Loaded gun found in jail cell

Investigation begun regarding weapon found at Southern District

May 01, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

County police are trying to figure out how a loaded gun ended up in a Southern District jail cell.

The .25-caliber handgun was found Friday afternoon, concealed by the holding cell's combination toilet, sink and water fountain - posing the most immediate danger to unarmed booking officers and inmates held there.

Police commanders said yesterday that they are trying to determine whether an inmate had hidden the gun and to identify which of the officers might have failed to search someone properly and thoroughly check the cell for contraband.

The investigation is the second there in recent months - the other involving the death of a 20-year-old man in a Southern holding cell from antifreeze poisoning after his arrest on a mistaken charge of drunken driving.

Two Southern District officers were suspended from the force and reassigned to paid administrative duty for apparent violations of procedures in the handling of Philip A. Montgomery, an electrician's apprentice from Calvert County who was unconscious and left in the cell for more than five hours before he was found dead Dec. 15. The case is under review by the county state's attorney's office.

The holding cells and booking room are supposed to be the most secure areas of the police station. Not even officers are supposed to be armed, according to department policy. The cells are monitored by video surveillance, and officers are supposed to check on inmates every 30 minutes.

Capt. Thomas A. Suit, the district commander, said it was unclear how long the handgun had been in the cell before it was found. "I'm not sure who left it there," Suit said. "But I'm sure going to find out."

Suit said the investigation would also focus on which policies and procedures were violated, and which officer or officers might have made a potentially grave error. "I have a lot to look into," Suit said, adding that one of the district's lieutenants would be handling the bulk of the investigation.

He said cell inspection logs and booking records will be examined. Officers check their service weapons before entering the booking area, according to police regulations. Department policies also require a security check of a vacant cell before and after use, said Lt. Joseph Jordan, a department spokesman.

Suit said he has suspicions about which inmate left the gun in the cell - a suspect arrested earlier Friday. But he said it was possible the handgun had been left by another inmate if cells were not properly checked.

Each person charged with a crime is required to be patted down by the transporting officer before being taken to the district station and again by the booking officer, as standard procedure, Jordan said. Officers look for weapons or contraband that could aid in an escape or involve evidence, he said.

Strip searches may conducted with a lieutenant's permission if an officer suspects inmates are hiding drugs or other contraband that could be concealed in their clothes. Body cavity searches - which are conducted in rare circumstances - must be administered by medical personnel at a medical facility, according to department regulations.

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