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Iced tea sickens officers, inmates

May 28, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Tainted iced tea served to Maryland Correctional Institution officers and inmates Wednesday night sent five people to Washington County Hospital with stomach cramps and vomiting, prison officials said Thursday.

Maryland Division of Correction Commissioner Frank C. Sizer Jr. said it is suspected that an inmate or inmates assigned as dietary workers at the prison south of Hagerstown slipped "some type of chemical" into iced teas that were distributed to two correctional officers and three inmates in housing unit 4, a general population area, shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday.

"The person that did this is basically a coward - that you would pour something in a drink that would cause someone to be ill," said Sizer.

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Priscilla Doggett, public information officer for the Maryland Division of Correction, said those who became ill had stomach cramps and were vomiting. They were treated at Washington County Hospital and released, she said.

The names of those who became ill were being withheld until the investigation is complete, she said.

Doggett said the Internal Investigative Unit with the Department of Public Safety was investigating the incident at the medium-security prison.

"It was in the evening, it was hot so (inmates) carried some drinks around for the officers to have something to drink," Sizer said.

He said it is a common practice for prisoners working in the kitchen to cart around drinks to prisoners and officers in housing units, but he said the practice has been stopped while the incident is being investigated.

He said inmates are supervised by kitchen employees while they work and are supervised by a housing unit officer when they take drinks around to tiers.

Inmates will continue to help prepare meals for the general population because the volume of food could not be prepared without their help, he said.

What happened is a "great concern," Sizer said, adding that officers will undergo some crisis intervention.

"It disturbs them immensely," he said.

"Fortunately, we have a professional staff," he said. "I am sure there will be no backlash on the part of the officers."

Doggett said their are 2,100 inmates at MCI, and 354 officers cover three shifts at the prison.

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