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DPSCS: Stabbing of correctional officer by inmate from work crew in Garrett County an 'isolated incident'

September 04, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

A spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said the agency will look into the stabbing Tuesday of a correctional officer by an inmate who was part of a work crew on Interstate 68 in Garrett County to determine if anything should be done differently in how the crews are used.

The spokeswoman, Danielle Lueking, called the stabbing of Robert E. Goss Sr., 47, an “isolated incident.”
DPSCS spokesman Mark Vernarelli said work crews from Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown will continue to go out as normal. He said the Garrett County incident appeared to be an isolated one and that it appeared all policies and procedures were followed before the stabbing.

Shortly after 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, Maryland State Police troopers were sent to I-68 near Exit 19 in Grantsville, Md., for the reported stabbing of a correctional officer.

State police were told that Larry J. Johnson, 37, an inmate at Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md., used a pair of pliers to stab Goss multiple times.

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Johnson is a minimum-security inmate who was nearing the end of a 20-year sentence for carjacking and a handgun violation.

Goss was taken to Western Maryland Regional Medical Center in Cumberland for injuries that were not life-threatening, according to state police and Vernarelli.

State police said Johnson entered the passenger side of a Division of Correction van and started assaulting Goss, who was in the driver’s seat.

Johnson was able to get behind the wheel of the van as Goss continued to struggle to defend himself, state police said. Goss tried to subdue Johnson with pepper spray, state police said.

Police said they believe Johnson tried to drive off in the prison van but was unable to do so after the van and an attached trailer jackknifed.

Johnson then ran to the side of I-68 and flagged down a Mitsubishi Lancer driven by Alan M. Gnegy, 22, of Morgantown, W.Va., state police said. Gnegy told authorities he stopped because he thought someone needed help.

Police said they believe Johnson used the same pair of pliers to stab Gnegy in the head. Johnson pulled Gnegy out of his car and drove off in the vehicle, state police said. Gnegy also was taken to Western Maryland Regional Medical Center for treatment.

A trooper spotted the Mitsubishi and attempted to stop it on Md. 495 near Bittinger, Md., police said.

Johnson did not stop, and a chase started with more troopers and deputies from the Garrett County Sheriff’s Office.

The chase ended about 12 miles later when Johnson apparently lost control and struck a tree in the Sky Valley area off Md. 495, state police said. Johnson was arrested without incident, police said.

Inmates are used in work crews throughout Washington County, which is home to three state prisons south of Hagerstown along Sharpsburg Pike. Inmates used in work crews are thoroughly screened to make sure they are appropriate for work details, Vernarelli said.

State correctional officials do not simply rely on a score to determine an inmate’s suitability to work on a crew but evaluate the inmate on three or four levels, Vernarelli said.

“It’s a very thorough process,” he said.

Vernarelli said DPSCS inmates performed more than 700,000 hours of outside community work. Just last week, Goss and the crew used in Tuesday’s incident were recognized by the state highways department for their work in Garrett County, Vernarelli said.

Goss was the only correctional officer with Tuesday’s work crew, which included five inmates, Vernarelli said. That is typical for a work detail of that type, he said.

The number of correctional officers assigned to work details varies depending on the job, Vernarelli said.
Goss is a 17-year veteran of the DPSCS who has been recognized for his distinguished service and is highly regarded by both institution staff and area state highway personnel who have worked with him on road crew details, according to a DPSCS news release.

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