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Union to fight firings of Roxbury Correctional Institution officers

April 08, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Union officials intend to fight what one union spokesman termed the "reckless" firings of nine Roxbury Correctional Institution officers.

The nine officers fired Friday may request a hearing from the Office of Administrative Hearings. An administrative law judge would hear the case and could decide whether the state's decision to fire the officers should be upheld, reversed or modified, said Wayne Brooks, administrative law judge and deputy director of operations for the state agency.

The officers were fired amid internal and criminal investigations into allegations of excessive force.

Maryland State Police are leading the investigation, a prisons spokesman said Monday. No criminal charges have been filed.

The allegations stem from a March 8 incident that involved at least one inmate at the medium-security facility that houses about 1,750 inmates south of Hagerstown. The inmate's injuries were not life-threatening, but he was taken to the hospital. Prison officials have said that incident might have been connected to a March 6 assault by inmates on officers.

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Neither the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services nor union representatives would release the names of officers involved.

"The action the state took smacks of a witchhunt," said Joe Lawrence, spokesman for the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees.

AFSCME officials believe the officers eventually will be reinstated, but the officers and their families will go months without a livelihood or health insurance, Lawrence said.

The "wholesale firings" were not well thought through by state officials, he said.

Eight officers from the maximum-security North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, Md., remain on administrative leave with pay while Maryland State Police and internal investigators probe allegations that they abused inmates.

The North Branch inmates were transferred from RCI after the March 6 disturbance.

The same pattern of recklessness in the Roxbury investigation appears in the North Branch investigation, Lawrence said.

When excessive force is found to have been used by prison staff, quick, decisive action is required, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary D. Maynard said during an April 1 interview with The Herald-Mail.

Excessive force by staff is possible in any prison system, but it does not happen often, said Maynard, whose approval was required for the firings.

Should any of the officers choose to pursue action through the Office of Administrative Hearings, the hearing would be held at that agency's office in Hunt Valley, Md., at the prison or via videotape, the administrative law judge said. The administrative law judge would have 45 days after the hearing to render a decision, he said.

When Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services employees are fired, it is generally because they are thought to have broken the agency's rules, a prison spokesman said Monday.

In a news release dated March 14, prison officials cited a portion of the department's Standards of Conduct Policy.

According to the policy, employees may not "take action towards other employees, supervisors, inmates, clients or members of the public that is considered offensive to contemporary community standards... may not strike an inmate, offender, client or any other person, except in self-defense, defense of another employee, member of the public, offender, client or inmate, to prevent any escape or serious disturbance or to control an unruly inmate who refuses to obey a lawful order."

It also calls for employees to be fair, firm and impartial in interactions with inmates and clients by expressing a humane, objective and professional interest in their well-being, according to the news release. 

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