Vigil outside prison honors slain correctional officer

Hundreds gather for candlelight memorial

new details emerge in investigation

August 01, 2006|By GADI DECHTER | GADI DECHTER,SUN REPORTER

Correctional officer Dannie Mangrum called it "a gathering of the last call of Signal 13," the radio call of an officer in distress.

"The spirit of David McGuinn is calling out Signal 13," he said, looking at a sea of candles flickering amid the black uniforms of mourners outside the Maryland House of Correction last night.

Several hundred fellow correctional officers, relatives and friends had gathered at the maximum-security Jessup prison to commemorate with prayer, poetry and song the life of David McGuinn, 42, who was stabbed to death there last week. Two inmates have been charged.

"We in corrections are a resilient group of people and we always pull together," Frank C. Sizer Jr., the state prisons commissioner, told the large crowd, standing on a chair and straining to be heard because of a malfunctioning microphone.

McGuinn was the second prison officer killed on duty this year, and his death has roiled a state prison system beset with allegations of corruption and lax security.

State police have charged two convicted killers, Lamarr C. Harris, 35, and Lee E. Stephens, 27, with Tuesday's stabbing, which took place when the prison was on high alert amid rumors that inmates were planning such an attack.

In other developments, it appeared that one of the inmates had managed to unlock his cell door, rather than jam the lock to keep it open as previously thought, according to Karen V. Poe, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

"The original assessment was that inmates had inserted cardboard or something into the lock to prevent the lock from attaching," Poe said yesterday. "After further investigation, it was discovered that one of the two inmates had evidently had some kind of tool in order to tamper with or unlock the lock."

Poe said that the prison system has hired two cell-lock companies to examine each of about 800 prison cells in the House of Correction, and repair any locks that had been tampered with.

"One of the things being evaluated by these companies is to see where there's some kind of locking device that can be placed on the lock doors, so that even if you have locksmith's tools, you cannot affect the tumbling system," she said.

The prison building remains under indefinite lockdown, with inmates confined to their cells, authorities said.

Correctional officers from other institutions and about 40 state troopers are assisting in a general "shakedown" of the prison, to uncover weapons and other contraband hidden in cells, according to prison officials.

Some inmates known to be violent or gang-affiliated continued to be transferred yesterday from the House of Corrections to other prisons, officials said.

As of yesterday morning, there were 1,066 inmates at the House of Correction, about 50 fewer than when the stabbing occurred, Poe said.

About 30 inmates have been transferred to the state's highest-security prison, the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in Baltimore, also known as Supermax, said Ron Bailey, executive director of the state employees' American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92.

Citing security concerns, prison officials declined to confirm the union leader's account.

The House of Correction was quiet yesterday, with no reports of fights or disorderly behavior, according to corrections officials, though the heat wave expected to roll through Maryland this week has prison-employee union officials worried.

"It's very, very hot in there, and those inmates have a tendency to get irritated, agitated, and then incidents occur," said M. Kim Howard, president of the Maryland Correctional Law Enforcement Union, another union that represents state correctional officers.

There is no air conditioning in the House of Correction, which was built in 1878.

"I can imagine being confined to cells will create an even worse attitude within the jails," Bailey said.

Outside the prison last night, the candles held at the memorial rally were overwhelmed by harsh flood lights illuminating the prison parking lot and grounds.

The back of correctional officer's Charles Onyeama's white T-shirt was printed with a poem that ended: "You have the done the job that few can do; your shift is at an end. Farewell my brother, rest in peace, on you we could depend."

Many in the crowd pledged to reunite at McGuinn's viewing and funeral services, scheduled for tomorrow and Thursday in his hometown, Atlantic City, N.J.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Greg Garland contributed to this article.

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