Former officer gets his job back

Correctional worker was cleared in 2005 death of Central Booking detainee

December 14, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun reporter

A former correctional officer who had been charged with killing a detainee has been awarded his job back by an independent state agency, a move that could reunite him with supervisors who once accused him of the crime at the downtown jail.

Nathan D. Colbert, the charges against whom were thrown out by a judge, won his appeal with the Office of Administrative Hearings and is scheduled to return to the state-run Central Booking and Intake Center as early as the middle of next month, representatives from the Maryland Correctional Law Enforcement Union said yesterday.

Colbert, 43, was charged in the beating death of Raymond K. Smoot, but his case was dismissed during trial by Baltimore Circuit Judge John M. Glynn because of insufficient evidence.

Smoot was kicked and stomped at Central Booking in May 2005 during a confrontation that resulted in the firing of eight officers and murder charges against three guards.

Dameon C. Woods, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday, is the only person convicted in the case.

Two other officers who were fired for their actions, Robert Hudley and Kene Jones, were denied their appeals. Hudley, a former lieutenant, and Jones admitted lying to the court commissioner and the warden the day after the attack. The other five officers who were fired have not appealed.

During the trial in October, the officers often gave conflicting testimony. A spokesman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office said prosecutors will not pursue perjury charges against guards who lied on the witness stand and consider the case closed.

Colbert said yesterday that he wants to be transferred to a pre-release center when he returns to work, a move he said administrators make when they feel an officer is in jeopardy. Colbert said that if he has to go back to Central Booking - where he had worked since 1995 - he will be more cautious.

He said he knows at least one person who placed him inside of Smoot's cell during the beating who stills works for Central Booking in a supervisory position.

Colbert stands to get about $70,000 in back pay once he returns to work, according to union officials familiar with the appeals decision.

"I did my job, and I was proud," said Colbert, who has been a correctional officer for 17 1/2 years. "I felt that I had been a good employee. I'll go back to finish my time. I've got 2 1/2 years left until I retire. Before, I wanted to move up the ladder, but now it's let me do my job and get out."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which operates Central Booking, said the agency cannot comment on a personnel matter.

Officials from Central Booking have until the end of this month to appeal the Office of Administrative Hearings' decision, said Herbert Berry Jr., a correctional officers union worker who represented Colbert and the other guards.

The department spokeswoman would not say whether the agency plans to appeal.

Colbert said he was motivated to fight for his job because of difficulty in finding work. He said he has worked odd jobs doing home repairs to make money but has lost his house and his car.

Colbert maintains that the attack on Smoot was over by the time he reached the area. He said he does not know who was involved but that he thinks he and the other two defendants were set up by some of the other officers during a clandestine meeting the next night, a theory presented by defense attorneys throughout the trial.

Although the charges against him were thrown out two months ago, Colbert, who is married and a father of four, said he still feels the sting.

"I have one of those recognizable faces," he said. "Every time I go downtown and take the bus, I have people come up to me about this. I'd rather have my moment in the limelight be about something better. But the hard part is over."

Berry, the union representative, celebrated Colbert's victory but criticized Woods' sentence. Berry said poor training leaves the majority of correctional officers ill-prepared when a situation gets out of control.

"It was overly harsh," Berry said of the 20-year prison sentence handed down Tuesday. "The problem we have is the public perception that he went out there with this intention. Officer Woods was caught up in a situation that shouldn't happen. These officers are not trained in restraining inmates, not taught hand-to-hand defense tactics. If you don't teach someone how to properly fight, they fight the best way they know how."

During the trial, none of the officers testified that they saw Colbert attack Smoot. That was the main reason his case was dismissed. But some former guards originally implicated Colbert days after the crime.

James Smoot, the victim's brother, said yesterday that the family has no animosity toward Colbert but is surprised that he is returning to work for the state. Smoot said he has talked to people who know Colbert and was assured that he is not malicious.

"I don't think he was involved in it," Smoot said.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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