An unknown number of inmates, apparently armed with two handguns and holding two guards hostage at the maximum-security Maryland Penitentiary, were locked in a standoff with state prison officials today.
The inmates maintained control over a building that houses 260 inmates.
In a series of written statements passed to prison officials, the inmates complained about the Pen, including overcrowded conditions and poor food, said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a prison spokesman.
A five-member Division of Correction hostage negotiating team also was communicating by bullhorn with inmates inside the C Dormitory, an antiquated facility in the southwest corner of the grounds.
While no shots were fired during the night, two prison inmates reportedly were attacked by other prisoners. Ambulances took the wounded men to the University of Maryland Medical Center. One inmate, 39, was treated for a stab wound to the throat and was in stable condition, according to a hospital source. The other, 32, was in serious condition and was being treated for multiple puncture wounds and facial fractures.
Outside the downtown prison, scores of city police and State Police, as well as prison guards, many armed with shotguns and accompanied by police dogs, waited to enter the prison and end the situation with force, if necessary.
"We want to end this thing peacefully and without injury," Shipley said.
The names of the two officers being held hostage were not released and it was not known if they were injured. Shipley said the men are 31 and 29 years old.
About an hour after the incident began about 9:30 last night, at least one guard who was injured during the hostage-taking was treated at the scene for minor head injuries.
As the incident began, Pen guards grappled with prisoners in an effort to rescue their fellow officers.
The building in which the hostage-taking occurred, C Dormitory, is an early 19th century building that prison officials have long wanted to demolish. The stone building sits on the Madison Street side of the Pen, next to the prison hospital. The building contains cells on five tiers and open dormitories on three.
A total of 259 inmates were housed there last night, Shipley said. It is not clear how many of the inmates took part in the disturbance.
Police on the scene said several inmates could be seen walking and running around the tiers on the inside the dormitory area. Shouts were heard during the night.
Several hours after the situation began, the inmates holding the officers hostage presented a list of grievances to prison officials but corrections officials declined to discuss the list in detail.
In response to inmates' concerns about overcrowding, officials sent in a summary of plans to add new maximum-security housing in Jessup, to replace cramped facilities at the Pen, Shipley said.
Shipley said it was unclear if the negotiations were fruitful.
"These things take time," he said.
On the scene were corrections officials, including state public safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson, Corrections Commissioner Richard A. Lanham, and Warden Sewall Smith.
City firefighters actually learned about the situation before police, when they responded to a small trash fire inside the prison at 10:40 p.m. They reported it extinguished and radioed that a hostage-taking situation was in effect.
L City police then dispatched scores of officers to the scene.
Nearly 100 city police officers from various district stations took up positions around the sprawling prison, setting up traffic blocks at all intersections and detouring traffic from the scene.
Later, some 60 heavily armed State Police from area barracks arrived and took up positions along Madison Street near the Fallsway, close to the Maryland Adjustment and Correctional Center, a facility known as Super Max.
All prison security officers working the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift were held over and were beefed up by the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.
Shipley said the inmates were armed with two handguns but the guns had not been taken from the officers.
"Prison officers working inside are not armed so we can only assume the weapons found their way into the dormitory some other way," Shipley said.
He said there was no indication the hostage-taking was a means to gain freedom by the inmates.
"We haven't uncovered anything that would tell us that this event was planned," he said. However, Shipley hinted that something may have been afoot a few weeks ago. He did not elaborate. He was unable to say who the inmates are and for what crimes they were convicted.
"All I can say is that this is a maximum-security prison and some of them are serving long terms for violent crimes," he said.
Shipley said the building had a shakedown about two months ago but no guns were found.
Four security officers originally were taken hostage but two were released for unknown reasons, he said.
One sustained a bruise to the head, apparently when a scuffle broke out between inmates who were taking the officers hostage and other officers who fought to rescue their comrades.
Throughout the night, prison officials talked through bullhorns to the inmates.
Heavily armed members of the prison's own tactical assault squad wearing body armor crossed a street within the prison around 12:30 a.m. and entered the main complex.
Three city Fire Department ambulances and firefighting equipment were dispatched and took up positions a block from the prison.
As word got out that security officers were taken hostage, the streets surrounding the prison filled with spectators and family members of the officers.
As scores of police officers, the public and news personnel kept a vigil outside the prison, a police helicopter circled above
keeping watch on the interior of the prison and reporting any unusual activity to ground units.
Outside the prison, Larry Thomas, president of Teamsters Union Local 103, said he was there to lend support to the security officers.
"The prison is like a powder keg ready to go off at any time," he said.
Thomas said the prison is understaffed and the security officers are always at risk.