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Five witnesses testify for state in correctional officers' trial

September 16, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- Five witnesses testified for the state Wednesday during the second day of the trial for two former correctional officers accused of assaulting a Roxbury Correctional Institution inmate on March 8, 2008.

Robert Harvey, 63, of Hagerstown, and Keith Morris, 27, of Warfordsburg, Pa., each are charged with second-degree assault in the alleged beating of inmate Kenneth Davis.

Wednesday's testimony in Washington County Circuit Court focused on an incident in a housing unit during which Davis scuffled with correctional officer Timothy Mellott, who was inspecting the inmate's cell. Davis was forcefully taken down by several officers, according to testimony.

After Davis was escorted to the prison's medical dispensary holding area, Harvey asked what happened, and when he was told of the assault on a correctional officer, he kicked Davis in the midsection, correctional officer Steven Veinote testified. Veinote is a former RCI officer who now works at North Branch Correctional Institution near Cumberland, Md.

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Veinote testified he was among the officers who helped subdue Davis in his cell and helped escort him to the dispensary, where the alleged assault occurred.

After Harvey kicked Davis in the midsection, the inmate stumbled back into the holding cell and ended in a seated position in a plastic chair, Veinote testified.

Morris and Harvey then entered the cell and were huddled around Davis, Veinote testified. He saw Morris throw his hand in a punching motion toward Davis, Veinote testified.

Later that shift, Veinote had to write a use of force incident report about what happened between Mellott and Davis in the housing unit cell. He included in the report what happened in that cell and "some" of what he saw happen in the dispensary holding area, Veinote testified.

He also testified that someone told him to change some of the language in his report, writing that Davis was "put onto the floor" rather than "taken to the floor."

Veinote testified that he did not initially write in the report or tell investigators what he saw Harvey and Morris do. He told investigators that information during an April 2008 interview at the Maryland State Police barracks. That interview became "verbally aggressive" and "I felt threatened and intimidated," Veinote testified.

"They knew a lot about what happened to Davis and I just started to agree with them at that time," he testified.

Under questioning by defense attorneys Wiley Rutledge, who represents Morris, and Scott Rolle, who represents Harvey, Veinote testified that he felt his job would be threatened if he didn't change his story.

In response to questions from Assistant Maryland Attorney General Jason Abbott, Veinote testified that during the interview with investigators one of them said, "'We know where you live and who you live with.' That made me feel very uncomfortable."

Davis also testified Wednesday, saying the incident in his cell started because he wrongly stood up before Mellott left the cell. He denied hitting or punching Mellott.

Davis testified that after he was escorted to the holding cell near the dispensary, Harvey kicked him in the chest and accused him of being associated with a prison gang. Davis testified that Harvey stepped out of the cell and more officers came in, and the largest of them punched him in the nose. Davis testified that he bent over and tried to protect his face.

Davis also testified about his stay in the hospital a couple of days after the attack.

Davis testified that Harvey visited him, woke him up and said, "This is Lt. Harvey. So what did you see?"

Davis testified that he responded, "I saw nothing."

Harvey then asked, "So what did you hear?" Davis testified.

Davis testified that he responded, "I heard nothing."

Under questioning by Rutledge, Davis denied being a member of the prison gang Dead Man Inc., but said he was a member of the Pagan Motorcycle Club. Davis also denied having told an RCI captain he had been ordered by DMI to perform a hit and telling a nurse that gangs were after him.

Defense attorneys tried to point out a discrepancy between Davis' previous testimony about who beat him and what he told investigators. Davis denied Wednesday ever telling an investigator that a female officer was present in the holding cell area when he was beaten.

Mellott testified Wednesday afternoon about the incident with Davis in the housing unit cell and the alleged assault in the dispensary holding area. Much of his testimony centered around why he didn't tell the whole truth until March 2009.

Mellott testified that he witheld information about what happened to Davis in the holding area because "that kind of thing is left untold."

"What happened in the holding cell is against DOC policy and obviously a criminal act," Mellott testified.

On April 7, 2008, in an interview at the state police barracks in Hagerstown, Mellott started to tell the truth, he testified. It was then he told investigators that Harvey kicked Davis, because people had started losing their jobs over the incident and "somebody needed to start doing something right," Mellott testified.

Twenty-three officers were fired from RCI and North Branch in April 2008 amid abuse allegations. Two additional RCI officers were fired but reinstated.

Mellott admitted the full truth didn't come out until a March 9, 2009, interview, at which point he had been charged criminally. Mellott has pleaded guilty to second-degree assault but has not been sentenced. He lost his job with the Division of Correction.

Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Detective Sgt. Mark Forrest testified Wednesday and is set to be cross-examined when the trial resumes today at 8:30 a.m. in front of Circuit Judge W. Kennedy Boone III.

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