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Md. corrections officials stand by officer firings

July 08, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Public safety officials said Tuesday they stand by last year's decision to fire about two dozen correctional officers they believe used excessive force against inmates.

Twenty-two officers were fired from Roxbury Correctional Institution, a medium-security prison south of Hagerstown, and North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, Md., in April 2008 amid allegations of abuse. Twenty-five officers initially were fired, but two RCI officers were reinstated and another retired.

"If I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing," said Gary Maynard, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

Nine former RCI correctional officers were charged with second-degree assault. They are Robert Harvey, 63; Scott Boozel, 28; Tim Mellott, 23; Keith Morris, 26; Lucas Kelly, 29; Reginald Martin, 38; Michael Morgan, 39; Dustin Norris, 24; and Tyson Hinkle, 34.

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Prosecutors in June dropped charges against Martin, of Chambersburg, Pa.

A trial against Boozel ended with a hung jury June 16, and a judge declared a mistrial.

Mellott, 23, of Woodbridge, Va., and Kelly, of Frostburg, Md., agreed May 26 to testify against their former colleagues as part of a plea agreement.

The remaining five officers await trial.

"If they weren't guilty, I hope they were exonerated. If they are guilty, I hope that's the outcome," Maynard said during an interview at The Herald-Mail.

In a June 4 decision, an administrative law judge reversed the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services decision to fire Boozel from his job at RCI, The Herald-Mail reported.

Another officer also saw his termination reversed by an administrative law judge, a union spokeswoman has said.

"We're bringing them back,"Commissioner of Correction Michael Stouffer said.

As required by state law, the department investigated and took action within 30 days of learning about the allegations in 2008.

Maynard said he wished they had 60 days to investigate.

Stouffer praised the efforts of both the department's Internal Investigative Unit and Maryland State Police during the investigation.

A Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Internal Investigation Unit document shows at least 24 RCI employees were investigated in connection with the March 8 and 9, 2008, beatings of inmate Kenneth Davis.

Not all of the employees investigated were fired. Some kept their jobs, and some testified in June against Boozel.

At least two injured inmates were involved in separate incidents before the excessive-force allegations that led to the terminations.

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