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Wounded correctional officer 'a very committed family man'

January 28, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY & DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

candiceb@herald-mail.com

daniels@herald-mail.com

Jeffery Alan Wroten has an imposing stature, standing somewhere between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall, and weighing around 300 pounds, according to descriptions from his friends and colleagues.

Trained in martial arts, the 44-year-old Roxbury Correctional Institution correctional officer previously worked as an instructor at the West Virginia Corrections Academy, where he trained students on how to supervise, discipline and defend themselves against inmates.

And yet, there was another side to this "gentle giant," that of a devoted family man, devout Mormon and quiet, yet assertive, professional. It was that side that first comes to the mind of friends, colleagues and former students of Wroten, who was shot in the head early Thursday by an inmate he was guarding at Washington County Hospital.

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"It was just really obvious with his body language that he was a really doting father," said Larry D. Kump, Chapter 67 president of Public Safety Non-Custody Employees of the Maryland Classified Employees Association. "He would always stop me and we would talk a bit, and he would always talk about his children."

Kump, who works as a case manager at Roxbury, said word spread quickly among prison personnel that Wroten had been shot. He said emotions are raw among Wroten's colleagues, both those who worked the same shift as he did and those who routinely would see him working at the front desk at Roxbury when they reported for work on the day shift.

"He is very conscious of procedure, but in my mind, he is very conscious of security regardless of what procedure is," Kump said. "The impression I got from him is he enjoyed the job, he was a dedicated employee."

Wroten, the father of a son and four daughters between the ages of 5 and 15, has been a correctional officer at Roxbury for the last four years, according to Maj. Priscilla Doggett, a Maryland Division of Correction spokeswoman.

Wroten serves as a midnight-shift sanitation officer who supervises a crew of inmates who clean up at the facility, said Lt. John Beair, who works with him. Wroten also works in the front lobby, screening people and their bags as they enter the prison.

Beair said Wroten, a Martinsburg, W.Va., resident, also was qualified to guard inmates at Washington County Hospital or escort inmates there, and would volunteer to do it.

Wroten is "just a robust guy," Beair said. "He always had something to say to everybody."

Doggett said Wroten came to Roxbury with an "extensive law enforcement background," having worked in corrections in Florida and West Virginia and as a police officer in South Carolina.

"He enjoyed what he did," she said. "He knew the risks because he enjoyed the job."

Cindy Largent-Hill, acting director of the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services in Charleston, worked with Wroten at Mount Olive Correctional Complex, a maximum-security prison for men in southern West Virginia.

Wroten later transferred to a department that enabled him to work with juveniles, she said.

"He was a very committed family man. Very involved with his kids. Very interested and passionate about the juveniles he worked with," Largent-Hill said.

She said Wroten worked with the West Virginia Division of Corrections in 1995 and 1996 at Mount Olive, a prison in Fayette County, W.Va., which, according to the prison's Web site, holds men convicted of "severe crimes."

He then went to the state's Corrections Academy near Mount Olive, where he worked as a trainer for corrections officers, Largent-Hill said.

Sgt. Tim Moses, an instructor at the academy, said Wroten had a way of balancing his role as a teacher and as a friend to the students, who often are cast in adversarial roles such as with enlisted officers and drill instructors during basic training in the military.

"He was always entertaining, real pleasant. Firm, fair, consistent," Moses said. "He was an outstanding individual as far as I'm concerned, and I pray that ... Godspeed for his family."

When he was a student at the academy, Moses said he took two courses with Wroten - one on the supervising and discipline of offenders and a second on contact/cover, or defensive positioning for protecting against a possible inmate attack. Moses credited Wroten with influencing him to become an instructor.

Largent-Hill said that after leaving the academy in 1998, Wroten took a job as director of the Eastern Regional Juvenile Detention Center in Martinsburg, a position he held until May 30, 2000. She said Wroten was dedicated to making sure the juvenile detention center was more than merely a lockup facility. He wanted the young offenders to have educational opportunities, counseling and support services and to have their parents involved in their lives, Largent-Hill said.

Roxbury public information officer Denise Gelsinger said workers at Roxbury, Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown and Maryland Correctional Training Center have started a fundraising campaign to benefit Wroten's family, which she noted has received overwhelming support. She said while a separate fund also might be established for the same purpose, the facilities are prohibited from soliciting public funds and she declined to give information about the fundraising effort.

Staff writers Andrew Schotz and Erin Cunningham contributed to this story.

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