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Officer, 21, is charged in stabbing of inmate

A 21-year-old state correctional officer was charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree attempted murder in connection with a recent inmate stabbing at the Baltimore City Detention Center, court records and state officials revealed yesterday.

In the continuing fallout from a separate incident, state officials also announced yesterday that eight correctional officers will be fired for their involvement in last month's beating death of an inmate at the adjacent facility, the Central Booking and Intake Center.

Both incidents -- particularly the killing May 14 of Raymond K. Smoot by correctional officers -- have cast intense scrutiny on the city's state-run jail facilities, which have been besieged by mounting complaints of overcrowded living conditions, understaffing, inadequate medical care, violence and systemic inefficiencies.

State corrections officials say the separate incidents involve the actions of individual employees, aberrations from the daily, decent conduct of correctional officers who guard 27,000 inmates across Maryland.

"There are 6,841 correctional officers in our system, not to mention several thousand other staff who work tirelessly in the very challenging field of corrections," said Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, in a statement to The Sun. "Their jobs are unheralded and often dangerous."

But state Sen. Verna L. Jones, a Baltimore Democrat, said last night that recent incidents involving the actions of correctional officers and inmates suggest wider problems in the prison system.

"We're trying to find out what's going on, what's wrong," Jones said. "The secretary [Saar] and her subordinates, they say everything is going fine, and I'm just not convinced. They keep sloughing it off and saying it's individuals. When you have so many situations coming up, it's the system."

On Thursday, correctional officer Sherman Lawrence of Baltimore County was charged with conspiring to commit first-degree attempted murder and other related charges. Lawrence was accused of helping two inmates stab a third inmate, Ronald Scott, 26, on May 11.

Lawrence, who has worked as a correctional officer since April 2004, is not accused of physically assaulting Scott. However, charging documents allege that the officer ordered Scott into a recreation area populated with other inmates in the Baltimore City Detention Center.

Minutes later, the officer ordered all inmates out of the room, except for Scott and three others. Two of the inmates -- Donte Smith, 24, and another man -- allegedly threw a sheet over Scott's head, and someone stabbed him in the head and body, the charging documents state. Smith has been charged in the stabbing with attempted murder, but it was not clear last night whether the other man has been charged.

After Smith and the other man left the area, charging documents state, the officer did not seek medical attention for Scott and instead ordered the bloodied inmate back into his cell. A captain who had been investigating an unrelated stabbing down the hall was conducting a security check when he discovered the bleeding inmate, charging documents state.

Scott was taken by ambulance to Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he was treated for stab wounds to his back, side and head, and a collapsed lung, the documents state.

Lawrence, who was denied bail yesterday, is being held at the Baltimore City Detention Center, according to court records and internal correctional records. Court records show that Lawrence was charged May 22 with smuggling alcohol into an unspecified correctional facility in Baltimore.

Lawrence has been fired from his job, according to Mark Vernarelli, a public safety department spokesman.

Vernarelli said that Scott was treated for his injuries and was returned to an undisclosed correctional facility.

Scott's stabbing occurred three days before another, more publicized incident at the adjacent Central Booking and Intake Center on Madison Street, where people who have been arrested are brought for processing.

On May 14, the 51-year-old Smoot got into an altercation with several correctional officers after he refused to return to his cell, and a melee ensued.

Two correctional officers who witnessed the fatal beating told investigators that Smoot started the brawl by assaulting an officer and was stomped, kicked and punched in retaliation, according to accounts received by The Sun. But A. Dwight Pettit, an attorney who represents one of Smoot's daughters, said he has interviewed inmate witnesses who said that Smoot never struck an officer and was simply seeking permission to take a walk.

One officer's call for help apparently triggered the frenzy inside an inmate common area, which is lined with about 25 cells, including Smoot's. The approximately 65-foot-by-35-foot area was designed as a place where inmates can sit at tables and mingle during recreation time, but because the facility is crowded, nearly 40 inmates were housed unrestrained in the area outside Smoot's cell, according to officers' accounts.

Smoot died the next day at Johns Hopkins Hospital, and the state medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

According to a correctional officer's witness account, at least one of the officers emerged from Smoot's cell boasting about beating the 51-year-old.

In the statement to investigators, obtained by The Sun, one officer stated that another officer had boasted, "Look at that [expletive]. That's what happens when you [expletive] with officers."

The allegation of boasting, made by a correctional officer witness, is supported by an inmate who was housed in a cell very close to Smoot's.

Vernarelli declined to comment on the allegation.

Pettit said he has received similar accounts. "It corroborates ... the fact that this is a murder," he said. "It has all the aspects of a murder -- intent, malice and forethought."

The announcement of the firings of eight officers connected with the incident comes as the criminal investigation into the incident continues. Internal public safety investigators and the state police have turned over their preliminary findings to the city state's attorney's office. The FBI has also opened a civil rights investigation.

Spokesmen for prosecutors and the FBI both declined to comment yesterday. State public safety officials declined to identify the fired officers yesterday because, they said, the termination notices had not been formally delivered.

One of the fired officers was a lieutenant, six were correctional officers and one was a probationary employee, state officials said.

"This department does not and will not tolerate unnecessary or excessive use of force," Saar said in a written statement.

Family members expressed little satisfaction yesterday with the firings.

"I was hoping this was going to be the day I was going to hear there were indictments," said Smoot's daughter, Kenya Kelly, 34. "I need more. I actually want my father's death to serve as a vehicle for change."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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