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Correctional officer dies

January 29, 2006|By PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN -

Jeffery Alan Wroten - a correctional officer shot in the face Thursday by a hospitalized inmate - was pronounced dead Friday, but news of his death was withheld until Saturday afternoon so his ex-wife could tell his five children first, prison officials said.

Wroten, 44, a Roxbury Correctional Institution correctional officer, was shot Thursday about 5 a.m. in a Washington County Hospital fifth-floor patient room, allegedly by the hospitalized inmate he was guarding.

Brandon Morris, 20, who was serving an eight-year sentence at Roxbury on robbery, assault and weapons convictions, allegedly fled the hospital after the shooting, hijacked a taxi and fled toward Pennsylvania before he was captured on FedEx property north of Hagerstown.

As of Saturday, "No formal charges" had been filed against Morris, who remains held at the Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center, commonly known as Supermax, in Baltimore, Division of Correction Spokeswoman Maj. Priscilla Doggett said.

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Wroten's family elected to donate his organs, a contribution that could save "up to eight lives," said Patricia VanDeRyt, director of communications for The Transplant Resource Center of Maryland.

Division of Correction Commissioner Frank C. Sizer Jr. delivered news of Wroten's death during a press conference Saturday at the hospital.

Wroten, Sizer said, "fought gallantly for his life, but lost the battle."

Doggett said Wroten was pronounced dead Friday, but "the family requested the information not be released."

She said that his ex-wife wanted to "personally notify" his five children, one from a previous marriage. Doggett said later that his five children - ages 5 to 15 - knew he had been injured and was in critical condition, but did not know "they would lose their father."

She said she could not say whether Wroten was pronounced dead before a group of about 200 people, most of whom were correctional officers and retirees, gathered in front of the hospital for a vigil Friday at 5 p.m. They looked at a window at the hospital from which Wroten's family watched.

At Roxbury Saturday afternoon, some officers walked head-down through the prison's gates and declined to comment about their feelings regarding their co-worker's death. One said it was a "touchy situation." Another officer said, "You can't print what I think."

Roxbury Lt. L. Rice said, "Everyone's saddened by his passing. He was a first class officer, a well-trained officer ... He'll be missed."

Rice said "all our heartfelt sympathy goes out to his family."

Keith Lyons, Roxbury chief of security, said officers Saturday "are doing their jobs." He would not comment further on their emotions.

Doggett said she has been asked by the family to act as their official spokeswoman. Wroten's family is working on making funeral arrangements and will release his photograph in the next day or so to the press, she said.

Sizer said Wroten, a devoted father and religious man, also was a "dedicated professional who enjoyed his job."

"Our family is shattered, but not broken," Sizer said.

Sizer said that in honor of Wroten, Division of Correction staff have been ordered to wear mourning shrouds, a strip of black elastic worn across their badges.

Roxbury Warden Rod Sowers said, "Today is a sad day. We've lost a brother, but at this time, I ask everyone to continue their support for Jeff's family."

Sowers said he was headed back to Roxbury after the press conference to address the next shift of the prison's officers of Wroten's death.

Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the parent agency of the DOC, said Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the department, expressed her "deepest condolences" to Wroten's family.

Vernarelli also issued a statement from Gov. Robert Ehrlich. The governor ordered state flags be flown at half-staff in Wroten's memory.

"His fellow officers spoke highly of Officer Wroten, noting that he was a pillar of strength to others, always willing to lend a helping hand to those in need. An outpouring concern for the officer and his family has come from every corner of the state," Ehrlich said, according to a copy of his statement.

Doggett would not comment about the investigation into Wroten's death at the press conference Saturday.

She declined to comment after she was asked at the press conference to address The (Baltimore) Sun's Saturday report that Saar told senators Morris had stabbed himself in his chest with a needle.

Officials have withheld the exact reasons why Morris had been admitted to the hospital Wednesday, saying only that it was for treatment of a "medical condition."

Maryland State Police Sgt. Thornnie Rouse, a state police spokesman, did not return a page seeking comment on the investigation Saturday.

Sowers said Roxbury, a medium-security prison in the three-prison complex south of Hagerstown, has 320 correctional officers. There are about 1,800 inmates at Roxbury, Vernarelli has said.

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