A tough question returned by source

November 10, 2007|By GREGORY KANE

Here's what has to be some bad news for the folks at Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services: Priscilla Doggett is sticking to her guns.

Last week, I wrote about all those questions still unanswered in the death of corrections Officer David McGuinn, who was fatally stabbed in July of 2006 at the Maryland House of Correction. The House of Correction has since been shut down and its staff and inmates dispersed throughout the system. The prison is gone, but allegations that McGuinn was on an inmate hit list, had been threatened and reassigned off the housing units and then put back in the housing units, remain.

Within days of McGuinn's death, Doggett, who was a spokeswoman for the Division of Correction at the time, told Sun reporter Greg Garland that McGuinn's supervisor was indeed aware of those threats and that McGuinn was at one time working outside of the housing units.

A year later, DPSCS spokesman Mark Vernarelli called the stories of McGuinn's work assignments and death threats against him "rumors" and added that investigators found no evidence to substantiate them. Asked to comment on those two contradictory statements last week, Vernarelli said that "investigations ... turned up no documentation maintained by the House of Correction relating to Officer McGuinn's removal from or return to the tier."

Had the matter been left at that, Doggett - who has retired from the Division of Correction and is now the deputy chief of the department of corrections in Atlanta - might not have raised her hackles. But Rick Binetti, the communications director of DPSCS, felt compelled to add that Doggett was working with "hearsay evidence" and called her comments to Garland "most likely inaccurate and at minimum irresponsible."

Did Binetti really think Doggett was not going to respond to that?

Before I tell you how Doggett answered charges that she made "irresponsible" comments, I'll give some personal observations. Doggett never struck me as a public information officer who made irresponsible statements. If anything, she always seemed overly cautious about what she told the press. Whenever she said there was something she couldn't tell me, she would say flat-out, "I can't tell you that."

Last June, members of the Bloods gang had the bad judgment to start beef with Sunni Muslims at the Metropolitan Transition Center. A fight ensued; several inmates were stabbed. Reporters got tips that the fracas involved Sunni Muslims and the Bloods, but Doggett was adamant about not identifying either.

In a letter Doggett e-mailed to me earlier this week, she said: "The professional standard set in the Maryland Division of Correction during former Commissioner Frank Sizer's tenure was to be forthright and open in sharing information with staff, media and the public about incidents that occurred in the prison system. I consistently adhered to this standard in providing information as the spokesperson for the agency to the extent that certain facts could not be disclosed due to sensitive security concerns or open criminal and administrative investigations.

"In 2006, I followed the same professional standard in confirming information to Mr. Greg Garland ... regarding post assignments for Officer McGuinn. I was asked by Mr. Garland to confirm information he had received from several unidentified sources regarding supervisors at the [Maryland House of Correction] reassigning ... McGuinn to work posts outside the facility due to threats made against him, and to also confirm if he had recently been assigned to work back in the institution."

Doggett said she did make the statement attributed to her in Garland's 2006 story, and added: "I stand by that statement today because I do not believe it is ever irresponsible to be honest."

In her coup de grace, Doggett concluded her letter by saying, "I am disappointed to learn an organization which I represented and worked tirelessly for during many challenging and difficult incidents has resorted to publicly attacking my professional integrity, in an effort to escape dealing with the hard questions that will ultimately have to be answered."

Now the more cynical among us might conclude that someone at DPSCS - not necessarily Vernarelli or Binetti - said "Great moogly ooglies! We've got two completely contradictory statements and a pretty sticky situation! What should we do? Hey, Doggett's no longer working here. Why not throw her under the bus and back it up a couple of times?"

Of course, that's just the cynics talking. The folks at DPSCS will deny it went down that way. But they can't deny Doggett's conclusion.

Sooner or later, some very hard questions will ultimately have to be answered.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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Find Gregory Kane's column archive at baltimoresun.com/kane

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