money."

Pub Date: 4/24/97

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