Mistaken release leads to firing, discipline

Officials say policies, procedures for freeing prisoners not followed

March 06, 2010|By Justin Fenton | justin.fenton@baltsun.com

State prison officials said one employee has been fired and seven others disciplined in the fallout from the mistaken release last week of a violent inmate serving a life sentence for attempted murder.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said the employees "failed to follow well-established policy and procedures relating to the release and/or transportation of state prisoners."

Officials declined to outline specific punishments but said one employee was fired, another will retire in lieu of discipline, and others were reprimanded or suspended without pay. Their positions ranged from correctional officers to supervisors and other staff, including one employee with 30 years on the job.

A manhunt was touched off Feb. 25 after 26-year-old Raymond T. Taylor, a man convicted of shooting his ex-girlfriend and her daughters execution-style in 2005, was released from the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center in downtown Baltimore.

A Division of Correction investigation found that multiple policy and procedure violations were committed, including failure to verify release papers, visually verify identification, and verify an inmate's DOC number. The investigation also revealed that inmates being transported were housed with inmates being released, another violation of policy.

But Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the state public safety agency, said the review did not find any evidence of a conspiracy among employees. In the past, numerous corrections officers have been charged with smuggling cell phones and drugs into facilities for inmates, including a far-reaching federal indictment that alleged that officers helped facilitate gang activities.

"The investigation is technically still open, but our internal investigations unit didn't find any sort of collusion among staff, and there's no reason to believe any of them participated in the erroneous release," Binetti said.

Binetti also said the failure to follow procedures appeared to be an isolated incident, with "one mistake leading to the next."

"It also doesn't seem like there was any sort of systemic issue," he said. "These are policies and procedures that have been in place for years, and they work effectively when followed."

Taylor obtained his cellmate's identification card and passed through three stages of the release process, including a review of release paperwork. Officials have chalked the mistake up to the fact that the two men had similar features. Taylor was located and arrested the next day in West Virginia.

William Johnson, 22, Taylor's cellmate, was also released that day, and has been rearrested and charged with conspiracy to escape. It remains unclear why Johnson would have agreed to switch ID cards with Taylor.

Felicia Hinton, an assistant commissioner with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the two "had no prior contact" while incarcerated before being placed in the same cell for a few hours in Baltimore. Police have not found any link between the two outside prison, she said.

The day after the incident, DPSCS Secretary Gary D. Maynard told lawmakers the agency "failed" in its mission to protect the public. Among the changes implemented in the wake of the incident, the agency said this week that it plans to begin using portable fingerprint scanning machines called "Fast ID" as an extra safeguard during the release process.

The first facility to start using the scanners will be the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center, which has begun handling inmate releases and transfers for the city instead of the MCAC, where the mistaken release occurred.

"When something goes wrong, our commissioner Mike Stouffer has been vigilant in making sure all resources are brought to bear so we can figure out what happened and make sure we fix it," Binetti said.

Inmates are held at numerous locations throughout the state, but only a small number of regional "hubs" are involved with inmate releases or transports for court or medical appearances. Taylor had been transported from a facility in Cumberland to MCAC en route to the Eastern Shore for a civil court hearing in Somerset County. Taylor had sued a woman who he said owed him $685 for drawings of cartoon characters.

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