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Guard shot during escape

January 27, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD and ANDREW SCHOTZ

pepperb@herald-mail.com

andrews@herald-mail.com

A Roxbury Correctional Institution officer whom corrections officials say was shot in the face at Washington County Hospital by an inmate he was guarding was in critical condition this morning.

"He's fighting for his life," Maryland Division of Correction spokeswoman Maj. Priscilla Doggett said during an afternoon press conference.

Authorities would not release the officer's name, but Maryland Division of Correction Commissioner Frank C. Sizer Jr. said he is 44 years old. Doggett said the correctional officer has worked at RCI for four years.

Authorities said the officer was guarding 20-year-old Brandon Morris, an RCI inmate, at the hospital. The inmate overpowered the officer and shot him with his service weapon at about 5 a.m., DOC officials said.

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Morris unsuccessfully tried to steal car keys from a woman at the hospital, then went outside and carjacked a taxi at gunpoint, authorities said.

With police cruisers following, the taxi crashed at about 5:30 a.m., just across the Pennsylvania border. Police said they caught Morris, who was still armed, after he ran back into Maryland.

Doggett said the DOC believes that its procedures for restraining inmates when they're transported from a prison and when they're admitted to a hospital were followed.

However, she wouldn't say precisely how Morris was shackled in the hospital.

Maryland State Police, who were investigating the shooting, were not releasing those details because they're part of the investigation, police spokesman Sgt. Thornnie Rouse said.

Morris was admitted to the hospital Wednesday to be evaluated for a medical condition officials would not disclose. He was on the fifth floor, Doggett said.

Doggett said the DOC's protocol is for inmates to be both in leg irons and handcuffs when they are transported. At the hospital, however, restraining a prisoner to a bed using one method or the other is acceptable, she said.

John Roby, staff representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 92, which represents many correctional officers, said that if the procedures were followed correctly, they might need to be re-evaluated.

He said the shooting underscores ongoing concerns about correctional officers' security, which is hampering the state's efforts to attract and retain employees.

"We think the administration is not properly running the prison system," he said. "We're never going to make it more attractive until they do everything they can to make it safer."

Doggett said two officers took Morris to the hospital and one stayed to guard him. The guarding officer was armed, she said.

That correctional officer, working an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift, had reported to his post at the hospital at 10:55 p.m., Sizer said.

The officer checked in again with prison officials at 2:55 a.m. to report that everything was OK, Sizer said.

After getting the officer's gun and shooting him at about 5 a.m., Morris tried to take car keys from a woman related to another fifth-floor patient, Rouse said.

When that failed, Morris found a taxi outside the emergency room and carjacked it, Rouse said.

The taxi driver, who had been waiting for a fare, kept a two-way radio in the car on, allowing police to know what was going on.

Rouse said a hospital security vehicle followed the taxi, which went north on U.S. 11.

Police officers got behind the hospital security vehicle, creating a "low-speed" chase at about 40 mph, Rouse said.

Officers from the Hagerstown Police Department, Washington County Sheriff's Department, Maryland State Police and Pennsylvania State Police responded to the call.

When the taxi crashed into a concrete barrier, Morris got out and ran, Rouse said. Police caught him near the FedEx building on Industry Drive, he said.

As of Thursday evening, no charges had been filed.

Roxbury Correctional Institution is a medium-security prison housing 1,800 inmates, said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which includes the Division of Correction. RCI is part of a three-prison complex off Sharpsburg Pike, south of Hagerstown.

Some Washington County Hospital patients who were near the scene of the shooting were moved to other floors, hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said.

Hospital staff left business cards with all of the patients in case they had questions or concerns, she said.

The hospital was not closed because of the incident, she said.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Internal Investigative Unit is conducting an independent investigation apart from the Division of Correction, Vernarelli said.

- Staff writer Daniel J. Sernovitz contributed to this story

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