Two officers fired, one reprimanded over inmate escape

August 09, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ
  • Dominic Webster
Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services,

Two correctional officers have been fired and a third reprimanded for violating institutional procedures when an inmate escaped July 30 from Maryland Correctional Institution-Hagerstown, a state prisons spokesman said Monday.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has said inmate Dominic Webster escaped from MCI-H after complaining of an illness while on a prison work detail. He didn't return to his cell, as he was supposed to, department spokesman Mark Vernarelli said.

The fired officers allowed Webster access to an area off-limits to inmates and didn't notify a tier officer that Webster was supposed to return to his cell because he complained of illness, according to a department news release issued Monday.

Vernarelli said the two officers were on the job less than a year and were considered "rejected" before the end of their probationary period.

The officer who was reprimanded has about three years of service, Vernarelli said. That officer did not thoroughly search the area from which Webster escaped, the news release says.


None of the officers was identified. They are not accused of intentionally helping Webster escape.

The department said Webster got into "a restricted area through an access point that should have been locked."

Webster's housing unit was not notified that he was supposed to be going back to his cell, which gave him more time to escape, the department said.

For security reasons, the department would not be more specific on the restricted areas, the work detail and the activities that led to the escape.

Contacted Monday, Sue Esty, the assistant director of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) Maryland, a union representing correctional officers, said she didn't know specifics of the case.

In general, though, correctional officers have been hurt by staffing shortages at prisons across the state, she said.

The department's news release says: "Staffing was not an issue in this escape. MCI-H has only ten correctional officer vacancies among line officers and sergeants. The three prisons in the Hagerstown region currently are at a 98% staffing level."

Noting that the fired officers were in their probationary period, Esty responded that staffing is a concern in two ways -- the number of employees and the turnover. She said that over the last seven or eight years, many correctional officers have left because their jobs have become increasingly hazardous and the pay hasn't kept pace.

Probationary officers can be fired without cause. Esty said they can appeal only if they allege constitutional or procedural violations.

A reprimand is not as serious as firing or suspension.

Webster was missing from MCI-H for at least six hours. He was found near Beaver Creek Country Club east of Hagerstown.

In 2008, Webster began serving a 25-year sentence for multiple counts of robbery with a deadly weapon and handgun offenses, The Herald-Mail has reported.

Vernarelli said Monday that Maryland State Police have not charged Webster with escape.

The department was continuing its administrative investigation and the prison and the Division of Correction were examining their policies, procedures and protocols, the news release says.

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