It's time for truth on death of officer

Officer's killing deserves answers

November 03, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

In July of 2006, corrections Officer David McGuinn was murdered at the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup. Union officials said that McGuinn was on an inmate hit list and had been assigned duties other than housing units because of death threats, but then was reassigned back into housing units.

McGuinn was doing cell checks - alone - when two inmates managed to escape from their cells and fatally stab him. Lee E. Stephens and Lamarr C. Harris have been charged with murder in McGuinn's death. They are to be tried in Anne Arundel County; prosecutors have asked for the death penalty for both defendants.

For all those who asked questions last year about why McGuinn was first reassigned away from housing units and then sent back in to do cell checks alone, corrections officials said all that stuff was "under investigation."

In response, Richard L. Simmons, a former corrections officer who commented in one of my columns in July of last year, offered this comment: "They'll be investigating the next six months. That way, they don't have to come up with no answers."

It's been 15 months since McGuinn was killed. Do we know yet whether he was reassigned outside the housing units of the House of Correction because of death threats and then sent back in by some clueless supervisor to do cell checks alone.

"I can't answer that," Kristen Riggins, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office, told me yesterday. Why?

Those things are still "under investigation."

Let's give Simmons a prize for his piercing perspicacity. It remains to be seen whether the rest of us get a booby prize for letting officials straight up clown us in getting answers to those questions about McGuinn. We can't really fault the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office. Riggins said there was a motions hearing scheduled for Stephens and Harris in October, but their defense attorneys asked for a postponement.

They got it. Riggins said that there isn't even a trial date for Stephens and Harris yet. The postponement "epitomizes the death penalty in Maryland," Riggins said. "It takes four years for a death penalty case to come to trial."

We may have to wait that long to get answers to those questions. One thing is certain: we've already received two conflicting answers from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the Division of Correction.

In May of this year, DPSCS spokesman Mark Vernarelli had this to say about that nagging question of threats against McGuinn and where he was assigned.

"Despite a tireless investigation by DPSCS and the Division of Correction, investigators simply do not have anything to substantiate rumors pertaining to Officer McGuinn's safety, job assignment, etc."

In July of 2006, former Division of Correction spokeswoman Maj. Priscilla Doggett told The Sun's Greg Garland that "the allegations [of inmates threatening McGuinn's life] did come to the attention of his supervisor, and in response [McGuinn] was initially assigned to a post outside of the housing units."

Discerning readers will notice immediately that both of these statements can't be true. Yesterday, Vernarelli sent an e-mail addressing the discrepancy between the two statements.

"The investigations by DPSCS' Internal Investigative Unit, the acting commissioner of correction at the time and Maryland State Police turned up no documentation maintained by the House of Correction relating to Officer McGuinn's removal from or return to the tier," Vernarelli wrote.

Those italics are mine, because that answer raises even more questions. Why was there no documentation? And why was McGuinn murdered? And why McGuinn as opposed to the scores of other corrections officers working at the House of Correction? What was the motive? Almost every murder has one.

Rick Binetti, communications director for DPSCS, said that Doggett was working on "hearsay evidence" and that her remarks were "most likely inaccurate and at minimum irresponsible."

The official response of Maryland's elected officials to the troubling questions posed by McGuinn's death - and other violent incidents at the prison - was to close the House of Correction. It occurs to me that this does McGuinn not one whit of good, and his surviving family members not much more.

It seems that Maryland officials hoped that questions about McGuinn's death would disappear with the "House of Corruption." But if they think that, I have a word of advice.

Think again.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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