Pen inmates free officers, end takeover Prisoners surrender after they get pledge of no retaliation

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A tense, daylong standoff between armed inmates and correction officers ended peacefully yesterday as inmates released the second of two officers they had held hostage at the Maryland Penitentiary.

Officer Larry Hughes, 31, a three-year employee of the Division of Correction, was released unharmed at 8 p.m. Officer Gary Wooten, 29, a one-year employee of the state prison system, had been released, also unharmed, at 11:29 a.m.

Both officers had been taken hostage around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday after two or three inmates tried to escape from the prison's C Dormitory, an L-shaped structure of steel, stone and concrete.

A flurry of activity preceded Officer Hughes' release. Around 6:30 p.m., several state police cruisers raced up Madison Street and turned in at the prison's Forrest Street entrance. Another 25 troopers, armed with shotguns, followed on foot, while a state police helicopter hovered overhead.

According to Commissioner of Corrections Richard A. Lanham Sr., Officer Hughes' release was set in motion when prison officials told the inmates state police and corrections officers would not storm the dormitory and that there would be no reprisals. The inmates began to surrender in groups of five, leaving C Dormitory for the No. 3 exercise yard. At 8 p.m. when Officer Hughes was released, the remainder of the 238 prisoners surrendered to 50 waiting troopers.

The inmates were fed a bag lunch and milk after their surrender.

Prison officials said they would conduct an intensive search of C Dormitory in hopes of finding two guns that were somehow secreted within the prison and used in the attempted escape.

According to prison officials and union representatives, the escape attempt began around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday when one of four correctional officers on duty noticed contraband in C Dormitory that he suspected would be used in an escape. An inmate, armed with a revolver, saw the officer and told him to get out. Another officer walked in, and a scuffle ensued.

The inmates, two of them armed with revolvers, overpowered two of the officers, taking their radios and keys and creating a diversion by using a radios to broadcast that an officer was in trouble in B Dormitory.

Lt. William Pitts, Sgt. Mark Canfield and Officer Cornell Barnes either fought their way out of the dormitory or were released by the inmates. The two other officers were left behind.

Ricardo R. Silva, director of field services for the Maryland Correctional Union, said correctional officers had been warned that inmates might try to escape from the prison.

During roll call for the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift Tuesday, prison officials told correction officers "to be wary of a possible diversion, a fight that would be used as a diversion for a possible escape," said Mr. Silva, whose union represents about 150 of the 260 officers at the penitentiary.

Herbert Berry Jr., a former correction officer now working with the Maryland Correctional Union, said the inmates had planned to escape through the ceiling of C Dormitory but could not because the hatch had been welded shut. Union officials said the inmates in the escape attempt were new to the prison and did not know the doors had been welded.

Sergeant Gregory M. Shipley, a spokesman for the Division of Correction, said prison officials had been given a tip that a gun might be in the prison and were planning to lock prisoners in their cells and conduct a cell-by-cell search when the incident occurred. He also said the inmates' guns did not belong to the Division of Correction. The prison maintains a secured armory, but correctional officers are unarmed when posted within the penitentiary.

After the takeover, prison officials laid siege to the dormitory, which is split between five levels of cells and three levels of dormitory-style housing. Three of the cell levels have two men in each 6-by-9-foot cell.

"It's because of overcrowding," Sergeant Shipley said. "It's certainly not an ideal situation to have maximum-security inmates in a dormitory setting, but it's something we have to do."

Since 1985, the state has been under a federal court order to limit the population at the Maryland Penitentiary. The current population cap is 1,103 inmates. Yesterday, Sergeant Shipley said 1,005 inmates were housed at the 180-year-old maximum-security prison, designed for 700 to 800 inmates.

Though much of yesterday passed as a tense standoff between prison negotiators and the inmates, there was constant action around the prison. Teams of correction officers, wearing bulletproof vests, riot helmets and armed with shot guns and batons, gathered at the Forrest Street entrance off Madison Street. From time to time they entered or left the prison compound, gas masks swinging from their thick belts.

Meanwhile, other officers, shotguns on their hips, patrolled the roof of the prison hospital next to C Dormitory. State police officers, also carrying shotguns, stood guard along Madison Street.

Though no shots were fired during the takeover, two inmates DTC were stabbed apparently by fellow prisoners during the initial confrontation.

James Wardrick, 39, of Silver Spring, who is serving a 65-year sentence for first-degree rape and other sex offenses, was stabbed in the throat and side; Henry Lester, 32, of Prince George's County, who is serving a life sentence for murder, suffered facial injuries. Both were taken to University Hospital.

In late morning, Officer Wooten was freed.

Then at mid-afternoon, a break appeared in the negotiations when inmates agreed to set their remaining hostage free with the one condition being that they could tell their grievances to the news media.

A dozen officers, armed with shotguns and batons, surrounded the reporters and cameramen and escorted them into the prison. The group passed about 60 other armed officers waiting for orders.

Sergeant Shipley and the other officers took the reporters and cameramen to an open area where they took their places behind a fence topped with razor wire.

Negotiators, including inmates and Commissioner Lanham, talked to the men in C Dormitory, many of whom wore masks fashioned from towels and bedding. The inmates could be heard as they yelled their complaints to the negotiators below.

L "There's no way you should have 230 guys in here," one said.

An hour after entering the prison yard, the reporters left. The inmates had changed their minds. One negotiator said the inmates feared reprisals. That fear later became a crucial part of the negotiations that led to their surrender.

Sergeant Shipley said Mr. Lanham, who was in constant contact with inmates during the negotiations that began at 1 a.m. Wednesday,promised no reprisals. He said Mr. Lanham "intends work with these people as long as they work with him."

The inmates claimed to be concerned about crowding at the prison and the food service.

But Public Safety Secretary Bishop L. Robinson said the demands "were no more than a cover-up for the real reason of attempted escape."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mr. Robinson and Mr. Lanham all praised the negotiating team and the courage of the officers who were taken hostage. They also said the incident demonstrated the dire need for improvements in the prison system.

The officials said they agree with inmates that the notorious South Wing must be replaced.

"Things like this are likely to happen as long as such conditions continue," said Mr. Robinson.

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