The woman who allegedly stabbed her infant daughter at a city social services office Tuesday concealed the knife in a purse that was hand-searched by security guards but not put through a metal detector, a top state official says.
Theodore Dallas, secretary of the Department of Human Resources, said Friday that private security guards who missed the long, silver-bladed kitchen knife followed procedures in place at the time. The 29-year-old suspect, who has been charged with attempted murder, did go through a metal detector at the building's entrance, he said.
But Dallas said he's now ordered security tightened at four Baltimore offices that handle visits involving parents and their estranged children. Visitors will have to leave bags in their car or in lockers, and will not be allowed to bring them inside.
Also, Dallas said, social workers will be able to use their "professional judgment" about potentially dangerous clients and request that a second case worker stay in rooms during supervised visits, or that a security guard stand outside the office door. He said these procedures could be implemented in other offices across the state.
"The incident at the Biddle Street site was a terrible tragedy and demanded that we take a look at our security procedures," said Dallas, who for the first time detailed how the suspect was admitted to the office.
A spokesman for theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents state office workers, said the measures announced by Dallas do not go far enough. The official, Jeff Pittman, said the private security company should be fired and replaced by sworn police officers with the Maryland Department of General Services — which Dallas said is not under consideration.
"Clearly the bag didn't go through the metal detector," Pittman said. "Why not?"
Baltimore police said the stabbing occurred about 10 a.m. in Room 117 at the social services offices in the 3000 block of East Biddle St. They identified the suspect as 29-year-old Kenisha Thomas, who is being held without bail on charges that include attempted first-degree murder, assault and child abuse.
Authorities said Thomas became angry near the end of an hourlong meeting with her 8-month-old daughter, Pretty Diamond; Thomas does not have custody of the child. Court documents filed in the case say she held the child on a table with one hand and grabbed her knife from her bag with the other.
Police said she stabbed Pretty five times in the head, neck and chest as the case worker ran from the room screaming, "She's stabbing the baby! Help!" A veteran social worker, William Purnell Short III, ran into the room and hit Thomas over the head with a chair, causing her to drop the baby, the knife still lodged in the child's throat.
He held the woman until police arrived. A spokeswoman at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center said Friday that Pretty was in serious but stable condition.
In an interview Friday, Dallas called what the social workers did "heroic."
Dallas said he has talked with Thomas' case worker, Dana Hayes, and with Short, who disarmed the assailant. "I thanked them for their service," Dallas said, declining to reveal specifics of the conversations.
"I think they are doing as well as can be expected," he said, noting they and others who intervened are on temporary leave. The social workers have not responded to interview requests.
Dallas said he had a few discussions with labor leaders about upgrading security, but the changes he announced Friday came out of consultations with staffer members and the department's security chief, a retired Baltimore police veteran.
He said security was handled as it is at many buildings — people went through the metal detector, but handed their bags or briefcases to guards, who went through them by hand. Most buildings do not have X-ray machines.
Starting Monday at the four locations in Baltimore, visitors will not have an option of bringing in bags. Until lockers are installed, Dallas said security guards will require people to dump the contents of all bags so they can be better searched.
In a statement, Dallas said officials "will also review security at other facilities across the state and implement any enhancements that are necessary."
He said it would be inappropriate for security guards to be inside offices during visits, as it would only build on the stress already present, and would prevent parents from bonding with their children. The ultimate goal is to reunite families.
Dallas said that the "overwhelming majority of families work cooperatively with the department to rebuild their lives and form stable and loving relationships with their children."
New security rules at social services offices
All bags must be stored in lockers before visitors enter buildings.
•Until lockers are installed, all bags must be emptied in the presence of security staff and searched.
•Caseworkers who suspect a safety concern can have a second case worker present during a supervised visit with a child and, as needed, can have a security guard stationed outside the meeting room.
Source: Maryland Department of Human Resources