Rollins' Tenure At The Jail

Howard County: Outgoing Director Earned A Solid Reputation Before Spate Of Trouble Struck.

April 28, 1997

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to believe that Howard County Detention Center Director James "Buck" Rollins is regarded as poorly as one jail officer suggested -- anonymously -- when he said to a reporter: "I seriously doubt that you could find anyone who works here who has any respect for the man."

Mr. Rollins has his faults, for sure. The retiring director stumbled badly during a tumultuous streak that lasted more than a year. His jail experienced a suicide, allegations that guards used excessive force against inmates and improper sexual conduct involving officers and a female inmate. In each case, the director's unflinching response made the problem worse.

That is unfortunate. Before that succession of events, Buck Rollins had built a solid career in his field -- first as a warden in the state prison system, then as detention center director.

In the county job he has held since 1991, Mr. Rollins has obtained federal funding for a library at the 361-inmate Jessup facility. He earned praise from the union that represents jail officers, which described the detention center as clean and safe. "As best as we can determine, the jail is efficiently operated," a union official told a reporter last year.

His undoing began at the end of 1995 when he failed to disclose the suicide of an inmate. The secrecy raised suspicion about whether his staff had given the inmate proper medical treatment in the hours before the suicide. He was absolved when a judge threw out a $3 million suit that claimed his officers were at fault.

Meanwhile, the director was hurt by excessive loyalty to Capt. Thomas V. Kimball, foremost among jail officers accused of beating inmates. Captain Kimball will be tried on criminal charges. Mr. Rollins has stood behind him, and has absorbed the blame for his subordinate's alleged actions. The director believed some officers were out to get Captain Kimball because of the supervisor's tough style.

Through it all, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker remained a fierce supporter of Mr. Rollins -- Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier should be so lucky. Mr. Ecker views his director as a good man in a tough job. It is unfortunate that Mr. Rollins will be remembered in Howard not for keeping the detention center clean, safe and efficient, but for problems that marred the end of his career.

Pub Date: 4/28/97

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