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Correctional officer remains in critical condition

January 28, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN -

Jeffery Alan Wroten, a correctional officer shot in the face by an inmate Thursday, remained in critical condition on Friday, Maryland Division of Correction spokeswoman Maj. Priscilla Doggett said.

Doggett said Friday afternoon that Wroten, 44, was "fighting for his life" at Washington County Hospital - where he had been on duty Thursday morning guarding an inmate.

On Thursday about 5 a.m., the inmate - Brandon Morris, 20 - shot Wroten in the face and escaped, then carjacked a taxi waiting for a fare outside the hospital, authorities have said.

Police said the taxi crashed just over the Pennsylvania state line and they caught Morris, who still was armed, about 5:30 a.m. as he ran back into Maryland.

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Maryland State Police are investigating precisely how Morris was shackled to his hospital bed and how he freed himself to get Wroten's gun and shoot him, as well as the carjacking.

So far, the Division of Correction is saying only that it appears that Wroten, a Roxbury Correctional Institution officer for four years, followed the procedures for guarding an inmate in a hospital.

"In no way do we believe that there was any wrongdoing by the staff," Doggett said.

Maryland State Police spokesman Sgt. Thornnie Rouse said Morris will not be charged for now. Police will present their findings to the Washington County state's attorney's office.

Washington County State's Attorney Charles P. Strong Jr. said his office will get involved once it receives the report and will present the case to a grand jury for possible indictment.

Morris has been taken to Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, a supermaximum-security prison in Baltimore, Doggett said Friday.

Morris had been serving an eight-year sentence at RCI for first-degree assault, robbery with a deadly weapon and handgun violations out of Baltimore, Division of Correction Commissioner Frank C. Sizer Jr. has said.

Correctional officers stopped at the hospital Thursday and Friday to show their support.

More than 20 officers from Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown and the Maryland Correctional Training Center silently filled the audience for a press conference Friday afternoon.

Roxbury, MCI-Hagerstown and the Maryland Correctional Training Center are together in a complex south of Hagerstown.

"It has really shaken the community ..." said Lt. John Beair, an alternate public information officer at Roxbury, where he works with Wroten. "A lot of people are just plain dazed."

Beair said the shooting stunned many because Wroten has about 10 years of experience in corrections and "was so up on his game."

Doggett said Wroten's family at first didn't want his identity released, but didn't mind by Friday, realizing that people might wonder which officer was shot.

The investigation also will look into the medical condition that led to Morris being admitted to the hospital on Wednesday, said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which includes the Division of Correction.

Washington County Hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said Morris was a patient in a room on the hospital's fifth floor, a medical surgical unit.

Beair said correctional officers would like to see the proposed new Washington County Hospital on Robinwood Drive include a custody ward, a separate area for treating inmates, something offered by at least one other hospital.

"I think that's something we'd need to discuss with the DOC," Theriault said.

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