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Hospital policy had required guns be stored in a lockbox

January 29, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Until about five years ago, Washington County's correctional officers were the only ones in the state not allowed to carry guns while guarding inmates in hospital rooms, a Maryland Division of Correction spokeswoman said Friday.

It was Washington County Hospital's policy, though, not the state's, said Maj. Priscilla Doggett, the spokeswoman.

Hospital spokeswoman Maureen Theriault said the hospital allowed armed law enforcement officers to accompany inmates to the third floor for surgery.

But when inmates went to the fifth-floor medical unit after surgery, officers could go with them only after "weapons were stored in a lockbox," Theriault said.

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About five years ago, law enforcement agencies, including the Hagerstown Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff's Department, asked the hospital to change its policy and let officers who were guarding inmates be armed, she said.

"We were the only hospital not allowing this," Theriault said.

Doggett said she didn't know if the Division of Correction was aware at the time of the hospital's policy superseding the DOC's policy.

The policy on armed officers guarding inmate patients has surfaced because of Thursday's shooting of Jeffery Alan Wroten, a correctional officer at Roxbury Correctional Institution.

Wroten, 44, of Martinsburg, W.Va., was pronounced dead on Friday, state prison officials said Saturday.

Wroten was shot in the face at the hospital by Brandon Morris, 20, a Roxbury inmate he was guarding, authorities have said.

Lt. John Beair, who worked with Wroten at Roxbury, said the policy for armed officers at the hospital has changed back and forth in the last 10 years or so.

Officers once were allowed to be armed at Washington County Hospital, then they weren't and now they are, he said.

Beair said turnover and changes within the Division of Correction might have left officers confused about which policy is current.

"Communication is not always the best," he said.

Doggett said the DOC believes having an armed officer guarding an inmate hospital patient is a "sound practice."

"We have no way of knowing what an inmate will do or when he will do it," she said.

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