State names temporary warden at city jail

Ex-Central Booking head rejected new job, retired

June 24, 2005|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

A top official in the state agency that runs Baltimore's jail facilities is taking over the daily management of the Central Booking and Intake Center, whose warden chose to retire this week despite being offered another position, according to state corrections officials.

Howard Ray, deputy commissioner of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, was named acting warden at a facility that has been wracked by problems, including the beating death of an inmate by correctional officers last month and complaints of crowding and deplorable conditions.

As deputy commissioner, Ray has overseen the state's operation of Central Booking and the Baltimore City Detention Center since September 2003. Ray will serve as acting warden until another warden is named, state corrections officials said. He remains deputy commissioner.

Ray replaces Susan M. Murphy, a 29-year veteran in the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Murphy was offered another position by William J. Smith, the pretrial division's commissioner, during a Wednesday meeting, according to Jacqueline Lampell, a public safety spokeswoman.

Murphy declined the offer and submitted a letter of intent to retire yesterday, Lampell said.

Lampell declined to discuss the reason behind Murphy's retirement. She said the former warden told her that she "is very proud of her service to the state, and she has chosen to retire."

In an interview yesterday, Smith said Murphy "retired of her own volition."

Murphy served as assistant warden at Central Booking for three years before becoming acting warden in March 2004, state officials said. She was officially appointed warden four months later. Before her tenure at Central Booking, she had served as executive director of the Central Home Detention Unit.

Murphy could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ray, the acting warden, was not granting interviews, Lampell said, because he was busy "working with the staff on their concerns and issues."

Ray's oversight of the city detention center and Central Booking made him "the most obvious choice to step in on an interim basis," Lampell said.

Root of the problems

Inmates, human rights advocates and correctional officers' unions have complained about conditions in the facility on East Madison Street. It is under intense scrutiny from legislators, inmate advocates, federal authorities and the courts. About 100,000 people are booked at the center annually, making it one of the nation's busiest facilities.

Some union officials said that more is needed than just a warden change.

"I don't think the problems are just at the institution," said Ed Rothstein, board member of the Maryland Association of Correctional and Security Employees union. "It all comes down to money. Is the state going to commit the resources to run the facility properly?"

State Sen. Verna L. Jones, a Baltimore Democrat, agreed that the problems extend beyond the facility.

"I just think the whole system needs to be evaluated," Jones said. "We need to put some mechanisms in place that will address some of the shortcomings with the staffing and the overcrowding. This is only the tip of the iceberg."

In April, public defenders obtained a court order that forced state corrections officials to release detainees who had been held longer than 24 hours at Central Booking without an initial court hearing, due to crowding and congestion. That order remains in effect through November.

Last month, Raymond K. Smoot died after he was punched, stomped and kicked by correctional officers. Smoot's death was ruled a homicide and, after an internal state investigation, eight officers connected with the incident were fired.

The city state's attorney's office is reviewing Smoot's death for possible criminal charges against officers, and the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have also opened their own federal civil rights investigation.

City detention center

Troubling incidents have also recently dogged the adjacent city detention center, which is also operated by the state's pretrial division.

This month, a 21-year-old correctional officer was charged with conspiracy to commit attempted murder. Sherman Lawrence is accused of setting up an inmate stabbing.

And on Tuesday, Lennard Benjamin, a 23-year-old detainee awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge, was beaten by an inmate, authorities said. A spokesman at Johns Hopkins Hospital said Benjamin died last night at 8:45 p.m.

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