Jail guards press charges to fight prisoner attacks Convictions could add to inmates' sentences

July 19, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

If they don't go after their jailers with fists, it's with something worse. Much worse.

Encouraged by the Anne Arundel County Detention Center administrators and prosecutors, more and more corrections officers are swearing out charges against the inmates who hit, scratch and throw bodily wastes at them. No longer is it a matter of inmates losing the five days a month they accrue toward early release: They now stand to receive extra time for such assaults.

"We just decided that enough is enough," said Richard Baker, the detention center superintendent.

The jail works closely with State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee in getting the cases prosecuted.

"We have been actively pushing prosecution of these cases for only about nine months," said Robin Harting, jail facilities administrator.

Cases have been trickling before Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judges in recent months, and 16 cases of assault on corrections officers are pending. Overall, 27 corrections officers have been assaulted at the jail since last August.

The effort is part of a move around the state to press criminal charges against inmates who assault their jailers.

The Maryland Correctional Administrators Association has asked state legislators to make tossing bodily fluids on jail workers a felony. But opponents have successfully countered that is not necessary. The existing law regarding assault on corrections workers carries a maximum 10 years in prison for a conviction, and the assault does not have to be a punch.

"There are certain things we don't think we should tolerate," said Barry L. Stanton, president of MCAA and director of the Prince George's County Department of Corrections, which presses charges against inmates in nearly all assaults on guards.

"There's all kinds of diseases out there found in body wastes," Baker said.

Two cases, described as ugly assaults on jailers, are set for court within days. More are scheduled for the fall.

"These cases next week are sort of trial cases," said Harting, who is keeping track of verdicts and sentences. Jail administrators want to see inmates who attack guards taken out of local jails and put in state prisons.

Tomorrow, Eric Von Triplett, 28, of Glen Burnie, will be tried on charges that he assaulted three guards, throwing an "unknown substance" on and spitting in the face of a guard in November, splashing urine on another in January, and spitting twice on the face and clothes of another in April.

If convicted, he faces the possibility of receiving a harsher sentence than for some of the charges on which he was awaiting trial. Destroying the sunroof of a car and telephone misuse each carry a maximum sentence of three years in jail, but second-degree assault has a 10-year maximum. He is also charged with threatening arson, and the maximum sentence for that is 10 years in prison.

On Thursday, Steven Maurice Brown, 20, of Annapolis, will be tried on charges of assaulting four corrections officers in February. He is accused of punching one, spitting in the face of another, throwing a liquid from a toilet at another, and spitting on the fourth. At the time, he was awaiting trial on burglary charges.

Corrections officials say they hope to get a message through to inmates, but veteran defense attorneys say the kinds of people who do these things -- a fraction of the jail population -- are often unskilled in linking cause and effect. If they weren't, the threat of losing jail privileges and time off for good behavior would suffice.

Lawyer T. Joseph Touhey, who has represented guards as well as inmates, advocates taking a strong stance, if for no other reasons than keeping order and teaching respect.

"You can't have the inmates running the institution. They have to get with the program" if they expect to retain administrative privileges and get out, he said.

"I don't condone this sort of thing, but I think it goes with the territory," said veteran criminal defense lawyer Gill Cochran.

"When do they get the message?" he said. "They have this attitude, 'What are you going to do? Throw me in jail?' "

Exactly, say jail officials.

Typically, the inmates are charged with second-degree assault and assault on a corrections worker. If the inmate is serving a sentence, a sentence for being found guilty of attacking a guard must be consecutive.

Shelton Lamont Wood, 24, of Baltimore, convicted of breaking a state prison officer's nose while being moved from the local jail to the Maryland House of Corrections in September, was sentenced in April to a year and a day in prison. He is to serve that term after he finishes life plus 15 years for murder.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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