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Evidence against officers challenged

April 26, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

FUNKSTOWN - Union officials on Friday challenged a statement by the secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) that "very compelling evidence" was gathered during an investigation into excessive force allegations that led to the firings of 23 correctional officers at two Western Maryland prisons.

Of the 23 officers, 15 worked at Roxbury Correctional Institution south of Hagerstown and eight worked at the maximum-security North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, Md.

An additional two officers had been placed on leave with pay and recommended for termination, but never were fired and later were reinstated, a DPSCS spokesman said Friday.

In a letter dated Wednesday, DPSCS Secretary Gary Maynard wrote, "I am confident that the very compelling evidence the Department gathered administratively in the 30-day period far exceeded what was necessary to support the administrative action taken with regard to these individuals."

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Maynard's letter was addressed to Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, and Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, who met with correctional officers and American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees officials April 16 in Hancock. Kelly and Edwards later sent a letter to Maynard urging him to reinstate the terminated correctional officers.

Ron Smith, a labor relations specialist for the Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA), said during a Friday meeting of the association's Public Safety Non-Custody Employees Chapter that the terminations were based on the allegations of inmates.

Three of the terminated officers were members of MCEA and are being represented by him during the appeals process, Smith said.

No incident reports or use of force reports were filed by the three officers that Smith represents in connection with any such incident, he said Friday. Normally, all of the officers involved in an incident would be told to file separate reports, Smith said.

"I don't know what Secretary Maynard is talking about, what the compelling evidence is," Smith said Friday during a telephone interview.

The former officers he represents are awaiting a hearing to be held by a DPSCS hearing officer, Smith said.

A Maryland State Police-led criminal investigation continues, a MSP spokesman said Friday.

MCEA wants to ensure the officers' voices are heard, said David Boschert, executive director of MCEA. He and other MCEA officials met April 18 with Maynard. Boschert described the meeting as "positive," and said they discussed the firings and other issues.

At least two injured inmates were involved in separate incidents that led to the excessive force allegations that led to the terminations, prisons spokesman Mark Vernarelli has said.

One Roxbury inmate was found 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 at RCI, alleged he was a victim of excessive force, Vernarelli has said.

As required by state law, the department investigated and took action within 30 days of learning about the allegations, spokesman Rick Binetti said Friday during a telephone interview.

The department "followed everything to the letter of the law," Binetti said.

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