Robert H. Dunn Jr., 79, Baltimore jail officer who quelled 1973 riot

October 10, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Robert Houston Dunn Jr., a retired captain at the Baltimore jail who once single-handedly contained 60 rioting inmates, died Wednesday from complications of Alzheimer's disease in Southern Pines, N.C. He was 79 and had lived in Woodlawn. He moved to North Carolina two years ago.

Mr. Dunn, who was born in Shreveport, La., quit high school to become a traveling magazine salesman, according to his daughter Shari Smith of Vass, N.C. He met his future wife, Ruth Masten, on a business trip. They married in 1941, Ms. Smith said.

Shortly afterward, Mr. Dunn joined the Navy. He served as a deep-sea diver aboard the USS Grasp during World War II, performing salvage and rescue missions in the Pacific Ocean.

After being honorably discharged from the Navy in 1944, Mr. Dunn moved to Omaha, Neb., where he joined the police department. He began as a patrolman and also worked on the vice squad, said his daughter.

One night, a thief broke into the Dunns' home but left without taking anything, Ms. Smith said. Mr. Dunn tucked his service revolver into the waistband of his white boxers and ran after the man while his wife called the police.

"Look for Bob! He's only wearing underwear!" she said, according to Ms. Smith. A patrol car quickly located Mr. Dunn and the fleeing criminal, who was arrested.

The family moved to Woodlawn in 1959 when Mrs. Dunn took a job with the Social Security Administration. Mr. Dunn became a corrections officer at the jail in 1965. "He always enjoyed protecting people, and he wanted to make sure the prisoners stayed inside the walls," his daughter said.

His wife died in 1969.

In 1973, Mr. Dunn married Mary Dubrawsky, who survives him.

Mr. Dunn captured headlines when he quelled a riot Feb. 24, 1973. About 60 juvenile inmates escaped from their first-floor cells after one attacked an officer and took his keys. The juveniles ran through the halls, breaking glass and stealing cigarettes and candy from the jail commissary.

Officers were ordered to evacuate the building, but Mr. Dunn, who was in the second-floor control room, refused to leave. As inmates gathered below him, throwing broken broom handles and metal at him, he threw more than 50 tear gas grenades at them.

When the inmates set up fans to blow the tear gas away, Mr. Dunn put on a gas mask and turned on his own fans. "I didn't smell gas once," he said, according to a Sun article.

Mr. Dunn said he didn't leave the building because he thought other officers were still trapped and was worried that the rioting inmates might free others. "If I had given up control without a fight, we'd still be fighting to get the jail back," he said after the incident.

Police eventually entered the building and subdued the inmates, according to the Sun article. No one was seriously hurt in the incident.

Mr. Dunn received two citations from the city for his actions.

Mr. Dunn attained the rank of captain and retired in 1990.

In his free time, he enjoyed mowing the lawn - taking special care to make sure the edges were trimmed, his daughter said. He also enjoyed bowling and singing.

A memorial service will be held today in Southern Pines, N.C.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by a son, Robert Michael Dunn of Franklinton, N.C.; two other daughters, Barbara Joan Wallace of Greenbelt and Sheila Ruth Heimeyer of Shreveport, La.; a sister, Vivian Leer King of Milton, Fla.; and eight grandchildren.

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