WHEN MARYLAND prison guards must forcibly remove an inmate from a cell, they are required to videotape the action. This is to document the "extraction" and determine if staffers followed procedure in restraining a prisoner. That's sound public policy because it protects the interests of the state and the rights of the imprisoned. When questions arise, the state has a ready -- and recorded -- response. For that reason, state prisons chief Mary Ann Saar's refusal to release such a videotape in the April death of inmate Ifeanyi A. Iko is unacceptable.
Her decision to withhold the tape until the conclusion of a pending federal civil rights investigation and all legal matters is a convenient excuse to delay answers to persistent questions in the case of Mr. Iko, a Nigerian immigrant and convicted drug dealer who was removed from his cell at the Western Correctional Institution April 30 and died hours later. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide by asphyxiation.
An investigation into Mr. Iko's death by The Sun raised serious questions about the handling of this troubled and troublesome inmate, whom prison officials had referred for psychological evaluation. Ms. Saar's refusal to release the tape perpetuates the suspicion that the state is hiding something. Evidence that prison guards bombarded Mr. Iko with excessive amounts of pepper spray in violation of prison policies? That they mistreated the beefy inmate who had refused repeated requests to leave his cell? That they failed to medically monitor him?