AFSCME defends fired prison guards

Nine correctional officers at a medium-security prison in Hagerstown were fired yesterday amid allegations that they assaulted an inmate last month, according to a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

The nine officers, who worked at the Roxbury Correctional Institution, plan to appeal the decision, according to the union representing correctional officers in the state of Maryland.

"These mass firings are a reckless rush to judgment on the state's part," said Joe Lawrence, spokesman for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"We've noted numerous inaccuracies in the charging documents," he said.

"There is far more investigating that needs to be done, but instead, these officers have been first declared guilty, robbed of their livelihood and forced to prove their innocence."

Lawrence did not elaborate on the nature of the inaccuracies in the charging documents. "We're going to fight to ensure that due process is followed," he said.

Last month, eight of the officers were placed on administrative leave, and a ninth officer was suspended without pay, prison authorities said.

No criminal charges have been filed, but state police are investigating.

The inmate was hospitalized with nonlife-threatening injuries after the March 8 incident and has been released, according to prison authorities.

A source familiar with the Roxbury incident told The Sun at the time that a beating followed a confrontation between an inmate and a guard that night.

The fired guards include at least one lieutenant and a number of lower-ranking officers, according to a union spokesman.

Lawrence would not disclose their identities.

State prison officials are continuing to investigate allegations in a separate case in which eight correctional officers assaulted several inmates March 6 at the North Branch Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in Cumberland.

Those officers remain on administrative leave and face possible termination, according to prison officials.

The investigation at North Branch began while prison authorities and the state police were investigating the case at RCI.

Prisons spokesman Mark A. Vernarelli has said that investigators believe the two incidents are not related and that the inmate at RCI was not connected with the several inmates who complained of being assaulted at North Branch.

"The important thing is not to paint all correctional officers with a broad brush," Vernarelli said.

"It would be unfair to punish them for the alleged actions of a few."

Four officers within the Division of Correction have been fired over the past five years for using excessive force, according to Vernarelli.

"Fortunately, it is not a huge problem," he said. "The vast majority are good officers. It is demoralizing to all of them when these allegations happen."


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