Sun Follow Up

Officer left prison with knife sought in fatal stabbing, records show

New questions in guard's death

December 19, 2007|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,Sun reporter

A prison system captain walked out of the Maryland House of Correction the night after an officer's stabbing death with a knife in his pocket that police investigators were desperately seeking because it might have been used in the attack, records show.

In a written statement dated Aug. 1, 2006, nearly a week after David W. McGuinn's death, Capt. Edward Tames detailed for an internal affairs investigator how he came to possess the 8 1/2 -inch shank, one of dozens recovered during cell searches after the attack.

That shank drew the interest of investigators because it was first found a few hours after the attack near the site where McGuinn was killed before it subsequently disappeared and then resurfaced two days later.

Tames said another officer gave him the knife but that a mix-up might have led to that knife being mistakenly tagged as evidence in an inmate's beating, an incident that some officers say also turned up a knife, according to the memo obtained by The Sun.

The knife had disappeared within the prison after a state police investigator accidentally kicked it off a fourth-floor catwalk near where McGuinn was killed. He and other searchers were unable to find it when they went to retrieve it hours later.

Two days later, it turned up in an evidence locker in an envelope that identified it as a weapon taken from an inmate. The "chain of custody" form included a date-and-time entry that should have placed the knife in a contraband drop box before the box was searched by investigators.

Investigators would later conclude that officers making the claim about the inmate having a knife were not being truthful, according to hundreds of pages of investigative records obtained by The Sun.

The mishandling of the knife has become an issue in the prosecution of two inmates accused of bypassing their cell-door locks, getting out of their cells and trapping and killing McGuinn in a narrow corridor. The inmates, Lamarr Harris and Lee Edward Stephens, face the death penalty if convicted.

A hearing is scheduled today in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on a motion by an attorney for Harris that seeks to force the state to turn over all files and reports relating to the investigation into the missing knife. The attorney also has demanded records of officers who handled the knife or were involved in the beating of the inmate. One of those officers claimed to have taken a knife from the inmate.

The state is fighting the motion and has asked for a protective order to shield the information.

McGuinn's death, on July 25, 2006, came during a tumultuous time at the antiquated and now-closed prison that was known among corrections insiders as the "House of Corruption."

Three inmates were fatally stabbed in the space of two months earlier in the year - including a popular Sunni Muslim inmate leader who was killed July 11, 2006. And two officers were attacked by knife-wielding inmates that spring.

The violence erupted as authorities tried to clamp down on drugs, tobacco, cell phones and other prohibited items that corrupt staff sometimes brought into the maximum-security prison.

McGuinn, who had a reputation as a by-the-book officer and strict enforcer of prison rules, had been the subject of inmate death threats, corrections officials said the day after his killing. They said McGuinn had been assigned work duties that would put him in less contact with inmates until shortly before his death.

They also said the prison had been on lockdown since the previous weekend, with prisoners confined largely to their cells, because of rumors circulating inside the prison that inmates planned to attack an officer.

In the 1 1/2 years since McGuinn's death, corrections officials have backed away from some statements made at the time.

"Despite comments by officials in the immediate aftermath of the chaotic and tragic events that day, our investigations have yet to find any documentation maintained by the House of Correction at the time relating to threats against Officer McGuinn or his work assignments prior to his death," said Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, in a prepared statement.

Citing the ongoing investigation, Binetti would not comment on why duty rosters or other paperwork detailing McGuinn's job assignments are not in the prison system's files. He also would not comment on what McGuinn's supervisors or other staff may have said at the time about threats against McGuinn or his job assignments in the weeks before his death.

Dozens of homemade knives were recovered during cell searches after McGuinn's killing, and investigators have not conclusively said whether the one knocked from the catwalk was used in the attack.

But homicide investigators took a keen interest in the shank because it was found near the site of McGuinn's killing.

It was the subject of a 75-page report, dated April 3, by Sgt. Michael Grant of the state police's homicide division.

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