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June 01, 2005

BALTIMORE

Inmate who died had sought OK to take walk, lawyer says

Inmate Raymond K. Smoot was trying to talk a guard into letting him make up for missed exercise time in the moments before a fatal altercation with officers, an attorney representing his family says.

Attorney A. Dwight Pettit has interviewed witnesses to the May 14 incident at the state-run Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center as part of a wrongful-death lawsuit he plans to file against the state.

An internal investigation by the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is in its third week, and six correctional officers remain on paid administrative leave. The department has declined to comment in detail about the probe. The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation.

Smoot, 51, had missed a scheduled walk and was trying to get permission to go with another group, Pettit said. According to the lawyer, when a guard told Smoot to go back into his cell, the cell door jammed, and when it opened an officer started to push Smoot, who put his hands up in a defensive manner. "I'm told there was absolutely no blow being thrown by him," he said.

Smoot and the officer fell down, triggering an alert that brought officers pouring into the area, and officers started beating him, Pettit said.

Ed Rothstein, a member of the board of the Maryland Association of Correctional and Security Employees, said he is sifting through accounts of the incident. His organization is representing two of the six officers who are on leave. -- Associated Press

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