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Eight correctional officers at Cumberland-area prison fired, bringing total dismissals to 25 at area Md. prisons

Firings come amid allegations excessive force used against inmates

Firings come amid allegations excessive force used against inmates

April 11, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Eight correctional officers at a state prison near Cumberland, Md., were fired Thursday, bringing to 25 the number of correctional officers to lose their jobs there and at Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown in the last week amid allegations of excessive use of force.

Thursday's firings at the maximum-security North Branch Correctional Institution followed the April 4 firing of nine RCI correctional officers and Tuesday's firing of an additional eight officers from RCI.

Ron Smith, a Maryland Classified Employees Association labor relations specialist, said Thursday he heard that additional RCI officers might lose their jobs. Smith discussed the possibility of more firings during a meeting of the MCEA Thursday afternoon at the American Legion in Funkstown.

"Having to fire this many officers at two prisons is certainly not only highly unusual, but deeply troubling," Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard said in a prepared release. "But this has not been done recklessly or hastily. It's been done because the investigation has shown serious violations of departmental policy. No one is happy about these situations, but we cannot tolerate violence against our officers or inappropriate behavior by them."


At least two injured inmates were involved in the separate incidents that led to the allegations, Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said Thursday evening.

One inmate at RCI was found to be injured during the weekend of March 8 and was hospitalized. Prison officials have said that incident might have been connected to a March 6 assault by inmates on officers.

Subsequently, at least one inmate at North Branch, who had been housed at RCI, alleged he was a victim of excessive force, Vernarelli said Thursday.

Maryland State Police were leading a criminal investigation into the allegations.

The firings were based on "flimsy, contradictory evidence," said Joe Lawrence, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Correctional officers don't condone using excessive force on inmates, but also can't stomach their colleagues being railroaded, he said.

The firings were not a deliberate application of justice, and will undermine the department's credibility with its officers and with the public, Lawrence said.

MCEA officials also spoke out against the firings.

"With the amount of people who have been fired at this point, morale is not very high," said John Reamy, MCEA Chapter 88 president and a sergeant at RCI, a medium-security facility that houses about 1,750 inmates. The most recent round of firings at North Branch will take morale even lower, he said.

After finding out about the North Branch firings, Reamy said the situation was "bordering on ridiculous."

Smith, who is handling the cases of two RCI officers and one North Branch officer as they take their cases to administrative hearings, said he was sure the officers would get their jobs back.

Union officials are concerned about the well-being of the prison employees, said David Boschert, executive director of MCEA. The union wants to make sure the firings were "above board" and done according to procedure, he said.

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